Via Bikeyface

Sam Schwartz, “Why a car-centric transportation plan is folly for L.A.” The Los Angeles Times.

After more than 40 years as a transportation engineer, I’m very aware that most of the traditional measures of transportation efficiency focus on mobility, often expressed as “delay per capita” or “dollars wasted while waiting in traffic.” But what really matters is access.

Access — to shopping or work — can be improved by increasing the speed with which we travel between destinations or by decreasing the distance separating them. But we have to choose. Mobility and proximity are in combat with one another. The more mobility we create, the more distant destinations grow — because free-flowing traffic encourages sprawl. The closer destinations are to one another, the slower transportation gets — because density leads to congestion.

Mikael Coleville-Andersen, “My City Sucks and it’s Great”, Copenhagenize. An interesting look at the rubbish collection system in Copenhagen.

Open chute and insert bag. Boom, baby. The bag slides down into an underground container and that is the last we see of it…

Many of the systems suck garbage from multiple backyards at once, from much farther distances than ours. Be still my urbanist heart. The advantages are many. I assume it’s more cost-efficient to do this rather than have garbage men traipse in and out of countless backyards dragging wheeled containers behind them. I certainly don’t miss the early morning noise waking me prematurely up. Eliminating smells is certainly a bonus. We have a big problem with rats in Copenhagen, so this kind of system separates them from the garbage, too.

Here are some articles on Christchurch- a good recent piece from The Press:

How many times have you visited the centre of Christchurch and had a really good look around? You need to come back and have another look.

There are still abandoned areas where nothing is happening, like the convention centre site, sports facility sites, or the half-demolished BNZ building, and of course, Christ Church Cathedral – but there are lots of new buildings underway.

You could park a distance away and walk. Some inner-city parking places are rough and litter-strewn – and they charge. Instead, why not take the bus and arrive at the zappy looking new bus exchange on Colombo St?

Main developments are going up either side of Colombo St.  Head north up Colombo and then east along Cashel St (City Mall). Projects underway include the ANZ Centre, by architects Peddle Thorp; The Crossing, by Wilson & Hill; and Grand Central, by Warren & Mahoney.

Barnaby Barnett, “Opinion: Barnaby Bennett“, ArchitectureNow. On New Zealand’s  five convention centres underway and the lack of media oversight in Christchurch…

In terms of economic development, the problem is that the only companies big enough to handle these large and high-quality investments are foreign, so the profits flow overseas and the jobs that are created are largely on the low-wage and casual end. Tim Hunter, chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism, has attempted to make this into a positive, stating that, “the good news is that many of these jobs will be available to students and younger employees on a part-time basis”.

In an excellent analysis of the centres in five different cities, commentator Gordon Campbell asks whether “the building of convention centres becomes our new cargo cult” and concludes that they amount to “a very expensive job-creation scheme”…

The location of most of the media, and almost all of the TV media, is now in Auckland and this inherently favours focused attention on Auckland affairs. In the book Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch (disclaimer: I co-edited this book), documentary-maker Gerard Smyth writes a short and impactful essay that argues that the centralisation of TV media in Auckland has created two significant issues. Firstly, Aucklanders don’t get to see Christchurch stories as told by Christchurch people and so, by extension, the political success of affairs in Christchurch is judged mostly by what the large voting population in Auckland perceives via this media.

Smyth writes: “In some ways, the lack of strong and functional mainstream television media in Christchurch must be a godsend to those who are making decisions. Their subjects are placid and have long learned to acquiesce to being voiceless. But is this really how a vital community best functions?”

Charles Anderson, “How Christchurch used the earthquake to return the city to its cycling roots“, Guardian Cities. A nice write up of the advances Christchurch is making with cycling infrastructure. ATB reader GlenK is featured prominently.

The city had an opportunity for change and asked its citizens what it wanted of the new Christchurch. One of the resounding calls from the public was that it wanted a greener and more people-focused city – and one of the more obvious ways to achieve this was to invest in cycling infrastructure.

“The key thing is that council asked the question and that often doesn’t happen,” Koorey says. “You shouldn’t have to have an earthquake for this to happen.”

Matt Richtel, “Google’s Driverless Cars Run Into Problem: Cars With Drivers“, The New York Times. A fascinating look at the challenges to deliver driverless cars in an urban environment. Last week a person on a bike paralysed a Google car by “track standing” at an all-way stop. One has to wonder if the inherent complexities of urban streets are insurmountable for automated transport.

On a recent outing with New York Times journalists, the Google driverless car took two evasive maneuvers that simultaneously displayed how the car errs on the cautious side, but also how jarring that experience can be. In one maneuver, it swerved sharply in a residential neighborhood to avoid a car that was poorly parked, so much so that the Google sensors couldn’t tell if it might pull into traffic.

More jarring for human passengers was a maneuver that the Google car took as it approached a red light in moderate traffic. The laser system mounted on top of the driverless car sensed that a vehicle coming the other direction was approaching the red light at higher-than-safe speeds. The Google car immediately jerked to the right in case it had to avoid a collision. In the end, the oncoming car was just doing what human drivers so often do: not approach a red light cautiously enough, though the driver did stop well in time.

Cities are starting to put pedestrians and cyclists before motorists. That makes them nicer—and healthier—to live in” The Economist.

As rich cities are, at last, undoing their past planning mistakes, activists in developing ones are trying to ensure that they are not repeated. They are lobbying for safe walking and cycling routes as well as better public transport, and for traffic laws to be enforced—before pollution and inactivity take their full toll. Convincing officials preoccupied with keeping cars moving can be tough: “This won’t work here,” one told Mr Bhatt when he proposed the Raahgiri and other ways to make Gurgaon’s streets more pedestrian-friendly. He persisted, getting 200 schoolchildren to cycle up to the city administration’s headquarters to demonstrate public support. His team has since also convinced the city to paint cycling lanes at the side of some streets; barriers will soon protect them from cars.

Jarrett Walker, “Major Think Tank Implies You Don’t Exist“, Human Transit. Thankfully TTI’s Urban Mobility Scorecard isn’t such a useful source of MSM clickbait anymore. Here’s a thorough demolition by Jarrett. It will be interesting to see how long TTI continues to churn this stuff out.

When you use words with different meanings as though they were interchangeable, you are denying the existence or relevance of people who are included in one meaning but not the other.

Political rhetoric plays this trick all the time.  When scientific or academic rhetoric uses it, you should be suspicious.  It’s one of several types of rhetorical annihilation.

In this case, the people being erased are anyone who moves about in cities (urban mobility) but does not experience congestion.  These include anyone who organized their lives so that they can walk to work, and of course anyone who cycles or uses public transit– at least those transit services that are protected from congestion such as most heavy rail, light rail, and busway services.   (And in fact, the report itself is interested only in the travel time of “auto commuters,” so all transit riders are excluded.)

If you are one of these people, you do not count as part of your city when the TTI tallies your city’s “urban mobility.”  Any subsequent commentary about the economic impact of “urban mobility” problems refers to an economy in which you do not exist.

James Warden, “Would You Pay $876 to Cut 6 Minutes Off Your Commute?“, StreetsMN.

Meanwhile, the Urban Mobility Scorecard estimates congestion costs the average Twin Cities commuter about $830 a year through $17.67 per hour a person’s time is worth. It calculates that the average driver here burns about 18 more gallons of gas a year because of congestion, which works out to about $46.80 per year using the approximately $2.60 average at the moment. That total comes to $876. The cost and time savings aren’t exactly equal, but they’re close enough we effectively have a real-world experiment.

Drivers that have access to MnPass lanes can choose to avoid the congestion at approximately the same price as the study claims congestion costs them. If the study’s totals are accurate, we should see something close to an even split. Half the people making below the $17.67 average will decide that their money is worth more than their time and opt for the longer commute. The half making more than the $17.67 average will decide that their time is more valuable than the money they spend.

But that’s not what we see at all. In 2013, an average of 1,223 single occupants drove I-35W’sMnPass between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. using a transponder (that is, they weren’t using the lanes illegally or for free as part of a car pool or bus ride). By contrast, I-35W north saw from 2,000 to 6,000+ vehicles each hour during the same period at just one point (north of the Minnesota River Bridge in Bloomington). People clearly are valuing the cost of congestion less than the study’s authors.

Michael Andersen, “Protected Bike Lanes 7 Times More Effective Than Painted Ones, Survey Says“, StreetsBlog USA.


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  1. Both articles on bot-cars are worth the read. Cleary this technology is the means by which people finally reclaim city centre streets from cars. They just won’t function anywhere rich in people. By removing the assertive and competitive controller and replacing it with a cautious rule following one, they will just not be able to operate at all around people.

    They’ll be great on highways and arterials, and largely people-less suburban roads, but will have to be abandoned on the edges of any actual centres. I guess this is the way the suburban malls survive, but for true city centres it’ll have to be a case of the bot dropping people at Transit stations for access to get to the rich and people-centric realm. Described in the economist piece above.

    So cities with two distinct patterns, exactly as I describe here:

    1. “One has to wonder if the inherent complexities of urban streets are insurmountable for automated transport” In 15 years the predictions of this blog on most things will likely be shown correct, but not the skepticism about driverless tech. I’d guess that even now if you replaced humans with Google’s current tech you’d save hundreds of thousands of lives a year.
      The article with the cyclist is basically saying “robot cars treat humans on the road more humanely than humans do”.
      Between the freed up parking land and the safety for walking and riding, there’s a lot to like.

      1. Personally, I’m not skeptical of the technology – it’ll either work or it won’t, and we won’t find out for a while. If it does, I’m sure it will have a bunch of hard-to-predict effects. But I am very skeptical of the idea that we should avoid implementing sensible policies like developing our rapid transit infrastructure or putting safe separated cycleways in place because driverless cars will sort everything out at some future date.

        Basically, delays have a cost and if we’ve got a workable option now it’s best to just get on with it.

    2. I wonder about the effects on speed. If driverless vehicles are programmed to comply with all speed limits (and it’s hard to think of a good reason why they wouldn’t be), they could become the 21st-century version of the “idiots” resolutely sticking to 99kph even on straight, wide sections of open road where human drivers would tend to go faster. (Whether this will contribute much to safety is a moot point.) On crowded urban arterials, even small numbers of driverless vehicles could effectively enforce the 50kph limit for all traffic, just by being difficult to pass.

  2. I was in Christchurch central area a couple of times in the last 3 months, once when I got the grand tour by my brother who works for the bit of CERA that is charged with encouraging investment in Christchurch.
    And the other day I was having my own look around for a few hours – on a fine but cold & windy – thanks to one of Christchurchs famed easterlies – Saturday, before flying back to Auckland.

    Seems that the CBD rebuild south of Cathedral square is going gang busters with the rebuild – The Crossing, ANZ centre, Former Container mall etc all steaming ahead with their rebuilds.
    But anything north of Hereford St and/or East of Columbo (the main north south divide) not so much.

    That new bus station is a major people magnet, my personal assessment is still up in the air on the saw tooth design which requires buses to reverse out after each stop. But that design and the doors that isolate the interior from the buses until there is a bus there, means it does stop the place being a cold, draughty place to wait for a bus – which is exactly what all bus exchanges of old (and new) used to be like.

    The rushing around of people in the exchange as they head towards the bus parking bay where a disembodied and emotionless female voice intones the Bus service and the door number that their bus is pulling into, does add a sense of movement to the place. Even it feels, thanks to the voice announcements, like some of dystopian future – the kind that ’60s science fiction movies tended to portray.

    The north of the Square ambience is not at all helped by the large convention centre, sitting empty & taking up the prime position adjacent the square.
    With no library building, cathedral or any other building there for people to visit/walk to or from, there is limited pedestrian activity there, which only heightens the “idleness” of the pace of rebuild you see near the square.
    Even the now running again trams seemed to be at a loose end.

    The old half demoolished BNZ building needs to be fully knocked down, and then it will let sunlight spill south of the square – which will help draw people north again to the Square – once theres something for them to go to that is.

    And providing that damned convention centre doesn’t end up dominating the place.
    Personally I hope the convention centre moves back to its original location over the river – the land around the square will be too valuable to tie up in a low-rise, low-rent convention centre.

    One thing is certain though, the traffic in Christchurch is easily as bad as Auckland traffic is now, its not just in the CBD, but everywhere.

    1. Thanks for that Greg. Yes my experiences down there confirm the congestion problem; it feels like everyone there has 6 cars and is somehow all driving them at once. What it is, of course, is a direct result of the now even higher level of dispersed urban form and near total auto-dependency.

      So if anyone wants proof of what a low rise, separated, auto-centric city is like we now have a bigger model than Hamilton and Tauranga. It just can’t scale, and will always be inefficient as it tries. I maintain that as the exogenous re-build money dries up the inefficiency of this form will keep the city’s economic performance flat.

      This means it is likely Auckland will continue to attract the lions share of the nation’s urban [services] economic activity and therefore will keep growing ahead of other centres. With Hamilton and Tauranga as spillovers, and Wellington continuing as the government services focussed outlier. Christchurch then as little more than the South Island HQ.

    2. Thanks Greg and Patrick.

      The urban form of Greater Christchurch is a reflection of the systems we have put in place locally and nationally. As such they can be changed to encourage a more desireable form. In other words what we create as a society we can change. It is too easy to fall into the trap of despondency which I believe is our biggest problem down here in Canterbury.

      I agree Christchurch urban form has many challenges. Although Auckland’s biggest challenge of massively inflated property prices is more of a localised problem here -we have an overpriced CBD.

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