Here’s a light start to Sunday Reading from Alissa Walker at Gizmodo who has compiled a neat before and after series of images from Amsterdam,”Look How Much Better a City Can Be When It Designs for People Not Cars”. The images are from the Sustainable Amsterdam project.
Once upon a time, Amsterdam was just like every other city in the middle of the 20th century: planning for cars, paving parking lots, and proposing urban freeways. Then the oil crisis of the 1970s happened. To help its citizens save gas, the Netherlands implemented a nationwide “Car-Free Sunday” in November of 1973. For one day each week, the country’s three million cars were not allowed on roads, leading to some interesting photos of horses and bikes on the country’s highways. Like similar car-free days in other countries, seeing the positive impact from this weekly activity inspired residents to bring about permanent change.
This week the Washington Post published a series of mostly great articles on cities and mobility. Here are the snippets from the a few of them.
Jarrett Walker, “Why cars and cities are a bad match“.
Cars don’t work well in cities, and the reason is simple: 1) A city is a place where people live close together, so there’s not much space per person. 2) Cars take up a lot of space per person. 3) Therefore, cities quickly run out of room for cars.
Donald Shoup, “How parking requirements hurt the poor“.
Parking requirements reduce the cost of owning a car but raise the cost of everything else. For example, parking requirements raise the price of food at a grocery store for everyone regardless of how one travels. People who are too poor to own a car pay more for their groceries to ensure that richer people can park free when they drive to the store.
J.H. Crawford, “The car century was a mistake. It’s time to move on“.
Cars were never necessary in cities, and in many respects they worked against the fundamental purpose of cities: to bring many people together in a space where social, cultural and economic synergies could develop. Because cars require so much space for movement and parking, they work against this objective — they cause cities to expand in order to provide the land cars need. Removing cars from cities would help to improve the quality of urban life.
Something we have been tracking but not writing too much about is the reform of evaluation and mitigation of traffic impacts under California environmental rules (CEQA). Development projects are evaluated on their impacts to traffic as determined by intersection delay. This “level of service” or LOS resulted in a grade-school like score of A through F. From an environmental perspective this approach was both countersensical and counterproductive as it didn’t consider wider transport implications and resulted in unfairly promoting greenfield and fringe development over infill and transit-oriented development. The State of California has recently recommended changing this approach to using Vehicle Miles Traveled as the key criteria. Like parking reform, this is a big deal and will likely have global influence on conventional traffic planning practice. Here is a recent press release from San Francisco that spells out the justification.
“San Francisco Planning Takes Lead in Modernizing Environmental Review for New Development Projects“, City and County of San Francisco Planning Department.
For decades, environmental analysis of transportation impacts focused on how quickly cars moved through a given intersection, a flawed approach that was expensive to calculate, did little to benefit the environment and promoted urban sprawl rather than smart infill growth. The new approach is more comprehensive, looking at the method of travel, how far the person is going, and how many other people are in the vehicle to determine the impact on the
“Vehicle miles traveled is a much smarter approach to identifying the direct environmental effects of car use,” said John Rahaim, Director of San Francisco Planning. “It will streamline CEQA review for projects that are designed to encourage public transit, promote pedestrian safety and help reduce the need for traveling long distances by car. This is tremendous progress for San Francisco, and ultimately the State of California. We are pleased to be the first city in California to adopt these new guidelines.”
On the topic of Vehicle Kilometre Traveled (VKT), here are impressive results from Vancouver where VKT is measured as a key target of their Greenest City Action Plan. Jeff Lee, “Transit, cycling, walking together rival the car for Vancouver travel”, Vacouver Sun.
At the same time, the total number of daily trips by people on transit, by foot and on bicycle rose from 893,000 to 905,000. Much of that came from a 20-per-cent increase in cycling from 2013 to 2014.
That puts the alternative forms of transportation in a statistical dead heat with the automobile, according to Jerry Dobrovolny, Vancouver’s director of transportation.
Coupled with the decline in daily auto trips, the number of kilometres travelled by vehicles has declined by 21 per cent since 2007. That, according to Dobrovolny, means the city has surpassed targets set under the city’s Greenest City Action Plan and Transportation 2040 goals of reducing vehicle trips by 20 per cent.
Here is how Vancouver describes the importance of VKT as a key target. This makes a lot of sense to me and highlights some relevant issues in Auckland. As we proceed with marooning future residents on the fringe, not only will the abstract measurement of VKT sky rocket, but it will have very real implications on city streets an neigbourhoods.
Here is a new research paper that looks fascinating but is pay walled. Here’s the abstract. Megan Smith “Cycling on the verge: The discursive marginalisation of cycling in contemporary New Zealand transport policy“, Energy Research & Social Science.
Despite the potential of utility cycling to contribute to a more resilient, just, and environmentally sustainable transport system, its mode share in New Zealand has remained persistently low. Efforts to increase utility cycling have been pursued by government authorities through a range of supportive strategies. This paper explores the disparity between this policy intent and outcome. It draws on a discourse analytical approach to examine how utility cycling has been positioned in transport policy documents alongside other priorities. Transport-related policy and strategy documents for the period 2008–2013 from central government, and regional and city councils are analysed. The analysis reveals how changing use and meaning for the term ‘sustainable’ has narrowed transport objectives, restricting outcomes that address the pillars of environmental and social sustainability. It demonstrates how transport policy has been framed as a driver of economic growth, how this has been interpreted as requiring a narrow range of transport policy solutions, contributing to the devaluing of utility cycling, despite its potential (and existing) impact on health and well-being, social justice, and environmental sustainability. These practices have systematically privileged motor vehicle use, helping to legitimate and maintain that privilege, while marginalising utility cycling as an effective mode of transport.
Please add any other interesting things you’ve seen this week in the comments. Have a great Sunday.