One day New Zealand’s transport institutions and processes are going to have to get real about induced driving; the vast inconvenient fact of the whole highway expansion business. What we feed grows, what we build will be used, so to try to help justify any transport investment that is likely to make driving a better choice, especially at scale, on lowered emissions or lower energy use etc, requires simultaneously claiming that the project is of so little use it won’t generate new trips. Denial of the syndrome of induced traffic. This is done by treating traffic growth as permanent and exogenous to any transport investment. Clearly this is dubious, if not fraudulent, yet is standard practice. So it was interesting to read of an ongoing scandal in Oregon based on exactly this contradiction:
Here’s a case where a dishonest case for highways was flushed out into the open. David Bragdon, former chief of Portland’s regional planning organization, recently accused state DOT director Matt Garrett of “incompetence or dishonesty.” (Bragdon now directs the nonprofit TransitCenter, based in New York City.) He charged that bogus emissions data from ODOT helped sink a $350 million transportation funding deal in the state legislature.
As we wrote at the time, claims that freeway investments are energy savers usually rely on the false assumption that more free-access lanes reduce idling. That may happen temporarily, but they also tend to induce people to drive more and live further from their destinations.
The answer to this issue is to include the likely impact on overall Vehicle Kilometres Travelled of any particular transport project in the evaluation. So any investment likely to increase access [improve travel times, etc] while reducing overall VKT would do well by this metric, and others would be marked down. This is surely a better way to capture the disbenefit of induced traffic along side the benefits of better access.
Here is an interesting article from Forbes which is relevant to this, Energy Intensity: The Secret Revolution. As it’s from 2014 the data are a little out of date, as we are now seeing US driving bounce back on the back of cheap pump prices, but the arguments remain the same:
Michael Liebreich, chairman of Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s advisory board, points out that the U.S. fracking revolution and the consequent 2004–13 rise in domestic oil output displaced oil imports equivalent to 10 percent of domestic consumption—while two little-noticed demand-side trends, less driving and more-efficient vehicles, saved 18 percent, nearly twice as much. Drilling advocates somehow forgot to mention that their impressive achievements were almost lapped by demand-side shifts. Those saved barrels were nearly invisible because we can’t see energy we don’t use or buy.
On the issue of VKT [VMT in the US], yes it is rising again, but is still down on a per capita basis, and is perhaps showing a new elasticity? In other words if it has rebounded on low pump prices isn’t it just as likely to plummet on any change in prices back up? So is this a bounce, or is it a return to last century’s pattern; time will tell. See: No Driving has not hit an all time high.
But when you adjust VMT for the driving population, you get a very different picture. As it happens, Doug Short at Advisor Perspectives did just that last week. Turns out VMT per capita is on the way up in 2015 but remains a full 6 percent off the all-time peak hit in mid-2005. Instead of suggesting that Americans are driving more than ever, Short describes U.S. driving as being “about where we were as a nation in June of 1997.”
Staying with CityLab, it is always worth keeping an eye on what Richard Florida is writing about and here he has good news for Auckland. Not all American concerns are relevant to us but the issue of urban centres most certainly is, The Connection Between Vibrant Communities and Economic Growth:
The past decade or so has seen the rise of a new formula for urban economic growth and development. While having a solid business climate that attracts companies and jobs remains important, it is also necessary to cultivate a vibrant, exciting community with a wide diversity of talent. This is true not only in cities and urban centers—which have been attracting young people thanks to what Alan Ehrenhalt dubs the “great inversion”—but in the suburbs as well. In fact, a recent study of 84 suburban areas found that vibrant, dense, mixed-use suburban areas performed better and were preferred over lower-density, auto-dependent office parks.
As the authors point out, the study’s findings move us beyond the overly simplistic dichotomy of dense, diverse cities and decentralized, car-dependent suburbs to “a more complex picture” of metros made up of “nodes of vibrancy.” Simply put, it is the vibrancy of a neighborhood—not whether it’s urban or suburban—that attracts high-growth firms and helps bolster a high-growth regional economy.
A theme also taken up by another great North American; Jarrett Walker, Mr Human Transit, in: How important is Downtown:
In North America, the word downtown invites us to imagine the densest and most walkable part of any city, the place where transit and other non-car modes naturally thrive more than anywhere else. And where this is actually true, it’s logical for all kinds of intercity and local transit services to focus there.
But when we project this model of downtown onto every city, we encounter fatal confusions. Downtown implies a single place; there’s just one per city or metro area. But some cities aren’t like that. Los Angeles and Houston, two take two famous examples, have a place called downtown, but it’s really just a slightly larger cluster of towers among many clusters of towers dotted across the region. Downtown in this model is not like a center of energy around which the whole city revolves. It’s like the brightest of a bunch of stars in a constellation, and not even the brightest by much.
Auckland does, contrary to some popular belief, have a significantly dominant downtown, and one that is currently reasserting its dominance with strong growth in office construction which will lead to employment growth [currently capacity constrained], a powerful education sector, and a huge return to inner city living. And a clearly separate retail identity, as reported in the Herald yesterday: Stores pull crowds in Queen St.
Chief executive of Heart of the City Viv Beck said it was a “really telling story of growth”.
“It offers great diversity for those living, working and visiting Auckland.”
Retail New Zealand’s general manager of public affairs Greg Harford said Queen St’s luxury brands and local boutique offerings gave it a point of difference to the suburban malls.
But looking longer into the future the Auckland city centre is firmly spatially constrained; yes it is now and will grow up a great deal, will become much denser, but the boundaries are pretty permanent. That motorway noose and the dormitory suburbs beyond create a finite limit. The fact is Auckland will have to grow alternative centres. Newmarket, and Manukau City look likely, as do Takapuna and others. The Airport company want to make that area a big player but it is severely constrained by the lack of a high quality RTN connection. This need fixing, as it does for Takapuna. But also the city will need to revisit height and density restrictions on these and other places if Auckland is to live up to its potential.
On another scale, Both Hamilton and Tauranga are likely to continue to grow strongly with spillover effects from Auckland over the coming decades. Especially perhaps Tauranga, the correlation of warm weather and urban growth has been very strong, especially since the invention of aircon. So now is the time to identify and reserve Rapid Transit routes in these cities. Or will we condemn them to total and permanent autodependency and congestion like Pakuranga and other Auckland sprawl boom areas? Surely we ought to head the lesson from that earlier growth and keep aside some well chosen routes while the land is still bare? Because we know both places are sprawling. Planning!
Topically, here is Dr Eric Crampton surprising himself with a newfound sympathy for planners:
The ‘war on the car’ UK Edition: Lessons from Leicester:
This nibbling – known by transport wonks as the “reallocation of road space” – is far from finished, but before-and-after photographs displayed at public consultations for the Connecting Leicester urban plan show that designing cities for cars results in an excess of vehicles. Leicester’s fight back includes narrowing a four-lane gyratory, with the fourth lane converted into wider pavements and bike paths. A flyover close to the city centre was demolished in 2014. The elevated highways that long hemmed in a 15th-century gatehouse – the Magazine – were removed some years ago, and have not been mourned.
And finally, how’s this; Italian Town Pays People to Bike to Work:
The council in Massarosa, just north of Pisa, says the pilot scheme will see cyclists paid 25 cents per kilometre travelled, up to a monthly cap of 50 euros (£35), the regional Il Tirreno news website reports. That means commuters who switch to two wheels could pocket up to 600 euros (£424) in a year. It’s said to be the first such scheme in Italy.