Welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here’s a collection of articles I hope you find interesting. Please add yours in the comment section.

Anton Babadjanov, “The Supply And Demand Of Street Space“, The Urbanist. Here’s a nice compilation of the spatial capacity of various modes. We did a count on Symonds Street a few weeks back and found that one lane in the peak hour moves about 710 cars, compared to over 4,000 people in the bus lane.

Bicycle lane throughput varies based on width. A study from Davis, California reports the capacity as 2,600 bicycles per hour per 3.3 feet of lane while most other studies have actually found higher throughputs, so we’ll use this as a lower bound.

Regardless of whether bike lanes are installed in place of 8-foot parking lanes or up to 11-foot travel lanes, we can assume at least two bike lanes per original lane. This gives us:

Bike Lane: 5,200 people / hour


Hayes Valley, San Francisco. Photo: John King (San Francisco Chronicle)

Octavia Boulevard remains a remarkable example of how land-wasting motorways can be re-purposed into urban boulevards.   John King takes a look at the architecture that now fills in the road reserve of the former Central Freeway-  “In Hayes Valley, old freeway site is now architectural showcase“, San Francisco Chronicle.


The Somerville, Mass map (above) identifies the properties that conform to the zoning code. Daniel Hertz, “More on the illegal City of Somerville“, City Observatory.

But it’s worth underscoring that this is more than just a funny legal “whoops,” the land use equivalent of those old laws about not whistling on Sundays. These sorts of nonsensical land use rules both have serious consequences and are the results of predictable political dynamics—which have, predictably, led to them being adopted in various forms throughout the country. In other words, though we’re using Somerville as our example here, it’s far from an outlier among American cities.

And the problem isn’t just housing, per se. It’s a shortage of exactly the kinds of communities that Somerville represents, and that its zoning code outlaws: relatively dense, walkable, transit-accessible neighborhoods. Research by Jonathan Levine and many others have both established that demand for these sorts of neighborhoods outstrips their supply, and that the result, too often, is higher prices, more economic segregation, and less opportunity for lower-income people.

Houston’s zoning battles (Photo: John Everett, HC Staff)

Conor Dougherty covers the growing YIMBY movement in the States and the focus on zoning reform-  How Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality, New York Times.

Zoning restrictions have been around for decades but really took off during the 1960s, when the combination of inner-city race riots and “white flight” from cities led to heavily zoned suburbs. They have gotten more restrictive over time, contributing to a jump in home prices that has been a bonanza for anyone who bought early in places like Boulder, San Francisco and New York City. But for latecomers, the cost of renting an apartment or buying a home has become prohibitive.

In response, a group of politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown of California and President Obama, are joining with developers in trying to get cities to streamline many of the local zoning laws that, they say, make homes more expensive and hold too many newcomers at bay.

To most people, zoning and land-use regulations might conjure up little more than images of late-night City Council meetings full of gadflies and minutiae. But these laws go a long way toward determining some fundamental aspects of life: what American neighborhoods look like, who gets to live where and what schools their children attend.And when zoning laws get out of hand, economists say, the damage to the American economy and society can be profound. Studies have shown that laws aimed at things like “maintaining neighborhood character” or limiting how many unrelated people can live together in the same house contribute to racial segregation and deeper class disparities. They also exacerbate inequality by restricting the housing supply in places where demand is greatest.The lost opportunities for development may theoretically reduce the output of the United States economy by as much as $1.5 trillion a year, according to estimates in a recent paper by the economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti.

Regardless of the actual gains in dollars that could be achieved if zoning laws were significantly cut back, the research on land-use restrictions highlights some of the consequences of giving local communities too much control over who is allowed to live there.“You don’t want rules made entirely for people that have something, at the expense of people who don’t,” said Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

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  1. Is there a line between useful and detrimental zoning rules and how fuzzy is it. I think restricting the subdivision of good horticultural land in Pukekohe is sensible and requiring villa modernisations to retain the original brick chimneys not so much. There must be a lot between those two outliers so how do we separate the good, the bad and the ugly? And is it science or art and whose art?

    1. Indeed. Literally the only zoning should be horticultural/agricultural, industrial, park/reserve/transport corridors, certain coastal areas.
      Everything else should be a free for all up to 5 levels. Above that would need to be on a case by case basis except places like the CBD where there should be no height limit.

      That horticultural land at the Bombays really is a very special case that needs total protection to stop even large lifestyle blocks taking over.

      1. Why is it a special case? And what if everyone has their own special case – where will we end up then? Probably where we are now! Zoning should be about managing externalities. Protecting horticultural land from being repurposed for higher value uses is not policy relevant; the market “internalities” can take care of those issues just fine.

        1. Because it is the only horticultural land in the entire country that has the unique combinations of soils, general lack of strong frosts, rainfall, temperature to suit various vegetables etc that also happens to be located within 100km of 2 million people. You didn’t think that they were all there as a coincidence did you? Without these we will have to import a lot of their produce.
          Also do you really want Auckland sprawling all the way to the Bombays??

          1. I dont, but it is up to the market what the higher value use of land is. However I agree that zoning should not encourage sprawl onto high value agricultural land by preventing development elsewhere. North of Aucklands MUL there is relatively poor quality soil and yet no development is allowed on it. Similarly the eastern boundary of Auckland is constrained. So AC are actually directing development toward the Bombays.

  2. I say bring back Georges-Eugène Haussmann and put him in charge of redeveloping Auckland. Level the single level villas and put up an attractive 5 level terraced housing to a consistent design per block. personally I like parts of Oslo, 8-), but locals get to pick.

    OK, OK, I know that eventually Paris turned on him, but it was still fabulous.

    May be taking away regulations is better than the status quo. Surely though there has to be some quality control? What worries many of us is the new buildings put up near the morningside that looked like they had leaky building before they were even finished. I still die inside a little every day on the train.

    1. Leaky buildings are covered by the building act. Zoning is under the resource act. The idea that liberating zoning leads to leaky housing is the greatest lie nimbys ever told

  3. Doing something about school zoning here would impact heavily on house prices, the “Grammer zone” tax is huge. As a socialist, I think zones should be abolished and schools simply required to reflect as accurately as possible (as per the census) the demographic and economic make up the population within a 15 or 20km radius of the school.

    1. I think I have the answer to the Grammar zones. They tried to get another school built to relieve pressure but the residents stopped it as it would have put them out of the double Grammar zone. Even people without kids at school fight to keep the status quo as it adds value to their house.

      So the answer is to expand both Epsom Girls and Auckland Grammar and charge to cost of that expansion as a levy on every house in the zones. A betterment claim.

      1. The Grammar Zone is an example of stupidity.

        Let’s say that the Grammar Zone adds, what, 75% to a house price? (If I’m wrong, someone correct me).

        Let’s say it turns a 800k house into a $1.4m house (600k)
        For 600k
        -> You could simply send your kids to Kings (24k per year, 5 years = 120k)
        -> You could send your kids to ACG (20k per year, 5 years, 100k)
        -> You could send them to the local public school and then use the savings for Oxford (16-20k pounds per year for international students, 4 year degree = 128-160k NZD per kid)

        You can get better education cheaper (my kids will be public schooled, and then every $ I save will be used to send them to the best university we can afford)

    2. “within a 15 or 20km radius of the school.” …or even within easy walking and cycling distance of the school.

  4. The 1st picture is misleading as in reality, more space is required for Uber and Autonomous vehicles. Note that I am referring to shared autonomous vehicles, not ones individually owned.
    In your own vehicle, you generally start at point A, get in and drive to point B. Then when you are finished you get back in and drive back again. Your vehicle starts at point A and remains at point B until you are ready to go back.
    In the case of Uber and shared autonomous vehicles, they will start at a different place, have to travel to point A to pick you up, take you to point B. They then will generally have to travel to point C to pick up their next ride. As such, there is a lot more travelling with Uber and shared Autonomous vehicles that therefore increase the space required on roads as a number of them will be travelling empty at any time.

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