Welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here are a few of the interesting things that came across my desk this week.

The San Francisco Bay Area housing market is now so munted that it may be contributing to an exodus – “Job losses jolt Bay Area, South Bay, San Francisco“. The State is finally stepping in to wrest some control away from local governments that are limiting and delaying the much needed supply of new housing. Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti have been studying the enormous impacts that restrictive zoning has on economic growth. “How Local Housing Regulations Smother the U.S. Economy“, The New York Times.

Land use restrictions are a significant drag on economic growth in the United States.

The creeping web of these regulations has smothered wage and gross domestic product growth in American cities by a stunning 50 percent over the past 50 years. Without these regulations, our research shows, the United States economy would be 9 percent bigger – which would mean, for the average American worker, an additional $6,775 in annual income.

Because of the prohibitive cost of housing caused by these regulations, innovative companies in Silicon Valley and Boston do not grow as much as they could, and new businesses do not get created. This means slower economic growth, fewer jobs, and lower wags across the nation.

Housing constraints also highlight the critical importance of investing in regional networks of public transportation that link-paying job markets to areas with lower-cost housing.

The benefits of these investments are apparent in other countries, The metropolitan areas of London and Tokyo are illustrative: The cities’ housing costs are significantly above the British and Japanese averages, but thanks to public transportation networks, workers have access to their remarkable economic dynamism. In fact, the economies of Britain and Japan are significantly larger because of the transportation network.

Utrecht (featured image) was the highlight of my recent overseas study tour. Here’s a good description of the benefits from mass cycling and great public transportation focusing on Utrecht. Christopher F. Schuetze, “If You Build It, the Dutch Will Pedal“, The New York Times.

In a country where there are more bikes than people – 22.5 million vs 18 million – daily usage has grown 11 percent in the last decade, mostly because of the introduction of electric bikes which lengthens the time many older people can use two-wheeled transportation.

Deadly bike accidents have decreased 21 percent over the last two decades, according to state figures. Much of that can be attributed to less competition with motor vehicles – the more people ride, the safer it gets.

More important for the nations’s bottom line, the country’s preference for the bicycle could save it’s economy $23 billion each year, according to a recent study done at Utrecht University and published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study suggested that the Netherlands’ vigorous cycling habits prevented 6,500 premature deaths each year.

Frans Jans van Rossem, Utrecht’s head of bicycle programming, put it another way. “Our revenue is healthy people, less traffic, and healthy living,” he said.

By 2020, 85% of Paris will be a 30 km/h: “Tout Paris à 30 km/h, c’est pour demain!

Here’s Wallace Chapman interviewing Marion Leighton the representative of a walking and cycling advocacy group of doctors in Wellington who have first hand experience of what the lack of safe cycling facilities means for population health and individual safety. “Marion Leighton: Putting bicycles at the top of the cliff“, Radio New Zealand.

Marion Leighton says for too long we’ve been putting the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and the time has come to put cycling and walking at the top of our transport agenda. Dr Leighton is the spokesperson for a newly formed Doctors for Active and Safe Transport an advocacy group made up of Wellington hospital doctors. The group wants to see an increase in the number of those commuting by foot and pedal and a decrease in cycling injuries.

Here are some useful links on road pricing studies/technology from the Northwest US. “The Vehicle Mileage Traveled (VMT) is in Beta“, Urbanism Next.

Washington State legislature has been looking at VMT since 2012. They “think it’s a viable approach, but now it’s time to test it.” “The one-year study, which will involve 2,000 volunteers, would figure out ways to charge car owners a tax based on how many miles they’ve driven within the state, rather than how much gas was pumped.” They are not only testing out the idea of VMT, but the ways in which people would report the mileage driven. The approaches include:

  • A mileage permit, where a driver chooses how many miles to purchase.
  • Odometer readings: A per-mile charge would be based on the vehicle odometer.
  • Automated mileage meter: A device installed in the car would report miles driven. Drivers would choose GPS or not.
  • Smart Phone: A downloadable app would use the driver’s phone to record and/or report miles driven.”

Driverless technology will ultimately arrive in the form of smaller public transport vehicles using modified and designated local streets to connect to rapid transit stations. Here is a description of why the mass use of autonomous vehicles wont be coming anytime soon. Jean-Louis Gassée, “Autonomous Cars: The Level 5 Fallacy“, Medium.

Now, imagine the 1 pm Sunday scene with crowded sidewalks and sticky car traffic. In today’s world, pedestrians and drivers manage a peaceful if hiccuping coexistence. Through eye contact, nods, hand signals, and, yes, courteous restraint, pedestrians decide to sometimes forfeit their right-of-way and let a few cars come through. On the whole, drivers are equally patient and polite (an unceasing subject of amazement for Parisians walking the streets of San Francisco).

Can we “algorithmicize” eye contact and stuttering restraint? Can an Self Driving car acknowledge a pedestrian’s nod, or negotiate “turning rights” with a conventional vehicle?

No, we can’t. And we don’t appear to have a path to overcome such “mundane” challenges.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

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11 comments

  1. Jam-packed full of useful research. Thanks, Kent. This point (from the Utrecht article) makes clear the difference in investing in cycleways or in roads:

    “The yearly investment of roughly 500 million euros, or about $600 million, pays for itself, proponents say, by reducing health, social and other costs.”

    The same thing cannot be said of money put into roads.

  2. I think a good chance has been missed to better inform the public about the various parties plans regarding transport in Auckland. A leaflet or advertisement listing the clear differences between them.
    Nationals list with $11.5 billion for 11 large road projects. Labours list with more light rail.
    At this time we could get a continuing struggle for PT and ongoing congestion or a city encouraging the things this GA blog support.
    Whether or not we introduce a water tax is important but the cost of congestion is very high and must be a top priority to reduce it. I think the benefits of light rail to the airport would be much, much more than just getting people to and from the airport

  3. Kent, I enjoyed the Cycling for All video, and also watched another one by Rachel Aldred, in which she demonstrated a GIS cycling tool. Can anyone tell me who is doing research using GIS like this in NZ?

  4. Personally, I can’t wait for autonomous vehicles, as I will quite enjoy standing in front of them and blocking them for as long as I wish to mess with their little binary brains!

      1. I think reasonably often there won’t be an occupant. But maybe the binary brains would evolve to record JDELH’s details, and have the whole fleet treat him ‘differently’ to other pedestrians. What would Dr Who do?

      2. What occupant? The whole point of fully autonomous vehicles is that they can transport themselves, without needing a human driver.

        Cameras are part of the package, though. When the vehicle owner starts wondering where her car has got to, she’ll be able to follow JDELH’s antics on video.

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