Sunday reading 25 January 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

Bob Dey, “UP1: The PAUP, the MUL, the RUB, the RPS & the LRP – the what-the?“:

The theory put in place in 2013 was the 70:40 model – the council would aim to get 70% of new development inside the metropolitan limits as they were in 2010, plus areas rezoned since then, but would have the flexibility for up to 40% to be in greenfields outside the old limits. The council would set a 30-year goal for all urban development to be inside these fences, though plan changes & consents for external development would still be possible.

The hearing panel won’t have the economic analysis before it to justify doing away with the concept in its entirety, though there’s been plenty of time to do that job properly since the Productivity Commission had a shot in 2012 at analysing what it deemed a flawed concept.

Critics of the rigid boundary concept had thought the council’s own capacity for growth studies would provide answers, but that source of information has kept changing, been redefined, and information from the newest version is not only still on the way but won’t give the definitive answers showing how the existing boundary has affected costs.

This is the first entry in Dey’s coverage of the Unitary Plan hearings, which is well worth reading. Articles in the series (thus far):

Articles in the series:
UP1: The PAUP, the MUL, the RUB, the RPS & the LRP – the what-the?
UP2: Council tells panel the evidence backs compact city, and new urban boundary will work
UP3: Paper on preferred form an important backgrounder
UP4: Fairgray doesn’t fix on the far horizon, but says million new Aucklanders will fit in
UP5: Rule changes would shorten land supply and discourage new villages
UP6: McDermott argues for better ways than compact city to accommodate growth

Emily Badger, The American decline in driving actually began way earlier than you think, Washington Post:

I mentioned last week that car travel in America appears to have peaked backed in 2004. Since then, “vehicle miles traveled” per person in the U.S. have been falling or flat-lining, prompting a fascinating debate over whether we’re witnessing some fundamental shift in the American relationship to the car, or some economic blip instead.

Timothy J. Garceau, a Ph.D. candidate in geography at the University of Connecticut, and professors Carol Atkinson-Palombo and Norman Garrick offer a different way to think about the answer. In research they presented this week at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, they looked at travel data not at the national level, but by state instead.

Their results further challenge the argument that Americans have merely been driving less of late because of the bad economy: Washington state experienced “peak car travel” all the way back in 1992, and Nevada, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia all did before the new millennium. By this measure, peak car happened in D.C. in 1996.

Hamish Campbell, “Popular New Zealand Road Names“:

Rank Name Frequency Length (m)
1 Accessway 2414 220,876
2 Service Lane 492 54,500
3 Roadway 452 335,172
4 State Highway 1 125 2,168,214
5 George Street 74 38,105
6 Queen Street 69 50,181
7 Beach Road 69 103,280
8 High Street 68 68,671
9 King Street 66 42,302
10 Station Road 66 80,138

Anna Maria Barry-Jester, “Why the rules of the road aren’t enough to keep people from dying“, Fivethirtyeight:

“The engineer will usually calculate the load a beam must bear and then design it to hold some percentage of higher load, for safety. When building roads, the 85th percentile calculates the speed the engineers hope or intend people will travel, but then it’s used to design a road to meet that speed at a minimum, with a factor of safety allowing for faster travel,” he told me.

In other words, by adding additional “safety” to the road, it is designed to make people comfortable going faster than the engineers’ intended speed. This is known as the interpreted design speed (the speed people actually feel safe traveling), which is often significantly higher than the intended design speed. Think of a subdivision with wide, flat roads. The speed limit may be 25 mph, but you feel utterly comfortable doing 40.

Anne Gibson, “Housing warning: It’s an Ireland repeat“, NZ Herald:

Precisely the same factors that plunged Ireland into its housing crisis last decade are now in play in New Zealand and could spark a big correction, says a leading Auckland fund manager.

Milford Asset Management executive director Brian Gaynor said house prices might come down “10, 15, 20 or even 25 per cent” and he cited the former Celtic Tiger as a warning.

Westpac’s chief economist, Dominick Stephens, shares Gaynor’s concerns, and said the outlook was for a possible 5 per cent adjustment by 2018.

“Our forecast has been for declines of 2 per cent per annum in 2017 and 3 per cent in 2018, so 5 per cent overall,” Stephens said.

“But there’s a wide range of possibilities and a sharper decline is certainly a possibility.”

Ireland’s house prices stabilised in 2007, then started falling until the second quarter of 2010, by which time they had dropped 35 per cent.

Andrew Price, “The Negative Consequences of Car Dependency“, StrongTowns:

I’ve lived in both cities (taking transit and walking everywhere) and suburbs (working in a suburban office campus and driving everywhere.) When I lived in the city, I used to have random encounters with strangers, often daily. These were usually nothing more than simple interruptions. The elderly lady that asks for help at the train station. Overhearing the couple’s conversation behind me on a bus. The homeless man asking for my spare change. These people were rich and poor, old and young. Even though the idea of being forced to interact with strangers sounds undesirable, there’s something very human about feeling that you are part of a living world. I was never the most sociable child, so these random encounters played an important part in developing my social skills and feeling comfortable around strangers.

Living in the suburbs, I have eliminated most of these random encounters.

Jason Burgess, “Mighty Mouse“, Renovate Magazine:

Being domiciled in a space the size of a hotel room might not be everybody’s idea of living, yet with property prices soaring, traffic jams stalling and downtime getting shorter, there are some compelling reasons why astute buyers seeking the convenience of an urban lifestyle are now looking to apodments as their choice of future living.

Think about it – a bigger life does not necessarily mean a bigger house. Technology coupled with transformable furniture makes it possible to trick out a modest sized pad with all the bells and whistles of a manse thrice the size, for a fraction of the price.

mighty mouse apartment

Sunday reading 18 January 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

Urban kchoze, “Prince Charles’ 10 Principles of of urbanism: typical example of what’s wrong with urbanists/architects“:

In a way, the true descendants of traditional cities aren’t the mummified European cities of Paris and London where all is done to maintain buildings and neighborhoods as they were in the early 20th century, but Japanese cities. Yes, Japanese cities are resolutely modern in terms of buildings, but the traditional process of city-building is still alive in Japan, while it has been replaced by planner fiat in Europe and North America. The people who built the cities people love would have likely been more than happy to have our modern technology to allow for taller buildings with more varied materials. Likewise, though the Japanese use modern materials and technologies, they still use them in a way that is more in line with the traditional process of incremental city-building.

Alan Davies, “What would it take to build a tram network the size of Melbourne’s?“, Crikey:

The US has over 45 operating streetcar and light rail systems but none of them are anywhere near as large as Melbourne’s tram system. Melbourne has the largest extant urban streetcar network in the world with 249 kilometres of double track and 487 trams.


If Melbourne’s tram network had been removed in the 1950s and 60s like similar systems in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and many regional centres were, it would be astronomically expensive to build something like it today from scratch. The cost of rolling stock alone would be in the region of $3 Billion (1).

Based on the actual $1.6 Billion it cost to build the newly opened 13 km Gold Coast G:link line, a network the size of Melbourne’s could have an all-up cost in the region of $30 Billion.

Or if we extrapolate from the estimated $2.2 Billion it’s taking to build Sydney’s new 12 km CBD and South Eastern Light Rail system, the all-up cost could be in the region of $45 Billion.

James Dann, “They paved paradise etc etc“, Rebuilding Christchurch:

Yesterday, Georgina Stylianou revealed that the earthquake recovery minister Gerry Brownlee had used his “special powers” to fast-track a car parking building for Phillip Carter, the brother of the Speaker of the House, National MP David Carter. This was followed by a chorus of down-on-their-luck property developers piping in that they too needed more car parks, and that could the government please build some for them.

The sad, bizarre situation in Christchurch right now is that there are more people lobbying for the rights of cars to sit motionless than there are trying to house human beings.

Lindsay Cohen, “Seattle dog’s rush hour ride: on the bus, by herself, weekly“, Komo News:

SEATTLE — Public transit in Seattle has gone to the dogs.

Commuters in Belltown report seeing a Black Labrador riding the bus alone in recent weeks. The 2-year old has been spotted roaming the aisles, hopping onto seats next to strangers, and even doing her part to clean the bus — by licking her surroundings.

“All the bus drivers know her. She sits here just like a person does,” said commuter Tiona Rainwater, as she rode the bus through downtown Monday. “She makes everybody happy. How could you not love this thing?”

Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Why The Rules Of The Road Aren’t Enough To Prevent People From Dying, FiveThirtyEight:

On how speed limits in the US were set

Here’s how speed limits are established in most states, according to Federal Highway Administration research: Traffic engineers conduct a study to measure the average speed motor vehicles move along a road. The speed limit is then set at the 85th percentile. From then on, 85 percent of drivers would be traveling under the speed limit and 15 percent would be breaking the law. Sometimes other factors2 are taken into consideration, but in most places, speed limits are largely determined by the speed most people feel safe traveling. Some states, including Louisiana and Michigan, go so far as to call limits determined by this method “rational speed limits,” stating that achieving compliance is possible only if the speed limits are reasonable.

Todd Niall,  Knowledge gap in Auckland rail saga, Radio NZ:

The gap, in this case, is a knowledge gap. The gap between what we see being played out in public, and what is going on behind closed doors, between the Auckland Council, and the Government and its agencies.

The reminder of the significance of knowledge gaps was the Government’s announcement in June 2013 that it would commit to sharing the cost from 2020 of a project it had publicly poo-poohed.

This was widely regarded as a sudden and unexpected change of tack by the Government. It wasn’t.

Paul Little, Trees, not cars, make a liveable city, NZ Herald

Although no one has actually been seen embracing them, the stand of six 80-year-old pohutukawa on Great North Rd near the SH16 interchange works could use a hug right now. Auckland Transport has approved their removal to widen a road we don’t need.

Hugs would also be welcomed by a lot of Aucklanders who have recently begun to see all too plainly what a hellish plan is being put in place between here and the Waterview connection (cost $1.4 billion). The pillars and overpasses can now be seen to be on a scale so colossal they appear not to be made with humans in mind at all.

One of a few images from a 1937 plan for London by Sir Charles Bressey on how to accommodate more vehicles in London

Sir Charles Bressey 1937 London Plan

Chris Barton, The Best Urban Design of 2014, Metro:

It was a year of winning forms and some massive fails. Chris Barton picks his favourite urban design developments — and hands out the wooden spoons.

And finally, Councillor George Wood sent us a fun game to play via twitter. Fortunately, I passed the test:

Quiz: Can you name these cities just by looking at their subway maps? [Wonkblog]