Hi and welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here’s a bunch of links I’ve compiled over the week. Please add your links in the comment section below.

The headline image is from the Medieval Fantasy City Generator, by watabou.

Here is an important discussion about how women experience and use the city differently than men. Ankita Rao, “Sexism and the City“, Motherboard. Co-workers also directed me to this series of videos of Eva Kail mentioned in the article. Vienna is Europe’s leader in fostering gender equality in public spaces.

We can’t design away sexism or the creepy dude waiting at the train platform. These are some of our culture’s oldest, most insidious problems and urban planners alone can’t solve them. But urban planners are now looking to new designs and technology that, for the first time, should include the other half of the population.

There are several reasons women might access transportation differently than men. For example, women have different transportation habits since many of them multitask between home and work, taking more short trips per day than men. Women are more likely to run errands than their husbands, and more women freelance than men—a lifestyle that can require erratic trips and workdays. And as long as women are paid less (80 cents to the dollar in the US, on average) they will need a system that fits a different budget.

As transportation inches toward equity, that leaves the actual places we live, work, and hang out. It’s in these spaces that we’re fighting literally centuries of patriarchal urban planning.

Central Area Proposals, A series of planning proposals for the central area of Auckland (1971).

Bianca, Zander, “How Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei is tackling the Auckland housing crisis“, Noted.

“We were focussed on home ownership for hapū members and so we could afford to take a different approach to it.” By different, Healy means that unlike the majority of property developers, they were not trying to make a profit. Nor did they have to make a return on the land, which wasn’t up for sale. Money could be spent on high quality building materials, and sustainable design. Finished homes ended up going for between $418,000 for a two-bedroom townhouse, to $680,000 for a four-bedroom terraced home – roughly half what you’d pay for a shoebox in the same area on the open market.

Residents are getting a bargain but there is a catch, and this will be hard for mortgage brokers and Pākehā to get their heads around. The properties are leasehold, a term that has never appealed to New Zealanders, despite its acceptance in other parts of the world. For 150 years, the house is yours, and then it goes back to the tribe. That lease can be sold to another hapū member at any time, but it can’t be sold on the open market. All well and good for the first 100 years, but once the lease gets down to 50, 20, 10 years… a whole new set of problems arise.

Here is a hilarious rant from sex columnist Dan Savage laying blame to Seattle’s housing crisis on zoning, suburban drivers, and politicians that pretend they can fix traffic congestion: “Doing Something Real About Gentrification and Displacement“, The Strangler.

Way, way back in the ’50s and ’60s, people got it into their heads that they had a constitutional right to live in the suburbs and drive in or through the center of a city—to jobs, to stores, to stadiums, to hookers, to suburbs on the other side of the city—going seventy miles an hour. Our local politicians can’t bring themselves to tell these entitled shits the truth: It’s never going to be the 1960s around here again, when expressways were expressways, not parking lots. We can’t build our way out of this. We can only build alternatives to cars, aka mass transit.

Many of the urban transport technology solutions over the last few years have ended up as embarrassing failures including bespoke public transport services in San Francisco and ride share services that torment users by going out of their way to drop everyone off. In order to be useful and profitable, ‘high tech’ transport services will eventually end up taking the familiar form of successful PT. “Technology never changes geometry” as Jarrett says here-> Jarrett Walker, “The Receding Fantasy of Affordable Urban Transit ‘To Your Door’“, Human Transit.

UberPool would be less absurd if we were talking about somewhere other than Manhattan, or any other big city that’s rich in frequent transit. In places with less transit, this concept could have some use. But in big cities it’s clearly converging on something for which fixed route transit is already the ideal tool.

All the new apps have helped smooth out inefficiencies of communication, but they will never change the math. Technology never changes geometry.

Here is a great take down of Elon Musk’s attempt to remove geometry from the urban transport equation with his ridiculous tunnel boring proposal. Jacob Silverman, “The Musk of Success, Choking Our Cities“, The Baffler.

Musk’s boring project also stems from a particular vision of how cities should work and who they should serve. Nowhere in his excited homilies to ultrafast underground travel do we hear anything about the role of mass transit in city life or the need to serve a public that includes poor people. Who decides where the tunnels go? Who pays to integrate the car elevators with existing road systems? Is building out a vast new infrastructure really the answer to traffic, especially when experience shows that adding more roads and highways tends to lead to more driving, exacerbating traffic?

Here is a recently published paper that describes the almost unbelievable impacts of restrictive housing policy on economic growth. The research duo have been publicising their findings over the last several years including “The Urban Housing Crunch Costs the U.S. Economy About $1.6 Trillion a Year” -> Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti, “Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation (PDF)”, University of Chicago and NBER

We quantify the amount of spatial misallocation of labor across US cities and its aggregate costs. Misallocation arises because high productivity cities like New York and the San Francisco Bay Area have adopted stringent restrictions to new housing supply, effectively limiting the number of workers who have access to such high productivity. Using a spatial equilibrium model and data from 220 metropolitan areas we find that these constraints lowered aggregate US growth by more than 50% from 1964 to 2009

If you think cheap electric vehicles or shared autonomous vehicles are around the corner, you might hesitate to buy a new car. At some point this will lead to a ‘mass stranding’ of existing vehicles and a collapse of the auto and petroleum industries: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, , “All fossil-fuel vehicles will vanish in 8 years in twin ‘death spiral’ for big oil and big autos, says study that’s shocking the industries“, The Telegraph.

No more petrol or diesel cars, buses, or trucks will be sold anywhere in the world within eight years. The entire market for land transport will switch to electrification, leading to a collapse of oil prices and the demise of the petroleum industry as we have known it for a century.

The premise is that people will stop driving altogether. They will switch en masse to self-drive electric vehicles (EVs) that are ten times cheaper to run than fossil-based cars, with a near-zero marginal cost of fuel and an expected lifespan of 1 million miles.

Cities will ban human drivers once the data confirms how dangerous they can be behind a wheel. This will spread to suburbs, and then beyond. There will be a “mass stranding of existing vehicles”. The value of second-hard cars will plunge. You will have to pay to dispose of your old vehicle.

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34 comments

    1. But wouldn’t it be much better if we could control the city build, and not just get presented with a fait accompli ? Guess i’ll just have to go back to Sim City (if it still exists outside my memory…)

  1. Two articles I disagreed.

    Demand Responsive transit on mattahan use case is not representative. There are other possible use cases – the home to train station (last leg). That is especially useful in suburban side street, where density is low. Running regular local fixed route bus would have to be low frequency and low efficiency, which is unattractive to use. Also in the future shuttle can be self driven, that will remove the driver cost making the economics work.

    Boring machine is workable because underground is 3D. It removes geometry constraints. Also unlike flying, they require no energy to lift so it tend to use less energy.

    The article argue tunnels is only suitable for wealthy so it is useless – doesn’t make sense

    Tunnels can be expensive to build and their use may initially suitable for wealthy people. However if they proves to be good, other companies will start to follow and build other competitng tunnels.

    Also when a high demand is created, the machine that builds the tunnel can be mass produced and become highly automated to further cuts construction cost down.

    So in long term, like air travel, cost will goes down and capacity will increase and eventually that will be cheap enough for mass public use.

    1. Tunnel boring is already highly mechanised but it is still not cheap. On current Australian prices tunnel boring costs around $100 million per lane km. So that is $600 million per km for a six lane freeway tunnel. Why? The French build their TGV lines for a tenth of that cost. You could build 5 km of a good quality Metro for the same price. Elon should stick to IT, where he has some expertise.

      1. Except that:
        a) He wasn’t an “IT Guy”, he was an ideas guy.
        b) SpaceX is amazing and definitely a success.
        c) The article appeared to refer to the tunnels as car-carriers – They’re not. They’re subways with more efficient design.

        I really do find it hard to imaging that $100M per lane km is an accurate figure the world over. I know that Sai Ying Pun Station in HK cost $300M NZ (incl land purchases in a VERY expensive part of HK – Made for some interesting photos, btw), however surely the massive expansion in Shenzhen’s subway between 2014-2016 (the lovely GIF animation) wouldn’t have cost 10’s of billions NZ? Genuine question, not trying to be nasty…

        1. Comparing building costs in New Zealand to China or Hong Kong is irrelevant – the labour and material costs are completely different. Also they have lots of practice. I compared Australian costs because they are the closest comparators. USA and Europe are similar.

          If you find the $100 million per lane km for tunneling so hard to believe do the maths yourself. Check the Waterview project ($1.6 billion with only a short section of tunnel), CRL ($2.5+ billion) and the quoted cross harbour tunnel ($4+ billion). Anyone who says tunneling is cheap in a country with high labour costs, and high earthquake risk, is badly misinformed.

  2. “No more petrol or diesel cars, buses, or trucks will be sold anywhere in the world within eight years. The entire market for land transport will switch to electrification, leading to a collapse of oil prices and the demise of the petroleum industry as we have known it for a century.”

    Surely this is the pattern we’re already seeing as people shift from fossil carbon… but I believe the petroleum industry will continue to widen its base into renewables, use that as their PR, and continue to make money supplying the airlines with fuel. It is air travel that will stop the demise of the petroleum industry. The article quotes Prof Seba:

    “Nasa and Boeing are working on hybrid-electric aircraft for short-haul passenger flights.”

    Maybe, but even if they perfect that soon, which I doubt, given that oil prices are competitive, the long-haul flights will keep the petroleum industry alive. Lower oil prices will continue to boost air travel. More and more New Zealanders, for example, will consider it normal and some sort of a right to pop to Sydney for a weekend and regularly for work, to Canada for some skiing in summer, a bit of Asian or African exploring every couple of years, have an annual winter pilgrimage to Europe, with plenty of international school trips thrown in for the kids. Because climate change is something someone else has to fix.

    Electric vehicles aren’t a panacea any more than any technology is. It is mindset that has to change.

    1. I have finally figured out why the ubiquitous NZ tendency to refer to the Tasman Sea as “the ditch” irritates me so much. It seems to be used by those who wish to give the impression that they travel it so often that it is a mere bagatelle of a journey; something of no consequence for one of such financial means.

      Ditch-utterers will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

    2. “Electric vehicles aren’t a panacea any more than any technology is” – I’ve been a tech guy since the early 90’s (embedded system design, various IT roles, back to embedded system design for now). For pretty much that entire time, I’ve been frustrated by people suggesting a given technology will be a panacea. Instead, the key is as you said: It is mindset that has to change.

    1. Thanks for that, Emma. Eva Kail’s interviews and the Sexism in the City article were very good.

      “countries in Scandinavia—unsurprisingly, given their renowned gender equality—have also made their systems easier by connecting trains, cars and bikes in a more seamless and accessible way.”

      This is for everyone, not just women. Our outer link bus stop now attracts a lot of parked cars nearby – obviously people like to take the bus, but prefer to drive the 700 m to the bus stop. And, while that is sad for them, I can understand. Getting off the bus in the dark, onto a muddy verge, making the way home on a footpath that is pitch black, with overhanging branches and slippery leaves underneath, and some guy waiting for an uber maybe? hanging around on the corner… I’ve lived in dodgy places before and I don’t feel unsafe here, but I am aware that most people wouldn’t find it pleasant. As a rule – would a 12 year old girl feel happy walking there at 11 pm (and would her parents like her to do so?) – and I’m afraid, for most of Auckland, the answer would be no.

      Good lighting, bike racks right there at the bus stops, safe cycle ways, decent lighting, real pedestrian crossings, short bus connection times, short waits for pedestrian signals at traffic lights…

      Like cycling, where women’s participation is used as a good test of how safe the network is, good urban design for women means good design for all.

  3. > No more petrol or diesel cars, buses, or trucks will be sold anywhere in the world within eight years.

    I would bet all the money I have against this being the case.

    1. “Anywhere in the world” is a pretty big escape clause so you will probably win, but seeing as you are putting up “all the money” you have, then it would be silly not to take you up on that bet!

      OK – so we meet back here on Greater Auckland weblog (it’ll probably be the Great Auk v-log / leading NZ political party by then) on 28 May 2025 and you can give me all your money (as long as that doesn’t mean I just inherit your debt for your monstrous over-blown Auckland mortgage instead…).

      I’ll bet you a ham sandwich on my behalf. Assuming pigs aren’t illegal by then.

      But seriously – the end of petrol and diesel cars will be fought hard against by the evil corporations of Trumplestiltskin and Co, but once GM realises that Tesla is worth more than them, with only a zillionth of the output, they will have to sit up, take notice, and ditch their petrol gas-guzzlers.

      Ambrose Evans-Pritchard may yet be right.

  4. Sadly I think you will win. Electric cars are now getting more viable and gas hybrid and electric buses are already in widespread use. But for heavy trucks it is very difficult to replace diesel as a power source. It is a very efficient energy source for the weight. The battery you would need is colossally heavy.

    1. There have been arguments made that trucks are even more suited to being EV than cars actually.
      1) EV have higher torque than ICE which is what you need in a truck.
      2) Truck drivers have mandatory rest breaks which are the perfect opportunity to recharge especially as chargers are getting a lot faster.
      3) Removing the Engine, gear box, driveshaft etc cuts a lot of weight out since EV motors are lighter so there is room and weight for large capacity batteries.
      4) Besides the lower operating costs, there are a lot lower maintenance requirements.

      1. Energy storage is the problem. A large tank of diesel stores a huge amount of energy safely. A battery to store that level of energy is currently problematic. That might change, but it is not even close at the moment at a price anyone would pay.

        1. It doesn’t need to store the same amount of energy as the tank of diesel because of the much higher energy efficiency of electric motors cf heat engines. Carnot had a few words to say on the subject.

          1. Why are there no electric tanks? There’s no commercial reason they wouldn’t have been developed.

          1. Hybrid diesels are where its at. I live in Kunming, China currently (moving back to auckland in sept) and most of their buses are Hybrid diesels, Using electricity when needed eg. stuck in traffic jams, city areas. reliable too.

          2. Interesting Marko, thanks for that. Tell me – so: diesel electric hybrids – do they run off the electric motors much, or does the diesel engine kick in almost every time it moves, like the Prius taxis do? And: is there any sign of any all electric buses on the ground in Kunming yet? Our stupid regional council in Wellington is planning to get diesel buses to replace our electric trolley buses, while they wait for someone to invent a suitable electric bus, but I fear that they (and we) may be waiting a long time. But I think that China may be ahead of us in the takeup of new tech. Any views on that ?

    2. I feel it should be noted that most electric cars are ugly as sin at the moment, with the exception of the gorgeous Teslas and the barely-countable PHEV Mitsis. When I can buy a electric Mini that looks like a regular Mini or a Golf E in NZ with a 250km range and rapid recharge, then we will get somewhere. But the Leaf and i3 look like they’re from outer space and just don’t have the performance to back up the the design statement. The i8 has better pedigree in that regard but if these things are to become mainstream then they’ll need to look like cars people drive every day, not just people who feel like making a statement.

      1. Car design fixation = buying into the industry’s planned obsolescence game. Calling cars “ugly” or “gorgeous” is making yourself part of the problem

        1. Yes, we all should all be driving Trabants. In grey. Colour choice is so bourgeois. Secondly, I’m asking for electric cars to look more normal than they generally do now – kind of the complete opposite of what you’re implying.

    3. I’m curious about what happens to all the utes and off road vehicles? Do they get converted to electric too? What happens when you drive your electric Hilux into the river?

    1. Yeah but nah. Who is going to pay for the massive cost of installing induction loops in the ground, and who is going to pay for the massive ongoing cost of the lectrickery going into the passing cars? Just because they can currently recharge a cell phone inductively while sitting on a bed side lamp overnight does not necessarily extrapolate to recharging 10,000 rapidly moving cars per hour as they speed by for a few seconds.

      I’m more in the field of thinking that parking lots will have solar recharging stations, and homes will have recharging points as well, so that you can get recharged at home or at work, or while shopping at the mall (something we don’t do in Wellington but i understand that you lot do up in Auckland) – but not the roads in between.

  5. Meh. I lose interest in a conversation whenever someone talks about sexism as it is usually followed by perpetuation of myths created by misunderstanding of statistics. I don’t have time for that. Regardless, doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is probably ok. Designing PT to be easier/safer is good for everyone.

    We are still years away from fully autonomous vehicles, but when it does get here it will be a quick shift, just like horses disappeared from cities in the space of a decade or so.

    I doubt we will see electric trucks soon because of the distances they need to travel and the weight they move. Autonomous yes, electric no. Although, I’m betting on super-capacitors to replace lithium batteries in the long term.

    Induction-in-road is a bit far fetched. It’s fine for a private property, but there is no simple way to control who charges off it on a public road. Anyone could just drive along and pick up free power. It ends up costing more than its worth. I could do the same from powerlines, but you can get tracked fairly quickly and go to jail for it.

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