autonomous vehicles_cartoon Paul Noth

Emily Badger, “America’s Cities Are Still Too Afraid to Make Driving Unappealing“, The New Republic. Badger raises a relevant point about the shortage of “stick” in US transportation systems.

At a macro level, this decision-process implies that there are two ways to shift more commuters out of single-occupancy vehicles and into other modes of transportation, whether that’s biking, carpooling, walking, or transit. We can incentivize transit by making all of those other options more attractive. Or we can disincentivize driving by making it less so. What’s become increasingly apparent in the United States is that we’ll only get so far playing to the first strategy without incorporating the second…

There are ways to do it. We could reduce parking availability or raise parking rates. We could implement congestion pricing. We could roll back subsidies for gas and highways and public parking garages. We could tie auto-insurance rates or infrastructure taxes to how much people actually drive. All of these “sticks,” to use Piatkowski’s term, would have a real impact on how people chose to get around. And that impact would no doubt be larger than what we get from building new bike lanes, sidewalks, or bus stops.

Meanwhile the City of Stockholm successfully manages traffic congestion with pricing. (TED talk here).  On 1 January 2016 Stockholm raised its congestion pricing by 75%.

And from the archives, this is one of my favourite stories exemplifying the power of pricing. John Carney, “The creepy capital efficiency of Goldman’s cafeteria“, CNBC.

Goldman didn’t like the idea of its people waiting on long lines to get their lunch. People are capital to Goldman. It wants to use its capital efficiently.

The cafeteria has a set of timed discounts. If you show up in the cafeteria before 11:30 or after 1:30, you get a 25 percent discount on your food. Goldman incentivizes employees to avoid the rush hour.

As it turns out, Goldman folks are both especially attuned to economic incentives and ruthless about capital efficiency. There are some Goldman employees who take pride that they’ve never eaten lunch inside the “cost penalty window,” as one trader referred to the two hours when the discount isn’t in effect.

If you find yourself in the cafeteria sometime around 1:20 pm, you’ll notice that the lines at the pay registers are empty. So are many of the tables.

Shane Green, “Fraying on the fringe: Dealing with disadvantage in Mernda“, The Age. An interesting story about life on the fringe of Melbourne’s booming metro area.

“There are a lot of people seemingly doing OK on the surface,” says O’Neill. “They might even have employment, they might have even home ownership. But you scratch the surface and there are huge problems and huge challenges that those people are facing.”
A common scenario is a family under significant financial stress travelling long distances to get to work. A lot of women Antonetti talks to are isolated, lonely and depressed. Add to that the stress of not being able to put food on the table. She has referred people for food relief.

Mapped: All 200 Square Miles of Parking in LA County, As One Giant Parking Lot

Here’s an interview with Janette Sadik-Khan in Bicycling Magazine. Joe Lindsey, This Woman Built 400 Miles of Bike Lanes in New York City, Bicycling.

A lot of rhetoric we hear about transportation planning involves cars versus bikes. Does transportation have to be zero-sum like that?
I think “cars versus bikes” misses the point. It’s about providing choices for people. It’s not anti-car, it’s pro-choice, and you need to frame it that way. Cars have a role, but we have room for other ways to get around. The car-centric view has led to a lot of unforeseen consequences around the world. What we want is to bring back the balance. That includes safety, and affordable, easy ways to get around and provide better economic development opportunities for small businesses and neighborhoods.

We’re keeping an eye on Houston’s New Bus Network as the design philosophy is the same as Auckland’s New Network. While Houston’s was implemented overnight last August, Auckland’s will be progressively implemented over the next couple of years. The most recent numbers show ridership bouncing back after the change and now growing strongly.

Daniel Hertz, “Houston has something to teach you about public transit” CityObservatory.

In addition to  a challenging economy, the Houston New Bus Network has coincided with the opening of two light rail services (that replaced popular bus routes.) Here’s Jarrett talking about the role of transport technology (mode) in the delivery of transport service.

“The real issue with transit is less about mode—bus or rail or ferry or helicopter—and more about service. Does the vehicle, whatever it is, come frequently and reliably so that you can show up to a stop and be sure you’ll be able to board soon? And does it actually provide a way to get to your destination in a reasonable amount of time? If yes, people will ride, whether the wheels are rubber or steel. If no, they won’t.”

Via @ChristofSpieler

Interesting New Research:

Reid Ewing, “Urban sprawl as a risk factor in motor vehicle crashes“. Reid Ewing revisits and updates his earlier seminal work identifying the inherent traffic safety issues with conventional sprawl.

 “we find that sprawl is associated with significantly higher direct and indirect effects on fatal crash rates.”

Ben Schiller. “Live In A Walkable Neighborhood? You Get To Be Thinner And Healthier“, FastCompany.  Another study that finds a strong correlation between walkability and health outcomes.

“It shows that adults in walkable cities are 31% less likely to be overweight or obese than people living in car-dependent areas.”

Tim Gamble, “Wearing a Bicycle Helmet Can Increase Risk Taking and Sensation Seeking in Adults“, Psychological Science.

“Humans adapt their risk-taking behavior on the basis of perceptions of safety; this risk-compensation phenomenon is typified by people taking increased risks when using protective equipment… In a controlled study in which a helmet, compared with a baseball cap, was used as the head mount for an eye tracker, participants scored significantly higher on laboratory measures of both risk taking and sensation seeking.

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  1. I spent a week as a non-car tourist in Gothenburg about a year ago and was amazed how few cars were on the comparatively wide streets in this city of approximately 1,000,000 souls. The result was a pedestrian busy, but relatively quiet city with a frequent and well patronized tram service, all of which I found very appealing.
    I was not aware of the congestion charge until it was pointed out to me after we had moved on, but I thought the outcome was beneficial for “quality of place”.
    Gothenburg,its archipelago and Marstrand some 50 kilometres away, are great places to visit.

    1. While enjoying the cool crisp air of Gottenburg, did you enjoy the taste of hydrocarbon? Preem have a big oil refinery in that town.

      1. No – it did not curtail my enjoyment of the Gothenburg areas I explored, in any way. With the comparative paucity of motor vehicles in the city compared with Auckland, the atmosphere was always free of diesel fumes. Perhaps they send a big proportion of refined product elsewhere to ensure it is not consumed within city boundaries !?

  2. Not casting dispersions on the walkability of your neighbourhood means you’re healthier article – but to quote the story which is the once over lightly sort of journalistic pap we see here in the Herald lot.

    “Researchers at the Fraser Health Authority, Vancouver Coastal Health, and the University of British Columbia surveyed 28,000 people in the metro area, mostly online. Then they cross-referenced what respondents said about their weight and health with data from Walk Score. People in the second most walkable places (“very walkable”) were 11% less likely to be fat than those in car dependent areas. (Of course, it could be that people who are already more active or health-minded are attracted to the most walkable neighborhoods).”

    This is a self-reported (via online) methodology, with no apparent clinical follow up, so who is to say that what people say about their health is actually as true (or less false) than it really is?
    You may say as a self-assessment that you have good health, yet a doctor doing a clinical assessment would say you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high heart rate, poor respiration, poor blood sugar control and your liver is shot as you mainly do your walking to and from local drinking establishments, chain smoking as you go, to get smashed every night at the easy to walk to local pubs as you don’t need to drive home!

    And no mention is made of how the online survey recruitment was made – if it was by flyers at local gymns and walkable neighbourhoods only or by mainly posting to Facebook or other forums frequented by fit and active people, then yep, the survey would be pretty biased.

    If there is some sort of link between active and health-concious people living in walkable neighbourhoods, then so is there one of your perceived state of health and actually completing the survey in the first place – after all fit and active people may feel they have something to trumpet. So do. And conversely, those who are disabled, unfit/less active or unhealthy, will most likely be put off those walkable neighbourhoods as access to their homes for them represents a bigger problem than living in a cand rive everywhere neighbourhood.

    And even if they lived in a walkable neighbourhood their likelihood of completing the online survey is probably going to a be a lot lower than those fit and active neighbours, if the recruitment is not done with enough care.

    And of course, living in such walkable areas often comes at a higher cost than living in sprawls-ville further out which is car dependent and cheaper to live in as a result.
    So if you’re poor or unhealthy, you’re less likely to be able to afford living in a walkable area to start with.

    And thirdly, as we’re often told around here, “correlation does not imply causality”.

    That is because you’re fit and healthy and live in a walkable doesn’t necessarily mean you got that way because of where you live. Were you simply like that in the first place and so attracted to living there [and completing the survey]?
    Which came first, the health and activity or the living in a walkable neighbourhood?

    On the whole, commonsense would dictate that you’d generally agree that walkable neighbourhoods, should have healthier people in them. Its the how it got that way that is the issue.

    And commonsense and fact make strange bedfellows sometimes.

    1. There’s a large body of evidence, using different methodologies, that supports the existence of an economically significant association between land use / street design and health outcomes.

      Some research (the better-designed studies, in my opinion) control for people’s underlying preferences for walking, cycling, or driving. See e.g. this Australian study and this Canadian study.

      Just as an aside, I’ve noticed that you’ve recently gotten into the habit of leaving very long comments – this one’s almost 600 words long! This isn’t against the user guidelines, but I’d encourage you to aim for brevity when commenting. People (myself included) tend to zone out when confronted with a wall of text.

      1. I don’t disagree that there is an association of sorts. It makes perfect sense that there be one.

        But I don’t agree with this particular ones conclusions however.

        Nor the article Kent linked to about it which implies causation in the FastCompany headline “Living in a walkable neighbourhood? You get to be thinner and healthier” – which is implying causality.

        If you look at the underlying technical notes for this survey there are many problems here with the data around Wellness and BMI calculations.
        Read it for yourself: here.
        For the sake of brevity I won’t go into the details but if you look at the notes for how Wellness and BMI were calculated and look at the exclusion rates for those indicators as a start.

        It should also be noted that there is no attempt to qualify the quality of the walkability of the neighbourhood, walkability is calculated as a simple distance to shops, PT stops and the like, not the quality of those shops PT stops or facilities, so two locations with similar distances to facilities by walking, but one which has great footpaths, is well lit, has good PT and feels safe and secure and another which has footpaths, local shops and PT stops but doesn’t feel safe and secure nor is well lit will be considered “equally walkable” by this survey.

        1. You’ve definitely got a point that this study has some issues – self-reported data can be biased; it’s difficult to completely quantify walkability. However, focusing on the flaws in an individual study is, in my view, missing the forest for the trees. The forest is a fairly large body of evidence confirming a robust association and strongly gesturing towards a causal link.

    2. Sydney provides a large sample with a clear inverse correlation between obesity rates and walk scores. The older, central areas generally have high walk scores while further out is dominated by motor-dependent sprawl. See page 5 of for the obesity rates.

      All of the central walkable areas are very expensive now, but that wasn’t the case 20 or 30 years ago. People in the 50+ age group made choices trading off things like house age and size, off-street parking, section size, and prestige with things like proximity to the CBD and walkability.

    1. Not only MPRs but also set back rules and in some cases maximum parking rules.

      In that video those auto dependent developments would be a lot easier to manage/reduce down the track if all the parking was round the back and not at the front, and the buildings directly fronted the streets.

      During the hearings for the University of Auckland Tamaki campus rezoning the commissioners expressed a real concern not about high or medium intensity redevelopment of the site, but more about actively restricting low intensity developments like car yards, petrol station and supermarkets from going in – because of the excessive car parking they have and the high levels of driving they induce.

      There is also the issue of how do we get to there from here?

  3. There is a fine line between having variable prices and outright gouging people. Coke discovered that in 1999 when they developed a smart vending machine that increased prices when the air temperature was higher. They pissed off their customers so much they had to withdraw the machines. Imagine if you could detect the level of hunger people are feeling as they walk into a cafe and increase the price that person pays accordingly. Pricing has to seem fair to the user/customer or they fight it.

    1. What coke should probably have done is have the same price as now on hot days, but then actively discount it when the temperature is cooler.

      Mind you considering that Coke is the poster boy for a large chunk cause for the Obesity and Overweight statistics, they’re probably not the best example to use.

      Would the Goldman example have worked as well if the prices were hiked by 33% from normal for the 2 hour “peak” window? Probably not. Because it too would have been seen as gouging.
      Might be a lesson here for road pricing/Pt fares – charge a flat (top rate), then discount it for off peak travel, not do an Uber with variable gouge pricing.

      Goldman example does raise an interesting point though, by having your own cafeteria in the building are you discouraging workers from taking exercise and get away from work by having them go out to get their own?
      I guess it depends on what food the cafeteria offers the staff? If its pies, deep fried food and fizzy drinks like coke, probably no better than the local lunch bar is for your health.

      But at least the workers get some exercise while going out and buying lunch versus getting the lift to the cafeteria, sitting down for an hour while they eat it, then take the lift back to work?

      The Goldman example also only works if the food available before and after the peak is the same quantity and quality – no good for the Goldman employee if the food runs out by 1:30pm.
      So it does also raise the issue of the level of wastage they get by having to have all the food available for 4 hours
      versus say 2, even with discounting they probably chuck out a lot of food at the end of each day.

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