Pick up your shopping at your Station

Often it’s the big things such as improved infrastructure and services that are needed to make public transport more viable but sometimes small enhancements can help in removing barriers for new users or just improve customer satisfaction with existing users. Yesterday Auckland Transport announced a trial of  the latter kind, a deal with Countdown for people to pick up groceries at a few selected locations with the potential for it to be expanded to more locations in the future.

In a first for Auckland, Auckland Transport has teamed up with Countdown to introduce secure online grocery ‘Click & Collect’ collection points at five initial trial locations.

  • Albany Bus Station.
  • New Lynn Transport Centre.
  • Orakei Train Station.
  • Waiheke Ferry Terminal.
  • Downtown Car Park.

Auckland Transport Chief AT Metro Officer Mark Lambert says “Through this Click & Collect trial we aim to provide our customers with even greater levels of convenience and flexibility, whatever their mode of transport.”

“We’re thrilled to be able to kick off this new initiative with Countdown, who have decades of experience in online shopping and look forward to potentially expanding this customer amenity throughout our network.”

From 27 September 2016, Countdown Shoppers can order their groceries online at countdown.co.nz (before 1pm) and pick them up on the way home when catching the train, bus or ferry that afternoon/evening.

The collection points will play a part in making life easier for Aucklanders as more and more people embrace public transport.

This new service is being rolled out as a six month trial, with a view to offering it in other locations if proven successful. Currently, the five initial transport facilities service more than 95,000 AT HOP card users and customers every day.

This trial with Countdown is one of several ongoing efforts by the AT Retail Strategy Implementation Steering Group to enhance the AT customer experience.

I see this as a good move and I hope it’s successful so it can roll out to more bus/train stations and ferry terminals.


Image thanks to Geogoose

Of course countdown already deliver direct to homes and at general times you can specify but the difference here is that it appears to be slightly cheaper to pick up your goods from the station than it is to deliver – the same as picking up from a store.

I’d see this kind of model being used for a variety of services – another example might courier deliveries. Ultimately I hope it could lead to AT or perhaps even third parties developing stations into more than just the bare platforms they often are today. In overseas cities it is not uncommon to see stations with shops, cafes and other amenities built in – as a small start, my local station now has a coffee van parked up every morning.


Sunday reading 25 September 2016.

csree7oweaipbuhHello, and welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here are a collection of articles, videos and commentary I found interesting over the week. Please add your own links in the comments section.

Here is a good article on the illogic of sprawl from a fiscal standpoint. Nice to see Chuck Marohn and Strongtowns mentioned. Matthew Robare, “Why Sprawl Is Not the Only Choice“, The American Conservative.

Sprawl isn’t really as cheap as it seems. A network of tax breaks, financial guarantees, subsidies, and other chicanery keep parts of suburbia relatively inexpensive. Most notably, transportation costs are often excluded from the discussion of housing affordability, even though it’s hard to live anywhere without a way to get to work. For example, Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns has shown that the low density, car-dependent development that has typified American cities since World War II does not produce enough tax revenue to service the debt that cities took out to build the infrastructure needed for sprawl.

The numbers stuff can be really dull and become a barrier for some to the advantages of urbanism.  Sightline recommends the housing and urbanism message can be better communicated by focusing on people, and a shared community challenge. City Observatory says not so fast, here’s a ‘teachable moment’ about supply and demand. Joe Cortright , “Lessons in Supply and Demand: Housing Market Edition“, City Observatory.

The demand for cities and for great urban neighborhoods is exploding. Americans of all ages, but especially well-educated young adults are increasingly choosing to live in cities. And in the face of that demand, our ability to build more such neighborhoods and to expand housing in the ones that we already have is profoundly limited, both by the relative slowness of housing construction (relative to demand changes), and also because of misguided public policies that constrain our ability to build housing in the places where people most want to live, to the point in many communities, we’ve simply made it illegal to build the dense, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods that widely regarded as the most desirable.

We don’t expect the demand for urban living to abate any time soon–in fact, there’s good reason to believe that it will continue to increase. And it’s still the case that we have a raft of public policies – from restrictions on apartment construction and density, to limits on mixed use development, to onerous parking requirements, and discretionary, hyper-local approval processes – that make it hugely difficult to build new housing in the places where it’s most needed.

Many of the problems we encounter in the housing market are a product of self-inflicted wounds that are based on naive and contradictory ideas about how the world works. We believe that housing should both be affordable and a great investment (which is an impossible contradiction), and we tend to think the laws of supply and demand somehow don’t apply to one of the biggest sectors of the economy (housing). At their root, our housing problems–and their solutions–are about understanding the economics at work here. So in our view, it’s definitely time to talk about supply and demand.

Here’s George Monbiot stating the obvious – “it was a mistake – a monumental, world-class mistake”– “Our roads are choked. We’re on the verge of carmageddon“, The Guardian.

Over half the car journeys people make in this country are less than five miles: this is what policy failure looks like. Why don’t people cycle instead? Perhaps because, though the number of motorists killed or seriously injured has fallen sharply, the number of cyclists killed or hurt on the roads has climbed since 2003. This now accounts for 14% of all casualties, though cycling amounts to only 1% of the distance we travel.

The simplest, cheapest and healthiest solution to congestion is blocked by the failure to provide safe transit. Last year the transport department crowed that it could cut £23m from its budget as a result of an “underspend on the Cycle Cities Ambition budget”. Instead of handing this money back to the Treasury, it should have discovered why it wasn’t spent, and ensured that it doesn’t happen again.

So here’s a novel idea: how about a 21st-century transport system for the 21st century? Helsinki is making public transport as convenient and flexible as private transport. For example, by aggregating people’s requests via a smartphone app, minibus services can collect people from their homes and deliver them close to their destinations while minimising their routes. Hamburg is building a network of cycling and walking paths so safe, pleasant and convenient that no one with the ability to do otherwise would want to take a car.

Here is Lyft founder John Zimmer describing how technology will solve the problem of the car in the city – “The Third Transportation Revolution“, Medium.

Next time you walk outside, pay really close attention to the space around you. Look at how much land is devoted to cars — and nothing else. How much space parked cars take up lining both sides of the street, and how much of our cities go unused covered by parking lots.

It becomes obvious, we’ve built our communities entirely around cars. And for the most part, we’ve built them for cars that aren’t even moving.

…I believe we’re on the cusp of nothing short of a transportation revolution — one that will shape the future of our communities. And it is within our collective responsibility to ensure this is done in a way that improves quality of life for everyone.

By 2025, private car ownership will all-but end in major U.S. cities.

Baffingly, our human habitat remains under examined. What make great places, streets and cities? Here is a comprehensive study that tracks people’s movements to determine the properties that make more healthy and active places. It appears consistent with other studies by Reid Ewing and others.  Kaid Benfield, “Four Characteristics of Active, Healthy Neighborhoods“, Placemakers.

  • Residential density. It takes a critical mass of homes in a neighborhood to support economically viable shops and amenities within walking distance.
  • Intersection density. Well-connected streets tend to shorten travel distances and put more likely destinations within walking distance.
  • Public transport density. More transit stops within walking distance make it more likely that residents have transit options and will elect to use them.
  • Access to parks. Parks serve not only as places where people exercise but also as destinations people walk to and from, getting exercise as they do.

Here’s a fascinating study on the health value of architectural features that encourage social contact- porches, stoops, etc. This seems so basic, but rarely applied in New Zealand.  Brown, SC et al, “Built environment and physical functioning in Hispanic elders: the role of ‘eyes on the street‘”, Pub Med.gov.

After controlling for age, sex, and income, architectural features of the built environment theorized to facilitate visual and social contact had a significant direct relationship with elders’ physical functioning as measured 3 years later, and an indirect relationship through social support and psychological distress. Further binomial regression analyses suggested that elders living on blocks marked by low levels of positive front entrance features were 2.7 times as likely to have subsequent poor levels of physical functioning, compared with elders living on blocks with a greater number of positive front entrance features [b = 0.99; chi(2) (1 df) = 3.71; p = 0.05; 95% confidence interval, 1.0-7.3].


Street party. Balmoral, Auckland, 2015

While many of our streets are designed for social interaction and access to transport services, people seem largely content to live behind stone walls and high hedges.  Here’s a neat story from the suburbs of Minnesota that has encouraged people to come back to their front yards. James Walsh, “Project connects St. Paul neighbors by moving them to their front yards“, Star Tribune.

Ross Callahan has lived in his Rondo-area home for 14 years. Yet, he admits, he’d communicated with only a few of his neighbors over that time, usually with a nod or a wave.

Then a funny thing happened. He started spending time in the front yard.

Thanks to a project designed to get people out of their backyards and meeting their neighbors, Callahan started cleaning up the green space at the center of his cul-de-sac, laid a new patio and, yes, started getting to know the people who live in the dozen homes around him.

Postcard from Bogota

Following a few days in Mexico City, I’ve had the pleasure of staying a week in Bogota, Colombia. Bogota is both the federal capital and the capital of Cundinamarca state, and while it probably doesn’t yet figure as a world capital of culture or clout, it certainly is a thriving mega city of regional importance.

Because of its position straddling the Andes, Colombia is a country with every climate conceivable, it has snow covered alps, temperate savannah, dense jungle, dry desert, not to mention both tropical Caribbean and temperate-maritime Pacific coasts.

The city itself sits on broad plain high up on the middle finger of the three-branched Andes mountains, in fact at 2,700m it’s high enough to cause altitude sickness in some people. The altitude gives the nominally tropical city a very mild temperate climate, with clear skies, low humidity and temperatures that sit around the high teens and low twenties every day of the year. You could call it the city of eternal Spring.
Bogota is big. At around 11.5 million people it is as populous as greater London, or all of New Zealand two and a half times over.

Bogota is also dense. The majority of inhabitants live in apartment towers, mid rise block or terraced house style developments. The north of the city has a very European feel, with four to six story apartments of brick or concrete on a grid of fairly narrow tree lined streets. If it weren’t for the language you could be in the Netherlands or Germany.

Curiously, the city is three sided. The original colonial centre was established on one edge of the plain at the foot of a great mountain range. It has since sprawled across the plain to the north, south and west, but not to the east on account of the mountains. This allows for one unique benefit: you can ride a cable car a further 400m up the mountain of Monseraté near downtown and take in the whole sprawling metropolis in a single vista, including the bizzare experience of standing on terra firma and looking down at the tops of fifty story skyscrapers in the commercial district far below. If the thin air doesn’t take your breath away, the view certainly will!


Accordingly Bogota has basically two types of land use structure. A long, thin, but dense band of apartment towers runs for 40km north-south along the eastern edge of the plain, taking advantage of the Andes foothills to provide spectacular view back across the city. These buildings are accessed by a circuitous web of winding narrow switchback roads not too dissimilar to western Wellington. For the most part the wealthy live here in gated apartment communities, however dotted amongst them are university campuses (Bogota has dozens of them for some reason) and patches of impoverished and dangerous barrios similar to the famous favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

The other structure is on the plain itself, an enormous flat and regular grid of broad multi-lane avenues, filled with three to thirty storey buildings. Think Los Angeles but consistently taller. This is perhaps Bogota’s downfall: it land use is what can only be described as dense sprawl, and it’s transport system is entirely road based. Not surprisingly the traffic is truly horrendous. I have to laugh whenever people complain about Auckland’s supposedly worlds-worst traffic. Puh-lease. If you want bad traffic, take a city the same area as Auckland, with an entirely road based transport network… then add another ten million inhabitants all trying to drive at the same time.

Naturally Bogota has spend decades trying to accommodate it’s traffic with more, bigger roads. The city is covered in a massive amount of six, eight, ten lane avenues. They appear to have tried a bit of everything, separated motorways, limited access avenues, boulevards, frontage roads, slip lanes, underpasses, overpasses, one way streets, the works. The system almost works too… when conditions are perfect. However that almost never happens. It only takes one small crash, a truck parked illegally to unload, a taxi doing a u-turn or one of a thousand other small disruptions to infarct the system. This is perhaps the folly of huge roads for huge capacity, on an eight lane road one disruption clogs up eight times the traffic.

Transport here has an interesting socio-cultural element. From what I understand Bogotano society has six distinct classes with a broad spread of inequality, from the destitute poor up to the untouchable elite with money and connections above the law. For the middle classes, there is a great preoccupation with not sliding down the ladder. Few in the middle classes would ever dream of catching public transport as that is the domain of the underclass. Maintaining a private car is a necessary symbol of status regardless of the cost or the traffic, and if one does not drive they rely on cheap and ubiquitous taxis or town car services. Either way, not escape from the traffic is possible and it’s one form of private car all the way.

The transit wonks among us must now be thinking, but what about the Transmillennio? For the less frothy-mouthed readers, the Transmillennio is a now-famous busway system with half a dozen lines running along Bogota’s main arterials forming quite a wide reaching and effective network. This system is A grade busway of world class design. It is based around a system of dedicated, physically separated median busway lanes, some of which are grade separate at key intersections. The are combined with train-style island platform stations accessed by elaborate overpasses and footbridges. The busways themselves are serviced by special red colour high capacity trunk-only metro buses, very long vehicles with two or three articulated sections, high floors that match up with platform level, and four or even five double doors per bus. At the end of each of the busways there are huge interchanges where green-coloured feeder buses of conventional design connect the surrounding suburbs to the trunk busways. In that regard it really is metro system writ with rubber.


So what is it like to use? I wouldn’t know myself, as I was consistently dissuaded from trying it by friends and family whenever I mentioned it. The locals advised it was too crowded, too dangerous, too much of a risk for any decent person to use. I do wonder if this is simply a hangover of the same cultural understanding that buses were for the poor and to be avoided. Indeed when I asked few of my advisors had ever set foot on the system. My one young cousin who did actually use it to get to university each day only complained that it was too crowded, and the station too far away from his apartment.

What we do know is that the system is indeed hugely popular and overcrowded, a victim of it’s own success. Preoccupations of class and status aside, hundreds of thousands of people use the system every day. For all its efficiency at beating traffic and it mega capacity buses ability to move the masses, the simple fact is it barely touches the sides of the transport task in Bogota. Imagine London with no tube, not overground, no suburban trains, no national rail, no DLR, no tramlink. Imagine a London with six busways as the only rapid transit. That is Bogota. They have a long way to go to turn the traffic situation around. So yes it is a massive success, and very worthwhile, but for Bogota it is just the start of fixing things.

So if the Transmillennio is so effective (if not comprehensive), one has to ask why we don’t build them in Auckland. Indeed we hear this quite often from certain politicians, why are we talking about CRL tunnels and trains and light rail, when the bus can do the job for half the price? It’s a good question, and one that deserves an evaluation. Nonetheless, the answer is pretty simple: space.


The Transmillennio takes up space, lots of space. More space than we have. The basic cross section of these busways is two bus lanes either side of a median. That’s basically the full width of most of our main roads to start with. However, once you get to a stop the situation blows out again. Each of the stations has a large platform, then stopping lanes either side, then passing lane beside those again. That means a cross section of four bus lanes and the station, about 25 metres wide. Now as most of Auckland’s arterial roads are one chain wide (about 21m), building a Transmillennio in Auckland would require buying and demolishing all the buildings down one side of the street just to fit in the bus corridor, let alone any other traffic lanes, footpaths or street trees. Indeed, the one place we are looking at a multilane street busway, the AMETI corridor in east Auckland, they are planning to do exactly that.

So while we can do busways alongside motorways like we do on the North Shore (and hopefully the northwest), we can’t fit them in the street for the most part. This is why AT is looking at light rail, because for the same capacity LRT needs only two lanes and compact platforms, where the bus systems need four to manage the greater number of vehicles.

Bogota managed this by building into their existing avenues, which had huge wide medians in addition to three or four lanes in each direction. The Transmillennio got away without any land or building purchases by virtue of having huge road reserves to start with. In fact they had such wide corridors that they actually widened the roadways at the same time, adding extra lanes for traffic to offset the squeals of indignation about spending proper money on public transport. So in one way Bogota was lucky to have a fair whack of empty space effectively lying around, or arguably they were wasting land to start with and found a better use for it.

My end evaluation? The Transmillennio was a good move for Bogota that fits the city well and takes advantage of spatial resources, however it’s only the start of much more for fixing their transport issues.

Sunday reading 18 September 2016

Welcome back to Sunday reading. This week, we’re starting with two bits of authentic Kiwiana. First, in Stuff Henry Cooke reviews New Zealand’s best and worst town slogans. You’ve got to read the entire article for the full effect, but here were some of my favourite ones:


Someone once suggested a slogan for the wider Hutt area “Right up my Hutt Valley,” which sounds like a joke the marketing agency pitched by accident. Luckily, something closer to “Love the Hutt” or “I love the Hutt” has taken over the slogan game now.



Dunedin, after years of enduring “I am Dunedin” and the much more fun “It’s alright here,” seems to have dropped the whole idea of a slogan altogether, instead branding the city as simply “dunedin” – but written in a gothic script so they look like a black metal band. In their brand story Dunedin notes the new logo is “irony-proof,” and, well – they’re not wrong.

Frankly, before the Hutt Valley gets another slogan it should consider renaming itself. Te Awa Kairangi could be a good alternative, but they’d have to scrub the toxic algae out of the river to make it worthy of the name…

Second, the Loading Docs initiative, which supports 10 filmmaking teams to create three-minute, creative documentaries that tell New Zealand stories, has put together a short video telling the story of two refugee migrants to New Zealand: How Mr. and Mrs. Gock Saved the Kumara. Pretty inspiring story:

Away from New Zealand, Jarrett Walker (Human Transit) tells the story of Barcelona’s “drunken metro and sober bus”. It’s an interesting story of good and bad public transport design, and the kludges that build up over time as networks expand:

Some simple math: In an optimal grid network, lines keep going more or less straight, and intersect each other more or less perpendicularly.  You change direction in this network by making a connection.  The perpendicularity maximizes the area of the city that each connection could take you to.


Transit grids can be standard or polar, but are almost always some subtle fusion of the two. The polar grid arises when there’s a huge center on which the network logically converges, because desirable destinations are packed most tightly there.

Once you recognize these patterns, you notice how coherent most metro networks are. Even those that are kludges to a degree have usually been patched as much as possible to create some appropriate fusion of radial and standard grid effects.

But among the metros I’ve encountered Barcelona’s metro network seems unusually chaotic in its network structure, often seeming to meander without intention.


[…] Again, most metros are kludges to some degree.  It’s unlikely that anybody alive in Barcelona today deserves blame for the odd patterns of the metro’s flow.  There are always historical reasons for why things have ended up as they are.  If you want to follow that history, here’s a fun video.

But meanwhile:  Does your head contain some received wisdom along the lines of: “European metros are so fantastic that why would anyone take buses?” I can remember when many Europeans used to believe this, but today, bus network improvement is one of the most important of European trends. The need for a rational bus network may be even more urgent if your metro is staggering around drunkenly, unable to follow a straight line.

What’s great about the new Barcelona’s bus network then, is not just that it’s a grid, but that it really wants you to know that it’s a grid, and how straight its constituent lines are:


The new lines have numbers preceded by “H” or “V” for “horizontal” or “vertical”.  (Vertical is quite literal: not just up-down on standard maps like this one, but also up to the hills or down to the sea.)  These frequent lines are also numbered in logical sequence across the city, so that as you get to know the network, a number reminds you of roughly where in the grid each line sits, and thus what it’s likely to be useful for.

The idea is that people should be able to keep a sense of the whole grid network in their heads.  If you just remember what H and V mean, and the sequence in which they’re numbered, you have an enormous amount of information the whole system. When you see any bus numbered this way, you have a general sense of which way it’s going, or at least along which axis.  And when you hear a bus route number, you can easily form a general sense of where it is.

Jarrett’s an advocate for legible, user-friendly public transport systems that are accessible to a wide variety of people and transport demands. But our transport systems are often designed to meet different goals: to exclude and separate, rather than connect. Lena Groeger (ProPublica) explores the sordid history and present of “Discrimination by Design“:

You can’t talk about discriminatory design without mentioning city planner Robert Moses, whose public works projects shaped huge swaths of New York City from the 1930s through the 1960s. The physical design of the environment is a powerful tool when it’s used to exclude and isolate specific groups of people. And Moses’ design choices have had lasting discriminatory effects that are still felt in modern New York.

A notorious example: Moses designed a number of Long Island Parkway overpasses to be so low that buses could not drive under them. This effectively blocked Long Island from the poor and people of color who tend to rely more heavily on public transportation. And the low bridges continue to wreak havoc in other ways: 64 collisions were recorded in 2014 alone (here’s a bad one).

The design of bus systems, railways, and other forms of public transportation has a history riddled with racial tensions and prejudiced policies. In the 1990s the Los Angeles’ Bus Riders Union went to court over the racial inequity they saw in the city’s public transportation system. The Union alleged that L.A.’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority spent “a disproportionately high share of its resources on commuter rail services, whose primary users were wealthy non-minorities, and a disproportionately low share on bus services, whose main patrons were low income and minority residents.” The landmark case was settled through a court-ordered consent decree that placed strict limits on transit funding and forced the MTA to invest over $2 billion in the bus system.

Of course, the design of a neighborhood is more than just infrastructure. Zoning laws and regulations that determine how land is used or what schools children go to have long been used as a tool to segregate communities. All too often, the end result of zoning is that low-income, often predominantly black and Latino communities are isolated from most of the resources and advantages of wealthy white communities.

Discrimination by design is hardly a thing of the past. Many cities are going out of their way to put up barriers to building smaller, affordable dwellings that can meet the needs of people without a lot of money. On the Sightline Institute’s blog, architect and developer David Neiman explains the problems with Seattle’s recent effort to impose minimum apartment sizes:

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.

[…] You buy a plot of land in an urban village to develop micro-housing, anticipating its future residents will benefit from nearby frequent transit, grocery stores, a library and park, and some local shops. Your goal is to provide homes at affordable rents in a desirable neighborhood for the most people that you can. You’d also like to participate in the MFTE program, which gives you a property tax break that covers the cost of dramatically lowering the rent for a share of your tenants as long as those tenants have low incomes.

You draw up plans to build 40 apartments of 175 square feet each. You estimate rent at $900 per month. That amount might sound expensive if you haven’t shopped for rentals in Seattle recently, but it’s a steal: conventional studios now go for $1,400 on average.

Not so fast. Some of the folks who live nearby are upset about what you have planned. So the City Council passes new rules bumping up your units to an average of 220 square feet, and then, in committee, adds some more rules that jack your average unit size further.

You redesign your project according to the new rules and find that you are now down to 27 units of 260 square feet each. Thirteen Annas just lost their housing, and the remainder saw their rent rise by a third, to about $1,200 per month. But at least you are in the MFTE program, so five of your apartments will offer a discounted rent of $1,020 per month to people whose incomes qualify. (You facepalm in disbelief, however, that whereas your original plan offered 40 units, unsubsidized, at $900 a month, your new version has just five units, subsidized, at $1,020.)

Hold on just a second, though, because your Plan B just ran aground. The City Council has decided that the MFTE deal is too good for you, and it adopts more-demanding program requirements, dropping MFTE-discounted rents to $618 per month. Some quick math tells you your property tax break will not come close to covering the rent subsidy.

On top of this, the Mayor’s Office decides to promote family-sized housing by bumping up your MFTE participation quota: you have to subsidize rents for a quarter, not a fifth, of your tenants. You’re baffled why the Mayor’s Office thinks that driving you out of the MFTE program is helping to build family-sized housing. You give up on the MFTE program. There will be no discounted units. The Annas will all have to pay $1,200 a month. Maybe their parents will chip in?

Nice try. The building department is concerned that your apartments are so small that they might pose a threat to life, health, and safety. (You groan in frustration. The National Healthy Housing Standard was revised by an expert panel in 2014 to radically reduce the emphasis on minimum space as a health and safety concern. Previous editions of this model US building code had, based on little empirical evidence, recommended space quotas that criminalized the living conditions of many low-income families, but the new codes, based on a thorough review of the research literature, suggest a minimum of just 70 square feet per room and eliminated all other references to crowding. Sightline’s research informed this change.) The building department publishes a new code interpretation that requires your SEDUs to have larger living rooms. You redesign your project again: Plan C. Three more Annas lose their homes. You are now down to 24 apartments of 290 square feet that rent for about $1,300 per month.

At this point, you realize you’re better off converting the units into small, conventional studios. Your unit size bumps up again, to a little over 300 square feet—Plan D—but at least conventional studios can rationally participate in the MFTE program because the required rent subsidy is lower, so 25 percent of your tenants will get an affordable rent.

Not quite. The building department has a follow-up memo. It turns out that the living room size problem doesn’t just concern SEDUs; conventional studios are now also in danger of sliding below the purported minimum threshold for human habitation. This new interpretation applies to all housing, so your studios have to grow yet again. Your units jump up to an average of 330 square feet, Plan E. Three more Annas lose homes. Your unit count drops to 21. Your rents are now at $1,400 per month. They are not micros. Micros are dead.

This is how Seattle micro-housing regulations have evolved in less than two years. Spread over dozens of proposed small unit development projects, this represents the loss of hundreds of affordable dwellings and a huge increase in average rents. How much?

Seattle’s micro-housing “fix” costs the city 829 affordable homes per year

How many affordable homes is Seattle losing due to its new thicket of rules against micro-housing? The graph below illustrates how the production of congregate housing (including pod-style) and SEDUs changed between 2010 and 2015.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

This is just a stupid catastrophe of a policy. Unbelievable. And remember: Auckland Council just decided to impose a more restrictive minimum dwelling size. While Seattle’s policy bans units with less than 330sq ft, or around 30m2, Auckland’s restricts anything under 35m2.

However, Auckland’s doing it right in other areas. Consider this article on Houston’s 1999 reform to its (minimal) zoning code, by John Ricco at Greater Greater Washington:

But in 1999, Houston enacted sweeping land-use reforms: it decreased the minimum residential lot size from 5,000 square feet [465m2] to 1,400 [130m2] in close-in neighborhoods. In effect, this reform legalized townhouses in areas with suburban-style houses on huge lots. Two or three houses could now take the spot of one.

The political significance of these reforms cannot be overstated. Single family zoning is somewhat of a third rail in American local politics; it’s exceptionally rare for residents of suburban-style neighborhoods to allow denser development. Urbanist commentators have noted that “missing middle” housingforms like duplexes and small multifamily apartments—has been regulated away in most American cities. Houston represents an important dissent from the notion that single family neighborhoods are to be preserved at all costs.

The results of these reforms have been remarkable. Areas that were once made up entirely of ranch-style houses, McMansions, and underused lots are now covered in townhouses… The infill process is typically incremental, with detached homes being replaced one at a time. This often leads to a diversity of housing styles on a single block:

Other blocks are unrecognizable in their transformation:

And in some parts of the city, this redevelopment process has gone hand-in-hand with light rail expansion:

(There are so many striking before-and-after images that I programmed a twitter bot, @densifyingHOU, that tweets one out every day.)

One major benefit of these townhouses: they’re cheap! Development at this scale uses cheaper construction methods than those of large buildings, and Houston’s straightforward permitting process reduces regulatory uncertainty and thus financing costs. A cursory search on real estate websites reveals luxury townhouses a mile from downtown from the low $300s.

Now, Houston’s approach does have its flaws. Parking is still mandated, setback requirements and inward-facing homes make for a lousy pedestrian experience, and some new houses are, frankly, ugly. In some areas, unhappy homeowners have lobbied successfully for block-level regulations that re-outlaw townhouses.

But the key insight here is that piecemeal densification is possible, and it works. Houston has found a way to add significant amounts of housing without sprawling.

I wrote about this process after visiting Houston a few years ago. To be clear: the public face of Houston, especially if you’re trying to walk somewhere, is ugly and inhumane. But the buildings are changing rapidly in response to a more liberal set of density controls, which is benefitting people trying to find housing.

The interesting thing is that Auckland has recently surpassed Houston when it comes to deregulating minimum lot sizes. The Unitary Plan drops minimum lot sizes to zero in three of four urban residential zones (Terraced Housing and Apartment Blocks, Mixed Housing Urban, Mixed Housing Suburban) that cover the majority of the city – albeit with a requirement to get a resource consent before building too many dwellings. And in the Single House zone minimum lot sizes are counterbalanced by a more permissive approach to granny flats. We will see how it goes.

Finally, University of Auckland statistician Thomas Lumley reviews his new electric bike. He seems to be enjoying it:

Q: So, it’s been about 11 months since you got your fancy electric-assist bike

A: Yes, that’s right

Q: Have you given up yet?

A: No, it’s still fun.

Q: Even with the rain?

A: Combining Doppler radar and the detailed weather forecasts has mostly kept me dry

Q: And getting killed by cars?

A: So far, still at less than 1 event.

Q: How do you feel about busy two-lane roundabouts?

A: I have a Theory.

Q: Do tell!

A: Busy roundabouts rely on informal negotiation over the details of the ‘give way to the right’ rule. Since cyclists are excluded from the negotiation, we inevitably offend either the drivers to the right or those behind us.

Q: Can’t they just four-letter-word themselves?

A: They are driving deadly weapons.

Q: Ah. Yes.

People respond to incentives created by zoning

There are many, many other examples. Auckland’s sausage flats, for instance, were designed to respond to zoning rules. A mid-1970s reform allowed people to add units on standard residential sites, but they didn’t waive setback and height rules. The result was a lot of long, skinny ‘sausages’ running down the centre of suburban lots, as seen in Royal Oak:


Sausage flats are not the most beloved aspect of Auckland’s urban fabric. (Unjustly, in my view, as they serve a valuable role in housing people who may not be able to afford a typical standalone house.) But some responses to zoning are more well-loved. Take the Mansard roof, which probably forms a key part of your mental image of Paris: Steeply pitched roofs with windows facing out and apartments built within:


According to Wikipedia, this emerged as a response to French zoning codes:

Later examples suggest that either French or American buildings were taxed by their height (or number of storeys) to the base of the roof, or that mansards were used to bypass zoning restrictions. This last explanation is the nearest to the truth: a Parisian law had been in place since 1783, restricting the heights of buildings to 20 metres (65 feet). The height was only measured up to the cornice line, making any living space contained in a mansard roof exempt. A 1902 revision of the law permitted building three or even four stories within such a roof.

Humans are great. We’ve never seen a rule that we didn’t try to weasel our way around.

Rail to the Shore Meeting Tonight


In case you missed it, the North Shore Rail campaign is holding a meeting tonight to draw out support from the public and Auckland Council candidates.

As the media release says, the campaign is really pushing for North Shore residents to turn up and demonstrate their support for a high capacity electric rail connection across the Waitemata, otherwise it might not happen at all. An online petition has so far garnered over 1,500 signatures from the general public.

If you aren’t familiar with the background, NZTA’s proposed road crossing has no economic business case and is likely to cause even more congestion in the central city and surrounding road networks unless further road widening takes place. The New Zealand Transport Agency are planning to lodge planning approvals with the Auckland Council for the road crossing some time early next year.

The free public meeting will feature Barb Cuthbert from Bike Auckland as MC, with speakers including:

  • Cameron Pitches from Better Transport
  • Patrick Reynolds from TransportBlog and Greater Auckland
  • Chris Darby, currently a North Shore Councillor and standing again in this year’s election
  • Richard Hills, current Kaipatiki Local Board Member and also standing this year for the Auckland Council North Shore electorate

To be held:

  • Thursday 15th September, 7:30pm
  • Onewa Netball Centre
  • 44 Northcote Road, Takapuna

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.

The Spinoff warcast – Transport

The Spinoff has been doing some great coverage of Auckland issues including a weekly podcast. This week they talked about transport and invited Green MP Julie Anne Genter and me along to the discussion.

Spinoff warcast_005-850x510

The podcast is embedded below or head on over to The Spinoff to listen.

Sunday reading 28 August 2016

'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19410723-34-27'

‘Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19410723-34-27’

Hi y’all and welcome to Sunday Reading. Here’s a collection of stuff I found interesting over the week. Please add your links in the comments below.

Whoops, we forgot to build housing. During all the backslapping about the urban renaissance it has become clear that not providing/allowing for housing has crippled the opportunity engine of city living. Marl Gimein, “Why the high cost of big-city living is bad for everyone“, The New Yorker.

With all the advantages of hindsight, it’s hard to believe that anybody didn’t see the skyrocketing cost of housing coming in New York and San Francisco (and other cities around the globe like London, Singapore, and Washington, D.C.). But, in fact, for many years the conventional thinking pointed in the opposite direction. Urban planners such as Oppermann saw growing cities as an overcrowded traffic puzzle. Later, it was said that the deterioration of old urban cores would push everyone who could afford it out to “edge cities.” Most recently, we were promised that information tech and the virtual office would make cities largely unnecessary.

The price of the creation of these imperial cities is that they actually provide decreasing opportunities for many of those who already live in them, or for those who move to them and are not already armed with resources, status, and education. Everyone living in New York or San Francisco understands the general contours of this. Artists get pushed out of the center, the middle class gets pushed into the suburbs, and bus riders are asked to make way (literally) for tech workers.

Toby Manhire,  “One in three Aucklanders has recently considered quitting Auckland because of house prices – poll”, The Spinoff.

One in three of those surveyed – or 32.2% if you insist on being absolutely precise – answered yes to the question, “Have you in the last two years considered moving away from Auckland because of house prices?” A further 36.3% selected the option, “No, but it’s a good idea”, and the remaining 31.5% said it’s not something they’d considered.

Like parking management reform, there is an urgent need to reform antiquate zoning laws. This story introduces the excellent term “opportunity hoarding”- Richard V. Reeves, “How land use regulations are zoning out low-income families“, Brookings.

NIMBYism is motivated by a rational desire to accumulate financial capital by enhancing home values. But for parents, it is also about helping their children accumulate human capital by controlling access to local schools. According to Jonathan Rothwell, there is a strong link between zoning and educational disparities. Homes near good elementary schools are more expensive: about two and half times as much as those near the poorer-performing schools. But in metropolitan areas with more restrictive zoning, this gap is even wider. Loosening zoning regulations would reduce the housing cost gap and therefore narrow the school test-score gap by 4 to 7 percentiles, Rothwell finds.


ht @busdriverlife

Here’s one of the many recent breaking stories on driverless  vehicles. This sleek box has a top speed of 10kph. Even something like this would need to be located on a direct, fixed route to make any sense. It does have the capability to wander around to pick people up if you’re into a hellish airport shuttle experience. Alison DeNisco, “Driverless bus hits the streets in Finland, could revolutionize public transportation“, Tech Republic.

Residents of Helsinki, Finland will soon be used to the sight of buses with no drivers roaming the city streets. One of the world’s first autonomous bus pilot programs has begun in the Hernesaari district, and will run through mid-September.

The robotic buses could be used in addition to existing public transportation options in the future, Santamala said. “Their purpose is to supplement but not to replace it,” he added. “For example, the goal could be to use them as a feeder service for high-volume bus or metro traffic… In other words, the mini-bus would know when the connecting service is coming and it would get you there on time.”


In compiling this list of links, I set out NOT to include anything on parking. Auckland may be peerless with its rapid adoption of progressive parking reforms. While not perfect, and definitely far from over, the major battles have been won.  At the final hour, I came across this article and couldn’t resist the urge for this “next level” parking content.

Stephen Joseph, “Why other cities should copy Nottingham’s revolutionary parking levy“, CityMetric.

Nottingham City Transport..has implemented a levy on workplace parking spaces, the money from which goes towards transport projects in the city.

The results are becoming clear to see. Public transport use, already high, has now nudged above 40 per cent of journeys in the city, a very high percentage for the UK.

The wider economic impacts are perhaps more interesting: all the predictions of loss of jobs and businesses have proved unfounded. (In fact, the genesis of this piece was a comment on these pages that Nottingham had grown when many similar cities had shrunk.) Recent statistics show jobs growth in Nottingham has been faster than other cities, while traffic congestion has fallen. The levy, with the other measures, has also helped Nottingham reach its carbon reduction target a few years early.

Although every city is different, there might be some wider lessons here. One, for the transport economist geeks, might be to stop obsessing with congestion charging. Efficient in economic theory though this might be, Nottingham looked at it and decided that it would be very costly – all those cameras and enforcement – and would not target peak hour traffic jams and single-occupancy car commuting as effectively as the levy would.

Have a great Sunday.

Guest Post: Rail Safety Week – A HSEQ Perspective

This is a guest post from Harriet. 


Recently we have had Rail Safety Week, the aim was to increase awareness of level crossings and their danger. Unfortunately we have had many deaths and injuries, with countless more near misses over the last few years. When an incident happens on a level crossing so many lives change- from the person hit, to the person driving, as well as both’s families. The slogan was “Expect Trains” as “Trains can appear any train from either direction” this has been an important message especially due to the increase of trains on the western line from 8 trains per hour  to 12 trains per hour, and the many level crossings going .

As an Avondale station user I have seen a few near misses under the following scenario. When the Westbound train is stoppedpeople cross assuming the level crossing is safe to cross, as they are watching the train, forgetting that within minutes, often 1-2, that the Citybound train is approaching the station at speed. All it will take is for the Citybound train to be a little early, or the Westbound to be late for that assumption to become an incident, which will highly likely result in the death of that person and traumatisation of the driver.

The Rail Safety campaign for me is interesting as I work in an industry which deals a lot with contractors. We are very conscious regarding HSEQ, so as someone who has a basic understanding in the area find the Government’s view interesting.

The new Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 has lead to a massive shift in our HSE law coming about due to the disaster at Pike River where 29 workers didn’t come home. In HSEQ the main issue is the controlling of hazards. There is a hierarchy of the effectiveness of these controls, these can be summed up as either Eliminating the Hazard or Minimisation of the Hazard however in more detail they are the below.


The campaign to educate people regarding level crossings as you can see is low on the hierarchy of controls, being an ‘Administrative Control’. In the workplace, this would be comparable to having a control for forklift hazards as telling employees to just “Expect Forklifts”.  In the case of an incident, this level of control wold most likely not meet the duty set out in Section 36 of the act as not doing everything as is reasonably practicable.

Worksafe would probably ask: Why wasn’t there a radio control of persons informing forklift drivers of a person exiting/entering an area; walkway line marking creating safe zones for persons walking through? or why wasn’t technology used such as proximity beacon card which would inform a forklift driver if they were coming to close to someone walking through?


In the case of level crossings (if of course transport was ever held to the same standards :/) there are far superior controls that can be implemented.  Engineering controls such as gates, safer rubber crossings which are harder than the wood to get stuck as the lady at Morningside was, as well as better lights and sounds to alert users could be used. Far more importantly, especially in urban areas with high levels of train movements, level crossings can be grade separated which eliminates the hazard completely.

Surely if the government was serious about the safety of people, it would seek to eliminate the hazards, or at the very least minimise them rather than just relying on administrative controls.

Across in the ditch in Melbourne this is exact thinking, in 2015 the Level Crossing Removal Authority was formed to remove 50 level crossings in 8 years with at least 20 by 2018.

The budget for this project is large, however when you look at it in detail it includes track upgrades, massive station upgrades as well as a 3 section totalling 8.2km elevated line. The argument for removing level crossings is safety, as well as travel time benefits to road, active mode users as well as rail users.


Back in Auckland we have 45 level crossings, with only one crossing scheduled to be removed before 2018 (Sarawia), and two more as part of or coinciding the CRL works (Porters Avenue and Normanby Road). Only 26 million is budgeted for level crossing removal between 2018-2025. The Onehunga level crossings were planned to be removed during the SMART project, however with the route now either being LRT or BRT no public plans that I know of exist for these crossings. One of the Glen Innes entrances could be removed tomorrow as a grade separated access exists for the northern end of the station.


Unfortunately these level crossings will more likely be removed after the CRL due to delays to traffic as a result of the increased CRL frequency, rather than for people’s safety, but I am very happy to be proven wrong.

I understand there is only so much Tracksafe can do as better solutions require Local and Central Government, the work is appreciated and the message still important.