by Andy Singer
by Andy Singer

To kick off Sunday reading here’s an interesting article by  transport professor Rachel Aldred. In “Getting people cycling on residential streets needs more than 20mph limits” she argues that enabling neighbourhood streets to support cycling takes much more than dropping the speed limits, it requires removing traffic. This approach is reminiscent of Donald Appleyard’s Livable Street initiatives in the 1970’s that had modest success.

And if there was no rat running, many local streets could be extremely quiet. DfT trip rate statistics allow us to estimate how much traffic there might be on residential roads without people using them as short cuts. Even including deliveries and visitors we’re generally talking about a few hundred cars a day or fewer. Such streets could be places where cars really are guests, and children again walk and cycle freely.

Janette Sadik-Khan has been making the media rounds publicising her book Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Here’s an excerpt of the book from NY Magazine “The Bike Wars Are Over, and the Bikes Won“.

When I accepted Mayor Bloomberg’s offer to become Transportation commissioner, I told him I wanted to change the city’s transportation status quo. The DOT had control over more than just concrete, asphalt, steel, and striping lanes. These are the fundamental materials that govern the entire public realm and, if applied slightly differently, could have a radical new impact. I saw no reason why New York couldn’t become one of the world’s great biking cities — or why it wouldn’t want to. But the act of actually achieving it launched the bitterest public fight over transportation in this city since Jane Jacobs held the line against Robert Moses’s Lower Manhattan Expressway half a century earlier.

…When you push the status quo, it pushes back, hard. Everyone likes to watch a good fight. And the battle over bike lanes most surely was a street fight: politically bloody and ripped from the tabloids. Call me biased, call me crazy — many people have — but I’ll tell you this: The bikes, and all New Yorkers, won.

Chris and Melissa Bruntlett break down Streetfight into strategic lessons for VANCITY BUZZ , “6 strategic takeaways from a real-life, New York City Streetfight“.

  1. Consensus is impossible, and inaction is inexcusable

In Streetfight’s early chapters, Sadik-Khan and Solomonow lament the incredible lengths politicians and bureaucrats often go through in order to satisfy every single stakeholder on a given project. You can’t please everyone, they insist, and such feigned attempts to build consensus are often used to stall much-needed safety improvements by “leaders” unwilling to lead. At the same time, the status quo is simply unacceptable.

Transportation is one of the few professions where nearly 33,000 people can lose their lives in one year and no one in a position of responsibility is in danger of losing his or her job,” they remind us.

We’ve spent decades engineering our streets for minimum inconvenience to automobiles, and the next century will be spent undoing that cost to our health, security, and mobility.

JSK’s legacy remains strong in NYC where the City plans to roll out an additional 25km of physically separated cycleways this year. And like many other North American cities it seems the focus now is on quality over quantity.  Kate Hinds, “NYC to Install a Record Number of Protected Bike Lanes This Year“, WNYC.

Transportblog, JSK in AKL.

The housing debate in the Bay Area is reaching a fever pitch. Here’s Kriston Capps joining the chorus to liberalise development controls to allow more housing – “Blame Zoning, Not Tech, for San Francisco’s Housing Crisis“, CityLab.

The answer is to build. Build more fucking housing, just like Nolan says. But the answer is also to zone: To take away land-use decisions from neighborhoods and hand them over to cities. And for cities to act in concert with other cities toward regional goals for new market-rate and affordable units everywhere. Not just where developers can get away with it, but where incumbent residents have already soldered shut the gate behind them.

Solving this housing crisis means breaking up the cartelized wealthy districts that are able to decide that new housing is everybody else’s problem. Build the awful glass cubes there, if that’s what it takes.

Freeway Revolt monument, San Francisco,
Freeway Revolt monument, San Francisco, via

For a city that well known for its new ideas, tolerance and diversity, it is according to Davis Prowler, “paradoxically resistant to change.” David Prowler, “San Francisco: The Status Quo City“, UrbDeZine San Francisco.

Plenty of solutions for San Francisco’s planning gridlock spring to mind. The challenges are not technical; they are merely a matter of political will. Most development projects should go forward if they comply with planning codes. The arduous, costly, and risky review and appeals processes should be streamlined. The California Environmental Quality Act should be amended so that it encourages smart growth rather than sprawl. Small infill projects should be exempted. But I’m not holding my breath for any of this. What is needed is a radical change in the local culture. San Francisco needs to learn to embrace change without fear and give up its love affair with process.

To round up Sunday reading on a lighter note, here is a picture of all three LINK route buses stuck in Queen Street traffic.


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    1. Great shot, also highlights just how good those colour branded bus services are.

      Bus lanes full length of Queen please now AT and no right turns at Queen/Wellesley and Queen Victoria.

      Sorted, and getting the route Light Rail ready.

    1. Very good paper.

      Additionally Interesting to note, too, that the reverse is also the case about lot sizes: Minimum permissible lot sizes also can be a break on bottom up intensive development. Those wonderfully lively Japanese and other asian cities are made up of many areas with tiny freehold sites that lower the barrier to small commercial and living arrangements growing organically… in the Bertaud paper you reference, Brendon.

    2. Yes, very interesting and wide-ranging article, Brendon!

      Patrick’s point about minimum lot sizes is also an interesting one – NZ doesn’t have the largest minimums in the developed world, but my sense is that they’re still a barrier to development in some cases. What’s interesting (to me) is the relative lack of a policy rationale for minimum lot sizes. I’ve heard four main arguments:
      1. Minimum lot sizes are a tool for “excluding” low-income people from local public goods
      2. They are important to preserving neighbourhood amenities
      3. They are important for enabling infrastructure providers to plan ahead
      4. They preserve options for future development that might not be possible on smaller lots.

      In my view, (1) is morally objectionable and economically irrelevant given NZ’s funding systems for said public goods. (2) is confused, as the relationship between lot size and amenity is at best indirect – i.e. you can have a large lot with a dying lawn and no trees. (3) is reasonable but it does make me wonder what’s stopping the infrastructure providers from improving their forecasting models.

      And (4) is really interesting and highly relevant to your “contiguity” issue. But even after thinking about it for a while I’m not sure how strong the case to regulate is. Wouldn’t one expect diminished future development options to be factored into the prices for smaller lots? And if not, why not?

      1. Thanks Patrick and Peter. I thought it was a good idea to focus on the ‘intensive margin/going up’ and discuss some ideas that might help make that more affordable -rather than the usual focusing on the ‘extensive margin/going out’.

    3. As I see it the underlying issue is the balance between the right to build stuff on your own land, and protecting your neighbours against the adverse effects of that. Perhaps we are now tending too much towards the latter.

      Suppose you have an old house on, say, 15×30 m² of land. What can we do with it without buying any adjoining land?

      (1) Split into two 7.5×30 m² or three 5×30 m² lots, and replace the old house with town houses, as they are usually built in Europe. The 2 or 3 sites could be converted to separate freehold titles. No need for an investor with the dough to build 3 houses at once. No need for a body corporate later.

      You can’t make the town houses much deeper than the existing house because the interior will be too dark. It will have to be 3 stories if you want a large house. So applying this in a “leafy” suburb will not make it much less leafy.

      Potential downsides for neighbours are the higher houses overlooking or shading their garden.

      5 metres is quite narrow, but reasonably common in Belgium. Recent developments tend to have wider frontage, but also a much finer street grid than anywhere in Auckland (about 40 metres between streets, and a more narrow right of way).

      (2) Renovate. Judging from how popular ‘flatting’ is over here, there’s a lot of people with a house too large for them. So what about converting it to a duplex?

      Potential downsides for neighbours: none! A duplex doesn’t have to look much different than a single house, and an extra letterbox and doorbell will not ruin the neighbourhood character. The extra traffic is already there (flatting). The people not paying a lot of dollars in rent / mortgage are already there (flatting).

      (3) Build apartments. A better choice than (1) if you don’t like stairs occupying a lot of indoor area. Am I wrong in assuming you don’t need “economics of scale” to build one building with 3 apartments on top of each other?

      Of course all three are forbidden by zoning. Why is that? In particular, what is the rationale behind forbidding duplexes?

      1. Roeland I like your row houses idea. But I would go for replacing a 15m section with two 7.5m row houses that can be built up 3 or 4 stories. This could either be two huge rowhouses (7.5x10x3 =225 sqm of space) or six (eight if 4 stories) of the dreaded low level apartments. Or some combination of the two.

        Being low level apartments they would have only need one flight of stairs to service -six or eight apartments (no expensive elevators or sprinklers…..)

        Because there is no public hallways -each apartment would have windows towards the road and the courtyard -so lots of natural light and ventilation.

        The problem stopping this economy of scales of this sort of development is that currently the urban planning rules prevent you from building to the boundary.

        But if neighbours could get together and relinquish that obstruction for each other -then what is stopping this sort of development?

        There maybe other cunning design arrangements -especially for neighbourhoods with non-standard topographies.

        See this blog

      2. Duplexes might be a good idea too. But are they much different to infill housing? -i.e. one house one section becomes two houses one section.

  1. Re: 30 km/h streets. Agree entirely. Lowered traffic volumes are as important as lowered speeds. Filtered permeability. People can go anywhere. Motorists can’t.

    1. Disagree. Speed merely increases the harm of accidents, it doesn’t cause them. Be much smarter to better educate drivers & enforce proper intersection behaviour.

      1. ‘Education’ of drivers never works; there needs to be a self-explaining environment and penalties; those machines just want to go faster and humans are weak vessels; not good at self-control.

        Anyway what do you mean ‘merely’. the difference between life and death is a little more than mere.

        1. I’m not saying don’t enforce rules, I’m saying let’s start ticketing, arresting, seizing cars for other types of vehicle offence that are inherently harmful.

          1. The issue I have with using Police resources for traffic enforcement is two fold:
            – The resources may well be better spent doing other things, if the design was such that it be self policing
            – It makes the Police hated, reducing their ability to achieve other outcomes

            So in essence sounds great, but could be better by thinking through the consequences of the action.

        2. Education of cyclists is sadly lacking too. Just about killed a middle aged male Thursday morning in the rain and dark, flat out down Pah road he was riding, in and out of the slowly moving cars, wearing black and no lights. Suggest you look into that too. As for your obsession with lowering speed limits, restricting cars, etc – why don’t you simply insist all cycle tracks are totally separate to roads as they are in many countries. The anti car stuff on this blog is still boring and continues to show a complete lack of thought. Once again, listening please, if you are worried about what you call rat running, stop, breathe and think WHY this happens and then maybe you can comment constructively about what can be done to make things better for motorists so they don’t need to do this.

      2. Of course speed has a part to play. There are a couple of types of safety at play here. 1) actual safety – is it really dangerous or not 2) perceived safety – does it feel safe. Higher speeds affect reaction times and stopping distances. The feeling of safety varies greatly between busy 50 kmh roads and quiet 30 kmh streets.

        1. + 1

          In that conversation with Skye Duncan, she showed a graph where at 30 km/h fatality probability was around 10% but at 50 km/h it rose (non-linearly) to about 85-90%. Going by that, all neighbourhood streets should be 30 km/hr (or less) – and even less where it’s mainly children, e.g., outside schools in the early morning and mid-afternoon (when I lived in NSW, over 10 years ago now, it was 25 km/h in these areas at those times). (Makes those ads on TV showing 54 km/h as dangerous but 50 km/h as safe seem rather ridiculous.)

      3. EC – last time i studied risk management probability and severity were both relevant considerations into mitigation measures. Seems plausible to suggest that lowering residental speed limits could be justified in that basis. I am struck by the extent of areas that are restricted to 30km/hr speed limits here in the netherlands.

        1. I do risk management as part of my job (not engineering risk though). You have probability, and you have consequences. Smoke detectors and sprinklers are all about mitigating the consequences; not having a fire start in the first place is about probability. It’s better to not have a fire, Ambulances at bottom of cliff and all that.

          Let me explain. Most accidents occur because of poor intersection behaviour. This is “broken windows” behaviour. Drivers get away with poor behaviour all the time (not indicating, driving through orange/red lights, queueing over intersections.) Because they never bear any negative consequences for this behaviour (punishment), the only thing stopping them doing it is their inherent morality/feeling of guilt. Unfortunately, sooner or later that broken windows behaviour escalates dramatically and there’s an accident at an intersection.

          What message does focusing on speed send- “You’ll have accidents, let’s make sure you walk away from them.” This isn’t Alonso yesterday. These are our streets.

          Let’s educate, enforce, condition, whichever verb you prefer, our drivers. Punish them for breaking the law. Don’t change the law. The law is fine. If the Red Devils can fly in formation at 500mph surely our drivers can do it at 30mph.

          1. “What message does focusing on speed send- “You’ll have accidents, let’s make sure you walk away from them.””

            That sounds like a really, really good message to send. By definition, accidents are things that happen by accident – i.e. people didn’t intend them to happen. So rather than trying to enforce some sort of guilt/punishment complex to manage bad luck, I’d rather take proven measures to reduce the severity of the outcome. Especially when children are in the mix, as they are often bad at rationally calculating risk (or stopping distance, for that matter).

            As Jamie Walton pointed out above, lower speeds are a proven way of reducing the fatal consequences of traffic accidents.

          2. So let’s call driving more slowly a form of “risk mitigation”. We know that when driving, we could hit someone. People make mistakes. Kids are not able to judge how fare you are unless you drive slowly.

            Slowing down to 30 kph on local streets is a no-brainer. You’re not going to drive for any length of time on these streets anyway.

            On the other hand, let’s not get into that situation where you drive 35 kph and risk a fine, and at the same time you’re getting abuse from drivers around you because you’re driving too slowly.

          3. And better driving behaviour at intersections is proven to reduce accidents

            According to Transportblog writers, helmets for cycling are nanny state, but speed limits are fine. Both aim to reduce the consequences of a crash.

          4. And Peter, they aren’t intended, so maybe let’s focus on making sure drivers drive properly so as to reduce the chance of them occurring in the first place.

            Humans are learning animals. You can train a human to do just about anything. Humans willingly went over the top in WW1. Humans willingly charge towards fires in emergencies. We can train humans to drive better, like in my analogy about the Red Devils. Good driving means we can drive at 50, 60, 70 or 100 – gaining all the benefits of faster travel – without increasing risk.

          5. The motorcycling community have an acronym for your attitude: FIGJAM. Short for “fuck I’m good, just ask me”. The unspoken corollary is that anyone talking like this (a) isn’t actually any good and (b) is going to be really boring if you do ask.

            In the real world, we’ve had driver’s licenses for over a century, and increased requirements for testing and training. And you know what? People are still dying as a result of car crashes. You know what has worked to reduce the death rates? Airbags, better car frames, and safer street designs.

          6. Hey EC, I formerly worked in a crash research unit and quite bluntly, you are completely full of shit. You can’t train people to overcome the limits of their senory organs. You can’t train people to perceive beyond the realms of human perception. You certainly cant train people to have better neural function. Crashes happen when people are in situations they can’t deal with. Most of the time no human being could ever deal with them, too much speed in a ceratin road environment is a perfect example. You could put a race car driver or a test pilot in the same conditions and they will crash just the same.

      4. “Speed merely increases the harm of accidents, it doesn’t cause them.” Bollocks! or if you want local data . Speed is a major cause factor. People who don’t want to admit that will usually try and redefine the argument to “it isn’t the cause of the majority of crashes” and then set about showing there are other factors. But dig a little deeper and going faster than you should have turns out to be one of the most common elements in a chain of causes.

        1. Except based on MOT data, speed is the primary cause of about 17% of accidents
          How many occur at intersections?

          Speed by itself is good. Getting from A to B faster is good (or why build CRL?)

          1. Speed by itself is ok, provided you are on your own protected right-of way. Speed mixed in with random other users and activities is definitely not good.
            The CRL is good because the higher speeds it will allow are buried safely underground. If the CRL was to perform the same function on-street mixed in with other road-users then it would not be good.

        2. Oh dear here goes the “speed kills” bollocks again. The vast majority of Germans live to a ripe old age despite being able to travel at 2 or 3 times our highway speed limits. Suggest you look at all factors. Even our Police now admit that speed is a factor in only a small percentage of accidents, most accidents are caused by inattention or plain dickhead behavior as well you would all know if you bothered to look into it properly..

        3. It just amazes me how many poorly informed dickheads there are in this world. If you try reading a crash report you realize that in almost every single one at least one vehicle was going faster than it should have been just prior to things going wrong. It is such a common cause that often the Police dont list it as a factor. Just like they dont list ‘driver got it wrong’ as a factor. 17%? what a dick!

      5. Early Commuter: “Disagree. Speed merely increases the harm of accidents, it doesn’t cause them.”

        I’m going to disprove that in two words: stopping distance.

        If you’re going slower, you’re more likely to react in time and stop in time to something happening ahead, avoiding a collision in the first place.
        And as mentioned earlier, “accident” is the wrong word.

        1. Except that your following distance is speed relative and is always half the stopping distance at your speed. As such travelling at 50, 100, or 200kmh is equally safe because your stopping distance increases proportionally.

          1. Wrong! When you double speed, you actually triple the stopping distance. Have a play with this calculator:

            If you’re travelling at 40km/hr on dry bitumen, you’ll need around 25 metres to come to a full stop. At 80km/hr, you will need 67 metres. If a child steps out on the street unexpectedly, it’s a hell of a lot better to be travelling at 40km/hr. This seems like a very easy thing to understand.

          2. Yes, Peter, I understand physics. I said the stopping distance increases relative, I never said it was a linear relationship.
            So at x km you are x metres behind, at 2x kmh you are more than 2x metres behind. And so on

          3. Errmmm EC: You say you’re not suggesting it’s a linear relationship and then go on to describe a linear relationhsip?!?

            Ermahgerd wtf are you on about?

        2. EC, I don’t think you understand the difference between driving on some theoretical idealised rural freeway, and driving on city streets. Important difference. If you think the only thing you have to worry about on city streets is the car in front of you, then hand in your driver license before you kill someone.

          On city streets most of the unexpected things you’d need to stop for are not things you follow at some safe following distance. For example people crossing the street, a car backing out of a driveway, a car waiting to turn right, etc.

          And what does stopping distance tell us? If something happens 20 metres away then someone doing 30 will be easily able to stop, and someone doing 50 will have an accident.

          1. In all of those cases, the cause is the other driver though. Why not stop “victim blaming”? Don’t back onto a road blindly. Don’t cross in front of traffic if you can’t judge speed. Don’t turn right in front of traffic.
            People have a right to drive within the road rules (just like women have the right to wear whatever they want). Someone walks out in front of them, don’t blame the driver

          2. Early do you actually read what you type? ‘People have a right to drive within the road rules’ Exactly; that’s why its wise to have better road rules: ESPECIALLY SLOWER SPEEDS ON CITY STREETS.

  2. you only have to look at the number of drivers who continue to use phones while driving and running red lights to see that self regulation doesn’t work as far as road rules are concerned. Given the Police are too busy (doing what?) I am all for automated camera running programs that detect speeding, red light running, people texting and driving and bus drivers muscling cyclists off the road. Bring on 1984, George was right!

  3. The main reason NYC was able to do so much for cycling was their extensive one-way road network. Auckland doesnt really have that option. It is childs play to take a lane out from a one way street. One way networks have greater capacity, are more efficient and are safer than similar two way networks. As long as you turn those advantages to the benefit of cyclists and pedestrians (and not cars), then you get a better result.

    1. What Auckland CBD road doesn’t have room for a traffic, transit and cycle lane? All the arterials have plenty of room.

    2. Surely a 2-way road is just 2x 1-way roads merged together. Directionality isn’t the problem. Overall width is the problem, and the chief gobbler of road-width is on-street parking.
      On-street parking (on busy roads) makes it far more difficult and dangerous for cyclists unless there is a protected cycle-lane, and on-street parking makes it far more difficult to install a protected cycle-lane.
      On-street parking = cyclists’ lose-lose

    1. No, but they’re all capable of being driven under 30, or any other posted limit. Most people can judge speed reasonably closely from experience, this is a skill you develop (fairly quickly) when you start to learn to drive or ride.

      If you’re not sure that you’re driving slow enough to be under the limit, slow down until you are sure. Easy peasy.

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