On the rationality of network development : the case of the Belgian highway networkOn the rationality of network development : the case of the Belgian highway network
Faculty of Applied Economics
Faculty of Arts. History
Research group
Transport and Regional Economics
Centre for Urban History
Publication type
Delft :TU Delft Open, [*]
Engineering sciences. Technology
Source (book)
Proceedings of the 17th International Planning History Society Conference Delft, Netherlands, July 17-21, 2016 : History, Urbanism, Resilience: Change and Responsive Planning / Hein, Carola [edit.]
Source (series)
International Planning History Society proceedings ; 17,3
ISBN - Hoofdstuk
Target language
English (eng)
Full text (Publishers DOI)
University of Antwerp
The development of transport networks has been explained, predicted and planned using a variety of methodological approaches. These range from narrative historical accounts to the application of models borrowed from the natural sciences, the latter being predominant in the field of transport economics. Probably the most remarkable example is the mimicking of highway networks by slime mould in Petri dishes. The aim of this paper is to examine and compare methods used to hypothesise on and explain the development of transport networks, and we specifically focus on methods that emphasise topology over topography, relations over form (in line with the work of Gabriel Dupuy and others). Belgium was chosen as case because the topology of Belgiums highway network is considered by some as one of the most rational in the world, although its form and materiality are often qualified as chaotic, or indeed irrational. The quantitative analysis of the development of this network reported in the present paper indicates that this supposed rationality is seldom followed and seemingly irrational parameters literally deviate its growth. Therefore, the quantitative part is complemented by a historical analysis which focuses more on the role, and indeed rationality, of historical actors and the wider institutional context. Material provided by this case study supplies fuel for discussion about broader issues, in particular the underlying ideological and political-economic claims associated with a particular methodological approach. This is especially relevant given the fact that models used to predict past transport investments are also employed to evaluate future investments in infrastructure. Quantitative approaches generally attribute a central role to the concept of demand, and thus degrees of rationality are in fact linked to ideas of consumer democracy where individual demand guides investment decisions. In contrast, interpretations of a less deterministic nature emphasise the degrees of freedom of political actors/choice. We conclude that the views held by actors of the past, present and future of transport networks are relevant for democratic debates on transport policy since the metaphors and models used are not value-neutral.
Full text (open access)