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Sunday reading 1 May 2016

Welcome back to Sunday reading. As a reminder, the K Road Open Streets event is happening today from noon through 7pm. It sounds like a great opportunity for some premeditated city fun.

Auckland Harbour Bridge

‘Showing heavy traffic on the Auckland Harbour Bridge two weeks after opening in May 1959’ (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A3703)

Here’s Patrick Sisson’s long read take on the state of transportation investment in American cities. Spoiler: the system inherently favors roadway projects over mass transit. “The United States spends 55 percent of available transportation funding expanding one percent of the system, and 45 percent maintaining the other 99 percent.” – “Fixing the American Commute“, (Curbed)

Nearly every city has tried to build its way out of traffic congestion, but the approach hasn’t yet worked. Even Houston’s new mayor, Sylvester Turner, who calls for more light rail and mass transit spending, called out the Katy extension in a speech where he said these kind of building solutions are “exacerbating our congestion problems.” According to Olivieri, this build-first mentality is built into our system for funding transportation.

“State transportation departments that do much of the highway building across the country see themselves as highway builders,” says Olivieri. “They’re removed from city transit organizations. They believe there are economic benefits to building roads. They’re not bad people. They’re just living in a world that doesn’t exist anymore, and ignore a host of negative externalities such as pollution and congestion. Politics lag behind policy in this case.”

Stephen Moss, “End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile“, The Guardian. Here’s another good one on transportation and cities focusing on European cities.

What is evident is that the cities of tomorrow are likely, in effect, to revert to the cities of yesterday: denser, more neighbourhood-based, with everything you need for work and leisure in one district. There will be less separation of functions, less commuting, less travel generally.

“To me, this last 50 or 60 years feels like an anomaly,” says Hill. “If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a non-driver. I think we will look back on this time and say, ‘Wasn’t it odd that we drove ourselves around?’ In the 1920s and 30s, you’d have gone to the butcher on your high street, and a grocery boy (it would have been a boy then) would have delivered the goods to your home on a bike – and they’d have been there by the time you got back.”

In Hill’s view, that age and those services will return. Neighbourhoods and self-sufficient communities will make a comeback in a new era that will be dominated not by the car, but by the smartphone and the network. The commuter is dead. Long live the hipster.

Surely one more lane will finally solve our congestion problem, right? (Slightly better GIFF. Feel free to copy) pic.twitter.com/uDJwqVT3WI

Ben Schiller, “How Copenhagen Became A Cycling Paradise By Considering The Full Cost Of Cars“, FastCoExist.

When the city decides on a cycling project, it compares the cost to that of a road for cars, and it includes not only the upfront amount, but also things like the cost of road accidents to society, the impact of car pollution on health, and the cost of carbon emitted to the atmosphere. After including these factors, it comes to a rather startling calculation. One kilometer driven by car costs society about 17 cents (15 euro cents), whereas society gains 18 cents (16 euro cents) for each kilometer cycled, the paper finds. That’s because of factors like the health benefits of cycling and the avoided ill-effects of cars.

This story reminded me of the win/win outcome of the Franklin Road cycleway project redesign. It describes how kerb protected lanes can be less costly to build and maintain than conventional roadway space. Michael Andersen, “Surprise: Protecting Bike Lanes Can Cut The Cost of Brand-New Roads“, People for Bikes.

Curb-protected bike lanes, his firm realized, can reduce the huge cost of managing rainwater that falls on pavement and then flows into streams and rivers. That runoff is a major source of water pollution, which is why the federal Clean Water Act requires local governments to minimize it. But in rainy parts of the country, preventing excess runoff from pavement that cars are driving on has also become a major cost factor in road construction…

But their discovery is similar to the one Portland made on Cully Boulevard. When it rebuilt that street in 2011, the protected bike lane along each side reduced costs, because it didn’t require as much excavation as a wider road bed would have. Unlike with a conventional bike lane, there was no need to layer the pavement deep enough to carry a truck.

Last Sunday Peter linked to this excellent post from Bike Portland which argued that before zoning west coast cities would simply build more to accommodate booming population growth. Here’s a related take from Granola Shotgun in San Francisco,”Jiffy Lube Metropolis“. The photos from these blog posts of dense, mid-rise housing reminded me of this tweet (above) showing the Mayfair apartments in Parnell with a few admirers.

Victorian era builders didn’t construct gas stations. At one time these streets were lined with grand homes and businesses that were incrementally torn down and replaced with new auto-oriented establishments. People often forget that San Francisco went in to serious decline for a few decades after World War II and followed the same general trajectory as many other industrial port cities like Cleveland and Detroit. There was a time in the economic and cultural history of the city when traditional buildings were out of fashion and economic liabilities. It made sense to clear away under performing buildings to make way for more productive and profitable structures.

San Francisco’s economy recovered sooner and stronger than most other inner cities. Today real estate in once undervalued neighborhoods is astonishingly expensive. The culture has changed and so has market demand. As a result many aging gas stations, auto repair shops, and parking lots are being converted back to residential buildings – many incorporating retail shops on the ground floor.

And here’s the context for these new buildings. What we’re witnessing isn’t a modern aberration of multi story buildings being imposed on the traditional city. It’s actually a return to the historic pattern after an odd twentieth century hiatus. The car oriented land use pattern was the real anomaly.

Please post additional links in the comments section.

21 comments to Sunday reading 1 May 2016

  • If you’re mentioning the “Traditional City” I’d have to recommend newworldeconomics, skip past his crazy classical economics part and find his urban stuff (http://www.newworldeconomics.com/archives/tradcityarchive.html).

    Basically he looks at the land use patterns of traditional cities all around the world (which are uniformly: attached buildings, narrow streets, squares, etc) and also some of the modern cities that still follow this formula (Japan and parts of South Korea/Taiwan/China). He’s got some good insights, and is slightly more interesting than other such blogs because his ideas are much more ambitious, but also surprisingly practical.

    One interesting idea is the separation between hypertrophic/traditional as well as dense/sparse. So for example you have traditional sparse (eg European villages, Japanese suburbs), hypertrophic sparse (big setbacks, obsession with lawns and big roads, etc) and then traditional dense (European and some Asian cities) or hypertrophic dense (eg Dubai and many modern Chinese cities). Most cities fall somewhere in between but it’s an interesting thing to look at with regard to design.

    • I don’t think you see that traditional city pattern anywhere in New Zealand. All of Auckland is either hypertropic (eg. Ponsonby, CBD) and suburban rat maze (anything built since the fifties).

      Another blog with a similar point of view is http://www.andrewalexanderprice.com/blog.php . And for the practical execution, we have a couple of places in Auckland where it could work. What about the golf course next to Smales Farm?

      And about something else you don’t find a lot over here: http://urbankchoze.blogspot.co.nz/2015/05/traditional-euro-bloc-what-it-is-how-it.html . The only place where I’ve seen something similar here is in tramway-era suburban centres, like the ones along Dominion Road (Balmoral etc). Those buildings are all built side-by-side, but I don’t think they were built by a single developer.

      • mfwic

        We didn’t get the traditional compact towns because we didnt have hoards of Vandals, Huns, Visigoths, Mongols, Saxons etc attacking, so people didn’t have to build walled towns to hide in.

        • Early Commuter

          Amen. Places like Dubrovnik are great for visits but terrible to live in
          (before anybody decides they know better than me, I fancy having been to Dubrovnik more than a dozen times makes me relatively knowledgeable)

  • Looks good to me, welcome to my childhood, as much as I think we need protected cycleways we also need much higher pollution control on vehicles, nothing nice from a lung full of diesel fumes, all we had to worry about on the roads was horse manure and that was soon cleaned up for the vegetable plot.

  • KP

    I’m just counting how many cars one sixty seater bus would remove from the picture of the bridge…

    • stu donovan

      60/1.2 = 50 cars?

    • mfwic

      So why aren’t they in a bus? Because the disadvantages of using a bus exceed the advantages.

      • How would you know, have you lived in a time when rail and public transport were the only forms and moved millions, before the car public transport kept to tight schedules.

        Cars don’t make us productive they rob us of valuable resources, something we should put first in a finite world.

        • Remember our friend the traffic engineer only believes in perfect choice; that supply has no bearing whatsoever on what people choose. That no one on the Shore chooses to take a train into the city is not because there isn’t one to take, but because they all prefer the joy of driving. Revealed preference is what he calls it. This is not an uncommon view among certain groups; a favourite of Mr Brownlee’s, I recall from discussions with him. So we have to keep investing in the only option there is because the people choose it, clearly.

          It does keep things nice and simple doesn’t it, no need to think much about anything: The people want what the people get, and the people get what the people want.

          • Jamie Walton

            Very well put Patrick (as is “what we feed grows”).

            If the full costs of cars (per the Copenhagen assessment factors, and more) were charged up-front at the point-of-sale at the car yard and fuel pump, etc., I don’t think many people would be using cars (unless their employer paid for it all). (And I think most people on the Shore would love to take a train, if only …)

        • mfwic

          I know because the picture shows one bus going each way, so clearly those people had a choice and opted to drive or ride in a car. Why did they make that choice do you think? It probably wasn’t because they were stupid. Maybe they did it because they were better off that way. I am sure even back then some expert was telling people they should ride in a bus from C to D even though these people actually wanted to travel from A to B. There was probably even an expert who thought people should be forced to live in an apartment at C rather than a house at A like they really wanted. And another expert who probably thought all businesses should be squeezed into D whether they wanted to or not. Have another look at the photo. It is called revealed preference.

          • KP

            Clearly those people had a choice of buying and owning a car or taking one bus that didn’t go anywhere near their house or their employment.

            I remember spending a night or two in Auckland in the mid 80’s on my way to a few years living (carless) in Singapore. The only way we could get around from our motel was to hire a car. There was no other way.

            Conversely, Singapore (pre MRT) had a well developed public transport system that was competitive for most purposes with a privately owned vehicle and vastly cheaper.

          • John. A choice between one fully supported and privileged mode and one so poor as to be virtually invisible is not revealed preference; it’s determined preference. How do we know? Because the moment these same people got a half decent bus service thousands of them leapt on it. So really isn’t it time you stopped hoping up on every thread with exactly the same poor argument every day; we’re done here; and your version of the scene is simply not supported by the facts.

          • mfwic

            It amazes me we can both look at a picture of 2 buses and hundreds of cars and I see hundreds of people who have chosen to drive and you see evidence of oppressed deluded people or whatever you believe in. KP sorry to disappoint you but we had buses in the mid 1980’s, I know because I used them daily in the mid 1980’s. The difference between NZ and Singapore was that people here got to make their own choice. In Singapore people got to use the mode chosen for them by a their leader. They also had to have the haircut the leader chose. Most people prefer to make their own choices.

          • Yes buses existed in the past, but you full well know they were run badly, infrequent, always stuck in traffic. You know I said ‘half-decent’, I really hope you don’t argue this weakly for your paying clients, if you do you’ll really be giving them poor value. Smart-arse is not smart. The evidence is plain in the Northern Busway and the rail stats. Oh and don’t be so smug about our freedom of choice; the freedom to choose to only drive is an illusory one.

          • KP

            Nice to have such rose tinted glasses mfwic. I didn’t grow up in Auckland in the 70’s but my cousins did. I rode my bike everywhere from a very young age and I was always a little bewildered why my cousins didn’t. My Auntie made it very clear that she wouldn’t allow them to due to the danger from cars. So it seems my cousins didn’t have the same choice I did. Similarly in Singapore I could make a choice to buy and operate a car (my employer paid the registration and cars were tax free) or ride a bike and take the bus. That was a real choice.

            I chose to take ride my bike on short journeys and take the bus across town.

            I went to Singapore last year and it looks like you can still chose whatever form of transport you wish; they’re just making you meet the real cost of your choice.

            This is different to here where we preferentially subsidise one form over others, giving the illusion of a choice…

          • Didn’t the people in Auckland have to drive because their leaders had chosen the car for them?

          • When I look at that picture it reminds me of something I read a few years ago about how we use energy wisely or foolishly, he pointed out we pay for energy and can either use it to grow our economies, as the industrial nations did early last century, or fritter it away as we have ever since, look where the work has gone, to countries that still use public transport or bikes and can live of much lower wages, we can’t compete, even the mighty USA is struggling since it’s easy oil has been frittered away.

            I remember less stress when public transport was all we had, how do you put a price on that, sitting chatting to friends or reading a newspaper that’s what you do in your leisure time.

  • evanjames

    I can remember reading several years ago that in Switzerland those without motor vehicles get a tax refund. I tried looking for it today but couldn’t find anything except that Switzerland has quite a complicated tax system. Does anyone else know something about this?

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