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.

Cycling in Christchurch, “Show me the money – the economics of cycleways“:

Even if the costs have blown out to ~$160 million, a quick calculation shows that the Benefit/Cost Ratio of the total cycleway programme in Christchurch is conservatively at 7:1 – a pretty good business case in most people’s eyes.

A similarly high Benefit/Cost Ratio was also found in a recent piece of research looking at the effect of a full cycle network implementation for Auckland. Other studies have also shown the same kinds of high returns on investment elsewhere in the world too.

Just for comparison, the much-vaunted Southern Motorway extension ended up costing $140 million for a projected Benefit/Cost Ratio of about 2.4:1 (I’m guessing that the likely benefits of the relatively small portion that went towards the parallel cycleways were much higher).

Angie Schmitt, “You can make a more effective bus system for cheap but it’s not easy“, Streetsblog:

Bus service in Houston is about to get a lot more useful — without costing any more to operate.

[Lead consultant Jarrett] Walker says that a system overhaul forces communities to make hard decisions between ridership and coverage. Low ridership routes (or “coverage” routes) provide an important lifeline to some people, but they also divert resources from routes where more people would ride the bus. To create a more effective bus network without spending more money, the Houston plan cut low-ridership service by about 50 percent, at the city’s behest.

Houston Bus Existing & Proposed

Jenee Tibshraeny, “Bank bosses air concerns about foreigners pushing NZ asset prices too high“, Interest.co.nz:

“Executives commented that there is a lot of money flooding into the New Zealand market from overseas investors who are able to buy assets with cash, thereby avoiding the need to borrow, which is distorting asset prices and yields.”

Kensington told interest.co.nz foreign investors are often willing to pay 10% to 15% more than New Zealanders, decreasing the yield on invested assets.

[…]

“The risk for New Zealand is that, while all this money comes flooding in and creates over-inflated prices, New Zealanders are forced to buy at these over inflated prices,” Kensington said.

“If at some stage in the future the money is needed back offshore, due to some event, or the rest of the world becoming more attractive, there could be a lot of assets dumped in the New Zealand market.

James Vincent, “Tesla co-founder says it’s electric trucks, not electric cars, that matter“, The Verge:

Electric cars may help save the environment, but when it comes to saving money, electric trucks are where it’s at. At least, that’s the proposition from Ian Wright, one of the five original founders of Tesla and now head of his own firm, Wrightspeed.

His pitch is simple: companies should retrofit their gas-guzzling trucks to run on his range-extended, electric powertrains. These vehicles are pretty much running throughout the day, says Wright, burning up fuel and money. Converting them means that any savings on running costs and maintenance provided by electric innards are recouped much quicker than with regular cars.

Joseph Stromburg, “Why free parking is bad for everyone“, Vox:

All our free street parking also leads to secondary problem: most city governments (with the exception of New York, San Francisco, and a few other dense cities) require all new buildings to include specified large numbers of added parking spaces — partly because otherwise, the free street parking would be swamped by new residents. “In most of the country, you can’t build a new apartment building without two parking spaces per unit,” Shoup says.

This too costs money. In Washington DC, the underground spots many developers build to comply with these minimum requirements cost between $30,000 and $50,000 each. Whether they’re constructed along with apartment buildings or shopping complexes, this cost ultimately gets passed along to consumers, in the form of rent or the price of goods.

“Wherever you go — a grocery store, say — a little bit of the money you pay for products is siphoned away to pay for parking,” Shoup says. “My idea is simple: if somebody doesn’t have a car, they shouldn’t have to pay for parking.”

[…]

The main argument for free parking is that charging for it is effectively a regressive tax, because it disproportionately affects people with lower incomes. Spending on parking represents a larger percentage of their budget — and because having to pay for parking might price some lower income people out of their cars.

But currently, people who don’t own cars are disproportionately lower income. Every tax dollar they spend that goes towards parking infrastructure is a more direct and regressive tax than what would be levied on car-owning people if they always had to pay for parking.

Urbz, “Dharavi: Reclaim Growth“:

High population density is not inherently unhealthy, but it requires special attention. People should not be displaced far away from their communities, activities and schools in the name of reducing density. We do not recommend reducing density or creating more open grounds if it means displacing people because the human cost of doing so it too high. However, we believe that more can be done to optimize existing open spaces, whether they are streets and roads, or courtyards around temples and schools. Such spaces should be redesigned so they are accessible to all, and in particular to children – that means giving absolute priority to covering open rainwater drains. We also recommend planting trees along existing streets and roads wherever space allows it. These increase the conviviality of public spaces, help clean the air and provide shade.

Eric Jaffe, “The myth that everyone naturally prefers trains to buses“, Citylab:

Barro points to the success of L.A.’s Orange Line, for instance, as evidence that “it is possible to overcome anti-bus bias with the right amenities and marketing.” But in doing so, he mistakes the Orange Line’s integral service improvements, such as high frequencies and dedicated lanes, for amenities at best or marketing ploys at worst, when in fact they represent a fundamentally stronger system. To suggest that reliable service and exclusive lanes are a product of savvy marketing is to suggest that Michael Jordan jumped high because Nike said so.

You can sense the magnitude of the change from buses to BRT in the way L.A. riders speak about the Orange Line, at least as captured in the 2009 DOT report. Riders can’t seem to reconcile that it’s a bus at all; instead, they describe it the same way they’d describe a train. Some actually called it a “train-bus”.

Auckland Council, “Survey on transport options to start soon“, Scoop:

From Auckland Council: Independent company to survey Aucklanders on transport

A quantitative survey, asking 4,200 Aucklanders for their views on fixing and funding transport, has started as part of Auckland Council’s 10-year budget consultation.

The month long survey will enable robust analysis and further insight into the views Aucklanders have on the issue of transport, which is a strong focus of the budget.

[…]

Survey respondents will be contacted by telephone based on a sample that is demographically representative of Auckland’s population.

Michael Anderson, “Outer London is about to activate the ‘secret weapon’ of the suburbs: the bicycle“, People for Bikes:

Among rich countries, the best places for biking – Amsterdam, Denmark, Germany – are also among the best places for riding transit.

These countries design their suburbs so local trips can be done by foot and bike as well as by car. Trips into the city, meanwhile, often use train or bus.

The key to the system: Once biking becomes easy in the suburbs, it also becomes easy to bike a couple miles to a train station. That can break the vicious cycle of low ridership.

“One of the biggest challenges for conventional transit in this country is first/last mile,” said Bragdon, the New York transit advocate. “You can run this good light rail service every 10 minutes on this trunk line, but people are still low-density. Biking, I think, is a real practical solution to that problem.”

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44 comments

  1. Amsterdam and Germany are flat and have public transport that accommodates cycles. Germany ALSO has a brilliant roading system. Can not have one form of transport only. All must work together. Obsessive penalizing of cars is plain stupid.

    1. We currently has a system that caters for cars over everything else. So I totally agree with you comment that we can’t have one form of transport only.

      Last time I was there Christchurch was very flat.

      1. Last time I was in Christchurch (January 2015), it was still pretty flat, but the CBD area and points east of Hagley Park were showing signs of getting rebuilt. 😉

    2. Flatness is not a prerequisite for a place to have a strong cycling culture. San Francisco is not flat. AKL has a way better climate for cycling than any of those Northern European cities. What is missing is the safe routes; that’s the difference.

      Anyway routes to and from Rapid Transit stations in the suburbs are often flat as; Papkura, Paptoetoe, Panmure etc… Cycling as a great first/last mile part of the Transit journey has huge potential. I often ride to the bus or train, and many more would too if it was a safer option.

    3. Germany is flat? What, the whole country? All 357,000 square kilometres?
      As for having lots of roads; Germany also has lots of money. It also has over 200 long distance cycle routes; a very civilized country.

    4. I’d strongly debate Germany’s ‘brilliant’ roading system. Much of it is not in very good condition compared to other countries, largely I suspect due to it being a lot older with maintenance perhaps not keeping up. In most countries in the EU, however, investment in roading projects is parallelled with investment in high-speed rail, which is a much more pleasant way to travel.

      (If you’re wanting to drive, I’d recommend France – it’s N roads are very enjoyable driving compared to the boring motorways).

  2. As for ‘Cycling in Chch’ – don’t compare the Auckland Southern motorway with spurious and dubious benefit factors used by 1 million plus people with a cycle way costing much the same used by very few. Strange logic portrayed in the story above. Smells of illogical bias.

    1. A million “people” using the existing Southern Motorway in Christchurch, maybe over a long period of time, maybe.

      As for comparison to cycleway low usage, its not just about the numbers using it, its also about the societal benefits that accrue to and from those who are using it (and the societal dis-benefits avoided by the option not chosen).

      The 7 to 1 BCR for a cycleway means that for every $1 invested taxpayers and society gets $7 back. It won’t just be the cyclists who benefits, it will be everyone in NZ who ever uses a hospital as one example.

      Or to look it from the perspective of a company building motorways and roads, (and assume we had a rational government, who made rational funding decisions based on logic and facts):

      If they had an option of bidding (effectively betting) on the government spending $160m on a motorway with a BCR of 2 to 1 or a $160m cycleway with a BCR of 7 to 1 over the same timeframes.

      Then as a business, you’d be 100% sensible to bet that the Government will be 3 times more likely to prioritise/fund the cycleway over the motorway project of the same size.

      So if you bid only for the motorway project and not the cycleway project you’d lose out more often.
      Bidding/Betting on roads only is not rational economics for a company, unless they’re mates with the Minister or Ministry that is ,and thus have inside knowledge, others do not.

    2. Did I understand this? They suggest 30% of people would change from cars to cycling? If anyone has a project that can get 30% to give up cars then they should build it immediately. Of course the IF is a very big one. I have worked on heavy rail projects that didn’t assume that many. From memory the revealed preference for the introduction of the DMUs was around 7% (stated preference was double that).

      1. Christchurch used to have that level and more of cycling, and the take up predictions are covering 25 years out to 2041. Schools in Christchurch in the recent past routinely had over 50% of students cycling to/from schools.

        A lot of things are going to happen in those next 25 years, and it will be fair to say, way more will happen in the next 25 years than the last 50 (or even 75) years up to 2015, so if you were in 1965 and “predicted” the situation with today with near 100% car dominated society, no rail system to speak of (ignoring the Quakes for a moment) you would have been be laughed out of court. Let alone if you made a similar “prediction” in 1940.

      2. No, you have mis-read the article. Various surveys have shown that the “latent demand” for cycling is in fact quite high – up to 30% of the population would prefer to cycle if the conditions were right. This is intuitively reasonable as countries that are relatively similar to us (small, mainly urbanised, high income, and with a culture of physical activity) have achieved cycle mode shares closer to that.

        However, achieving that here would require us to deliver an entire cycle network that allows people to safely travel on most roads, and in most parts of the city, by bike. Individual projects can make significant contributions to that outcome, but they can’t deliver it by themselves.

        If you look more closely at the modelling results in the linked article, it suggests that the cycleways will result in a 10-20% increase in cycle trips in Christchurch over the longer term. This is significant, but it would take more like a 400-600% increase to get to 30% mode share.

        1. Groningen Netherlands- low 31 %, high mode share 55% rank 1
          Copenhagen, Denmark – high 37,% rank 7
          Auckland NZ high 1% rank 372.
          Source City Clock 700 Cycle Mode Share 700 cities.

          1. 55% cycle mode share, I guess that makes it primary mode then. That punches heavily!! vs 1% Auckland or 8% Christchurch.

        2. If Groningen. Netherlands can get to 55% cycle mode share and even our own benefit cost exercises are saying 7 benefits to 1 cost then surely seperated cycling that takes up 4m width incl 1m physical protection are a very wise investment and blow car investment out the park. Full expenditure Rapid Transit and Seperated Cycling and if pedestrian counts higher than people in cars close it down to cars plus make all areas more people focused. Car has had all our focus and money last 60 years not one cent more! Time for People Focus with Needs of the Many Outweigh Those of The Few.

          1. How many Roads of National Significance have a benefit cost ratio over 7. Oh that’s right rapid transit and active modes not Strategic Fit! Oh my goodness.

    3. I recommend you actually read the linked article, which goes into a lot more detail about the modelling approach. According to their analysis, building the major cycleways could raise the number of daily cycle trips by 9,000 to 14,000 by 2041. Even if we only consider weekdays, that’s another 2-3 million cycling trips every year.

      Because many of those trips would otherwise have been taken by car, the result is:
      * A reduction in public health costs as people exercise more (and as cyclists are safer)
      * An improvement in local environmental quality from reduced vehicle emissions and noise
      * A big reduction in congestion for the people who are still driving.

      In other words, this is the exact opposite of “obsessive penalizing of cars”. People who prefer driving should nonetheless enthusiastically support cycle facilities, as they will in fact benefit from them.

    4. There are currently 50,000 cycle trips a day in Chch. As well as them, no doubt all the new riders attracted will also benefit. For comparison, the Chch Southern Motorway has about 30,000 trips a day.

  3. The ‘risk’ to NZ banks of foreign funds flooding in is that they can’t ‘clip-the-ticket’ which is what they are actually concerned about. Less mortgages through NZ and Oz banks – notice the interest rate war in an effort to lend out more money?

    More and more of central Auckland is being purchased using foreign funds and the banks are losing profit. Nothing to do with caring thoughts about Kiwis at all. If the banks want to do something useful they should be badgering the government to stop foreign buyers coming in period. That would help Kiwis.

    1. Considering all the big banks are Australian (“foreign”) owned, they don’t give a shit about NZ or the people who live or work here, they only lobbying they’ll do is about minimising “their” risks by ensuring the status quo is kept in place for as long as possible.

  4. Will the Council survey on Transport Options include the option that Council cut back on Non Core Infrastructure and learn to live within budget? Or will the only (legal I doubt) options be which new tax we prefer. How about we all say we prefer NO new tax.

    1. There a several ways to submit your point of view, I’d suggest that waiting to be surveyed wouldn’t be the best one.

    2. Ricardo AT and the Council do operate exactly within their budgets, the question is what do we want them to achieve and if we need them to have more money to achieve that, that’s all. There is no question of them spending outside budget. Read through the AT board papers and you will see that it is all about fitting within the budget.

  5. Bundling parking with retail goods is a penalty on people who don’t drive. But if you compare supermarket prices with those of smaller shops then everyone including those who dont park are winning and probably more than the penalty. Would anyone build a large format retail store if they couldn’t have parking? If not how much more would we all pay for our goods? If unbundling costs the business more than they gain from unbundling then they bundle -same goes for any goods. Shoup is wrong that it is a regressive tax in places where wealthier people reside in all the places best served by public transport and poorer people have to own a car. At that point it probably becomes progressive.

    1. “Would anyone build a large format retail store if they couldn’t have parking?”

      There are plenty of examples of big-box stores located in dense areas without much parking. For example, IKEA commonly establishes big stores in inner-city areas in northern Europe. (And even rents out cargo bikes to customers rather than providing them with car-parks.)

      We can even find examples in Auckland. For example, the soon-to-be-demolished downtown mall has a quite busy Warehouse on the third storey. It’s busier than most Warehouses I’ve been in, and it has no on-site parking whatsoever.

      In short, I think that you need to take a broader, less parochial perspective on this issue. Just saying “nobody does it here!” is not a good argument against making a policy change.

      1. Yes Peter you proved me wrong with one Warehouse. On that basis I have to change my point form “nobody would” to “it wont happen very often”. As for your graph it doesn’t address the point. Yes higher income houses have more cars just as they probably do TV’s boats and computers but it doesn’t address the point that in our city poorer people have less choices. They typically dont live walking distance to Newmarket station or beside a ferry terminal. They typically live where they have to drive to a supermarket. Add in the simple fact that wealthy people can pay a premium and get deliveries and my point stands, Free parking is probably not regressive in Auckland.

        1. Think about the dynamics of the situation. In Auckland, rigid parking requirements are a *barrier* to putting low-income people within walking or PT distance of the places they want to go. This is because they prevent people from building retail, commercial, or residential developments that are accessible without a car.

          This is really not a difficult concept to understand!

          1. Peter for you to be right requires that not only would parking be charged at the gate but that land uses and transport options are reconfigured in a radical way. I am sure that would be possible but maybe the goods sold in those shops will cost a hell of a lot more than the goods sold at a Pak N Save or Countdown as they currently exist. Firstly shops would need to be very strictly zoned which will mean the land will cost more. Second they will be smaller shops that will have higher overheads. Thirdly you assume the PT system will be changed wholesale to put people within walking or riding distance. Those are bigger assumptions than simply charging for parking which the post is about. The point I am making is that charging for parking is likely to impact more on poor people than wealthy. That is regressive. It is worse than road pricing because at least with tolls the cash can be channelled into better PT giving those priced out a viable choice. Parking charges go to the private land owner, you assume they might pass some of that on as price reductions but that isn’t certain. In my view parking charges are just a second best policy for tolls and are advocated by people who fully understand that.

    2. Also, your point that parking requirements are likely to be progressive in Auckland because poor people are more likely to live in car-dependent places is factually incorrect.

      Here’s a graph (from 2013 Census data) that shows that car ownership rates are lower in suburbs with lower household incomes:

      http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Auckland-Census-incomes-and-car-ownership-chart.jpg

      What the data _actually_ shows is that our insistence upon building car-dependent suburbs and not enabling more housing development in walkable, PT-friendly suburbs has a really deleterious effect upon low-income Aucklanders, who can’t afford to own cars but also can’t afford to live in places where they don’t need them.

      1. Is there a graph for those census data that switch “households” for “per-resident in the household” or a graph of incomes versus “normally resident per household” figures.

        I’m thinking that lower income households tend to have more people “per-household”, so the actual “number of cars per resident” in low income areas will a lot lower than higher income areas.

        Even so that graph suggest that those that are financially poor, are also then made geo-spacially poor by the locations they are forced to live in (that they can afford), and in turn become just as much, if not more, time poor as high income folks are, due to all the mucking about having to use low quality PT services to do basic day to day activities instead of either walking, using frequent and direct PT, or driving.

        1. It’s a very similar graph, although the slope on the trend line seems to be a bit steeper. The richest areas of the city tend to have around 0.8 cars per resident, while the poorest areas have more like 0.4 cars per resident.

          Could be worth doing a post on this…

          1. Sure Peter H I can accept that for some car free households. But my point is that charging $5 at the Pak N’ Save carpark as advocated by Shoup and his wide eyed disciples will make a lot of poorer people worse of than they are now and it will affect them more than wealthy people that makes it regressive. Some might find it better to pay a higher price somewhere they can walk, but they are worse off because they get less for their money and have to carry it. Some will pay and be worse off by $5. It is hard to see a winner here except maybe the dude who currently cycles to the supermarket if they drop their prices and lets face it why would they do that? In my view yes it is efficient to charge for parking just like charging to use the toilet on a plane is economically efficient. But it will make the world a worse place for most people.

          2. So basically, your position boils down to saying: “we’ve built our city in an inefficient and regressive way, and we have no choice but to continue doing so.”

            That’s simply not true. You talk about the removal of MPRs as if they will *immediately* result in all parking being priced. In reality, the redevelopment of oversupplied parking will take place incrementally, over time. As it happens, the price of parking will slowly increase, but – and this is very, very important – it will only happen *insofar as* we reuse land in a way that puts people in greater proximity to retail, employment, and each other.

            Seriously, this is Econ 101 stuff. Basic supply and demand.

          3. Thanks Peter Nuns for summarising “my” position and then knocking it over. Despite your straw man argument

            I will point out the following: 1/ the post we are discussing is on the merits of pricing parking, not how quickly the removal of MPR’s might lead to pricing, so pricing is the assumption here. 2/ I haven’t said we have built our city in an inefficient way, it could be very efficient for people to get in their car and drive to a low cost supermarket and do a big shop. That could be way more efficient than distributing goods to many small shops and getting people to walk to them many times a week. 3/ My original point is that Shoup might be quite wrong saying free parking is regressive. In fact charging for parking as a second best policy option might be regressive as it might impact or poorer people more than rich. 4/ Your claim that redevelopment of oversupplied parking is going to happen slowly is also wrong it has already happened. Owners only provide what they actually need, St Lukes is around 1 space per 27sqm not 1 per 17sqm as per the rule. Because the rule is not a commandment from God just a starting point in the assessment. If they dont need it they dont provide it. There are assessment criteria that go with MPRs. But then I am sure you already knew that it just doesnt suit the point you wish to advocate.

    3. The Downtown mall was Westfield’s most profitable when they sold it and without a carpark. Mfwic you have it backwards, it’s because we build autodependent shopping centres we get autodependent shopping.

      Of course the shopping model needs to match both the habitation and the movement options. Akl is in the process of adding less autodepent options to all three of these areas. Parking mins are simply an anachronism from a time when the policy was to force the urban form we now have. It is no longer adequate for a city of 1.5m

    1. Interesting, take/idea.

      It is however only 1 free years worth of Uber, so how much is that worth in practise?

      I figure say a max of say 10 Ubers a day (5 trips away and back), for 365 days a year, at say $20 average for each Uber (probably a bit OTT but you know Uber and their surge pricing,so any peak time travelling will be pricey unless you can ride share).

      So that is what $73,000 or so? About 10% of the Condo list price, and about what a car park would cost if you can use that much Uber in a year.

      So you are “getting” effectively 1 years use of a “free” car park (and no need for a car) – possibly less depending how much Uber you use.

      Of course, when you come to sell you probably have to offer the same deal, so your “savings” on buying it are probably going to be spent to get the next guy to buy it from you.
      But if you don’t need a car at all, and don’t need to sell/rent it anytime soon, be a good deal probably.

    1. Mind you Patrick, if I had to commute in those train carriages in the photo accompanying the article, I’d probably prefer to stay stuck in traffic all day.

      Those carriages are pretty grim – like they are designed for a “freezing works” than carrying people (freezing workers) around – and thus designed to be hosed out completely at the end of the day.

      But point well made, commuting more than 10 miles a day is bad for your health if you drive, so better for if you don’t, or if you have to commute such distances, use PT.
      To use one of those cheesy ’80s UK Rail ads “Let the train take the strain”.

  6. Reply to mfwic 9:37 pm
    Pak N’ save charges for bags, this hasn’t stopped us from shopping there and yes they do charge you for parking. Mill st after 90 minutes and Clarence St after 120 minutes. Like to see you try using their car-parking for free.
    Also you should visit a low rent part of town and have a real life look at the cost of product at local butcher, vege shop and milk/bread at dairy. You might not find the higher cost your suggesting.

  7. Such a lot of information! too much to take in all at once. BUT- Re “As for ‘Cycling in Chch’ – don’t compare the Auckland Southern motorway with spurious and dubious benefit factors used by 1 million plus people with a cycle way costing much the same used by very few. Strange logic portrayed in the story above. Smells of illogical bias.”
    This comment ignores the fact that New Zealand is really behind the times with the use of cycle technology. Most of the personal transport devices here hark back in design to 100 years ago! Only a very few modern machines are available, and ANYTHING remotely innovative is rarely available on the ordinary retail market, and when it is it is often overpriced and orphaned machinery as far a servicing is concerned. The machines available are designed for the very fit sports person, everyone else has to make do. If NZ commerce and industry cared to open the door on more innovative and easier to use cycle and electronically assisted personal mobility technology investment in the bike lanes would make a lot more sense.

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