On leg five of our journey we meandered from Zaragoza to San Sebastian (Donostia in the local lingo, which I respect even if I revert to San Sebastian for the remainder of this post). For this particular leg we took the bus (ww.alsa.es), mainly because it was about the same travel-time as the train (3.5 hours) and cost only half the price. Plus the bus left at a more convenient time for us than the train. The route we took is illustrated below.
The bus left at 8.30 and dropped us in San Sebastian 3.5 hours later, pretty much right on-time. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was free wifi on the bus, which appears to be a standard feature on Elsa long-distance bus services in Spain. Worth remembering, because free wifi is honestly a god-send for travelers who may not have a local mobile data connection. And it’s definitely an advantage over BlaBlaCar ride-share, which we used for our last leg (you can read about here).
The first half of the journey traversed relatively flat dry (albeit fertile) land in the Ebro river valley. In terms of history, I understand the Pamplona marks the northern-most point in the Moors occupation of Spain, which began with an invasion from North Africa circa 700AD. In the following map, you can see just how much of modern Spain was initially occupied, and also how long it took for Christian forces to re-conquer the territory (source). Even 600 years later, there was still a sizable area of Moor occupied territory.
From Pamplona to San Sebastian, the road took us into greener and more mountainous terrain. Indeed, it was these mountains that protected northern Spain from the invasion. They create a natural barrier and are partly the reason why the rail network in this part of Spain is relatively indirect / convoluted.
All this, however, is set to change over the coming years; the Basque region is in the process of developing their own high speed rail network linking Bilbao, Vitoria-Gasteiz, and San Sebastian, as illustrated below.
More details on the project, including origins and financing, are available here. There’s a couple of interesting aspects of this high-speed rail network that are worth dwelling on. The first is that it connects to a wider high-speed rail network in two places: Madrid to the south and Bordeaux to the north.
These two connections change the optimal route for trains travelling between France and destinations in Spain to the south. As you can see in the image below, the optimal route between Paris and Madrid is currently via Zaragoza to the east, whereas the new HSR network may make it more efficient to connect via Vitoria-Gaistez to the east. Incidentally, travelling by train from Paris to Madrid takes 12 hours in total, of which the section from Paris to Bordeaux only takes 3 hours while the section from Bordeaux to Madrid currently takes 9 hours. The ability for the Basque HSR network to reduce these travel-times is the main reason why it has attracted EU funding.
The second interesting thing about the Basque HSR network is that it looks like there’s a couple of branches to San Sebastian and Irun. Now, as Jarrett Walker has written about here, branches dissipate frequency and complicate network design. My hunch is that these cities do not receive direct HSR service, but must instead use local services on their respective branches to connect to a HSR station somewhere further down the line, perhaps Vitoria-Gaistez.
Nonetheless, the development of this network is rather exciting, and it’d be interesting to see how it turns out, and the impact it has on regional connectivity, which incidentally is rather poor at the present time.
In terms of San Sebastian itself, well it’s simply stunning and perhaps the most beautiful city I’ve ever experienced. The reason I say this is because it is beautiful in both a natural and a built sense; the harbour, hills, beaches, and buildings all combine to create an extremely aesthetic experience. The image below gives you a sense for the wider area (source).
San Sebastian occupies an extremely strategic location right on the Spanish / French border. It was also a decent harbour and relatively defensible. Hence it was one of the first locations occupied by Napoleon’s armies, and it was subsequently razed to the ground while being “liberated” by the British and Spanish forces. So circa 1815 the entire town effectively needed to be re-built. The “old town” was rebuilt more or less on the old street grid, with a few changes here and there (slightly wider pedestrian streets etc).
Then, in 1863, the town won the right to demolish its fortifications and expand. Wiki puts it thusly:
In 1863, the defensive walls of the town were demolished (their remains are visible in the underground car-park at the Boulevard) and an expansion of the town began in an attempt to escape the military function it had held before. Works were appointed to Jose Goicoa and Ramon Cortazar, who modeled the new city according to an orthogonal shape much in an neoclassical Parisian style, and the former designed elegant buildings, like the Miramar Palace, or the Concha Promenade.:145–146 The city was chosen by the Spanish monarchy to spend the summer following the French example of the nearBiarritz. Subsequently the Spanish nobility and the diplomatic corps opened residences in the summer capital. As the “wave baths” at La Concha conflicted with shipbuilding activity, shipyards relocated to Pasaia, a near bay formerly part of San Sebastián.
Basically, the expansion of San Sebastian catalysed a re-focusing of the town onto recreational activities, with industrial activities relocated to surrounding environs and/or even, in the case of port operations, nearby towns. Moreover, the resulting street network and architectural style really is rather lovely. The connected nature of San Sebastian’s street network is evident in the following image, which is taken from Google Maps.
One of the interesting things about San Sebastian is its wide deployment of one-way streets. Now I know many urban designers gag at the thought of one-way streets, and partly for good reason: In the Auckland context, Nelson and Hobson Streets are horrendous place-destroying one-way monsters. In San Sebastian, however, the outcome is usually (not always) rather different. More specifically, in San Sebastian the negative impacts of one-way streets is mitigated to a large degree by urban design treatments. This includes wide footpaths, many pedestrian only streets, and long / frequent pedestrian phases at signalised intersections.
This reminded me of a post I wrote a while back about how it may be possible to “upgrade” Nelson and Hobson Street while retaining the one-way function. In this post I describe how an urban boulevard design treatment on Nelson and Hobson could seek to split the through and local traffic functions, thereby creating low speed access lanes adjacent to buildings on either side of the street. The speed of vehicles travelling adjacent to the footpath would be considerably reduced. You might even implement two speed limits: 30km/hr on the access lanes and 50km/hr on the through lanes.
Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, such a configuration would free up space for wider footpaths and all manner of other amenities.
I don’t know what the status of the planned two-waying of Nelson and Hobson Streets, but it may be worth considering an option that retains the one-way function of Nelson and Hobson, while transforming them nonetheless into much nicer places to be. If anyone out there is interested in seeing how one-way streets might work in a sensitive urban environment, then I’d recommend visiting San Sebastia.
At the present time I’m actually sitting further east in Gijon, Asturias, i.e. I’m one step behind in documenting our travels. So it’s probably an appropriate time to for me to finish this post, have a glass of rioja, and start thinking about the next post. Adios.
Auckland Transport have announced they’re installing some interim safety measures at one of the most dangerous intersections in the entire country, the notorious Tamaki Dr/Ngapipi Dr intersection. The changes are hoped to improve things until they can do a proper upgrade on it. The road also happens to be the busiest road in Auckland at least for cycling.
Road surface lights with sensors are just some of the traffic calming measures that have been installed at the corner of Tamaki Drive and Ngapipi Dr to improve safety for all road users.
The lights, one of the first times they’ve been used in Auckland, will illuminate to warn drivers that a cyclist is approaching.
In addition, the left turn from Ngapipi Dr into Tamaki Drive now has new road markings and a new recommended speed of 25km/h.
The traffic calming measures are an interim solution ahead of the overall intersection safety upgrade providing traffic signals at the intersection.
This project is expected to start towards the end of this year.
The interim solution will make it safer to cycle on Auckland’s busiest cycle route says Auckland Transport’s Cycling and Walking manager Kathryn King.
“We have a lot of people now choosing to cycle into the city for work and study. On this intersection, people cycling into the city end up in between two general traffic lanes and have to merge with traffic turning left into Tamaki Drive from Ngapipi Road, and these measures will make it safer,” she says.
Bike Auckland chair Barbara Cuthbert says it’s great to see this interim work for this important intersection.
“As well as slowing traffic, we hope the lights and new signage will remind drivers to look out for people on bikes and to merge with care,” she says.
While it is good to see AT putting in some interim improvements, they are really ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff. To see how bad the situation can be, this video from our friends at Bike Auckland is useful, their post on the interim changes is also good.
The last time we heard anything about a long term solution was late last year when AT confirmed the decision to put a signalised intersection in. The local board had been pushing for a roundabout (which would have been terrible for cyclists) but AT said their modelling showed it would have resulted in long queues as with a constant stream of traffic coming along Tamaki Dr in the mornings, users of Ngapipi would never have been able to get out. Both options would result in AT extending the seawall further out into the harbour.
So it’s a good time to ask what’s happening with the long term fix?
Essentially it looks like someone has designed it is trying to cater for two completely different types of cyclist, the casual person on a bike out for cruise and the high speed road warrior but to me what’s proposed does neither well, for example:
On the northern side we’ve got the existing cycleway continuing to mix with pedestrians – just with a bit more space.
We’ve got on-road cycleways for “confident” cyclists but on the Northern Side there are also ramps so those confident cyclists can bypass the lights and race through the pedestrian area if needed.
On the southern side we’ve got bike lanes that can only be reached after crossing two lanes of traffic.
There are bike advance boxes galore but also bike crossings.
Instead it seems to me that they should just design one good and high quality facility that caters to all users, after all if they’re widening the seawall to the extent shown there is a heap of space available. Do it right and if Jacobs can’t do the job (which based on this they clearly can’t), then perhaps it’s time to get in some friendly Dutch or Danish designers/engineers who can*.
While also briefly digging through the consent documents I also came across this version of the design. It seems to suggest that one of the reasons for so much width is so that AT has future space should the wish to widen the road.
* I’m sure there are many others who could also design this better.
This dull-sounding document is important: it’s the plan for the work in local and central government to open up publicly funded data for reuse, and to open up government processes for better accountability, transparency and creativity. There’s more every year, and it’s getting better and faster. Help steer it!
Transportblog readers, bloggers, commenters and all – this is you.
We need people like you to be able to see into government’s decision-making processes and subject them to the praise, censure and improvement they deserve.
We need people like you to be able to get data on things that matter and turn them into insightful information and juicy, juicy knowledge. So…
If you’ve ever had an idea for how the government – local and central – should be more open, go here and tell ’em.
If you’ve ever had an idea for a neat open data project, go here and write it down.
If you’ve ever known anyone else who’d have these ideas, send them here and tell them to write.
And do it soon! the engagement is only live til end of Wednesday 24th. (though you can be involved longer term – see here)
Want some background?
“The Open Government Partnership (OGP) recognises that government can be more effective when citizens are aware and involved in building an open society. The focus of the partnership is on developing a two-year National Action Plan between citizens and government, and the government is currently running a process to develop New Zealand’s second plan. One of the guiding principles for the plan is the innovative use of technology to be more transparent
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an international programme where the governments of 70 countries have committed to becoming more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.
New Zealand joined the OGP in 2014 and is now developing its second National Action Plan (NAP) to identify the best approaches to open up government and data, over the next two years.”
The documents that were made available at 5pm included the final version of the plan the Council finished agreeing to earlier in the week. Also available from then were the minutes from that council meeting and so while we wait to see if there are any appeals, I trawled through the minutes to see which way the Mayor and Councillors voted on key issues and tried to put that information into a table. This includes both votes where a division was called and the Mayor and Councillors individually stated their position and votes where the resolution was passed but someone wanted their dissent noted.
A couple on notes about the tables.
While most of it was fairly straight forward to follow, it can get a bit confusing when some votes are delayed or especially in the case of item 6.14.1 (which covers the zoning maps) it can be hard to follow who was at the table, who wasn’t and who couldn’t participate due to conflicts of interest.
I don’t intend on posting all of the results as some of them are fairly boring technical matters where everyone agreed so I’ll just focus on a few key areas. You can click on the images for a bigger version.
The outcomes as to whether a vote was good or bad is based on my judgment call based on what we’ve discussed in the past or the result that will make it easier to deliver more housing. On some votes you may disagree with how I’ve scored it.
Green = Good, Red = Bad, C = Conflict of Interest and blank means they weren’t at the table.
I’ve only included a small explanation of the items voted on but have also included the page number the vote appeared on in the minutes should you wish to scroll through to see more information.
First up a number of hot topics including heritage and viewshafts
Here are some of the items related to the City Centre and business zones. We were supporters of deleting the minimum dwelling sizes so most Councillors get marked down for voting to keep them.
And here are some of the residential zones. One odd observation is that Cameron Brewer supported keeping minimum dwelling sizes in the City Centre but opposed keeping them in the general residential zones.
There are obviously a lot more votes and as mentioned, many are fairly boring.
One of the reasons for pulling the data together was also to see which Councillors were the most or least supportive. The graph below counts the total number of red boxes from the tables above and the rest of the results. As you can see there was clearly one Councillor whose name came up more than others. To be fair not all votes are necessarily equal, especially some of the dissents which can be for fairly minor things but I think it is interesting none the less.
Last week I posted the latest data from Auckland Transport for how many people used each rail and busway station in the last financial year. I’ve been keeping track of the rail station data for quite some time, including from the annual counts prior to HOP existing. One aspect I find interesting is to see how the use of stations changes in comparison to the other stations on the network.
Using the most recent data I’ve updated a table I put together ranking each station by the number of boardings they had. It’s called the rug as it kind of resembles an abstract pattern on a rug. For the purposes of this it only goes back to 2011 as prior to that the changes in rankings are much more common and it makes the chart harder to read.
The station order on the left of the chart represents where stations were at the first point and stations can be traced through to now to see how they’ve changed.
A few notable features that stand out to me.
The top four stations have held their position for about the last two years, although looking at the actual numbers this is likely to change in the next six months due to …
Panmure has rising strongly since the vastly upgraded station was opened at the beginning of 2015. As the new bus network comes on stream I expect this to move up to become the fourth busiest station.
Manukau has been the strongest mover and benefited greatly from the improvements in frequency that came with electrification. Again the new bus network and bus station which will be next to the train station is likely to push the station much higher in the rankings
Another big mover, also on the Eastern Line, has been Sylvia Park
Like the top stations, the bottom stations have also remained the same for some time. As we know Waitakere – which was open for 19 days in this data – has now closed and so will drop off the list next time it is updated. Westfield is scheduled to close when the New Network goes live in October but Te Mahia had a reprieve from AT
This is the first part in an open-ended series on the economics and politics of zoning reform. The Unitary Plan decision means that Auckland’s urban planning framework is set for the short to medium term – albeit with inevitable appeals and changes. But the issues we’ve been grappling with over the past few years – i.e. how, where, and why to adjust the rulebook – will keep coming back. A growing city must also be a continually changing city, and zoning decisions can either help or hinder that.
A good starting point for thinking about the economics and politics of zoning reform is to ask: What are the costs and benefits of allowing more housing to be developed? And how are these costs and benefits distributed?
First, the benefits of new housing primarily accrue to people who are newly entering the housing market. For instance, young people trying to buy or rent a home benefit from there being more homes, as it means they can get better housing or cheaper housing. Equivalently, restrictions on new housing development mainly impose costs on people who don’t already own homes. When the supply of housing is restricted, then they face a choice between paying more for housing that meets their needs, living in substandard or crowded housing, or leaving the city entirely.
Second, the costs – adverse effects – of new development are location- and context-dependent. The distributional impacts – who is affected? – can also vary quite a lot. For instance, a new subdivision on the city fringe probably wouldn’t shade anyone’s home or block its view, but it might worsen water quality or biodiversity. And, given the dysfunctional way we build new suburbs, it will definitely increase traffic congestion.
By contrast, redevelopment and infill within the city will tend to have fewer environmental impacts – it’s already a city! – but there are more neighbours who may be affected by the various nuisances associated with development, like having new buildings casting shade on adjacent properties or more people parking on “their” street. People don’t like change very much… but they can easily adjust to different “status quo” scenarios.
For instance, consider Ponsonby. It would all be horribly illegal under today’s zoning codes. Lot sizes too small, buildings too close to each other and taking up too much of the lot, no parking, etc, etc. If you tried to get houses like these consented today, especially in an existing suburb, you’d be refused in about three seconds flat. But because they’ve been there for decades, people see them as something that should be protected – present-day zoning code be damned!
Third, enabling housing development can allow cities to grow larger and in a more economically efficient pattern – leading to enhanced agglomeration economies. The benefits of increased productivity and greater consumer choice accrue broadly to most people in the city, or potentially even to the entire country. (Taxes paid in Auckland pay for retirements in Tauranga!)
Conversely, evidence from overseas cities suggests that restricting housing supply can result in large economic costs as a result of the misallocation of workers throughout space. For instance:
In the US, Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti found that high housing costs have discouraged people from getting jobs in high-productivity cities – in particular New York, San Francisco, and San Jose. If those cities had allowed more homes to be built over the past three decades – which would have entailed more intensive development – the US economy would now be 9.7% larger than it actually is, with commensurate gains in income.
In the Netherlands, Wouter Vermeulen and Jos van Ommeren found that housing supply, not productivity or availability of jobs, has driven cities’ growth. Rather than moving to locations with abundant high-income jobs, people move to places with more homes – again, with a cost to overall economic outcomes.
As Matt Yglesias observed, agglomeration economies benefit workers with different skills… provided that they can afford to locate in high-productivity cities:
…just as factories served as economic anchors for regions, today’s big industries produce broader local prosperity.
Here are some examples from the San Francisco area:
The problem is that for most residents of these places, the higher cost of living erodes the benefits of higher pay.
So how does all this add up? There are two answers. The first is that the benefits of urban development tend to outweigh the costs… provided that it isn’t happening in a totally dysfunctional way, like paving over the habits of endangered birds or building astonishingly unredeemable eyesores. In other words, the benefits for people who are getting housed, plus increased agglomeration economies, outweigh the costs from negative social or environmental impacts. So from the perspective of long-run social wellbeing, zoning that enables more development seems like a good idea.
The second answer is that the distributional impacts tend to determine the politics of zoning. As economist William Fischel observed, local governments tend to be dominated by “homevoters” who are mainly worried about risks to their property values and quality of life. In this context, the fact that enabling urban development mostly has benefits for new entrants to the housing market – i.e. young people and people moving into the city from elsewhere – is pretty important.
As economists like to say, the incentives facing local government voters aren’t well aligned with long-run social wellbeing. To current voters, zoning reform isn’t necessarily an appealing proposition. It appears to create uncertainty for their neighbourhood and property values, while principally benefitting other people.
This is a very understandable view for individuals to hold, but it’s not awesome for society as a whole. If cities and economies don’t change, they wither and die, creating vast human misery in the process. In order to prevent that from happening – i.e. to keep people from crowding into unsanitary accommodation or going homeless – we need to be willing to reform our zoning policies.
In the subsequent posts in this series, I’m going to take a look at what that might look like. In the first instance, I want to focus on the institutional arrangements that enable reform, considering issues like:
The trade-off between localised and centralised decision-making
The good and bad in New Zealand’s legislative framework
The role of analysis and evidence in planning decisions
The role of social norms in encouraging (or discouraging) people to plan for future generations.
why Welcome back to Sunday reading. This week, let’s start with a look at one of nature’s hardest-working organisms: the urban tree. In the New Yorker, Alex Hutchinson asks: what is a tree worth?
The emerald ash borer, which has killed a hundred million trees across North America in recent years, offers a grim natural experiment. A county-by-county analysis of health records by the U.S. Forest Service, between 1990 and 2007, found that deaths related to cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses rose in places where trees succumbed to the pest, contributing to more than twenty thousand additional deaths during the study period. The Toronto data shows a similar link between tree cover and cardio-metabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. For the people suffering from these conditions, an extra eleven trees per block corresponds to an income boost of twenty thousand dollars, or being almost one and a half years younger.
What is most interesting about this data, though, is one of its subtler details. The health benefits stem almost entirely from trees planted along streets and in front yards, where many people walk past them; trees in back yards and parks don’t seem to matter as much in the analysis. It could be that roadside trees have a bigger impact on air quality along sidewalks, or that leafy avenues encourage people to walk more. But Berman is also interested in a possibility that harks back to Ulrich’s hospital-window finding: perhaps it is enough simply to look at a tree.
The city of trees is very different from the city of cars. A city built around fast-moving cars is also a city that lacks visual diversity and nuance. It also tends to lack street trees, as they are fixed hazardous objects in traffic engineering parlance.
Designing a 70km/h or 30km/h city: Slower speeds support greater density, reducing the need to cover long distances. pic.twitter.com/a3zIH9TAYl
While trees are a proven and, one hopes, persistent amenity, not all amenities will last. At Bloomberg, Patrick Clark reports on the decline of the golf course in the US. Golf courses experienced a building boom in the 1990s and early 2000s, as real estate developers added them to subdivisions to boost property prices. But as demand for golfing plummets, the golf courses are being abandoned:
The dark clouds rolled in over Phoenix’s Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course in 2013, when its owner declared that the costs of keeping it open had outstripped what he was collecting in green fees.
Wilson Gee, a California businessman, shuttered the golf course, erected barbed-wire fences, and began looking for a buyer, telling reporters the land would never be a working golf course again. Homeowners, complaining he was turning the course into an eyesore in order to win approval to redevelop it into single-family homes, sued to reopen it. Gee shanked his first attempt to sell it in 2014, when one homebuilder walked away from a deal, but last year found a buyer in a Denver-based developer…
More than 800 golf courses have closed nationwide in the last decade, as operators grapple with declining interest in the sport and a glut of competition. Many of those shuttered courses were built on land proscribed from redevelopment by local zoning codes seeking to preserve open space—or, as with Ahwatukee, by deed restrictions intended to protect homeowners who had paid a premium to live near a golf course.
That leaves some golf course owners with the real estate equivalent of an unplayable lie: They can’t make money running the course, and they can’t recoup their investment by selling it.
“If you open a restaurant in a strip mall and you fail, you close shop and move on,” said Jay Karen, chief executive officer of the National Golf Course Owners Association. But for golf course owners, it’s much harder to pull the plug on a failing business; as courses fall into disuse, they become suburban zombies—not quite dead, yet far from alive.
Memo to Americans who bought a home next to a golf course: if you want it to stay a golf course, you should be willing to pay the green fees. Otherwise, perhaps accept that securing the value of your home against a declining sport is a bad idea.
Speaking of sports with troubled finances, Clay Dillow (FiveThirtyEight) explains why hosting the Olympics is a terrible investment:
When Rio de Janeiro won its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics back in 2009, the Brazilian government estimated that costs directly related to hosting the games would run just shy of $3 billion. But by the time Vanderlei de Lima lit the Olympic torch at last week’s opening ceremonies, the country had already spent some $4.6 billion on venues, administration, transportation and the like, putting the games roughly 50 percent over budget. By the time the games close on Aug. 21, the tally for the games will likely be higher still.
But it could be much worse. The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi blew their budget by 289 percent. The 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid overtopped projections by 324 percent. And the 1976 Games in Montreal ran a staggering 720 percent over projections; the city spent three decades paying down the bill. While outliers such as these distort the average cost overruns somewhat (176 percent for Summer Games, 142 percent for Winter Games), the median cost overrun for all games for which we have data is 90 percent, making Rio’s cost overrun somewhat lower than the historical norm, at least so far.
The modern Olympic Games, in other words, are wildly expensive — and wildly more so than host cities expect when they make their bids. The Olympics have a well-deserved reputation for accelerated construction schedules and poor oversight, as well as for the cost overruns associated with them. Since the 1960 games in Rome, every single edition of the Olympics for which data is available has been more expensive than originally projected.
Oh well. At least the Olympics give New Zealand an opportunity to enjoy its national sport: per-capita bragging. Inga Ting at the Sydney Morning Herald has the figures on medal counts:
Over half of those on the Auckland Council have been around a council table for 10 years or more, either as a former mayor or councillor. Some have been in local body politics even longer, and it’s the same all over New Zealand.
Auckland and many other councils desperately need some new, energetic, younger thinkers and more people under 55. They also need people who know how to question bureaucracy and some people who know how a business is run…
Just like a healthy commercial or charitable board, the council needs to have a diversity of people to ensure a range of opinion. We need people of different age groups, work experience, ideally some with a business background so that there are voices at the council table who can add value.
Fifteen years ago I was one of the youngest to be elected to Auckland City Council. I was lucky that one third of us were a “new face”. We came to the council with a bushy-tailed enthusiasm, desire to change the way things had been done and probably a naivety that bureaucracy wasn’t going to get in our way.
The other good thing about that new group elected was that we had significantly shifted the dial on the age of the council and half the council were now women. Nearly half were under 50 too – a huge shift from the previous council age group.
Auckland may be one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world but nine in 10 elected representatives on the Auckland Council are white, a study has found.
Ethnic minorities are being urged to stand as local body candidates, after AUT University research found the 23 per cent who identify as Asian had just 1 per cent representation on the council…
The study found 88 per cent, of elected representatives were European, despite just 59 per cent in the city identifying as European.
Overall, ethnic minority groups were under-represented: 6 per cent were Pacific members of a 14 per cent population, and 4 per cent Maori against a population of 11 per cent.
Report author Karen Webster said Auckland Council needs to ensure the needs of Maori and diverse communities are understood and met. “The successful growth and future prosperity of Auckland will depend on this.”
Everything yellow: we could add a ton of housing w/o displacing anyone or losing a single rent stabilized unit. https://t.co/WgVvpkFaw5
And now for three articles on urban planning and housing affordability. The first article, by Daniel Hertz at CityObservatory, argues that “housing can’t be a good investment and affordable“. He points out, contra the conventional wisdom emanating from real estate brokers and politicians (who are, incidentally, the only two groups of people in New Zealand who drive cars with their own names and faces on the side), capital gains from housing are irreconcilable with long-term housing affordability:
What if housing were a low-risk, can’t-miss bet for growing your personal wealth? What would that world look like?
Well, in order for your home to offer you a real profit, its price would need to increase faster than the rate of inflation. Let’s pick something decent, but not too crazy—say, annual increases of 2.5 percent, taking inflation into account. So if you bought a home for $200,000 and sold it ten years later, you’d be looking at a healthy profit of just over $56,000.
Sound good? Well, what if I told you that such a city existed? What if I told you it was in a beautiful natural setting, with hills and views of the ocean? And a booming economy? And lots of organic produce?
Like I said, over ten years, that gives you a profit of just over 25 percent. But compound interest is an amazing thing, and the longer this consistent wealth-building goes on, the more out of hand housing prices get. In 1980, Zillow’s home price index for San Francisco home prices was about $310,000 (in 2015 dollars). By 2015, after 35 years of averaging 2.5 percent growth, home prices were over $750,000.
…this sort of wealth building is predicated on a never-ending stream of new people who are willing and able to pay current home owners increasingly absurd amounts of money for their homes. It is, in other words, a massive up-front transfer of wealth from younger people to older people, on the implicit promise that when those young people become old, there will be new young people willing to give them even more money. And of course, as prices rise, the only young people able to buy into this ponzi scheme are quite well-to-do themselves. And because we’re not talking about stocks, but homes, “buying into this ponzi scheme” means “able to live in San Francisco.”
In other words, possibly the only thing worse than a world in which homeownership doesn’t work as a wealth-building tool is a world in which it does work as a wealth-building tool.
Whoah. That’s a grim truth. Here’s a video of a kiwi bouncing around merrily:
For the last half-century, zoning codes in many American cities and suburbs — even relatively walkable, transit-heavy ones — have typically required developers to provide a certain amount of parking for each new home or business, often far more spots than are needed. The costs of building that parking get passed on to residents and customers whether or not they drive. By subsidizing parking in that way, we encourage people to drive. And surrounding every building with parking makes cities less friendly to walkers and eats up green space.
But there’s been a spate of good news on this topic in the last year. New York City recognized that people who live in low-income projects with public transit access were very unlikely to own cars. So, in its recently passed rezoning, the city eliminated parking requirements for low-income, “inclusionary” (meaning some units are affordable for low- or middle-income families), and affordable senior housing developments that are within a half-mile of mass transit…
Other big, progressive cities are making similar moves. Chicago has a surplus of mandated free parking. But, last year, it expanded areas targeted for transit-oriented development, where parking requirements are minimal or nonexistent. In January, Washington, D.C., reduced parking requirements for multi-family buildings and commercial buildings near metro stations and along high-speed bus routes.
The impetus is economic as much as environmental. Hot cities such as Chicago and D.C. suffer from spiraling housing costs, and eliminating expensive parking requirements can help alleviate that burden. “Builders find that parking minimums are high-cost, and for a high-cost city like D.C., that is one of the issues with affordability,” says Christopher Coes, director of LOCUS, a program at Smart Growth America that advocates for sustainable, walkable development. In fact, cities can use the reward of reduced parking requirements as an incentive to get developers to build more affordable housing…
Even smaller cities far from the coasts are breaking the habit of forcing free parking on their residents and businesses. Last year, the Fayetteville, Arkansas, city council eliminated parking minimums for every new building except homes. Previously, for example, a restaurant was obligated to provide one parking space for every 100 square feet. In Buffalo, New York, that dowdy emblem of industrial decline, Mayor Byron Brown’s proposed “Green Code” would eliminate parking requirements entirely.
Liveability is a useful frame of reference, but I’d like to see Auckland re-appropriate it to serve not only the city’s international reputation, but Aucklanders themselves. French sociologist Henri Lefebvre talked about the “right to the city”, arguing that for cities to thrive, the people who live there need political agency, and to use that to shape the city’s development toward the common good (not just to preserve private property values). It doesn’t require a revolution, just that the public get involved. Exercising our “right to the city” means lobbying to shape urban development for a fairer Auckland, rather than leaving decisions to the politicians and bureaucrats.
It’s plain that liveability means something different to everyone: that is exactly the point. Cities are nearly always diverse; with an ethnic migrant population of 40%, Auckland is officially “super-diverse” and has a unique Māori heritage. Instead of focusing solely on housing, urban planning should consider and support Auckland’s unique diversity. The things we share in cities, including public spaces and infrastructure, can be designed in a way that works for different needs and preferences. At a recent Auckland Conversations event, Colombian urbanisation expert Gil Peñalosa framed it like this: “People who are 8 and 80 are the indicator species for good places to live. Redesign our cities to keep them safe, healthy and happy, and we’ll have a place that works well for everyone”. Simply expanding the design requirements for streets, public space and transit infrastructure so that they can be used by elderly or disabled residents, and allow children to play safely, makes a huge difference.
Factoring diversity into city planning means responding to the changing needs of the people who live there. Right now, London is partway through a £4.2 billion roading project – not to build more roads or expand capacity, but to retrofit dozens of major arterials and junctions. Currently, most of the road space and priority for movement is given to vehicles, while tens of thousands of pedestrians and cyclists shuffle around the edges each day, enduring unsafe levels of air pollution and an unreasonable risk of being hit by a vehicle. Redesigning transport infrastructure can open up new areas for locals to use, replacing busy intersections they’d previously try to avoid.
Leg four of our journey took us from Llanca to Zaragoza, as illustrated below.
Compared to previous journeys (here, here, and here) this one was relatively straightforward: We caught a train from Llanca to Girona, and from there caught our ride share direct to Zaragoza, as illustrated below. This was the first, but is not the last, ride share we will take on our holiday. I think it’s worth discussing how it works because, for most of us, the concept of ride share is probably somewhat novel. But it’s something you’ll want to get your head around, because I get the feeling that in 5-10 years this will be the new norm.
Before I do I just want to give a shout out to the (relatively senior) man working at the Llanca train station cafe. With good grace, and despite our poor Spanish language skills, we happily negotiated our way to the best coffee we’ve had in Spain thus far. And all this happened at 730am on a Sunday morning. And for 1.50 Euro per coffee. Splendid.
Perhaps the next thing to mention is the circumstances that caused us to turn to ride share in the first instance: We decided to change our original travel plans at short notice. Initially we had planned (and booked) to travel all the way from Llanca to San Sebastian, which would have taken circa 9-10 hours. Instead, we opted to split this journey in two to travel in a more relaxed fashion, and in doing so we would be able to visit the city of Zaragoza, which we’d heard was rather fabulous.
So at short notice (2 days prior) we had to work out how to get from Llanca to Zaragoza? My first instinct was to consider trains, so I looked at the Renfe website. While there was approximately one service every hour between Girona and Zaragoza (via Barcelona), all the services between 9am and 4pm were already fully booked. This meant that if we’d caught the train, then we would have had to travel relatively early, or arrive in Zaragoza after 7pm, neither of which was particularly attractive.
Next, I checked out the BlaBlaCar website. For those who haven’t heard me rave about Blablacar in the past, you can read more about it here. I know that some people who work in the transportation sector tend to pooh pooh ride-share initiatives. While this is somewhat understandable, insofar as there’s been a lot of promise and false starts, it’s also true that Blablacar has taken off in a way that no other platform has managed. The previous link put is thusly:
BlaBlaCar now has 20 million members in 19 countries. In 2013, they declared that had successfully coordinated 10 million rides (covering 3 billion kilometres), which is as many passengers as the Eurostar (of which I am a big fan and consumer)
BlaBlaCar works as follows: They have created a ride-sharing community designed to connect those who are driving cars with people who need a ride. BlaBlaCar really took off a few years back, when the Icelandic volcano Gods decided to disrupt millions of people’s flights across Europe for several weeks, and it now covers most countries in Europe.
One of the more interesting aspects of BlaBlaCar in terms of urban transportation is that it caters for both one-off and regular ride-sharing. If you search for rides between any reasonably proximate urban centres, for example Amsterdam and Rotterdam (as shown below), then you will find a number of rides being offered by people who make the journey regularly. In the following figure, you can see that “Jos K” shows up twice – he appears to travel this route every Wednesday and offers rides for 7 GBP.
Thus BlaBlaCar is not only for tourists, but it also enables people to ride share in a way that could meaningfully impact on congestion. Unlike earlier ride-sharing platforms, BlaBlaCar, has for whatever reason, been able to achieve a critical mass of users that makes it useful for many journeys. One of the key advantages, from a travel perspective, is that BlaBlaCar is a very cheap way to travel. Indeed, I haven’t crunched the numbers but apart from flying it’s probably the cheapest per kilometre travelled.
Travelling from Girona to Zaragoza by train, for example, cost approximately 80 Euro per person for a 3.5 hour journey. And we would have had to travel either quite early in the morning or relatively late at night, because the trains in between those times were all full. In comparison, our BlaBlaCar journey cost only 30 Euro per person for the same travel time. So in this particular case, BlaBlaCar enabled us to travel at a convenient time and for a price more than 50% less than the train.
Pleasingly, uptake of BlaBlaCar has grown rapidly over the last few years, and it was recently able to raise hundreds of millions in venture capital to fund its ongoing development and expansion. Growth in the number of annual Blablacar rides to 2014 is summarised below.
So BlaBlaCar is cool, and it’s worth considering when making your way around Europe. If only beause it is a real useful travel option for those who are 1) price sensitive and/or 2) are looking to make a journey that is not well-catered for by more traditional transport modes. When combined with planes, trains, buses, and Uber, BlaBlaCar seems to represent the final piece of the transport jigsaw puzzle for those who don’t like all the hassle and cost associated with driving and parking?
How does the BlaBlaCar process work? Well, anyone can search for rides, so feel free to have a play. If you find a ride that you want to book, then just sign up with your personal profile (including identity verification and payment).
You can create ride alerts for journeys that you want to make well into the future. This means that if you are planning a trip in Europe, then you can actually create ride alerts well in advance, and be notified when they become available. It’s worth mentioning that most rides become available 2-3 days beforehand, so BlaBlacar may not be attractive for those people who like to plan in advance and/or are not flexible.
That’s enough about BlaBlaCar. The upshot is that it really helped us out of a bind, and saved us a lot of money in the process. If you’re planning a trip to Europe then I’d really recommend taking a look at the website and searching for some rides. It’s definitely the sort of thing that you feel more comfortable with once you have tried it. Of course the other thing you can do, if you do happen to be driving from place to place, is to offer your own rides to others.
But what about Zaragoza? Well, we stayed at Hotel Catalunya el Pilar, which made for an interesting change from the AirBnbs that we had booked until this point. The Hotel itself was a grand old building located right in the middle of town, and on the edge of a beautiful plaza replete with trees, fountains, and benches plus a giant cathedral of course.
Zaragoza itself is the capital of the Region of Aragon, and it has a history dating back to Roman times, when it was called Caesar Augustus. The Romans loved Zaragoza primarily due to its strategic location at the confluence of several important rivers, and it thrived in the period from 100 to 400 AD. During the 1980s and 90s, four previously lost Roman ruins were uncovered in the city centre, and can now be viewed for the cost of 7 Euro. I particularly appreciated the Roman latrines, which provided an open-plan pooping environment. I expect the passive surveillance resulted in less graffiti and mess compared to modern public bathrooms. Zaragoza’s come a long way in 2000 odd years.
Zaragoza’s long history means it is replete with a number of spectacular religious buildings. During the middle ages, Zaragoza was apparently “the” place to be. One of the more interesting churches is St Leo, which has changed hands between Muslim and Christian occupants over the years, as have a number of churches in Spain. Napoleon laid siege to Zaragoza at some point, and eventually won the day. In terms of more humble buildings, I particularly liked the art deco neighbourhoods located immediately to the south of the Old Town.
Ultimately, however, it is food – and in particular tapas – that nourish Zaragoza’s soul. The old town houses a tapas district known as “El Tubo”, which is one of the largest and buzziest restaurant districts I’ve encountered. While some of it is a tourist trap, there’s also a pleasing array of cheap-eats and dive-bars, especially in areas less well-frequented by tourists. We found it easy to dine out on fabulous food for less than 10 Euro ($15), including drinks.
Aside from the dense city centre, there’s nothing particularly notable about Zaragoza from a transport and land use perspective. It has a single LRT line running on a north-south alignment across the river, with other public transport needs provided by buses. The long-distance rail and bus station is unfortunately a wee way out of town. To catch our early morning bus to San Sebastian we opted for the 10 minute taxi ride, which cost 8 Euro, rather than a 40 minute walk.
In a nutshell, if you’re ever travelling through northern Spain then I can highly recommend spending at least a couple of days in Zaragoza. While the summer weather is hot (approximately 35 degrees), it’s a dry heat. So if you plan your schedule to avoid the middle of the day, for example to write blog posts, then it’s perfectly pleasant. If you had more time then you could even use Zaragoza as something of a base to explore to the north and west, where you can find towns like Huesca, Logarno, Pamplona, and Valladolid.
Well I’m currently sitting on the bus from Zaragoza to San Sebastian, which is our next destination, and the view outside the window is getting increasingly interesting. So I think it’s time to close the laptop. Until next time, take care and have fun.
Rest assured that from afar I’m busy toasting to the passage of the (albeit imperfect) Unitary Plan, and Auckland’s future success. The next step? Central Government needs to get its act together and reduce incentives for property investment (NB: Please note that such moves are independent from people’s ethnicity. Anyone who comments on this post about ethnicity in relation to property investment in New Zealand will have their comments edited or deleted. I’m sick of dog-whistle racist shizz).
The biggest driver of public transport ridership over the last year has been on the Rapid Transit Network (RTN), which consists of the busway and the rail network. Over the 2015-16 financial year both grew an astonishing 20.6% after each also grew by over 20% in the 2014-15 year. Trips on the RTN now make up over 25% of PT trips in Auckland, up from 10% a decade ago and that’s while usage of non RTN services has increased by 35% over that same time frame. The RTN has helped in showing that when relatively fast, frequent, reliable and high quality services are provided, that Aucklanders will flock to use them.
Auckland Transport have now kindly provided the the numbers breaking down both the busway and train results by station including where each
Before delving into it a few caveats.
The rail trips only count completed trips i.e. where both the origin and destination are known. This means trips where someone has forgotten to tag off, trips on some passes like the child monthly pass (a paper ticket) and special event trips aren’t included. The trips included below account for about 92% of all rail trips.
Where a train to train transfer takes place, such as at Newmarket, the transfer is included as a new boarding
The busway figures are slightly different and are based on trips that board or alight at a busway station. Outside of the busway, such as in the city, AT don’t show the exact stops where people board or alight but just group them into the general council area such as Waitemata and Gulf. As an example a trip from town to Albany busway station will show as boarding in the Waitemata and Gulf area and alighting at Albany station.
These aren’t busway stats, they’re results for the busway stations themselves. The results don’t show trips where people board and alight a bus outside of the busway where the bus travels on the busway for part of its journey e.g. someone who boards the 130 in Hobsonville and alights at Takapuna despite the bus travelling down the busway.
The busway results also include where a paper ticket is bought at a busway station but where the destination is unknown. Surprisingly that only accounts for about 7% of trips from busway stations.
As a result of the caveats above, I don’t think the rail and busway stations can be directly compared but seeing how they’ve changed over the year is valid.
This graph shows the change in boardings for each RTN station over the last year. The colours are based on the ones AT use with the grey, purple and orange depicting stations shared by multiple lines. I’ve also included the Waitemata area in the busway results as most of that will represent people catching a bus from town to a busway station.
As expected, Britomart easily dominates the results with 4.7 million people boarding a train from the station in the last year, up from 3.9 million the year before. In total 59% of all rail trips begin or end at this one station.
Some good growth too for Newmarket and for buses from the city too
Two stations actually saw usage drop, Pukekohe – which will almost certainly be attributed to the shift to shuttle services – and Sunnynook, for which I have no idea why usage has dropped.
Hibiscus Coast busway station only opened in about October last year so I haven’t included it here but impressively it now already it has about the same number of passenger trips as the Sunnynook station.
The graph below looks at the how the usage of stations has changed as a percentage. Some observations:
Swanson has had great growth from its low base which I would assume is due to the opening of the new park & ride as well as the closing of Waitakere which will have seen a lot of users now drive to Swanson.
Manukau had the strongest growth and I expect that will only continue once the new bus network and particularly the new bus station open.
Puhinui is also improving well and even if you take the transfers out, it would still be up 28%
Below is a bit of a wall of number which are the basis for the graphs above for anyone interested. On separate tabs is also a matrix showing how many people travelled between each station should anyone want to make a visualisation of it. Or friend Aaron Schiff has in the past.
What do you think of the station usage results?
Update: Thanks to some comments I found I made a mistake with the Sunnynook and Smales Farm results for 2014-15. I’ve corrected that in the graphs and data set.
Our third major sojourn (if you’re only tuning into these rants now you may want to read day one and two first) took us from Cassis, France to Lllanca, Spain.
Llanca is a small village located on the Mediterranean Sea about one hour north-east from Girona, in a famous part of the country known as Costa Bravas. Our motivation for stopping in Llanca was functional rather than inspirational: Llanca provided a convenient and cute stop-over on our way to northern Spain (specifically Zaragoza and San Sebastian).
This journey was one of the longest that we attempted on our holiday, and involved four trip legs and associated transfers (mapped in the following figure):
Cassis to Cassis Station – bus 0.80 Euro
Cassis Station to Marseille Saint Charles – train 4.90 Euro
Marseille Saint Charles to Girona (with transfer in Montpellier) – train 86 Euro
Girona to Llanca – train 4.90 Euro
Aside from the first trip leg, for which we caught a bus, the remainder of the journey was all by train. We left Cassis circa 830am and arrived in Llanca circa 6pm, so spent 9. 5 hours travelling all up. This included about 1 hour each in Marseille, Montpellier, and Girona between train connections. While these breaks stretched out the total travel-time, they also provided a nice opportunity to stretch the legs, grab a coffee/food, and have a quick look around the respective towns (NB: If you’re ever passing through Marseille St Charles station, then I can highly recommend l’Ecomotive, which is a vegetarian cafe located right outside).
Montpellier train station is definitely a lovely place to connect; it has a nice internal configuration, free wifi, and is close to the city centre. And/or light rail stops outside if you want to travel further afield.
The train from Montpellier to Girona was rather spectacular. For a large part of the journey the train travels along the coast, with beautiful salt flats and estuarine environments on one side, and open beach on the other. I also enjoyed the regional train between Girona and Llanca, which passed through the countryside, replete with sunflower fields.
From an initial observation, I’d say that the quality of the rail infrastructure and rolling stock in Spain (or at least Catalunya) is better even than that found in France. One of the most notable features was the high-quality signage; every station we passed through had legible signs for everything from tickets, to information, and toilets.
I do, however, have two words of warning for would-be train travellers in Spain. First, high-speed intercity trains are often full over summer, so it’s worth booking your ticket in advance to secure a seat at your preferred time of travel. I’ll return to this point in subsequent posts, where a combination of a changes to travel plans and full trains required that we find alternative transport arrangements.
Second, I found the Renfe (Spanish national rail operator) website to be a terrible piece of crap. The worst thing, I think, is that it doesn’t mention regional train services. To provide an example, here’s what the Renfe website says about services operating from Girona to Llanca tomorrow. That’s right; the Renfe website says there’s only one service per day, which leaves at 9am in the morning. If you were planning to visit Llanca, and you saw a timetable like this, then you’d be likely to be rather discouraged.
Somewhat inexplicably, the public transport journey planner for Catalunya shows services operated by Renfe, as well as regional services. This means that there is actually one service between Girona and Llanca every hour. So it seems that Catalunya’s public transport journey planners shows all rail services, whereas Renfe’s website does not. Please keep this in mind if you’re planning to travel by train in Spain; the Renfe website is full of shiitake.
Aside from these minor issues, travelling by train in Spain is in of itself rather wonderful, and something I’d highly recommend, not just for long distance travel; the regional trains are really nice too.
Now for the juicy stuff: What is Llanca like? Well, we stayed in Llanca old town, which is set slightly back from the coast and centred on an old Romanesque era cathedral. The old town was generally lovely, replete with the typical attributes of a lovely European village: Lovely buildings, narrow lanes, and pleasant public spaces. We loved old town Llanca.
However, with a 10 minute walk towards the coast one stumbles into newer development around the port of Llanca, most of which appears to date from circa 1950 onwards. This part of town is not so pleasant, and was extremely automobile dependent by European standards. To some degree Llanca has the hallmarks of a town that is trying to keep everyone happy, and ends up pleasing no-one. One of Llanca’s natural challenges is that it is located at a natural junction in the road network. Hence it experiences considerable volumes of through traffic trying to access destinations further to the north and south along the coastline.
On the other hand, some of Llanca’s problems appear to be entirely of their own making. In many parts of town, for example, the footpaths and/or crossings are in a very sad state of affairs and/or even non-existent. I found this somewhat surprising given the demographics of the resident population, which appeared to be rather senior, and the dependence of the economy on tourism. I saw many people struggling to cross broken concrete and high kerbs with walking frames and sticks. When walking to the town from the train station, for example, one must traverse the intersection shown below. Ugggggggly. And not fun for those who are not able bodied.
We spent two nights in Llanca to recuperate before the next leg in our journey. On the second day we caught a bus from Llanca to Porto de la Salva, which is an even smaller village located 10km south along the coast. The bus ride cost only 1.70 Euro and provided spectacular coastal views. I have to say that Porto de la Salva was an absolute treat, and exactly what one thinks of when you hear the words “Spanish fishing village”, as you can hopefully gain from the images below.
Arriving in Porto de la Selva, we feasted on “tapes”, cervesa, and fresh peaches (which is a staple when travelling through France and Spain in summer) before walking to the beach and taking a swim. There’s a beautiful walk around the coast to the south of the town that is only accessible by foot, and which provides access to several beautiful swimming coves. Ultimately, I’d highly recommend a visit to Llanca, and especially Porto de la Selva. Just be aware that it gets busier over summer, although the latter seemed to be fairly sleepy, even at peak times.
We only spent two nights in Llanca, before pushing onto our next destination: Zaragoza. This which is capital of the Aragon Province, and certainly upped the tempo from the previous two legs …