Good morning and welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here are a bunch of links I found interesting over the last week. Please share your own links and thoughts in the comments below.

Edward Humes, “The Absurd Primacy of the Automobile in American Life“, CityLab. This was a widely shared, fact-filled polemic about the use of the car for transportation.

Then there is the matter of climate. Transportation is a principal cause of the global climate crisis, exacerbated by a stubborn attachment to archaic, wasteful, and inefficient transportation modes and machines. But are cars the true culprit? Airplanes, for instance, are often singled out as the most carbon-intensive form of travel in terms of emissions per passenger-mile (or per ton of cargo), but that’s not the whole story: Total passenger miles by air are miniscule compared to cars. In any given year, 60 percent of American adults never set foot on an airplane, and the vast majority who do fly take only one round trip a year. Unfortunately, air travel is not the primary problem, contributing only 8 percent of U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gases. Cars and trucks, by contrast, pump out a combined 83 percent of transportation carbon.

credt: FastCoExist.

Adele Peters, “Paris Is Redesigning Its Major Intersections For Pedestrians, Not Cars“, Fast Co Exist. Paris, like many European big cities continues to wind back the dominance of cars on city streets with car-free days and a now a major reallocation of street space (image above).

Each of the new designs give pedestrians at least 50% of the space in the square, taking away lanes of traffic even though each of the streets is a major route in the city. At the Place de la Bastille, the square will reconnect with a curb on one side, creating a new green space for people to sit. At the Place de la Madeleine, trees will mark off more pedestrian space and a new weekly market will be added.

Zach Shaner, “Driving for Urbanists – 15 Do’s and Don’ts“, Seattle Transit Blog. As someone who rarely drives and occasionally gets in the wrong side of the car and switches the wiper blades on when indicating, this advice is spot on. I particularly like the “don’t honk your horn” rule.

14: Don’t look at your phone, period. Turn off the ringer and stash it in the glove box until you turn off the car. It can wait. Drive simple cars with the least amount of distracting tech. If you need to stay connected during your travel time, there’s this great thing called transit that allows you to browse and tap and text to your heart’s content.


From the “Free Range Kids” advocate Lenore Skenazy and traffic guru Sam Schwartz here’s an explanation for why the kids aren’t driving like they used to- “Forget the car: Young adults are opting to use their feet“, New York Post.

Call it the Back-Seat Rebellion. Helicoptered kids who spent their childhoods ferried from school to playdate to soccer are now young men and women voting with their feet . . . by using them. They are so sick of cars, they can’t abandon them fast enough.

But one other reason young people aren’t driving as much is that they’ve already been driven enough for a lifetime. What holds allure is not driving — experiencing the fun and freedom they missed out on as micromanaged kids who never got to walk to school or ride their bikes till the streetlights came on.

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W1356
Queen Street at Greys Avenue (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W1356)

Joe Cortright provides a nice recap of recent research on the influence of neighbourhoods on providing an environment for adult economic success. “Why mixed-income neighbourhoods matter: Lifting kids out of poverty“, Strong Towns.

There’s a hopeful new sign that how we build our cities, and specifically, how good a job we do of building mixed income neighborhoods that are open to everyone can play a key role in reducing poverty and promoting equity. New research shows that neighborhood effects—the impact of peers, the local environment, neighbors—contribute significantly to success later in life. Poor kids who grow up in more mixed income neighborhoods have better lifetime economic results. This signals that an important strategy for addressing poverty is building cities where mixed income neighborhoods are the norm, rather than the exception.

Barbara Eldredge, “This German Affordable Homebuilding Plan Be a Model for the U.S.?”, Curbed. Baugruppe is a development model where a group of people come together to build collectively. This model removes the developer and other costs. This model is used in Germany where it can save up to 25% on the overall costs. I hear there are similar groups already working in Auckland.

Imagine getting your friends together, pooling your money, and building a rad apartment building tailored precisely to your needs. Units would come in different sizes and configurations, depending on what each family wants, and shared community spaces, such as a library or indoor garden, could also be added to the floorplan, depending on the group’s interests.

“Here in Seattle, we want a bike-only, car-free, net-zero Baugruppe with a bike shop in the building,” Eliason told Curbed. “You’re not going to find a developer anywhere in the U.S. who will built that.”

Sarah Mikhitarian, “Less You and Me, More We: How Land-Use Regulation Impacts Inventory, Rents and Roommates“, Zillow. Zillow the on-line real estate and analytics company sifts through its data and compares it to an index of land use restrictiveness (Wharton). The relationship of land use regulation on rents, housing stock, and household composition is interesting, if not surprising.

More tightly regulated land use in these cities is associated with more rapidly rising rents, more acute shortages of homes for sale and more adults living with roommates in the face of rising housing costs and fewer housing options.

While a number of factors impact growth in rents and the number of homes for sale in a given market, local housing and land-use regulation are inextricably linked to a city’s ability to ensure it has enough housing to meet demand.

The YIMBY movement is growing stronger around the world. There is a conference in Bolder, Colorado in June. Here is a great profile of Sonja Trauss the head of SF Bay Area’s Renter’s Federation (BARF). Conor Dougherty, “In Cramped and Costly Bay Area, Cries to Build, Baby, Build“. The New York Times.

Across the country, a reversal in urban flight has ignited debates over gentrification, wealth, generational change and the definition of the modern city. It’s a familiar battle in suburbs, where not-in-my-backyard homeowners are an American archetype.

In San Francisco, though, things get weird. Here the tech boom is clashing with tough development laws and resentment from established residents who want to choke off growth to prevent further change.

Ms. Trauss is the result: a new generation of activist whose pro-market bent is the opposite of the San Francisco stereotypes — the lefties, the aging hippies and tolerance all around.

Ms. Trauss’s cause, more or less, is to make life easier for real estate developers by rolling back zoning regulations and environmental rules. Her opponents are a generally older group of progressives who worry that an influx of corporate techies is turning a city that nurtured the Beat Generation into a gilded resort for the rich.

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  1. I also disagree with the no honking horns, slowing to a stop for similar reasons. the ooner you drive onto the sensor box at an intersection, the sooner it will go green, so the most efficient mechanism is to emulate a pit stop – fast in, stop. And honking can be hugely beneficial if it gets someone off the line quicker – it might get someone home to see their kids 2 mins earlier

    1. That’s not correct EC. All driving on the sensor box does is book your phase in the cycle, it doesn’t go green any sooner. All your doing with your race car pit stops is unnecessary wear and tear on your car and increasing the risk of a crash by speeding into an intersection. A horribly inefficient idea!

      1. Yes, this would be a dangerous an ineffective thing to do. Better to drive slowly, at a consistent speed and brake gradually.

        Also better for car occupants (should you have any) and other road users.

        1. Logically never miss the next phase, you can only miss the phase before it. You’re just saying you should drive as fast as possible to go through an intersection earlier. Fine, but you’re only saying people should drive fast to get places sooner. Not exactly enlightening, not a particularly safe idea.

  2. This story from Electreklooks at two studies (first one by T. Donna Chen of the University of Virginia, Kara Kockelman and Josiah P. Hanna of the University of Texas at Austin) that model the effects of having a driverless fleet of EVs (in this case they used $USD 35K Tesla Model 3’s with complete autonomous driving functions) to work as Robot Taxis.

    They looked at the costs if used to deliver a “Mobility as a Service” (MaaS) across a very large area (I suppose you get that large size of urban conurbations in Texas – hence why they picked that size).
    I think few other cities on the planet would need such a large grid of deployed robot Taxis I’d think.

    The outcomes of the studies was that with a fleet of about 130K autonomous EVs you could get a ride to your door in about 3 minutes average.
    Interestingly – each robot taxi spends about half its time running empty, going to/from charging spots, or just sitting there recharging somewhere (hopefully off-road).

    And only half the time is spent actually carrying paying passengers.

    Their conclusions were that even with those sort of vehicle numbers, this sort of system could be quite profitable to run, and could deliver MaaS for about 70 US cents a mile to the end user.

    Which they think will give Public Transit a hiding both for the wealthy (i.e. time poor) and the financially poor alike (who are considered to be not so time poor than the wealthy – I find usually the exact opposite is usually true, the poort are even more time poor than wealthy).

    Now there are a lot of assumptions, ifs and maybes buried there. But its good to see that someone is “doing the math” on a citywide Robot Taxi system that could make a huge difference in the future to how cities and PT could work better in the future

    Of course they miss the obvious – what if the Robot Taxis worked with rather than competed against PT?

    I suspect then you’d need a lot less of the Robot Taxis and the cents per mile to the end user could drop, and with low MaaS prices and high frequency and reliability of the service you could easily make the last mile problem disappear for almost all PT users by combining both services to a seamless whole.

    Of course, you’d have to have a decent PT service that went quickly between the main centres that people needed to go to/from.
    And the PT wasn’t being held up with roads full of SOVs (or Robot Taxis with zero or one passenger).

    Regardless of this, I wouldn’t be expecting this service to be in operation anywhere soon – you’d need (affordable) mass produced Robot Taxis that can drive themselves.
    And thats still a while away yet – even if Tesla can deliver their Model 3 with driverless capabilities in the next 2 years, the queues to get them when they do ship will mean it will be quite some years to come before a fleet of them would be on the roads, not before 2025 at the earliest is y prediction.

    1. The evidence from cities with both Transit and Uber certainly shows MaaS working strongly with Transit, ie huge numbers of trips are to/from stations, not direct to destinations. Looks like there is a big ideological bias in this study.

    2. I think this research is pretty much in line with our earlier suggestions that on-demand cars will complement mass transit more so than be a substitute for it. Important to note that the estimated cost of on-demand cars to the end user was approx 70 US cents per mile ~= 60 NZ cents per kilometre.

      Mass transit typically costs the user 20-30 cents per kilometre. So according to this analysis mass transit will still cost about half the cost of robot cars. And that’s current mass transit pricing; one would expect driverless technology to reduce the cost of PT as well.

      Of course you have less wait and walk time with on-demand services, which people will value. But even so I don’t think many people can afford a doubling in the cost of their commute from say $50 per week to $100 per week. Some will of course – but one has to wonder whether many of these people are using PT now anyway? Basically, my hypothesis is that the people who can afford to commute by robot cars are relatively unlikely to be using PT anyway.

      I’d be interested to know whether this study factored in parking and congestion costs as well? This would tend to increase the price differential even further.

      Nonetheless, good to see these kinds of analyses emerging as they will start to pin down the potential role of robot cars in our transport system. They really do look like a replacement for low frequency, indirect PT in many places, which would end up saving us a butt-tonne of money that we could reinvest in other things.

      1. I’d agree Stu.
        Their initial findings were that robot taxis would make a huge cost reduction over human operated services (whether regular Taxis or Ubers and the like).
        So that would drive a lot of like for like replacement.
        e.g. use Robot Taxis and not Ubers etc. Those folks don’t use PT now and probably never will – if Robot Taxis are too cheap [they’d basically consider bot taxis as “personal PT”].

        The authors then posit that if the cost of these bot taxis can be gotten low enough that the financially poor will then start using them too instead of Transit “to save time” as well – even if the cost is the same.
        So that PT services will suffer immensely.
        Thats where they may be drawing bow, a little too far with that assumption. Time will tell whose right.

        But I can say that those crappy PT services with once an hour and loop everywhere schedules will be replaced by some sort of bot taxi for sure.

        But if that keeps the spine of the PT system flowing thats also good.

        However we know the likes of the MoT simply lap this stuff up uncritically, without seeing that large chunks of it are simply dogshit.
        And thats the worry, that MoT will refuse to invest in proper PT or non-driving alternatives – because they believe the bot taxis army is going to save them, the country and the planet from actually dealing with the underlying issues.
        We already see that going on now.

  3. I think that the final paragraph on San Francisco is telling. Older progressives are only claiming to care about gentrification.

    Its actually driven either by a selfish desire to keep techies out at the expense of the working poor or a moralising condescension that the poor must be saved from apartments that they would choose to live in.

    Darby in Auckland clearly falls into the latter category claiming that 10000s of extra cost from balcony regulation is worth it for the quality of life improvement. He doesn’t believe the poor should get to decide that for themselves. I think Jan O’Connor is the best expelled of the former, she’s alright so pull the ladder up.

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