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Sunday reading 11 September 2016

Here’s this week’s Sunday Reading. Please add any interesting links in the comments below. Have a great day.

Here’s a disappointing story about how “micro-housing” one of Seattle’s innovations used to address housing affordability and choice has lost in a war of attrition.  David Neiman, “How Seattle killed micro-housing, Sightline.

Unfortunately for the many other Annas out there, eager to live close to good city jobs or to participate in city life, Seattle has now effectively outlawed micro-housing through the minutiae of policy and zoning rules. Seattle was the modern birthplace of micro-housing in North America. It went strong from 2009 to 2013, but building micro-housing projects has since become an uphill battle. In fact, the local war about micro-housing is over… and micro-housing lost.

So what happened to Seattle’s micro-housing? There’s no one single moment when we lost the war. Rather, it’s been a process of accumulated bad decisions. In short, rule changes made by the city mandate larger and therefore costlier units, drastically limit the areas in which they can be built, require the extra process and expense of formal design review, and discourage participation in the city’s multi-family tax exemption, a program that lowers rents substantially for working-class households.

Gregor McDonald looks at declining global population growth and the low economic growth that may be underpinning the decline in global emissions and leading to a low interest rate future. “The Big Pivot: Interest Rates and Emissions as Global Population Growth Hits a Turning Point“, Gregor.Us.

19th and 20th century growth and development was so transformative that it now constitutes our only available inventory of intellectual history, and (understandably) dominates our expectations. When will interest rates return to normal? Why are central banks not letting interest rates rise? And, look at all these awful policy decisions preventing growth? These sentiments are artifacts; signatures of recency bias and the availability heuristic. In an excellent post last year by Neil Irwin at the New York Time’s Upshot blog, Why Very Low Interest Rates May Stick Around, it’s gently pointed out that high interest rates, not low interest rates, are history’s anomaly.

While upside risk to further fossil growth consumption growth remains in India and Africa, it’s important to understand that the OECD, and China, now act as a restraint on the global rate. For those who continue to predict a breakout of interest rates, global growth, and emissions to the upside, it is now necessary to explain such forecasts not as discrete phenomenon, but rather, to address the associated reversals in population growth trends, and new fossil fuel adoption revolutions required to produce such outcomes.

Do your rates pay for the street, the water and the range of city services that come with it? Here’s Johnny Sanphillippo taking a look at the suburban fringe – “A thousand hidden subsidies“, Stongtowns Journal.

That’s a huge amount of super expensive infrastructure for a sprinkling of homes out in the sticks – or in this case, the rocks. There’s an assumption that these are prosperous residents who pay property tax, income tax, sales tax, and utility bills. But when you add it all up, the people of this community don’t come close to paying for the basic infrastructure they depend on.

Does anyone think the folks in the $700,000 suburban homes would be living there in anything like their current circumstances if they had to pave their own roads and pump water up to their own homes? Does anyone believe these homes would be worth $700,000 without the heavily subsidized public infrastructure?

No doubt your workplace shows its commitment to sustainability by printing double-sided by default and composting the kitchen scraps. But what about the copious amounts of parking that incentivises driving? Here are some interesting “Travel Demand” policies, including my favourite – the parking cash-out.  Adam Russell , “Drive less, earn a bike: Employers thinking big with TDM programs“, Mobility Lab.

Sonos’ SmartRide program was more than a new bicycle – the company chose to offer employees two paths. In the “fast cash” option, employees could cash-out of their parking, receiving some of that money instead as a daily bonus for their non-driving commutes. After a certain number of biking commutes, the employee would receive $600 toward a new bicycle at a local bike shop. The “flexible” option keeps driving to on-site parking as an option, has lower cash bonuses for active trips, and requires more trips in order to earn the bicycle credit. A vacation-day raffle, with entries generated through biking trips, was also integrated into the system.

Tom Babin follows up his interesting story of vehicular cycling, and asks: “The folly of paint: Is it time to give up on painted bike lanes completely?“, Shifter.

Building proper segregated bike lanes can be controversial. Business worried about losing too many parking spaces. The streets can be too narrow for anything else under traffic guidelines. Blah, blah, blah — it’s the same arguments in every city over and over again.

To be fair, these projects did offer some improvements to pedestrians and in slowing traffic (the latter done, mostly, by putting cyclists in the way of cars). But if the fundamental purpose of a bike lane is to make it safe enough for people of all type to ride in, no matter their skill, I thought I’d test the theory in the simplest way I knew how. I’d take my 11-year-old son onto one of the new lanes and see what he thought about it.

Before this project, he refused to ride on one of these roads because he felt unsafe. Now? He excitedly gave the bike lane a try (yes, he’s as nerdy about bike infrastructure as his dad). He cares little for the politics and compromise that goes into bike infrastructure. He just wants to ride without getting pancaked by an SUV. On this lane, it didn’t take long before he said he felt trapped between moving cars and the door zone. The verdict? “I don’t get it,” he said. “What’s better about this?”

Like many European big cities Paris is aggressively winding back car access in the centre city. From the monthly closing of the Champs-Elysee to a reclaimed portion of the picturesque Left Bank, now it’s the Pompidou Expressway on the Right Bank. Kim Willsher, “Paris divided: two-mile highway by Seine goes car-free for six months” , The Guardian.

The traffic closure would, they wrote, make Paris “more beautiful, more warm, more modern, more green and more human”, and described the use of the riverside autoroutes as “anachronistic … The idea of building a motorway right in the heart of the city might have seemed a good one in the 60s … but as is often the case, yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems.”

Christophe Najdovski, Paris deputy mayor responsible for transport and public spaces, and a member of the Ecology Green party, said the new project is all about changing attitudes. “The first few weeks will be difficult and then it will become normal. As we have seen with this type of project across the whole world, including places like New York and Rio, is that when an urban highway is transformed or closed, there is an evaporation of traffic. Either people modify their route, or they use their car less and take other forms of transport.

19 comments to Sunday reading 11 September 2016

  • There you go:

    ‘The idea of building a motorway right in the heart of the city might have seemed a good one in the 60s … but as is often the case, yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems.”

    In a nut shell.

  • Very interesting thank you. I vote that we follow Paris’s lead and close tamaki drive completely to car traffic.

    • Ricardo

      Alistair, that’s not even sensible. Tamaki drive is a major thoroughfare.

      • Of course, and so is the Right Bank. Tamaki would also be a perfect bicycle ‘superhighway’ instead of a car throughfare. The distances are short, it is flat, and the view is great when you are not in terror for your life. When the so called bicycle lane was first opened, wow a long time ago a now, many of us took advantage of the opening to try it out. The controversy at the time was whether this was a sign of 1. incremental progress or 2. a sign that we were pariahs, who were to be driven into the outer darkness to weep and wail. At the time I thought 1. With the benefit of hindsight, yeah it was 2.

        So. I now think that we should try for what is right. If we can’t get it, 8-), then and only we compromise on a 30 kph speed limit, a separate L and R tracks, inside of the parked cars.

        • buttwizard69420

          Good stuff. I’m sure that will totally enamour the Eastern suburbs to the cause. I mean it’s like they have meaningful public transport when you compare it to say, Mt Eden or the North Shore. Forcing all the car traffic through suburban back roads and past schools sounds like a totally sane idea.

    • Ricardo

      I have to agree with the boy in the article above who asked what was different when cycle lanes are simply paint. Most places in the world have cycle lanes totally separate to roads and vehicle lanes. A bit like f paint helps neither cyclists nor motorists.

    • Ricardo

      …bit of paint….

    • No Tamaki Drive is a fine road for traffic, and it has a nice wide footpath and trees on the lovely seaward side, the only problem is that there is nowhere for those in between pedestrians and motorised traffic; people on bikes etc. Clearly the change is that would improve it is the replacement of some of the parking with proper protected bike lanes, so the pedestrian space is bigger, safer, and more carefree. It also needs upgraded Transit service, which parking removal would also allow, especially on the westbound direction.

      It isn’t comparable to the Seine Autoroutes, yes it is by water, but it isn’t a motorway and it isn’t in the city centre. Those riverine urban motorways [Brisbane!] are terrible, dated, and simply won’t be missed.

  • Stuart Donovan

    Paris is doing so many wonderful things; from rolling out bus lanes and cycle infrastructure, through to pedestrian improvements like this.

    With the UK becoming ever-more inwards looking I can only help but wonder whether London’s loss is Paris’ gain?

  • My opinion which I have stated before is 30 kph should be a maximum speed on roads and highways were pedestrians and cyclist are not separated, the idea a highway with heavy trucks can do 70kph or 100kph through villages and small towns should be a thing of the past, high speed transport should have the same safety requirements as rail, rant over.

    • totally agree! my one comment is that the _average_ speed in a 50kph zone is known to be slightly above 50kph. this means that the peaks are way more than the posted limit. I don’t have a citation, but I understand that in the UK there is a lot of concern that similarly many 20mph zones have been introduced around schools but are not respected. The question is how do we ensure that 30 kph really is the maximum speed?

      I have submitted several proposals to AT to introduce 30 kph zones in limited, high foot traffic areas, and been refused. The reply was sympathetic and pointed to new criteria that were to be introduced. Jam tomorrow and all that.

      • If speed limits were set to protect lives we would still have a viable rail system, trucks would never have competed at 30 kph, how many billions would have been saved on roads of national significance. they will make wonderful cycle ways 20 years from now maybe only 10 years the way EROI of oil keeps getting worse, on top of which 35% of fracking companies in the US bankrupt and 30% heading that way, interesting times. I’ts about time the government woke up to the problems of highways and transport without fossil fuel, think of what we could have had with an electrified rail network, future protected against rising energy costs.

        The World Health Organization in 2004 said 22% of all injury deaths worldwide in 2002 were from road traffic, and the speed of vehicles was the main problem, causing the deaths among 10 – 19 years olds of 260,000 per year, with 10 million injured.

    • buttwizard69420

      So….the open road should be 30kmh? There’s an awful lot of SH1 where there is now separate cycleway.

  • Gregor MacDonald above is very insightful on macro forces at work in world economy, strongly recommend. In there is a link to this also excellent reading of interest rate patterns, does great work of going beyond individual memory for a look at what is normal:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/15/upshot/why-very-low-interest-rates-may-stick-around.html?_r=0

    Also strongly recommended. This bias to lived experience rather than deep analysis explains how clever and well paid people can get things so so wrong, for example:

    ‘“We can expect rapidly rising prices and much, much higher interest rates over the next four or five years,” wrote the economist Arthur B. Laffer in The Wall Street Journal in 2009. In 2014, all 67 economists surveyed by Bloomberg predicted higher rates six months later; they fell sharply instead.’

    • Stu Donovan

      yes, and low interest rates could be exactly what the world needs from an environmental perspective: It would tilt the investment balance towards technologies that have higher capital costs and low operating costs.

      That’s basically the cost structure for most sustainable technologies, e.g. electric vehicles, renewable energy etc.

    • Peter Nunns

      A basic rule in economic analysis is “Arthur Laffer is always wrong.”

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