Urban Math

So many things to say about what can be seen in this shot.

Downtown

Downtown

Clearly another glass clad tower will not be out of place here.

Also won’t it be great to get rid of that cacophany of steel and glass that is the rain shelters opposite, and the blank walled box of the dreary Downtown Centre.

But in particular look at the number of people standing on that one corner versus the likely number in those two cars [and you can’t count the taxi driver, he’s part of the machine, in fact he’s about to be replaced by the machine].

Barnes Dance

Barnes Dance

Here they are in motion. This is not rush hour either, it is 11:19am on a Thursday in fact [ahhh, metadata]. These things, these carbon based life forms, with hopes, dreams, desires and wallets, are what the development coming to that site in the background is all about. And it matters enormously that they are on foot. People driving by are of no consequence to the businesses on that block. The people delivered by the 200-300 carparks to built under it are also of little consequence to the retail part of the development. They’ll mostly arrive in the morning with one person in them for the towers above, and stay all day. No the economics of the millions being spent on the purchase and redevelopment here entirely depend on the people who arrive by Transit. Bus, Train, and Ferry.

Like the Britomart development, what is pretty and successful above ground there is only so because of what we the city built under ground first. The ever increasing numbers of people arriving on all modes in the City Centre and at this intersection of Transit services in particular is the foundation of this upgrade. It is also important to add to this the ever increasing numbers now living in the city and those walking or riding there too. This is a virtuous circle at work.

CBD Transport Change

It’s simple; more humans, fewer cars = successful city.

Houston’s parking policy madness

In urban policy circles, Houston, Texas is best known for its laissez-faire approach to planning regulations. Some people go as far as saying that it has no planning rules at all, and attribute the city’s low housing costs to this fact.

This certainly has a grain of truth to it. As I wrote after visiting my brother in Houston last year:

It’s easy to see the results of Houston’s lack of zoning laws while driving around the city – or walking, in the unlikely event that you can find a footpath. There is a remarkable, eclectic mix of housing types – old shotgun shacks on grassy lots sit next to aluminium-sided townhouses and apartment blocks.

There are advantages to this policy. Because local governments in Houston allow people to build almost anything on their land, redevelopment and intensification can happen quite flexibly. (Unless it’s constrained by covenants established by developers or residents’ associations.) Here, for example, is a neighbourhood near Houston’s Medical Center (from Google Maps). There are a number of detached houses in the area – predominantly in the lower left hand corner. However, there are also many midrise apartments, flats, and attached houses to be seen near the top and right edges of the picture:

Houston housing near medical center

But, as with any good myth, there is also an element of fantasy to Houston’s laissez-faire reputation. You see, the city of Houston is actually extraordinarily prescriptive about the amount of parking that developers, businesses, and households must provide. A recent post from Hamilton Urban Blog pointed me back towards Houston’s parking code.

It’s a wonderfully absurd document. By my count, Houston has developed minimum parking rules for at least 75 separate activities. It sets separate minimum parking rules for activities as diverse as:

  • miniature golf: 1 parking space per hole
  • elementary schools: 1 parking space per 12 students – I’m not sure if Houston’s got ludicrously low class sizes or if it expects some primary schoolers to drive themselves?
  • apartments: 1.666 parking spaces per two-bedroom apartment – are demonic forces at work?

This raises a number of questions. First, why are those freedom-loving Texans willing to tolerate this level of regulatory overreach? Surely they don’t think that planning bureaucrats could accurately predict the needs of their businesses and families?

Second, are Houston’s parking rules leading to perverse outcomes? For example, could a regulated oversupply of parking have contributed to the city’s demand for more roads, which has helped put the state road fund in deficit to a tune of up to $5 billion per annum and forced it to stop repaving some roads?

Forget about the cost of roads, though: could Houston’s parking rules be pushing people directly towards dangerous activities like drinking and driving? Here’s the section of the zoning code that covers restaurants and bars. As you can see, Houston’s code requires bars to provide more parking than similarly-sized restaurants.

Houston parking ordinances restaurants and bars

Abundant, low-priced parking tends to encourage people to drive more, rather than taking public transport, walking, or catching a cab. Are Houston’s parking rules encouraging people to drink and drive? Has the city government actually studied the effects of this policy? And, if not, why on earth would you assume it would be a good idea to require bars to have loads of parking?

Lastly, while it’s easy to mock Houston’s absurdities from a distance, can we be sure that we’re not doing similarly absurd things? Planning regulations, like any regulations, can lead to perverse consequences. It’s important to keep an eye on them – and be willing to get rid of them if they aren’t working out.

Do you think we’re experiencing any perverse consequences from our planning regulations?

Photo of the Day: Vulcan Lane

Following on from this morning’s post on some of the central city Victorian streets I thought a little look back would be useful; so here is Vulcan Lane just before the City Council bravely excluded cars from it in 1968, as a result of a campaign by retailers in the area keen to improve its appeal as a shopping destination. Coming up for 50 years ago!

Vulcan Lane 1968

Vulcan Lane 1968

From the Sir George Grey Special Collections at the Auckland Library. There’s also this excellent blog post with more images and further history including how it got its very cool name. Tracking the story of the street is to follow fashions in street design through the 20th century. In the 20s there were calls for widening, then one-waying, and finally in 1964 27 retailers petitioned the Council to close it to traffic. $13,000 was voted for this in 1967:

Vulcan Lane

Plenty of ‘foremen’ on the job.

Even further back; upper Vulcan Lane in 1919, a lovely sterograph image [hauntingly like a De Chirco painting]:

Upper Vulcan Lane 1919

Upper Vulcan Lane 1919

 

Celebrating recent Auckland Cycling and Walking projects

 

This is a sort of ‘Photo of the Day’ post to follow Matt’s one this morning: The day in question being last Friday 30th of Jan. Thankfully I was able to get back to the city from work in the South Island just in time to ride to the Ministerial Cycleways Announcement on the abandoned CMJ off-ramp. See here for how promising is the repurposing of this symbol of urban motorway-era overbuild into something useful.

As I observed in the post linked to above it’s surprisingly pleasant on the ramp, you’re largely above the traffic. Here’s a pic with a photo-op on bikes for Transport Minister Simon Bridges, Mayor Len Brown, and AT Chair Lester Levy going on in the distance.

CYCLEWAY LAUNCH_5372

And the backdrop? Three current and three soon-to-be apartment buildings. Left to right; Urba on Howe street, a new build, two existing blocks, the old Telecom office about to be converted, another 80/90s office building of considerable ordinariness under conversion, and another existing one. Hundreds of new dwellings in easy walk or ride to K Rd, Ponsonby, and of course the city.

CYCLEWAY LAUNCH_5376

I had a good chat with new transport minister Bridges, to be continued, he was very relaxed and out of a suit unlike his poor officials [background]. Those elegant cuffed wrists holding the phone belong to city Urban Design Champion Ludo Campbell-Reid who will be very important in making sure that NZTA’s traffic engineers don’t get away with insisting on some sort of massive cage along the sides of this route out of panic about what humans might do in their motorway corridor.

A balance between ensuring safety and creating a great environment is key here. It is important that the physical detail of this conversion treat riding and walking as normal activities that do not require the kind of defensive constructions that hurtling along in tin boxes at 100 kph do. It is already a fun and secure place to ride and walk. And even though its as close as we are likely to get to an elevated Highline in Auckland I don’t think it needs to be fussily guilded. I like experiencing the tough motorway engineering on foot or bike; there’s something a little transgressive about it. Sightlines need to be clear and the width is great, and practical for reducing conflicts on a shared path. For the route see Matt’s previous post.

The only cost of any consequence is a short bridge at the southern end of the ramp opposite South St connecting through to the bottom of East Street then up to K Rd in one direction, and Canada St, and the Grafton Gully and North Western cycleways in the other. Yay. The architects of the Pt Resolution Bridge [now called Monk MacKenzie] are on the design team so we have high hopes for a beautiful structure here.

Breaking! Just got the ok on Twitter from NZTA to share these:

CANADA ST BRIDGE_01

CANADA ST BRIDGE_02

Stunning. But interestingly only views from the motorway users’ perspective, and no one appearing to be using it… hopefully there are some equally developed views for above. You can see the bridge sweeps past South St to link with Canada St and the bottom of East St. Therefore directly to the Grafton Gully and Northwestern Cycleways more than to K Rd.

Talking of beautiful pedestrian/cycling bridges after the function I rode on to see the new one between the Grafton Gully cycleway and the path between Elam/Whitaker Pl and Symonds St:

Grafton Cycleway bridge_01

And what a lovely sensuous and sinewy thing it is too. Structural engineering practice Novare were the lead designers.

Grafton Cycleway bridge_02

From there I headed down to the city via O’Connell St. Of course it would be much better if there was also a route through the Wellesley St underpass. There is available space at the northern end which is currently only occupied by desultory planting. This would mean that pedestrians and riders wouldn’t have to go up and across Symonds St to get to and the from the city and the cycleway. It is hard to imagine how this connection isn’t a priority for AT/AC?

O'CONNELL_5419

O’Connell St is insanely improved; fantastic work by AC + AT. A huge success; peopled, busy, new sales being made and life being lived on the street. Previously it was just parking and vehicles circulating looking for parking. Still needs a tweak to reduce the rat-running, a good start would be to review the street pattern to the south [uphill], I propose reversing the one-way to up hill rather than down, as it currently funnels vehicles into O’Connell. Reversing this pattern would retain the same level of vehicle access to the surrounding buildings but direct movement towards the streets with higher vehicle priority. The aim should be for only delivery or emergency vehicles with destinations actually on O’Connell to be there. How it was:

O'Connell St

From there I went to check out Waterfront Auckland’s new [not yet officially opened] boardwalk. Fantastic:

Westhaven Boardwalk_01

Wide, elegant, graceful: great work WA. Another of those projects that makes you wonder what took us so long….?

Westhaven Boardwalk_02

And obviously, in the words of the Grandfather of Soul James Brown; it’s now time to “Take It To the Bridge”

After all who can disagree with Brown, especially about what’s cool.

In fact all the good things in this post make me feel very optimistic about the progress on the great task of fixing our potentially great city after decades of damage and neglect through the auto-age. So much so that I have to also agree with Brown here on the Ed Sullivan show in 1966 , so about Auckland’s progress:

“I Feel Good!”

Parking is massively oversupplied in US cities

When people discuss the costs of car-centric transport systems, they tend to tend to talk about congestion, fuel costs, crashes, or, if they’re environmentally-minded, carbon emissions.

However, one of the largest costs of auto-dependency is hidden in plain sight: the cost of providing parking spaces. The financial cost of providing parking spaces can be staggering. According to Todd Litman, “most communities have three to six parking spaces per vehicle (one a home, one at the worksite, plus spaces at various destinations such as stores, schools and parks)”. As car parks occupy around 30 m2 apiece, this means 90-180 m2 per car.

In Auckland, where suburban land prices range from around $250/m2 (west and south Auckland) to over $1000/m2 (inner isthmus, lower North Shore), surface parking would cost $22-90,000 per car. That’s more expensive than the cars that occupy those spaces!

mcc-coloured

Buildings are in red. Parks are in green. Everything else is roads and carparking.

Moreover,  land that is devoted solely to cars cannot be put to higher and better uses, such as dwellings, businesses, or public spaces. In a successful city, we would expect the value of those other uses to continue rising, meaning that the opportunity cost of car parking will also rise. Space is expensive in cities, and parking is an inherently inefficient use of land.

This spatial inefficiency is exacerbated by the fact that many cities have ended up with more car parking than is necessary. Eric Jaffe in Citylab reports on some important new research on parking oversupply in US cities:

Some new research reminds us just how oversupplied parking really tends to be in American metro areas: in a word, enormously. Rachel Weinberger and Joshua Karlin-Resnick of Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates analyzed parking studies of 27 mixed-use districts across the United States and found “parking was universally oversupplied, in many cases quite significantly.” On average across the cases, parking supply exceeded demand by 65 percent.

[…]

The researchers focused on districts with both residential and retail developments in a variety of settings—17 suburbs, 6 cities, and 4 towns—mostly in New England or California. (Interestingly, a third of the areas were documented as having the impression that local parking was scarce.) By looking at previous parking studies in these areas, as well as satellite imagery via Google Earth, they identified existing parking supplies and peak weekday and weekend demands.

Critically, the researchers also took into account the accepted practice of supplying 15 percent more spaces than necessary—a sort of buffer zone that reduces the congestion caused by drivers circling for spaces.

In all 27 districts, spanning places with 420 spaces to those with 6,600 spaces, Weinberger and Karlin-Resnick found an oversupply of parking over and above the buffer zone. The oversupply ranged from 6 percent up to 253 percent across the study areas (below, the highest over-suppliers). And in the nine areas that had believed parking to be scarce, the oversupply ranged from 6 percent to 82 percent.

us parking oversupply

These are pretty extraordinary findings. An average oversupply of 65% means that two out of every five parking spaces are, essentially, useless. We would never tolerate such waste in any other part of our economy – if, for example, two out of every five meatworks were sitting idle, we would start shutting down the unprofitable ones.

I highly recommend reading the rest of the article, as there are a number of other interesting findings in the research. One in particular stood out:

Interestingly, a third of the areas were documented as having the impression that local parking was scarce.

The researchers found that this was not correct – parking was in fact oversupplied in each one of these areas. Policymakers and businesses in these areas significantly overestimated the amount of parking that was truly required. It’s common to hear retailers complaining about the loss of on-street parking for cycle lanes and bus lanes, but the evidence suggests that we should treat their claims with caution.

The same thought occurred to me when reading the recent Motu paper on the cost of planning regulations. Based on a survey of 16 Auckland-based developers, the authors concluded that:

There were diverse views of the impact of car parking requirements on developments, reflecting differing development types. CBD apartment developers, particularly those developing at the affordable end of the market, prefer to include fewer car parks. They saw car parks as a cost to the development as the market value of a park was less than the cost of including them on the development. In contrast to CBD apartment developers’ views, suburban apartment developers tended to favour offering more car parks.

However, some of the comments from developers made me wonder whether they had also fallen into the trap of overestimating parking requirements:

“The optimal number of car parks in a suburban apartment development targeting the mid to upper end of the market is 2 to 3 per unit with additional common parking for guests”

Now, I haven’t been keeping a close eye on suburban apartment developments, but I’d be extremely surprised if developers were actually building three car parks per unit. If anything, the trend seems to be for fewer car parks. For example, the Merchant Quarter apartments in New Lynn have unbundled parking, while the apartments planned for Alexandra Park will have only one car park apiece.

Do you think Auckland has a parking oversupply? If so, what should we do about it?

Of Experts, Damned Lies, and Pohutukawa

I have just returned from an extremely dispiriting experience. A room full of people including representatives from Local Boards, David Shearer the local MP, and many extremely frustrated members of the public were attempting to discuss the fate of the St Lukes Pohutukawa Six with a bunch of engineers from AT, NZTA, and the private sector. To no avail.

The meeting [which apparently wasn’t a meeting; but I’ll come to that later] was run by AT’s Howard Marshall, who despite an unfortunately arrogant air for such a role at least had the courtesy and courage to introduce himself, unlike the rest of the state and city apparatchiks and their subcontractors [who, for example, was the white haired man sitting with the public who summoned Marshall mid meeting into a whispered private conference from which he emerged even more defensive and inflexible?].

Marshall was determined that no discussion would take place, the commissioners had spoken, and as far as he was concerned that was all that mattered. A degree of self-serving pedantry that we have seen before on this matter. So here was a room full of the public faced with a public servant who somehow decided that the best way to get this beastly business over with was to define it out of existence; ‘this is not a public meeting’ he droned, over and over. The word ‘Kafka’ was soon being muttered in the row behind me as he answered very specific questions about the placement of lanes with his view on the metaphysics of this non-meeting.

But faced with the relatively straight-forward question about process he reached for new technique: ‘Could’, he was asked, ‘AT change its mind about destroying the trees if it found another way to deliver sufficient transport outcomes?’

Frozen silence.

Perhaps he was malfunctioning? Or was it just an absurd question to put to a Traffic Engineer? Could their work ever be improved? How could that be; look around this city – is it not an image of heavenly perfection? Or rather was he caught between admitting that they don’t have to do this, which is clearly true, AT change their minds frequently enough, and knowing that he was supposed to the hold the line against even the slightest hint that AT could stop this action by any means short of an order from the Environment Court? Yes.

St Lukes Masterplan

This all would be funny if weren’t for the miserably disingenuous document we were all given at the start of the non-meeting [presumably not-written and not-printed].

AT regrets’, it solemnly intones, ‘that the trees will be lost’ [lost; how careless!] ‘but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended buslanes and bus priority measures in Great North Rd’.

Ahhh so that’s it. It’s all those cycleways and buslanes… I see now, multi-laned bus priority and proper separated cycle lanes in every direction then? Marshall doubled down on this saying that the project is all about the great cycling, walking, and Public Transport outcomes.

Now really this has to stop. This is actually just lying. Shocking. Brazen. Barefaced lying; do they think we can’t see? Well in fact it is a bit hard to see. There was some considerable disagreement in the room about just how many traffic lanes we are getting across here. I make it 19 through the guts of it, including off ramps, and true, one of these is, briefly, a bright stripe of green for buses. One. The Traffic Engineer next to me thought he got to 17. But either way to characterise this project as anything other than a giant clusterfuck of autodependency is clearly wildly inaccurate. This is beyond double-down, this is gazillion-down. As is clear from the plan above, and despite the careful rendering of the gardening in rich tones to leap off the page and distract from the orgy of tarmac, the overwhelming majority of this part of the planet is now to be expensively dedicated to nothing but motoring. The World’s Most Drivable City. Place-Breaking.

There is, it’s true, proposed to be a new ‘shared path’, which of course is a footpath for both cyclists and pedestrians, where the six Pohutukawas are currently. A wide footpath is exactly what there is now, but under the limbs of those glorious trees. So how is a new one with only new smaller trees nearby an improvement? And why do they have to move it to where the trees are now? It couldn’t be because of the new double slip lane that AT insist on putting where the existing path is, could it? [never once mentioned by Marshall]. To claim that trees have to go for the ‘cycle lane’ [which isn’t even a cycle lane], but not because of the extra traffic lane is beyond disingenuous and is. really. just. lying.

All AT Experts Agree.

And as is clear from the following Tweet sent by the trees themselves, if it was really a matter of just finding space for a shared path then of course it could go behind the trees either through the car park as a shared space, or where there is currently mown grass under the trees. Not difficult to spot and design for an engineer of any competence, surely.

Behind the trees Behind the trees II

They must have considered this because our text informs us ‘AT would not proceed with the application to remove the trees… if there had been any other viable option, but all AT experts agreed that there was not’ Oh dear. Was this option considered he was asked? Of course, waving his hand dismissively saying it was presented to MOTAT and other local stakeholders that carparking would have to be removed to achieve this and apparently they all agreed that that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Delivered with the pained expression of a man explaining obvious things to a group of dimwitted children.

Fox in charge of the chicken coop. It is clear that this process is, frankly, rubbish.

Consider now how the pedestrian amenity in this ‘upgrade’ is to become more glorious by the removal of a direct route across Great North Rd. Once complete, any motorist lured to the lagoon of parking between the new Supersized SH16 and the new Supersized Great North Rd [or other actual pedestrians] will have to make three separate applications to the beg-buttons for permission to migrate from island to island to get to MOTAT or Western Springs. Should take about a week; or perhaps people will feel the hopelessness of this fate and either chance a gap in the traffic or just hurl themselves under a passing SUV….

So I call bullshit, AT, on any claim that this plan does anything except facilitate and promote further motorised vehicle use, and I don’t include buses in this. That they are intermittent buslanes on GNR hardly makes it a PT oriented project. That is the very least that the duplication of this road with SH16 should have long ago provided. Where is the North Western Busway: The Rapid transit line for this route for all those new citizens in the north west? The amenity that we know is the best way to keep the demand on the motorway from tripping into overload [from both the success of the Northern Busway, and theory]. Of the billions being spent on this massive project a couple metres of Kermit on GNR doesn’t give AT/NZTA any kind of figleaf to hide their Kardashian-scaled tarmac-fest behind.

But I digress, it is of course beyond AT’s engineers’ reach to fix the whole scope of the SH16 works, but still do they have to display their professional myopia quite so thoroughly on the small section of this massive but conceptually retrograde project in their care? And lie to us, and god knows to themselves, that they are really building a great new world for cyclists, pedestrians, and PT users?

‘Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with AT’s drive to encourage Public Transport use. This will bring long-term benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport to the car.’

Butter wouldn’t melt.

The withholding of one short traffic lane on GRN is all that is needed.

The double slip lane onto the bridge is not worth losing these trees for, but even if it were, why are there three east bound lanes opposite?  Two lanes turn from the bridge city bound onto GNR, and two lanes continue straight trough the intersection from west on GNR, one a disappearing buslane. That each of these traffic light cycles needs to leap from two lanes to three looks like mad super redundancy to this observer. Or at least having only two lanes for the length of the double slip lane opposite looks like a reasonable compromise as it would mean we could keep those trees. It’s just the reduction of this massive scheme by one lane for a short distance that resolves the issue. Can they really not manage that? Can they not see how this would also help conceal the full extent of the over-build here; would improve their project on every level?

But of course here we get to the real issue. I accuse those responsible for this outcome of professional incompetence. For they certainly are exhibiting it. What I mean, I suppose, is that they are being incompetent humans, more than incompetent traffic engineers. For in the extremely reduced definition of what they consider to be their job; maximising vehicle traffic flow through the monotonic provision of ever more lane supply and minimisation of ‘friction’ [anything, like pedestrian crossings, trees, whatever, to slow vehicles], they are efficient enough. But really should this job so defined ever exist? In isolation, that is, of course we want and need dedicated engineers, but can we as a city, as a species, afford to allow them this crazy disassociation of their task from the rest of life? Everyone gets benefit from those trees, not least of all those thousands of vehicle users that pass by them, or park under them. And they are now the only bit of civility and glory in an otherwise overkill of pavement. They are irreplaceable. And valuable beyond the dubious virtue of providing traffic flow predicted to be there, in 2026 no less, based on traffic models that are constantly shown to be wrong. Do these men see their job so autistically that they only value that tsunami of tarmac at any cost?

By rights these trees should still be there when both Mr Marshall and I are compost, our constituent atoms returned to make other life forms, in the great mystery of it all. They are a link to those people of The Great Depression who planted them, and even further back to when these trees and their cousins dominated this land. They are an invaluable link with the past through the present and into the future. How can it be that we grant people the right to blithely cut that link for one more lane in a world of nothing but traffic lanes?

Uncommonly Good: Melbourne Apartments show the way forward

‘The Commons’ is a new small apartment block next to a train line in Brunswick, inner Melbourne by Breathe Architecture. It is noteworthy for  the cost of the apartments [pretty affordable for the area], its strong sustainability credentials and design features [especially the shared areas], its financial success as a development, but most of all because it is a concrete example of a great way forward for urban redevelopment. It ticks every box for accessibility, humanity, and public good. Here is how it was covered in last Thursday’s The Age. Be sure to watch the video.

The Commons sarah-hurst

It is such a success that another block is underway nearby but this time not funded by a traditional developer but sort of crowd sourced, mainly by the architectural community, and it will be marketed in a fresh way too.

The total absence of any onsite car parking and mechanical aircon along with clever use of communal services that enable the generous size of the living areas and the high build quality for the price point. This shows how the removal of anti-urban planning regulations that most western cities have inherited from last century can stimulate innovation by architects and developers.

It also shows that to really offer choice and increased affordability into urban housing markets cities need to make two coordinated moves: remove the straitjacket of Minimum Parking Regulations and other dispersal enforcing regs and upgrade its Transit and Active systems to as high quality, frequency, and permanency as possible. Together these moves enable the market to provide real TODs, Transport Oriented Developments, of all sorts of scales for all sorts of markets, on currently undervalued brownfields sites.

Once these conditions exist then change can occur on scales more attractive to a variety of players driving experimentation and innovation. After all, whatever government, Council, and the market is doing now in Auckland for dwelling supply isn’t working as well as we need. Significant improvement is coming to our transport systems, now lets get the dwelling regulatory environment fixed too. Then good things will follow. As one fix is nowhere as powerful without the other.

Below, the parking [from here:http://www.redshiftaa.com.au/portfolio/apartment-design-as-it-should-be/]:

Redshift_The_Commons_Bicycles

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.

Cost

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]

On This Day… Park-and-ride, boon or boondoggle?

Today’s “On this Day” post comes from 2012 and was written by Stu Donovan.

Matt L has just dissected AT’s recent announcement regarding the expansion of the Albany Park and Ride.

Park and ride is a vexed transport planning issue: It’s very popular with middle-class commuters and as a result tends to receive a lot of public/political support.  On the other hand, P&R’s merits are often not well understood.  Is P&R really the boon it is made out to be?

Let’s consider the arguments usually put forward in discussions on P&R; turning first to the downsides:

  1. P&R requires considerable tracts of land.  For this reason it tends to be very, very expensive to provide within the urban area, unless opportunistic (read CHEAP) land parcels are identified (more on this later).  Given the cost of land and the general constraints on PT funding in Auckland, it is quite reasonable to ask whether P&R in urban locations represent value for money – compared to other possible PT improvements.
  2. The second issue is a logical extension of the first: Because P&R requires so much land it squeezes out opportunities for intensive land use development, often in the very locations that have good PT access.  This second issue is very important, because it means that P&R may actually generate relatively few *additional* trips per sqm, above and beyond what would be generated by the intensive land uses that would exist in the absence of the P&R.
  3. The third major issue with P&R is that it competes with other modes to provide access to PT stations.  Surveys of the Northern Busway have shown that approximately 50% of users previously used local buses.  The message is that providing free P&R can encourage people to drive down the road and park, when they previously waited for a local bus (which is typically going to run anyway, i.e. relatively low marginal economic costs).
  4. The final major issue with P&R is that it concentrates vehicles on what are often strategic locations in the road network. In the case of Albany, the provision of 1,100 car-parks within the town centre itself represents about one full lane of traffic.  By concentrating vehicle volumes at these locations, large amounts of P&R may soak up capacity in the surrounding road network and cause localised congestion.

Just to re-cap the points made above: 1) P&R can be expensive to provide (because of the land that it occupies); 2) may generate little additional patronage (above and beyond what we would get anyway); 3) tends to compete with other modes of access to PT stations (which are often more cost-effective); and 4) can cause localised congestion.

Given these issues you might reasonably ask under what circumstances would you ever want to develop P&R?  The answer is that P&R can be useful where:

  1. Alternative means of PT access (primarily local bus services) are ineffective.  In these situations P&R can help to focus PT demands to a level that supports a modicum of PT service.  This tends to be outside the main urban area, where land is cheaper to provide (especially where you can identify opportunistic land parcels, such as sites beneath high-voltage power lines or in flood prone areas, as is done for some P&R sites in Vancouver).
  2. It is priced appropriately.  Charging people to use P&R generates revenue from users and mitigates two of the issues noted above.  Namely, the cost (or subsidy) of providing P&R goes down, while also reducing the degree to which  P&R competes with other (substitutable) modes of access.  Pricing P&R really just levels the playing field with other possible ways of getting to the PT station.  It can also reduce the congestion caused by P&R.
  3. The PT station has been provided in advance of more intensive land use development.  Here P&R simply becomes an interim land use, until such time as development is ready to occur.  At this point the land on which the P&R sits can be sold and the costs recovered.  This practise of “landbanking” is not a bad strategy, especially where the interim P&R allows PT services to build to the point where they support relatively intensive development.

Given these pros and cons, as well as the general public/political pressure, it is perhaps not unsurprising that PT agencies struggle to find an appropriate role for P&R. In my experience most cities have relatively ad-hoc approaches to the development P&R.

So where to from here?  Well, I thought I’d round out this post with a few takeaway P&R messages that I’ve collected during my years working as a transport consultant working in New Zealand and Australia:

  1. The party rarely lasts – P&R is usually an interim activity.  P&R should be viewed less as a permanent feature of the PT network and more as an interim activity that is redeveloped at some point in the future.  Rose-tinted press-releases (such as that released for Albany) create the illusion of a never-ending feast of free P&R and build a public rod to beat the backs of future decision-makers (as an aside, there is a general need for transport agencies to better manage public/political expectations).
  2. Ain’t no party like a policy party – the development of P&R should be governed by policy.  Experiences in cities overseas has highlighted the issues that may arise with ad-hoc P&R development.   In San Francisco, the (private) operators of BART had a pig of a time trying to redevelop and/or charge for P&R decades after the development of the system, even though the land on which the P&R sat was wholly privately owned.
  3. No party is that cool – P&R is just another form of PT investment.  Ultimately, P&R is just another way of getting people onto the PT system.  As such, any proposed investment should be compared against other possible uses of that money.

Following these three P&R ‘party rules’ can help ensure that investments in P&R are a boon, not a boondoggle.

Update:

We haven’t seen much actual expansion of park and rides in Auckland over the three years since this post was published. However, the Draft Parking Discussion Document – released by Auckland Transport last year – did seem to have quite a strong focus on expanding Auckland’s park and ride capacity.

As Stu articulated in the post, park and ride is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, it all depends on the situation. A park and ride at Drury or Silverdale clearly makes sense – capturing PT riders who would be very inefficient to capture in other ways. The park and ride at Orakei is clearly insane.

Bike Parking Tokyo Style

A neat little video from Toyko of some bike parking.