Welcome back to Sunday Reading.

Here’s a very tragic/funny story from Tampay Bay, Florida where public transport executives are asked if they use the buses they are charged with managing.  Caitlin Johnston and Taylor Telford, “Even transit leaders don’t rely on their own buses“, Tampa Bay Times. We call this “eating your own dogfood” a term borrowed from the tech industry as described here by David Levinson.

Here are some of the best answers:

“I am automobile person. I really have no apologies, for lack of a better term, that I haven’t ridden a HART bus. I don’t feel like I need to be on a HART bus on a regular basis to be an effective HART board member.”

“I know it’s a terrible system. Frankly, I don’t think (riding the bus) is a necessary component of understanding how inadequate it is.”

“I don’t think that there’s any harm in not using the bus. Most of us are very busy.”

“I would like to ride transit more if I wasn’t so busy working on the transit issue.”

Here’s a a great post from Jarrett Walker. He brings this up during his workshops, when he implores public transport planners to acknowledge their privilege and think about the people that aren’t like them, and don’t have the time and influence to shape transport services. From decision makers that don’t drive like in Tampa Bay, to people who have narrow PT requirements like daily commutes, understanding and designing for a much broader audience is the only way to grow public transport into a successful mass transport system.

Jarrett Walker, “The Dangers of Elite Projection“, Human Transit.

Elite projection is the belief, among relatively fortunate and influential segments of society, that what they find personally convenient or attractive is good for the society as a whole. Once you learn to recognize this simple mistake, you see it everywhere. It is perhaps the single most comprehensive barrier to prosperous, just, and liberating cities.

Still, elite projection is perhaps the primary barrier to the efficient, just, and liberating city. The city has this special feature: It functions for anyone only if it functions for almost everyone. You can say this about society in general, but only in the city is this fact so brutally obvious as to be unavoidable.

Traffic congestion, to take the obvious example, is the result of everyone’s choices in response to everyone’s situation. Even the elites are mostly stuck in it. No satisfying solution has been found to protect elites from this problem, and it’s not for want of trying. The only real solution to congestion is to solve it for everyone, and to do that you have to look at it from everyone’s perspective, not just from the fortunate perspective.

The transport planning/engineering industry is male dominated. This has implications for the built environment and transportation services we end up with. Josephine Hazelton, “The Shocking Connection Between Street Harassment And Street Lighting“, The Establishment.

2/ Different genders look at infrastructure differently, which isn’t accounted for in a gender-neutral approach to street lighting decisions.
For example, when a bicycle path or sidewalk goes through a tunnel or passes between two fences, men and women view these in drastically different ways. A city engineer or policymaker may authorize the construction of a fence along an off-road bicycle path in an attempt to “keep people out” or from trespassing on private property; however, women oftentimes view this as a way of “keeping them in” where they have no “out” in the event that their personal safety is at risk.

Keeping these paths well lit at night is one way to provide a safer environment for women where they feel comfortable and willing to use them.

Here is a super sweet story about Chinese grandparents in Pakuranga whose social networks are supported by bus services and the local Asian supermarkets. India Hendrikse, “The Chinese grandparents who bond over bus rides and bargains“, Noted.

It may not seem like an exciting outing, but to hop between bus stops in east Auckland, visiting their favourite Asian supermarkets, is a leisurely regular activity for these elderly Chinese grandparents, a way to feel connected to a home country they left long ago. Home is now New Zealand, and life is often spent looking after their children’s children. It’s a deeply entrenched Chinese custom: to be financially supported by your children and in turn, help raise your grandchildren.

As we begin the next era of sprawl building it would be good to figure out how walking, cycling and public transport networks can be baked into the urban fabric. Ottawa is exploring ways to develop suburban sprawl more effectively, including building in cycle paths. It turns out that building protected cycle paths is less expensive than painting lanes on an expansive carriageway. David Reeveley, “Ottawa looks to save builders (and buyers) millions on new subdivisions“, Ottawa Citizen.

Roads for cars and trucks are paved atop layer after layer of stabilizing foundation; they have to withstand years of pressure from thousands of pounds of rubber and glass and metal. A cyclist weighs a couple of hundred pounds at most, and there’s no point, the city has realized, in building a road extra wide only to reserve a metre on either side of it for bikes. Cycle tracks next to sidewalks, on beds built to the lighter sidewalk standards, are good enough.

Better, in fact, because most cyclists prefer to be up and away from car traffic, protected from motor vehicles by more than a line of paint. So the city can save $41 for every metre of road we build by doing what cyclists want anyway.

It “simultaneously improves safety, reduces construction and lifecycle costs, and improves yield,” a progress report from the city’s Building Better and Smart Suburbs idea factory says. “Improves yield” means it takes up less space, leaving more room for houses. Getting higher yield from the same land means more people can share what does get built, spreading the costs out further.

94 bikes (blue) vs 94 cars (red). You do the maths. (Via Bike Auckland)

Speaking of cycling, and following up on the big news this week, here is Bike Auckland’s take on the role of cycling in Auckland’s transport system.  “Great expectations: bikes and transport policy“, Bike Auckland.

In the meantime, here are five reasons any credible 21st century transport plan for Auckland needs to take cycling into account. Like, apart from the obvious one, that bikes are fun and versatile and a city just looks prettier with bikes in it… eh, London, NYC, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Vancouver, Melbourne, and increasingly pretty much everywhere?

3. Bikes catalyse great public transport

One of the most striking images to come out of the new 10-year Cycling Programme Investment Case for Auckland was this map, showing that half of Auckland’s population lives within a 15 minute bike ride of train stations, rapid bus stations, and ferry terminals.

Here is an epic rant from George Monbiot. “The car has a chokehold on Britain. It’s time to free ourselves“, The Guardian.

New roads do not solve traffic congestion. They exacerbate it. By increasing flow in some parts of the network, they generate bottlenecks in others. Governments then seek to bypass the bottleneck, creating a worse one further along the system. It doesn’t matter how often and how powerfully the induction of traffic by roads is demonstrated (the first findings were published in 1937); the programme persists.

No holistic solution to the multiple problems caused by this planned chaos can be contemplated, as efficiency would be injurious to special interests. Success is measured by miles travelled, rather than needs met. It’s like measuring the health of the population by the weight of medicines it consumes.

In other sectors, progress is marked by reducing the volume of a system while enhancing its utility. Why does the same principle not apply to transport?

And on housing. Surprisingly, people aren’t paid all that well in the ridiculously overpriced City of Vancouver. Even for higher paid tech workers, housing gobbles up too much income, and home ownership for most people is way beyond reach. “Vancouver’s Tech Scene Shows Just How F**Ked Up The City’s Real Estate Is“, Better Dwelling

Condo Prices Are Over 13x Income
The typical condo is pretty far out of reach for these workers. The benchmark price is now $600,700 according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV). Experts say you should be looking for a home about 2-3x your net income. This makes the benchmark price 13.86 times the net income, which isn’t even funny it’s so far away.

In terms of a normal down payment, you’re in for a rough ride. Super savers that managed to save 10% of their down payment will have saved their downpayment in 325 months, which is just over 27 years. F that, you’re going with a dangerous high-ratio mortgage and only putting 5% down? You’re looking at 6.7 years of savings.

Typical Detached Is 35x Average Tech Employee’s Income
Ha, we all know you’re not buying a detached home in Vancouver at these prices. Those are for Beijing’s finest and people born 30 years before you, but let’s crunch the numbers anyway. The typical detached is now $1,587,900 according to REBGV. The downpayment on this puppy is going to take 860 months, more commonly known as 71 years. There’s no option for a high-ratio mortgage to make that one work sooner, sorry pal. I joked on the Toronto version of this article that workers better hope that google solves death quickly, but this is pretty much the only option for a detached in Vancouver to be a reality at this point.

Thanks to reader Bob Atkinson for sending this through this article. As urban economies are radically reshaped and concentrated in downtown locations again, there is a growing problem with unequal access to this economic opportunity  “Future of Work : Why Geographic Inequalities Are Not About to Disappear“, Medium.

There’s an obvious paradox when it comes to the geographic distribution of work in the digital age: although distance is dead (think Slack, Skype, GitHub and Google Doc), location has never mattered so much and the concentration of work has never been so extreme. Some cities become digital winners while others have lost the battle and are losing ever more population and wealth.

Consequently more and more economic opportunities will converge in a few top cities in a kind of snowball effect, while jobs will be increasingly hard to find in some suburbs and smaller cities. More service jobs will multiply where the better paid workers flock, as new restaurants, shops, barbershops, medical centres will be created to cater to the newly arrived. The challenge for these top cities will be to continue to welcome more people and make it possible for less paid workers to contribute too. (A simple solution is often to just pay them more.)

Providing improved rapid transport access to the dense job centres where the economy is increasingly focused is one solution to inequality. The other solution is to allow more housing to be built close to the centre. Unfortunately, legacy planning rules focused on exclusion and capital preservation limits the amount of building that occurs. Like parking reform, restrictive residential zoning will largely be a thing of the past within 10 years.

The Walls We Won’t Tear Down, Richard Kahlenberg” New York Times

But in recent decades, as Robert D. Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard, notes in his book “Our Kids.” “while race-based segregation has been slowly declining, class-based segregation has been increasing.” In fact Professor Putnam says, “a kind of incipient class apartheid” has been sweeping across the country. In 2015, a panel discussion with Mr. Putnam, President Obama observed that “what used to be racial segregation now mirrors itself in class segregation.”
Rising class segregation by residence is partly related to rising income inequality, but it is also the result of the expansion of exclusionary zoning.

Research by Jonathan Rothwell, now at Gallup, and Douglas Massey, a sociologist at Princeton, has found that “a change in permitted zoning from the most restrictive zoning to the least would close 50 percent of the observed gap between the most unequal metropolitan area and the least, in terms of neighborhood inequality.”
Economic segregation matters because where you live affects so much in life – your access to transportation, employment opportunities, decent health care, and, most important good schools…

Here’s sex columnist Dan Savage an unlikely hero of the YIMBY movement on housing in Seattle. Ben Crowther, “Interview with Dan Savage, Part 2: Seattle’s Future“, The Urbanist.

I want to talk about Seattle. What does Seattle have to learn from other cities?

Not to fear apartment blocks. When I lived in Berlin for a few years, I spent a lot of time in Vienna. Those cities are — If you said to people here in Seattle, “we’re going to rezone all of this, all of Capitol Hill, all of the CD, we’re going to let people build six-, seven-, eight-story apartment buildings that go on for miles. Not an individual building, but there will be miles of these buildings in every direction. Maybe there will be some interior courtyards and every once in awhile there will be a park. People would riot. Like “oh my god, the canyons blocking out the sun, blah blah blah.” This is what Berlin looks like. This is what Vienna looks like. It’s what a lot of Munich looks like. Paris. Some of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Capitol Hill needs to go. My neighborhood is completely ridiculous. That you can walk from my house on Capitol Hill in this leafy, bucolic, suburban neighborhood to Downtown Seattle in 15 minutes is fucking ridiculous. It should be zoned out of existing. We should save a little chunk of the top of Queen Anne to show what houses were like when they were built here in the 19th century or the 20th century — which are not that remarkable and not historic in any other city. Save a little eight-square-block patch of the back side of Queen Anne and rezone the rest of it. There’s nothing remarkable about the architecture on Capitol Hill. These single-family homes and neighborhoods are a luxury that we can no longer afford environmentally and they’re a luxury we can no longer afford if we want this city is to be a place where people of all classes and races can live.

That’s it for this week. Please add your links in the comments below.

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  1. The Tampa article is interesting, I wonder what the results would be of asking these eight people how they engaged in public transport:

    Dr Lester Levy, Chair
    Wayne Donnelly, Deputy Chair
    Kylie Clegg
    Sir Michael Cullen
    Mary-Jane Daly
    Mark Gilbert
    Rabin Rabindran
    Dame Paula Rebstock

    (the board members of AT)

    1. This is an interesting article, enjoyed reading it. I have the same questions of the AT board members. Didn’t I read that the AT HQ was in the Henderson ex-council building that shares the Henderson rail station concourse?
      Does the AT board meet there or is it too inconveniently distant from the CBD? If they do meet there then do any travel there by train? Have any of these peopl used a bus or train? Do they get complimentary HOP cards?

      1. HQ isnt at Henderson, they have a number of expensive offices in the CBD and I think Henderson location isnt one they arent keeping, maybe just as a contact centre ?

      2. David Wharburton, current chief exec of AT, has consistently reiterated that AT staff don’t (and shouldn’t) get free travel on the basis that it is public money and there would be others that should benefit before paid employees.

        1. That makes sense as long as they aren’t getting free car parks instead!
          Free public transport does seem like a sensible benefit to give council staff, and would reduce the excuses for not catching it.

    2. Just after the unified council was formed I had some reason for sending an email to the two North Shore councilors and in an aside mentioned that I doubted they ever used buses. George Wood replied saying he usually used the bus to travel to council meetings and Chris Darby replied saying he was writing his reply while actually traveling on the bus from Devonport to his home. I was impressed and voting for both of them ever since.

      1. Yeah some of the council use PT ones I know for sure are

        Casey: Catches bus and cycles.
        Darby: Ferry and Cycle usually.
        Hills: Bus
        Collins: Mix of Bus and Train

  2. The Tampa Bay story is tragic. But we see these sort of contradictions all the time. For instance world climate change ambassador Jane Goodall says she flies 300 days a year to get out her message. I would take her message more seriously if she used low carbon ways of getting out her views. I once looked up the addresses of the main NZ social scientists promoting biculturalism and most lived in suburbs with low numbers of Maori. And many years ago I attended a meeting with consultants in Wellington hired to do a report on public transport and none of the had ever caught a bus. I do suspect if all the planners/consultants involved in transport planning had to arrive at their meetings by PT then we would get improvements much quicker.

  3. So its light rail from the city to the airport, followed by light rail from city to the west and north shore, bus rapid transit system from the airport to the east, 3rd rail for freight and regional fuel tax to help to pay for some of this. Good move.

    I seems the troops at Greater Auckland and Gen Zero have got some of their wishes.Congratulations

    Now the doubling tracking and electrification from Pukekohe to Hamilton. How about Greater Auckland.

    1. How much of Pukekoe – Hamilton is not double tracked? Is there an estimated cost (and how much for traction?)

  4. “”class-based segregation has been increasing””. True in the USA and is it true in Auckland? Also exacerbated by house prices linked to school zones and transport times?

    It hasn’t changed in London. Charles Booth’s Maps of London poverty in 1889 https://booth.lse.ac.uk/learn-more/what-were-the-poverty-maps
    25 years ago living in London’s East End you could have mapped poverty street by street with poverty in the 1990’s. The maps colour code poverty in the following Classifications :
    1. Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.
    2. Very poor, casual. Chronic want.
    3. Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family.
    4. Mixed. Some comfortable others poor.
    5. Fairly comfortable. Good ordinary earnings.
    6. Middle class. Well-to-do.
    7. Upper-middle and upper classes. Wealthy.

  5. That story about the 15,000 capacity bike-park at the Delft railway station is fascinating. The context is of course that Delft is a part of the Dutch Conurbation know as Randstadt comprising the ‘ring’ including major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The hague and Utrecht. It has over 7 million people in many separate cities whose urban area much the same area as The Auckland Council. The non urban area is as much again which seems to be the secret.
    Delft in the distance to Amsterdam is more like a Henderson is to Auckland. getting the locals who can ride a bike to use it for the main station must make a huge difference

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