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.
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.”