By Fabian Todorovic (@fabiantodorovic)
By Fabian Todorovic (@fabiantodorovic)

Chris and Melissa Bruntlett provide a thoughtful, jargon-free list of the barriers they see to designing better streets and places:  The 6 biggest roadblocks to building complete streets in our communities, VanCity Buzz.

1. An unintended, but counterproductive focus on the commute to work

We agree that getting more people out of their cars and riding a bike to work is great. However, what about the dozens of other trips a person makes in a day? Most families will need to go to the store at some point throughout their week, be it for a full grocery shop or just to pick up a carton of milk. Not to mention meeting up with friends for dinner, taking kids to programs, or any other number of activities Vancouverites spend their time doing when they’re not sat behind a desk. And cargo bikes are making those multi-purpose, utility-based trips a much easier proposition.

…When we switch from a mindset of commuting, to one that places import on cycling as a means of transportation for other daily errands, it quickly becomes apparent that we are falling behind in encouraging the average person to ride to the nearest market or restaurant. Once we realize that, it becomes very easy to make the case for bike lanes on high streets – the places people actually go outside of office hours.

There’s been lots of coverage of how rapidly increasing housing supply can reduce rents as its starting to do now in Seattle (the housing construction boom is starting to pay off). A lot of this week’s housing coverage was centered on a report from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office research concluding that more private housing development benefits low-income Californians.

we offer additional evidence that facilitating more private housing development in the state’s coastal urban communities would help make housing more affordable for low–income Californians.

Joe Cortright. Urban myth busting: New rental housing and median-income households, City Observatory.

…in the United States, we have almost never built new market-rate housing for low-income households. New housing—rental and owner-occupied—overwhelmingly tends to get built for middle- and upper-income households. So how do affordable market-rate housing units get created? As new housing ages, it depreciates, and prices and rents decline, relative to newer houses. (At some point, usually after half a century or more, the process reverses, as surviving houses—which are often those of the highest quality—become increasingly historic, and then appreciate.)

What really matters is not whether new housing is created at a price point that low- and moderate-income households can afford, but rather, whether the overall housing supply increases enough that the existing housing stock can “filter down” to low and moderate income households. As we’ve written, that process depends on wealthier people moving into newer, more desirable homes. Where the construction of those homes is highly constrained, those wealthier households end up bidding up the price of older housing—preventing it from filtering down to lower income households and providing for more affordability.

As real estate expert Chris Leinberger (The Option of Urbanism) has long asserted, there is a shortage of walkable urban places. Here is a simple test of the thesis. Nick Fitzpatrick. High Walkability May Mean Higher Rent, Forbes Axiometrics.

Much of the demand in recent years have been for apartments in the urban core – the downtown and uptown areas known for their higher density and walkable access to retail and entertainment centers. These are typically the highest-priced properties in a metro area – creating a correlation between a submarket’s Walk Score and its effective rent level. Walk Score is a company that promotes walkable neighborhood and scores area through data and algorithms.

An Axiometrics study of two metropolitan areas – Dallas and the San Francisco Bay Area — showed that the submarkets with the highest-ranking Walk Score in the market tend to have the highest average rent per unit. Though correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, high Walk Scores seem to be in high demand.

by Andy Singer
by Andy Singer

“Creating a false sense of security” is traffic-engineeringeeze commonly used to reject proposed pedestrian crossings. Like many standard practices of the profession, this one has its genesis in the car-first era and may be based on dubious science. Angie Schmitt. Traffic engineers still rely on a flawed 1970s study to reject crosswalks , Greater Greater Washington.

…the phrase “false sense of security” is actually a cornerstone of American engineering guidance on pedestrian safety…you can trace this phrase—and the basis of some engineers’ reluctance to stripe crosswalks—to one very influential but seriously flawed study from the 1970s.

In 1972, a researcher named Bruce Herms conducted a study of crosswalk safety in San Diego. He found that intersections with marked crosswalks had higher injury rates than ones with unmarked crosswalks. He concluded that marked crosswalks should only be installed where they are “warranted” because they can give pedestrians a “false sense of security,” encouraging risky behavior.

But there were problems with the study. For one, Herms didn’t actually study why people made certain decisions at crosswalks—that “false sense of security” was just speculation on his part.

A few weeks back we added some links to the article finding that removing centreline striping slowed cars and provided a safer street environment. Here is a different Transport for London study looking at the effectiveness of adding SLOW road markings.

At all sites there were both slight increases and decreases in speeds after the introduction of SLOW markings. However statistical analysis of these has shown that they were all insignificant. There is thus no evidence that the SLOW markings had any impact on traffic speeds.


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  1. The claim that a zebra crossing is less safe than nothing at all is the reasoning I have heard from AT on numerous occasions when I’ve contacted them asking them about why xyz has no crossing facilities. That and the “pedestrian numbers don’t warrant a crossing” line, to which when asked what the pedestrian numbers are AT responds “We’ve never done a pedestrian count in this area”. Now of course they’ve started adding the line “There are too many pedestrians in this area for a crossing, it’ll slow down cars too much”.

    1. The problem is more with stand-alone zebra crossings with no other features. Whatever your views on the matter, many motorists are still not good at ceding right of way (sometimes because they don’t notice the crossing or waiting peds); combine that with some pedestrians (esp. kids) who treat it like a magic carpet that automatically stops traffic and you have a problem. However, if we combine zebras with features that encourage better recognition and compliance (such as central islands, kerb extensions, raised platforms) then you do get good crash savings – with platforms the estimated reduction is 80%.

      The modern approach to planning pedestrian crossings of any kind is not to start with “what kind of crossing to install” but actually question the street environment – should this be changed first? It may be that traffic/speed reduction or tools like medians may be more effective in improving pedestrian safety.

      1. The problem I sometimes have with pedestrian crossings is that if there are 4 cars and then a gap I’d be happy to wait 5-10s for the 4 cars to all go past, but the 3rd car will almost always see me approaching the crossing and then slow-down and stop.

        So I end up inconveniencing drivers even though I’d be happy to wait an extra 5s not to.

        1. The only matter I got told to address after passing my full driver’s license was that I slowed down when approaching a zebra crossing (near a school). I was told I should have maintained 50kmh. I thought I was being responsible for slowing down near an area where the potential for a pedestrain crossing out onto the road would be the greatest (regardless of whether I could see anyone at the time), apparently this is not safe driving according to the AA.

      1. Ricardo, I’ve read that incredibly biased, poorly-researched, ill-informed article. I’ve looked into the sources and they are just as dubious.
        That article basically states “We turned traffic lights off and put in roundabouts and cars moved faster!” like this is some profound discovery. They leave out the fact that vulnerable pedestrians are screwed over and have no way to cross the road. In one of those sites they took out traffic lights and put in shared space and pedestrian accidents increased by 300%. But traffic delays disappeared, so everything is OK and right with the world.

  2. If we want less accidents with pedestrians we can make sure they don’t cross the street.

    Similarly if we don’t want accidents on the harbour bridge we can close it for traffic.

    Both ideas will avoid accidents on selected spots. But that doesn’t make them good ideas.

    1. I find traffic to be so much more courteous at crossings ceeding row when there is a visible police presence.

      Perhaps cctv cameras and fines would have a similar effect.

  3. Not sure where this idea that we need to build “affordable houses” ever came from. We just need to build more houses, it doesn’t really matter what price they are as long as the supply increases.
    The whole idea that a new *anything* should be as affordable as an old *anything* is laughable without subsidies or market interference, both of which are unlikely to fix the problem.

    1. Current regs don’t allow for affordable housing to be built for the poor.

      MPR’s & Balcony Requirements increase the cost of cheap Townhouses/Apartments.
      Density Limits restrict the development of smaller apartments meaning only bigger apartments are built which are to expensive.
      Accessibility regulation & regulations when steel frames have to be used means that apartments/townhouses above three stories become very expensive.

      Our regulations are akin to saying Mcdonald’s has to provide fancy food that can only be cooked by chefs, as well as having to provide a great dining experience with restaurant style seating and service. Then those regulators going why is there no cheap fast food only luxury restaurants.

      1. First there is regulation that makes building affordable houses impossible, then more regulation requiring developers to build affordable houses. Get rid of all of the regulation and let people decide what they want and where.

        1. there are other outcomes for regulations besides decreasing affordability – in other words, there are usually reasons for the rules, and these objectives may be important enough to warrant making things more expensive.

    2. If anything it further strangles housing supply, as it limits building to the cases where there is enough profit to cover the loss incurred by selling below market price.

      I like that analogy. What if… we regulated cars like that?

      Since we don’t want people to be crammed into small cars, we shall mandate that all cars are at least 5 metres long. Since we care about a good driving experience and outdoor space is important all cars must come with a roof which can be opened. To keep the spacious and luxurious character of our cars, a setback of 50cm shall be required between the seats and the bodywork. To avoid blocking the pretty views of other car drivers, cars shall have a maximum height of 130cm.

      And of course we shall ban buses. Why ruin the city with big buses? They might not be very large but I wouldn’t want to drive behind one. (*)

      Auckland could be the best city ever to drive. Just too bad my car is going to be illegal.

      (*) that was sarcasm. The author of this comment has no problem with buses, and encourages you to give way to a bus when it is pulling out of a bus stop.

          1. See Fabian’s cartoon. It’s the width that matters Thin(k) Lanes: Cars Lane-splitting Narrow commuter car sharing programs are the least expensive and easiest suburban traffic congestion resolution. To pay for them, spend money otherwise held for widening roads and lease the thin cars for the cost of a monthly bus pass. Like single occupant cyclists choosing single-width bicycles, single occupant motorists will choose single-width cars when given a choice.

      1. THAB = The Hatchback Automobile Zone allowing small hatchbacks.
        MHU = Multiple Hyundai unit zones allowing the ride-sharing of small medium sedans.
        MHS = Multiple Holden sedan zone allowing the ride-sharing of medium sedans.
        SHZ = Single Holden zone, only allows big Holden’s with big engines with little performance.
        LL = Large Limousine zone, only allows Limousines which must have professional driver.

  4. The link “The 6 biggest roadblocks to building complete streets in our communities” had this start to a paragraph,( By returning to a pre-1950’s mindset, high streets can become destinations where neighbours connect,) it also goes on about life prior to the 1950s, as a coincidence I’m reading about life in 1900 at the turn on the 20 century and it’s how bikes were the no 1 form of transport other than walking, in the book it says this, “At weekends the suburbs poured their inhabitants into the country awheel. Sometimes, on a Sunday afternoon , Laura would go with some friends to the turning in the road and watch the cyclists pass in continual stream of twos, threes,and companies; the women riders in long skirts, made fast to their ankles with bands of elastic”, (Taken from Heatherley by Flora Thompson)

    If we are to take climate change seriously we need to be beading back to the past for our transport. Germany seems to be taking cycling seriously.
    I think we need a change of government one more focused on future needs not wants.

    1. The big difference in the case of Germany is that many of their cycle ‘lanes’ or tracks are not stuck on the edge of roads, they are totally separate, unlike the silly designs in Auckland which frankly do not make either cyclists or motorists any safer when mixed together.

    2. If we’re going to go back to an 50s mindset we also need to bring back the fear of nuclear war, lack of gender equality, and much more casual racism

      Don’t pick and choose from a so-called “golden age”

      1. Who’s picking and choosing it’s only a matter of time before we head back to the age of cycling before the atomic bomb was even thought of, no one mentioned a golden age and no one who lived then, would ever say they were, the fears were there from other killers like TB.

  5. There is a difference between NZ and USA relating to pedestrian crossings.
    I understand that in the USA, pedestrians have right of way at intersections. Traffic has to give way to pedestrians who are able to move with caution onto the carriageway and cross (but not step off the kerb into the path of oncoming traffic) So by holding out your hand and making the move with a bit of space for the oncoming vehicle to stop you move on. However the pedestrian is in the wrong to jay walk between intersections. The traffic seems not to give any quarter in that area.
    I feel that it would be of benefit to remove a lot of the signage and road markings and make road users more responsible for their actions and hopefully more polite/considerate to one another. Maybe reducing urban speed limits would be a good thing also.

  6. “overall housing supply increases enough that the existing housing stock can “filter down” to low and moderate income households”

    Is this like the trickle down theory of wealth?

    1. No, it is the opposite of the trickle down theory – basically if we build heaps of houses everyone will have more access to a house.

      A trickle down theorist would prefer we shoved up rental costs so that landlords become richer and then this would trickle down somehow.

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