Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

Mikael Colville-Andersen, “Paris’ Day Sans Cars Shows Us What Our Cities Can Be“, WIRED.

Everyone wandering around the streets of Paris yesterday enjoyed it. There were people thinking, “Amazing! If only this was every day!” and others thinking, “Amazing! But as long as it’s just one day”. But the enthusiasm was unanimous.

Paris has been busy transforming itself for over a decade. I lived there in the late 1990s and I hardly recognize it today. It’s fantastic. Hidalgo’s predecessor, Bertrand Delanoë (2002-2014), started the shift. He introduced one of the world’s largest bike share systems. He removed an expressway along the River Seine and started the process to calm traffic in much of the city. By 2020, 55 percent of Paris will be a 30 km/h zone (20 mph) for cars. Paris is setting the standard for big cities around the world.

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#Popenstreets image via Victoria @108_Victoria_St

Inga Saffron, “Papal Weekend: Closing the streets opened up the town“, Philly.com. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, security related to the Pope’s visit created a de facto Open Streets event across a wide area of the city complete with a clever hastag: #Popenstreets.

When Pope Francis spoke about joy this weekend, he probably wasn’t thinking about the ecstasy that comes from being able to stroll down the center of Walnut Street without a car at your back. Or the rapture of skateboarding the wrong way on Pine Street. Or the bliss of biking 20 abreast on Broad Street. Or the pure, giddy fun of playing touch football in front of the Convention Center on Arch Street.

The unprecedented shutdown of the five-square-mile heart of Philadelphia was driven by the need for security (or rather, the perceived need for security), but it inadvertently created the kind of car-free city that urbanists dare imagine only in their wildest dreams. The virtual absence of vehicles in the sprawling secure zone, from Girard to Lombard, was a revelation. Instead of locking us in, it turned out that the much-maligned traffic box liberated us from the long tyranny of the car.

David Roberts, “The transformative potential of self-driving electric cars“, Vox. Here’s a fascinating look at how driverless cars could transform our cities. From removing the need for parking to “right-sizing” city streets, this article describes some intriguing possibilities.

ICE vehicles are designed for peak use — driving long distances at high speeds. And because all ICE vehicles are overengineered, they’re also big and heavy, which means they must be highly up-armored against collisions from other big, heavy, fast-moving vehicles. All that armor makes them even bigger and heavier. And so on.

Basically, we’re all driving around in quasi-military vehicles, designed to go 100 miles an hour for 300 miles. Yet most of the time, we drive to work and the grocery store, slowly, in traffic. Actually, scratch that: About 95 percent of the time, we aren’t driving at all; we leave our cars and trucks sitting, parked.

Peter Norton, “Autonomous Vehicles: A Powerful Tool if You Can Get the Problem Right (PDF)”, Robohub. Technology historian and author of Fighting Traffic Peter Norton compares the accelerating driverless car technology to the previous (and ongoing) transport revolution – the interstate highway system.

The destruction of American cities to accommodate automobiles, the urban sprawl surrounding these cities, and the loss of alternatives to driving were not the wrong solution. They were the right solution to the wrong problem. Autonomous vehicles can treat these symptoms or exacerbate them, depending upon how we formulate the problem.

In autonomous vehicles and other intelligent transportation systems, we may have a solution so powerful that we fail to pause and ask what problem such systems are best suited to solving. We may fail to ask whether the problem formulation we inherited is the right one. We may justify an emphasis on autonomous cars out of a misreading of history that tells us that we must begin with the assumption that Americans prefer to drive. Above all the neglect of history — or what is much the same, the uncritical acceptance of agenda-driven histories others have packaged for us– may deprive us of hard-earned experience. Experience is the parent of judgment. How strange, then, that so often we find innovators contending that innovation negates the validity of experience: “this changes everything.” Our solutions may be new but the problems of society–the problems of living well together–ultimately are not. The problem formulations we inherit are the products of history. Born in the 1930s, accelerating to a crescendo in 1956, and persisting ever since, the dominant American surface transportation problem has in effect been:
How can motorists be permitted to drive wherever and whenever they want, and to park at their destinations, with minimal delay and with reasonable safety?

In rural America this problem formulation was not unreasonable. In cities, however, it began as a revolution against older formulations that were antagonistic to automobiles.
Because the private motor vehicle’s spatial demands made it incompatible with density, the new formulation had profound implications for cities.

Adrienne LaFrance. “Self-Driving Cars Could Save 300,000 Lives Per Decade in the U.S.”  Automation on the roads could be the great public-health achievement of the 21st century, CITYLAB.

If driverless cars deliver on their promise to eliminate the vast majority of fatal traffic accidents, the technology will rank among the most transformative public-health initiatives in human history. But how many lives, realistically, will be saved?

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Researchers estimate that driverless cars could, by midcentury, reduce traffic fatalities by up to 90 percent. Which means that, using the number of fatalities in 2013 as a baseline, self-driving cars could save 29,447 lives a year. In the United States alone, that’s nearly 300,000 fatalities prevented over the course of a decade, and 1.5 million lives saved in a half-century. For context: Anti-smoking efforts saved 8 million lives in the United States over a 50-year period.

Mat Honan, “Google’s Cute Cars And The Ugly End Of Driving“, Buzzfeed. Technology writer Mat Honan calls the technology inevitable and describes the ride experience as something from an amusement park.

New technology comes at us so quickly now, and with so much hype that it’s reasonable to wonder if it’s real and truly transformative. (Consider Google Glass or the Segway.) So this is what you should know about the technology behind self-driving, fully autonomous vehicles: It’s real. It’s transformative. It’s coming.

A future without human drivers is a long, long way off. But we’ll get there. No matter what you think. No matter what you hope. No matter how you feel about it. Because the efficient, unemotional, necessary logic of cars that operate without human error and instability is unquestionable.

But when a little self-driving car does, at last, pull up at your door, whether it’s a Google car or an Uber car or an Apple car or a Ford, hopefully we’ll have asked the right questions of it before it gets there. Hopefully we’ll have properly interrogated it.

Angie Schmitt, “What If Traffic Engineers Were Held to Safety Standards Like Carmakers”?, StreetsblogUSA.

What’s interesting, from a safety perspective that encompasses streets as well as vehicles, is that the auto companies are held to account for dangerous conditions to a much greater degree than the engineers who design our streets.

After all, about 33,000 people are killed on American streets annually — a much higher rate than most of our peer countries — and street design is a major factor. But the designers of streets are rarely, if ever, sued when someone is killed because of dangerous, high-speed conditions.

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via Persuasive Maps, Cornell University

Andy Fyers, “Who fares the best on public transport costs?“, Stuff. Interesting comparison of PT fares across the country based partly on Peter’s blog post a few weeks back.

Public transport fares in Wellington have increased rapidly in the past decade, but how do they compare to the cost of public transport in other New Zealand cities?

They’re too damn high in Wellington according to this follow-up editorial, “Wellington public transport fares jumped too far“.

Sarah Goodyear, “The Grassroots Campaign to Slow Down Traffic in the U.K.“, CITYLAB.

More than 15 million people in the United Kingdom are now living in communities where the speed limit is 20 miles per hour. That’s out of a total population of just about 64 million.

We’re not just talking about quaint country villages here (although some of those have gone for 20 mph limits, too). Those numbers come from the nation’s major cities. Three million people live in 20 mph zones in London alone. Neighborhoods with 20 mph limits are home to tens of thousands more in Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool, just to name a few of the places where the lower limit has caught on.

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A Matter of Perspective. Lake Michigan unfurled. An interesting exercise that challenges the cardinal directions basis of cartography. Somethingaboutmaps.

Bill English, “Speech on Housing Affordability“, beehive.govt.nz Here’s Bill English in agreement with this Blog and demonstrating a high level of understanding of urban issues.

Recent studies have shown rules setting minimum floor space requirements and minimum balcony requirements add $50,000 to $100,000 to the cost of an apartment. That’s in addition to costs associated with other rules, such as rules setting minimum ceiling heights.

Some progress has been made. A study examining minimum car parking requirements in Auckland showed the costs of that planning rule exceeded benefits by a factor of at least six. That’s a rule that should never have been made. It has probably cost the economy millions of dollars.

Fortunately, now that we’re digging in to these issues, that rule has been mostly scrapped – and credit is due to Auckland Council for doing so.

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Some important objectives set by planners simply aren’t being achieved. In Auckland, it can be summed up this way. Fifteen to 20 years ago, the city set an objective to grow up, not out.

It is easy to understand the logic behind this. Auckland wanted to make greater use of existing infrastructure, and get more people living around transport nodes.

This has not happened. Most of the new building in Auckland has been out, not up. As we get more information about what actually happens, often we find planning doesn’t achieve what people think it is achieving.

Planners and councils have a very difficult job in planning our urban areas. Cities are incredibly complex systems. They are the product of millions of individual choices. The idea that a small group of people could understand what choices we’re making is asking too much of them. Not because they are in any way incapable. But because the task is overwhelming.

The Auckland Unitary Plan is 3,000 pages long.It’s trying to regulate everything from the size of bedrooms to biodiversity in the Waitakere Ranges. No one person could possibly understand all the trade-offs in that plan.Which means many of its effects will be certainly be unintended.

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11 comments

  1. Angie Schmitt, “What If Traffic Engineers Were Held to Safety Standards Like Carmakers”?, StreetsblogUSA.

    Wonder what responsibility NZTA have under the Health and Safety in Employment Act?

    1. Yes KP – NZTA have been making the wrong decisions for too long. With easy access to roads and every body owning,using and driving cars it is inevitable that our accident rate is higher than countries with much better public transport options. And a strategy failure for the government.
      Furthermore not so long ago I heard Act MP David Seymour say in Parliament that we need more roads because most people use cars. In transport he rates a fail. He really needs to think this through. If we don’t provide alternatives in Auckland we will get an unpleasant city to live in and one with a continually high accident rate.

      The uptake and trends with regard to public transport are quite clear and the government needs recognise this and to curtail its heavy expenditure on motorways by channeling the money into public transport…………..and urgently.

      1. Still not sure if the Health and Safety in Employment Act applies to NZTA traffic engineers and safety officers. I made a complaint to NZTA regarding them putting in Audio Tactile Profile in breach of the NZTA guidelines on the stretch of State Highway 1 between Turangi and Motuoapa. Senior Safety Engineer John Garvitch got back to me and was quite understanding about the fact that it was in breach of their guidelines (being put in place on stretches of road with less than a metre of shoulder) and was a hazard to cyclists, but was reluctant to remove it as has a proven safety benefit to motor vehicles.

        If a cyclist is hit from behind on a section of road where the NZTA has put in ATP against their own safety guidelines and the NZTA has been notified… is their senior safety engineer liable under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, or does the Land Transport Act take precedence? Or is there something else… such as nothing?

        1. The new act will apply to traffic engineers as designers – they have a duty to design something that is safe for users and members of public.

          1. Interesting if it does as it opens them up to private prosecution. I presume Town and City Council members will be in a similar position?

          2. You end up in a situation where AT have to provide 4wd vehicles to their employees when accessing gravel roads, but residents be damned. The here and now.

          3. KP – Coming from the UK I’m not sure of how your act will work compared with here, but under our CDM regulations various people certainly have to be careful if they have input but don’t want to be classed as designers. An elected person saying “A cycle lane there may cause issues, have a look at alternative detailing” is probably OK. “The cycle lane is too wide, make it 2.5m instead of 3.5m” starts to take on design responsibilities, with the potential for the individual (not the position) to be held legally responsible. In theory anyhow.

  2. Anyone done a study on the extra pollution / extra fuel usage of cars travelling at 20mph for any distance? I would humbly suggest no motor vehicles run efficiently at such low speeds, nor were they designed to.

    1. I would imagine if you include the effects of the increased safety and subsequent increased cycling and walking it will be a net gain. Electric vehicles will be efficient at low speeds though.

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