Welcome back to Sunday Reading. Let’s start off with a story about induced demand from the mainstream media. Driverless cars introduce an interesting variation on the story, but the answer is the same. Read through to discover the obvious solution to the problem. Conor Dougherty. “Self-driving Cars Can’t Cure Traffic, but Economics Can“, The New York Times.
But there is one problem autonomous driving is unlikley to solve: the columns of rush-hour gridlock that clog city streets and freeways. If decades of urban planning and and economic research are any guide, the solution is unlikely to come from technology but from something similar to Uber’s surge pricing: charging people more to use driverless cars at rush hour.
This has been studies at rush hour, studied on individual freeway projects and studies with large data sets that encompass nearly every road in the United States. With remarkable consistency, the research finds the same thing: Whenever a road is built or an older road is widened, more people decide to drive more. Build more or widen further, and even more people decide to drive. Repeat to infinity.
That’s where charging people during busy times comes in. “Maybe autonomous cars will be different from other capacity expansions,” Mr. Turner said. “But of the things we have observed so far, the only thing that really drives down travel times is pricing.”
Signal timing plays an important role in how people use the city as well their safety. Unfortunately, the starting point for professional practice is still primarily concerned with pushing tin. Angie Schmitt, “How Engineering Standards for Cars Endanger People Crossing the Street” Streets Blog.
Part of the problem, Furth says, is that transportation engineers have standards for measuring motorist delay but not pedestrian delay. He has developed a tool to assess delay at intersections for pedestrians and cyclists, recommending that Boston weigh those factors in its signal timing.
Disregard for the walking environment is also embedded in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices — a point of reference for engineers. The MUTCD does not require pedestrian-specific signals at crossings, treating them as a judgment call even in urban locations.
The MUTCD does not even “warrant” (i.e. allow) a signalized crossing for pedestrians unless at least 93 people per hour try to cross the street, or five people were struck by drivers within a year.
Meanwhile, there are no such thresholds for motor vehicle signals. Regardless of traffic counts, the MUTCD gives engineers permission to install traffic signals on major streets to “encourage concentration and organization of traffic flow” — i.e. to make things go smoother for drivers.
Narrowly focusing on the peak period of commute travel incurs extreme costs across the transportation network. Matt had a great post on this a few weeks ago- The Tyranny of the Peak. Prioritising peak period travel fails to recognise how cities are changing and how people want to travel. Kats Dekker makes the case here that designing for commuting actually disregards most trips and this has particular implications for women- “Let’s design for women too – beyond the commute“, Spatial Fairness.
Disregarding over 80% of all trips does not seem a sensible way forward. Yet, the transport systems and practices, still, are obsessed with the commute, even after various pushes for change have been made by the research community over many years.
Just looking at commuting data misses to consider a large number of trips, especially those made by women. Women, as is clear, are not a minority group. Yet women and their needs, even as a major group in society (women make more trips than men), are often disregarded. Looking at the commuting data alone discriminates against women in general, women’s activities and discounts women’s place in society.
We historically have looked at the commute for its coincidence with the rush hour, to deal with peak travel demand. In the UK at least, a real and honest look at space as a limited precious resource (and how to carve it up fairly and effectively) has not taken place. The commute focus has not brought about a better transport system with alternatives to the private car largely still excluded. I suggest that taking the commute approach brings the problem that over 80% of all trips have been neglected in transport assessments. These trips require attention for other reasons than the peak demand. Reasons are for example safety needs when travelling with kids and transporting shopping. In cycle cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam these trips are still carried out by women, by they are cycled. Removing those trips from the transport agenda marginalises the importance of women’s everyday activities and careful and sensible provision for these activities.
The commute accounts for fewer than 1 in 5 trips. In order to make designs environmentally effective and create gender-inclusive networks, we need to incorporate all ways of travel in our assessments. Women’s trips are usually shorter and women make more trips. This would mean by leaving out the women-type trips of shopping and visiting others, we could miss out on building useful networks on a neighbourhood level to make it possible to cycle quick errands, cycle with kids and transport shopping by bike. Constructing good cycle solutions is two-fold. Fast commuting corridors are important (protected cycleways), for sure. And these must be complemented by local travel solutions too (cycleways, zoning, filtering etc) to provide good access to the immediate community, designed on a risk basis of appropriate volume and speed.
Life changes can radically calter people’s perspectives on mobility and the public realm. Here Thomasin Sleigh describes how being a mother is different than being a flâneuse -“The mum flâneuse: Why public space is especially important for mothers“, The Spinoff.
The mum flâneuse is, however, lacking one of the central attributes in the definition of the flâneur. The flâneur is singular, unencumbered; he is able to roam far and freely, wherever his whim may take him – as are the flâneuses Elkin writes about in her book. But the mum flâneuse isn’t alone. She has her baby with her. She is depended upon. Mothers and babies are a double – or often a triple or more, when there are other children involved. The mum flâneuse differs also in that her impetus isn’t leisure or idleness: it’s necessity, the necessities of getting out of the house, or getting her baby to sleep, or running an errand. But she is still out in the world, pacing the streets, smiling at the other mums, taking part in the city and urban space, looking and being looked at.
So often the role of the mother disappears in the Venn diagram of society. Artists, writers, commentators, flâneuses: the positions are mutually exclusive. You can be creative and productive in the way that society values and understands (have a neatly delineated profession or output), or you can be a mother. Even Elkin’s book, which can be read as a feminist revision of a male archetype, doesn’t account for the possibility that mothers too, have an important part to play in the fabric of cities and are frequent inhabitants and participants in urban space.
“Increased city accessibility by cars is always accompanied by declines in service of public transit.”
—Jane Jacobs. pic.twitter.com/TPiGMEpg3R
— Taras Grescoe (@grescoe) March 2, 2017
In 1966 Colin Buchanan the author of Traffic Towns was doing the NZ lecture circuit explaining how cities needed to be re-designed to accommodate cars. In his Auckland talk he dismissed the hysteria surrounding the freeway revolt that had been sweeping across North America.
I think there is a lot of hysterical talk goes on about motorways nowadays. People seem to be getting into a state of panic about motorways and there is a certain movement in this direction in New Zealand I think. I do not think it is as true as has been alleged to me many times since I have been here that the rest of the world is turning its back on motorways. I do not think this is the case. [author’s italics] (Buchanan, 1966)
Several cities were able to stop freeway expansion through their urban cores. Uniquely, Vancouver was the only North American city that never had a freeway enter the city. Here is a delightful new podcast from our friends Chris and Melissa Bruntlettt –Straight and Narrows Podcast 3 From A to B where Melissa interviews Shirley Chan, a community leader who lead the revolt against the freeway proposal that would rip through her neighbourhood. It wrapped up with this question:
MB: [is your] story and the story of the protection of Chinatown and Strathcona one that today’s generation recognises?
SC: They may have lost the memory, but they enjoy legacy.
Office space occupation and configuration has significantly changed over the last few years. Companies now seek to consolidate teams across one floor and maximise utilisation through smaller space allocations and sharing space by hot desking. This might be something that explains how many employees are now jammed in the Auckland city centre. Joe Cortright, “The implications of shrinking offices“, City Observatory.
What does this mean for city economies? While it may mean that fewer office buildings get built than would have been the case if the old space-per-worker ratios had held, it also suggests that the current building stock has more capacity to accommodate additional jobs than it did in the past. Even without building new offices, cities can expand employment. Greater space efficiency also means that companies will have to pay to rent fewer square feet per employee, meaning that the cost of office space is a relatively less important factor in driving business costs. Commercial real estate brokerage CBRE estimates that for a typical 500-employee software firm, office expenses represent just 6 percent of costs, compared to 94 percent for employee labor.
That’s all for this week. Please leave your link in the comments section below.