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Sunday reading 23 August 2015

beforeafter

Before After Gallery, Examples of public space transformation from car-oriented to pedestrian friendly.

A neat street design resource that collects the before-and-afters (good ones anyway) of streets from StreetView.

Here is a highly recommended interview with Mark Todd of Ockham Residential properties where he discusses his business model of providing high quality, high density residential projects across Auckland. He also discusses the “dysfunction” of the Auckland housing market where planning regulations limit the ability of developers to deliver new housing units below the median level.

Towering Silliness, The Economist.

The sudden spike is largely attributable to a clause in the city’s complicated property-tax code, which taxes different types of abode at different rates, and favours homeowners at the expense of renters. In order to reduce taxes on the construction of new multi-family high-rises—which tend to be taxed at especially high rates—developers rely on something called the 421-a programme, which exempts new construction from property taxes for decades on the condition that they also build some more affordable units, and is yet to be renewed by the state legislature.

Launched in 1971 as a way to spur investment in what was then a rather decrepit city, it has since helped generate around 251,000 of the city’s 2.2m rental units, a significant share—approximately 35%—of new construction in the city, according to an analysis from the New School in New York. This includes an estimated 37,400 affordable units, mostly in Brooklyn, as of 2013. The fact that this benefit could disappear in 2016 helps explain why so many developers are rushing to break ground now. “We’ve been working day and night to get the permits in time,” says Omri Sachs of Adam America, a developer with several big projects in Brooklyn.

bythemotorway

by the motorway

By the Motorway (@bythemotorway) has collected a great series of “terminated vistas” across Auckland: Volume I, Volume II, and eventually Volume III.

x

Common road junctions of German town plans securing closed street views. Raymond Unwin, “Town Planning in Practice”.

Jacob Saulwick, “Rear-door bus boarding in Sydney proves a success, made permanent“, The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney joins the growing number of cities using rear door boarding to speed up bus services.

“It was clear that at these busy stops, rear-door loading under the supervision of a marshal made a real difference to dwell-times, reduced footpath crowding and in some cases traffic congestion was reduced,” he said.
“The biggest improvements were seen between 5pm and 6pm, but there were unexpected benefits such as marshals being able to keep the bus stops clear of other vehicles and some buses loading more evenly rather than standing passengers congregating near the front.”

Patrick Barkham, “Introducing ‘treeconomics’: how street trees can save our cities“, The Guardian.

In Toronto, researchers recently found that people living on tree-lined streets reported health benefits equivalent to being seven years younger or receiving a $10,000 salary rise. As well as studies revealing benefits from everything from improved mental health to reduced asthma, US scientists have even identified a correlation between an increase in tree-canopy cover and fewer low-weight births. And economic studies show what any estate agent swears by: leafy streets sell houses. Street trees in Portland, Oregon, yielded an increase in house pricesof $1.35bn, potentially increasing annual property tax revenues by $15.3m.

Michael Andersen, “As big bike investments loom, the debate goes on: Which neighborhoods need most?“, Bike Portland. An interesting debate about where bike infrastructure should be prioritised. Using Jarrett Walker’s “coverage vs ridership” language, the question is posed should we spend a million dollars on getting thousands of users, or do we spend a million dollars on getting hundreds of users who may be more deserving. Spoiler: there is no right answer.

“Because we have nothing more than the change behind the couch cushions to work on bike projects, I think we’re seeing a lot of tension between I guess what you might call equity-based arguments and people who want to see us direct our resources to the parts of our city where we already have people biking,” Roberts said in an interview. “You’re both right! … You don’t really have to choose only one or only the other, but it behooves transit agencies and especially transit agency boards to have a really explicit conversation about why they run their transit system, what their goals and objectives are.

Chris McCahill, “Study confirms that 10-foot lanes make safer intersections“, State Smart Transport Initiative. More evidence of the somewhat counter intuitive relationship between lane widths and safety.

“Side impact- and turn-related crash rates are lowest at intersections where average lane widths are between 10 and 10.5 feet, according to a study presented at the Canadian Institute of Transportation’s annual meeting last month. This challenges the long-held, but often disputed, assumption that wider lanes are safer.”

Suzanne Goldenberg, “As cities fall out of love with cars, Toyota redefines its role as ‘mobility provider‘”, Guardian Cities.

In an era of rapid urbanisation, single-person households and a generational shift away from private car ownership, the world’s largest car manufacturer last year, Toyota, says it is redefining its core mission from making and selling cars to bridging small transport gaps in urban areas.

As Toyota sees it, the future of cars for city drivers – particularly in the US – lies in covering the short distances between bus or subway stop and home. And so it wants to rebrand itself as a public transport provider, not merely a vehicle manufacturer.

In a strategy that could expand commuting options for city dwellers, the company is developing a number of new vehicles aimed specifically at car-sharing in mid-size urban environments.

Sarah Goodyear, “Walkability Comes to the American West“, City Lab.

“A number of communities have begun to rethink their approaches to economic development,” says Anderson, citing Bozeman, Montana, and Rifle, Colorado, as examples. “The ones that are looking for answers are the ones that get that old-school approaches aren’t taking them very far, and maybe not even in the right direction.”

Here are some of the findings of the “Place Value” report:

  • About 70 percent of business owners did not move to a community specifically to start a business, but rather picked a community they wanted to live in and then decided to start a business once they moved there.
  • When asked about what factors were most important to them when deciding where to locate their businesses, only 4 percent of business owners cited favorable tax structures as one of their top two criteria.
  • The top criterion chosen by business owners was “overall quality of the community,” defined by respondents to a follow-up question as including “people and overall friendliness, sense of community, sense of safety, access to activities, and access to outdoor recreation.”
  • Some 83 percent of employees said they were willing to accept a smaller salary to live in a community they considered ideal.
  • When asked what their preferences were in terms of neighborhoods and housing, 75 percent said they favored a smaller home close to services and amenities over a larger home with a longer commute.
  • Some 71 percent said they preferred to be able to bike or walk to work and errands rather than driving.
  • Another 52 percent said there are too few shops and restaurants within walking distance of their homes.
  • And 71 percent preferred to live in a mixed-use neighborhood rather than a purely residential neighborhood.

Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities. via Cap’n Transit Rides Again.

notautomaticallyanything

“In orthodox city planning, neighborhood open spaces are venerated in an amazingly uncritical fashion, much as savages venerate magical fetishes. Ask a houser how his planned neighborhood improves on the old city and he will cite, as a self-evident virtue, More Open Space. Ask a zoner about the improvements in progressive codes and he will cite, again as a self-evident virtue, their incentives toward leaving More Open Space. Walk with a planner through a dispirited neighborhood and though it be already scabby with deserted parks and tired landscaping festooned with an old Kleenex, he will envision a future of More Open Space.

More Open Space for what? For muggings? For bleak vacuums between buildings? Or for ordinary people to use and enjoy? But people do not use city open space just because it is there and because city planners wish they would.”

Ross Gittins, “Is this the graph that explains why our cities are clogged?“, The Age.

The Productivity Commission says in a recent report, “not all public infrastructure supports productivity and generates economic growth and wellbeing”. Poorly selected projects may actually make things worse…

As the Grattan Institute put it more bluntly, “the capacity to waste money is a serious risk for infrastructure, given the very large amounts of money involved”.

Get it? If we take the attitude that more is always better, and more is never enough, the pollies will happily spend more of our money, but much of it will be wasted.

So just as important as making sure our infrastructure spending is adequate is making sure what we do spend is spent wisely. But how?

Paul Goddin, “Uber’s Plan for Self-Driving Cars Bigger Than Its Taxi Disruption“, Future Structure.

Uber has fundamentally changed the taxi industry. But its biggest disruption may be yet to come.

The ride-hailing company has invested in autonomous-vehicle research, and its CEO Travis Kalanick (pictured above) has indicated that consumers can expect a driverless Uber fleet by 2030. Uber expects its service to be so inexpensive and ubiquitous as to make car ownership obsolete…

A study by Columbia University calculates that with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxicab in New York City – with a passenger wait time of 36 seconds and a cost of $.50 per mile.

PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates, as noted by writer and entrepreneur Zack Kanter, that “autonomous vehicles would reduce the number of vehicles on the road by 99 percent, and the fleet of cars in the U.S. would fall from 245 million to 2.4 million.

29 comments to Sunday reading 23 August 2015

  • JimboJones

    The Uber one is interesting. Personally I think what they say is possible (not sure about the time frame), but I do wonder if congestion will be better or worse in that scenario. On one hand autonomous cars will need to make two trips per person they carry into a central location, but on the other they don’t need to park and ride sharing would be much more palatable. Will it be the end of PT? Maybe the end of local buses but probably not the end of longer distance rapid transit.

    • No first it’s the end of taxi drivers, then it’s the accelerated decline of private car ownership.

      Did you see PWC say in that article they expect a 99% reduction in cars in the U.S.: 245m to 2.4m?! Barely credible, but what they’re saying is the massive inefficiency of private car ownership, where cars are idle over 96% of the time, is ripe for the plucking through ride share and autonomy. Now that’s a huge productivity lift. And doesn’t end there; garages? Waste of space. Roads! Parking? Huge opportunity.

      End of Transit? Not if it’s any good. Uber to the station. Everyone always using public vehicles, except one group: cyclists. The last of the free, and walkers.

    • Greg N

      Its an old study, and I don’t believe for a minute that the driverless future will play out in the way that Columbia Researchers or even Uber assumes – and more particularly – in the timeframes they assume either.
      Columbia only considered replacing existing “human as driver” scenarios with equivalent driverless ones – e.g. replace 13,000 yellow cabs in Manhattan with 9,000 Uber style ones – all by basically ditching the driver.

      Yes it concluded that it was feasible to do so. But thats as far as it can go.

      It did not consider for instance if instead of driverless ubers we had invested in driverless trucks would that be a better outcome, or if driverless can be used to eliminate many trips that people take now completely
      – it only looked at changes to an existing and limited model. Which while interesting is not how the future will in fact play out.

      As with all truly disruptive technologies, it takes time for the true picture of the disruption [or not] to emerge and the disruption will not emerge exactly where or when you predict and generally they take a lot longer and have a more truly deeper impact.
      Bill Gates said “with new technologies, we always overestimate the short term impact and underestimate the longer term impacts.” Same goes here.

      Who would have thought for a minute when the iPhone was released nearly a decade back that widespread smartphone ownership would as a side effect completely revitalise PT use, or change the way journalism is carried out via “citizen journalists” acting as eye-witnesses via Twitter and other mechanisms? As two examples of Smartphone “disruption”. When the US Military “invented” GPS and went to Congress for funding, and painted a very glossy picture of the GPS-enabled future – even they could not see all the many exceptional benefits or industries the GPS system has given to the US and world, 30 years on.

      People may very well look back at this hype in 20+ years, wonder who this “Uber” everyone talked about was and where they went wrong, as they no longer exist.
      And ,aybe they’ll clearly see the obvious parallels with the hype around earlier technologies like atomic powered transport in the 1950s and wonder why these false predictions also weren’t at all obvious as such to us in the early 21st century as well.

      And all this means in a NZ context that Minister Bridges complete faith in a driverless/Uber based future being the “big bang” method of “saving” cities like Auckland from their current congestion and why by direct implication that this also means that we need more roads everywhere in NZ right now – is complete bollocks.

      We’re better off to stand back a little and watch for the disruptive impacts – good and bad and then cherry pick the benefits and leave the disbenefits to get a much better outcome than the “boots-first” and “all-in” way its being implicitly used now to justify all kinds of dubious investments.

      After all if driverless can slash the number of vehicles in the fleet by 99% then it will be an easy step change for NZ Inc to make to retire 99% of the current fleet quickly – when we need to.
      And it is also likely that we won’t in fact need the sorts of roads we have today – but the true sorts of roads we’ll need will be different, but not in a way we can easily “future proof” ourselves for – except by not building many more roads full stop, until we know exactly which way we need to jump.

      • Brendon

        Wise word Greg. This future predicting stuff is a minefield and I suppose we will have to wait and see how it pans out…..

      • Uber (or any similar operator) would be pushing the limits of geometry in 3 areas – pickup, set-down, and lane utilisation. Not a problem in the suburbs, but in CBD’s the logistics of pickup and set-downs would be similar to airports today, except airports already have purpose-built facilities. If meeting a particular car you have ordered (such as from Uber) there would need to be specially numbered bays to meet at. Then on lane utilisation, would an automated fleet operating among manually-driven cars and trucks be able to do much better than the current 2000 vehicles per hour capacity of motorways ? Or if there are special lanes for automated vehicles, would the capacity be much higher than the current 2000 ?

        I can’t see the current trunking role of rail at peak hour being undermined because of these limitations. Instead it would be the first-mile last-mile connectors that would change, especially feeder buses servicing low-density suburbs. Stations would become drop-off and pick-up centres for such services, perhaps at the expense of some existing car park space. Night-time rail services may lose market share.

        • Fully agree Malcolm. The spatial efficiency of Transit, especially high capacity rail, and especially especially underground high capacity rail, will remain unrivalled for high value urban areas, ie city centres. And despite repeated claims to the contrary these are not diminishing in power or popularity.

          The new tech disruption will fall first on the taxi industry, but most profoundly on rates of private car ownership. Inefficient low ridership coverage services will also be replaced with automated ridershare, particularly, as you say, for last mile, first mile: working with high quality Transit.

          • Greg N

            “[rideshare] for last mile, first mile: working with high quality Transit.”

            Ask Minister Bridges and he clearly believes the future for driverless is “instead of”, not “working with”, that high quality Transit.

            And thats the problem right there.

  • Frank McRae

    A great passage from Jane Jacobs. Very relevant to the debate over Auckland’s publicly owned golf courses. There is a dogmatic belief that they should be kept as open space forever without thought as to whether that much additional open space is needed and how it would be used.

    • Stuart Donovan

      amen to that!

    • RB

      Frank, like all wonderful things that make up a ‘livable’ city, once they are sold and covered with apartments and the developers have made their millions and the self righteous say ‘how wonderful’, just remember one thing. Those wide open green spaces can never be bought back again…ever. Once gone they are gone forever, to be replaced by more city ugliness (show me any building anywhere that is nicer to look at than open pasture, greenery) and density. Really want that?

      • Sailor Boy

        The Elliot Hotel, the Smith and Caughey’s Building, That new Ockham building on Great North Road are all nocer to look at than a golf course imo. Beauty is subjective and we have 100s of millions of hectares of wilderness 30km away if you want to look at it.

  • The Bike Portland piece is interesting and is a discussion we need to be having here in Auckland. Right now, nearly the entire focus of AT and CAA is based on Central Isthmus / CBD first with little funding for elsewhere.

  • mfwic

    A terminating vista? They are bit like something at the end of a street. Some groups insist on jargon to describe special things but those urban designers must be clever people to come up with jargon for things that aren’t very special.

    • mfwic,

      For what it’s worth, I generally agree that it’s better to avoid jargon and to make knowledge accessible (whether it is special or not). That’s partly why I wanted to capture actual examples of terminating vistas in Auckland — it’s better to show rather than tell. In fact, I’m glad you think the concept is so pedestrian; that means the message wasn’t lost in translation. However, with that said…

      >> “They are bit like something at the end of a street. Some groups insist on jargon…”

      Your version is like saying “an appendix is a bit like a little wiggly thing inside your tummy” and therefore “those doctors must be clever people”, etc. Or “a retaning wall is just a pile of rocks on the side of some earth”, therefore “those engineers…”. You get the idea. Jargon has its uses too — and I say that as a non-urban-designer.

      Of course, over-simplification can be useful in communication too. There is even a related concept for good street design often called “things in the street”, i.e. placing furniture, art or other facilities in the middle of the carriageway, so a description like that is not unheard of.

      What’s special about a “terminating vista”?

      It differs from your simplified definition in at least a couple of ways. For one, it isn’t necessarily at the end of a street; it could occur for instance at a bend halfway along a street, and may include elements far away from the street. For another, not every “thing” that happens to occupy a view qualifies as a terminating vista; e.g. most ugly car park garages wouldn’t count. Indeed there are countless examples of street segments in our city that terminate with an enclosed view of something dull, misplaced, out-of-character, insignificant, hostile or oppressive — these are very much “like something at the end of a street”, but are not terminating vistas. So there is something special about a terminating vista in the kinds of cities we live in today; it reflects a certain set of values and assumptions, so it’s rarer than you might think, perhaps rarer than it used to be.

      Fine, so what? Let’s suppose there is a method to making a terminating vista, but still why bother naming it at all?

      Well, we name things we value, and we value things we name — that’s why. Christopher Alexander long ago identified this in his “design patterns” thesis, and it holds true in many other domains. I would argue that a terminating vista is a design pattern in Alexander’s sense, and so should be recorded with a name and other characteristics that go with it.

      Interestingly, our pre-motoring ancestors of centuries past did not need a name for a terminating vista, or of many other patterns of good street design for humans. They often just built it without study, as it was the obviously right thing to do in certain contexts, especially when giving no favour to motor vehicle use. That (mostly) unwritten knowledge has since been lost after generations of vehicular carnage at the hands of modern men. To correct this, it’s worth rediscovering what had worked for humans historically, yet for once formalising it with systems, structures and symbols (taking a page out of modernity’s uniform manual) so it may be understood properly, connected to other ideas, prioritised sensibly and copied effectively.

      • Stuart Donovan

        Hey FYI NM@BTM: The hyperlink from your second volume to your third volume doesn’t seem to work, but the hyperlink Kent provided above does.

      • mfwic

        Understood. BTW someone should cut down those trees in Basque Road- they are blocking the view!

      • Favourite terminating vistas:

        All Souls on Regent St, London.
        Flatiron Building in NYC.

        Neither are the end of streets, both are the result of ‘irrational’ road layouts. Never let the idiosyncratic betaken from your city by sensible people. Here is the location of All Souls:

  • Is the problem public green space or the privatised version.

    Clearly, it’s a case of low hanging fruit.

  • Guy

    I can’t say that I agree with the Uber projection over numbers. Number-crunching may well indicate that there will only be a Need for X number of cars, but that’s very different from a Want. As we know, cars become a personalised internal space for many people, who trick them out with various gizmos indicating their personality – crucifix hanging from the rear view mirror, nodding dog on back shelf, go-faster stripes on outside, lake pipes underneath, etc etc. Or more typically nowadays, baby seat and 24 pack of spare nappies, sports gear, and a copy of the Herald on the passenger seat for reading when stuck in traffic.

    The point is: people effectively live their lives in what has become a little cocoon to transport themselves around, and even if it eventually becomes cheaper to just hire autonomous self-driving Ubers all day, there will be many millions who don’t want to give up that ability to cocoon on their own terms. So PWC’s “prediction” of a 99% drop in car numbers – never gonna happen.

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