Welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here is a collection of stories I found interesting over the past couple of weeks. Add your links in the comments section.
There has been interesting housing news coming from the Australian big cities. In addition to a massive wave of apartment supply coming on-line, there is a growing issue about “settlement” and the ability to secure loans from places outside Australia, namely China. Michael Heath and Enda Curran, “Getting Chinese to Buy Your House Isn’t Easy Anymore. Just Ask Cate Blanchett“, Bloomberg.
As Chinese citizens embark on an unprecedented buying spree of foreign property, the Blanchett case illustrates how such money flows have created an economic and political backlash, both in China and abroad. Nowhere is this clearer than in Australia, the developed nation most exposed to China.
Chinese authorities are stepping up capital curbs just as myriad restrictions in Australia have made mortgages tough to get for foreigners, putting buyers from China in a sandwich squeeze that could dent the property market down under. While that’s not unwelcome for Australia’s central bank, which is keen to take some steam out of rising prices, it shines a light on the struggle to digest China’s cash exodus as it flows further afield into locations from Malaysia to Florida.
Many European cities are moving rapidly to de-car their central city streets. Here’s Berlin where they are removing cars on their famous street in conjunction with the introduction of new mass transit systems. Hmmm. Feargus O’Sullivan, “Berlin’s Most Famous Street Will Go Car-Free“, City Lab.
It’s hard to overstate the symbolic significance of the move. Unter den Linden is the most famous street in Germany, a kind of Teutonic Champs Elysées that contains museums, libraries, monuments, a university, and two opera houses. The East Berlin avenue, whose name means “under/among the linden trees”, used to function as an east-west highway through the city’s heart and was the focus for military parades from the era of Napoleon to that of Gorbachev. Banishing cars from such a central space won’t just remove private motorists from the city’s tourist heart, it suggests a change of heart that could steadily see such traffic increasingly sidelined.
The city is currently expanding the U55 subway line, which is bringing back trains from the 1950s, so that it joins up with an existing line that currently begins at Alexanderplatz. This line will run underneath Unter den Linden, and current construction work on the project has forced partial lane closures up and down the avenue. The disruption has already seen car traffic on the avenue drop significantly. Before construction began, 30,000 cars traveled the avenue each day. Now, that number is just 8,000. That decrease is an important precursor to the ban, showing motorists that they don’t need to keep Unter den Linden for themselves.
Disappearing traffic is a thing. Coming to a city near you soon. Charlie Sorrel, “When Paris Closed A Major Road To Cars, Half Its Traffic Just Disappeared”, FastCoExist.
If we look at the numbers another way, you’ll see that overall traffic has actually been reduced. Before the closure (measured in September 2015), 2,600 vehicles per hour passed on the low road. But after the closure, only 1,301 extra cars are being seen on the Boulevard Saint Germain and the high river road combined. That is, half of the cars that used to use the now-closed road have disappeared.
Some of these cars will have found alternate routes on other roads, but many of those passengers and drivers will now be using alternative forms of transport to get to and from work.
Stephen Joseph, “1986 was the year of car dependence. Thirty years on, have politicians learned nothing?“CityMetric.
The M25 became an illustration of a truth, increasingly accepted during the 1990s and 2000: that it’s not possible to build your way out of congestion, because road building simply generates traffic. When the Labour Government came to power in 1997, it scaled back the road programme and commissioned a series of “multi-modal studies”, including one for the M25. The main consultant on that study described widening the M25 as being like “digging a ditch in a bog”, and recommended forms of road charging or traffic restraint instead.
All of these lessons appear to have been forgotten. We are back to an era of road building, with a widespread belief that it’s possible to meet demand for road use by building and widening roads. The “predict and provide” forecasts and models that justify road building, based on extrapolating past trends, are still in place, despite noises about moving to a range of scenarios instead. There is serious talk of double-decking the M25 to cope with future traffic growth, especially around Heathrow with its proposed third runway. Issues of air quality and climate change are ignored, because of a belief – one not founded in any serious research – that by 2040 all cars will be electric, and possibly driverless too.
One of the key factors in Vancouver’s success story was the decision not to build an inter-city motorway network. Here’s an inspiring story about how Vancouver provides lifestyle options through rapid transit, buses, high density housing and increasingly cycling.
Protected bike lanes attract a wide range of users since they remove the key barrier to cycling – traffic stress. Not surprisingly, they are also safer. Separation by design follows the principles of Sustainable Safety and forms the basis for European cycleway design. Because of the legacy of vehicular cycling advocates in English-speaking countries, separated cycle facilities are rare. There is now a growing evidence base about the safety of separated facilities. It’s only taken us 40 years to figure this out.
Dudley, “Why Protected Bike Lanes Save Lives“, CityLab.
The transformative virtues of protected bike lanes have been the focus of much research lately. A 2014 study from Portland State University determined that segregated bike paths are not only demonstrably safer for riders, they have the power to lure lapsed riders back aboard their bikes. And in a new paper in the American Journal of Public Health, “Safer Cycling Through Improved Infrastructure,” the authors John Pucher and Ralph Buehler demonstrate that those cities that have invested heavily in fully protected bike paths over the last decade or so have reaped the biggest safety improvements and ridership boosts. “It is not simply a matter of expanding bicycle infrastructure,” the authors write. “The specific type of bicycle infrastructure matters. Several studies show the crucial importance of physical separation of cycling facilities from motor vehicle traffic on heavily traveled roads.”
For bicyclists, the swift erosion of America’s driving abilities is yet another reason to admit that the cause of “vehicular cycling”—the safe-biking philosophy that says bikes should ride assertively rather than cower at the side of the road—is increasingly compromised by reality, and thus the intra-cyclist civil war that’s raged for decades over the issue should be put to rest. “Vehicular cycling doesn’t work: Where there aren’t bike facilities, there are more accidents and more injuries,” says Pucher. “There’s all sorts of weird cultural factors behind the defense of vehicular cycling, but all the evidence shows that separate facilities are much safer. In particular, you’re much less likely to get killed, because most crashes don’t involve motor vehicles. And when you look at what planners are actually doing, there’s a very clear preference for separate facilities.”
Painted bicycle icons are merely street art. That’s how Groningen looked 50 years ago, before building real, separated bike infrastructure! pic.twitter.com/YUozy2OSx4
— Velotropolis (@velotropolis) November 23, 2016
Electric cars, autonomous cars, ride sharing on-demand transport , etc have captivated people’s imagination on how they will change city life. Something overlooked in the hype, is how they have already changed city life. For example, along popular late night destinations (K Road, Ponsonby Rd) there are a swarm of taxis and Ubers. Meanwhile. the kerbside is still relegated to free, long term and overnight parking making pick-up and drop-off difficult if not dangerous. The rise of the ubiquitous small parcel delivery vehicle seems also to have gone unnoticed while thought leaders navel gaze about the future at conferences.
Benjamin Reider “Our Amazon addiction is clogging up our cities—and bikes might be the best solution” QZ.com
This causes a different kind of traffic problem than in the past. Just a few years ago, delivery in urban centers was about dropping off large volumes of goods at shops. Today, it’s about delivering small numbers of parcels to different addresses, often directly to consumers. City centers today are congested partly because delivery trucks are blocking traffic while trying to deliver boxes.
An additional part of that problem is that the consumer often isn’t at home at the time of delivery. The number of failed deliveries to consumers makes grown people in e-commerce weep: Estimates for failed first deliveries range somewhere between 10 and 30%. This means that a van has to make not one but two trips (or more) to deliver those sneakers to you.
And if you decide you don’t like those sneakers? You can send them back. Three trips.
Alex Steffen, “Tesla’s City Problem“, Medium.
I am well aware that Tesla wants to brand itself as desirable, first, and then sustainable and smart. The idea, though, that “desirable” means “suburban” is way out date with current cultural reality, and completely out of touch with the demands of the future.
Here’s what I’d love to see Tesla show instead: urban life made hipper and more awesome through the adoption of its cars, batteries and solar technologies. There’s plenty of scope for imagination here.
A suburban Tesla is an improved means to an unimproved (and unsustainble) end.