Welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here are articles and media we’ve collected over the last week. Please add your links in the comments below.

Here’s a great interview with author Peter Walker on the unintended consequences of the cycle helmet law. It’s time to change the law. Wallace Chapman, “Cycling helmets: do we actually need them?” Radio NZ.

For a couple of years, we’ve been reporting on European city centres that are going car-free. Now there is a growing conversation about it coming from Australia. Timna Jacks, “Rip up CBD roads for parks: Councillor reveals vision for Melbourne“, The Age.

As the council prepares to update its transport strategy next year, Cr Frances Gilley has outlined his personal view of where the city should head.

By 2036, the Melbourne council area is tipped to host 1.4 million residents, workers and visitors each day – up from 922,000 now.

In his Transport Vision for Melbourne, the councillor argues that more space is needed for people and “less for cars”, if Melbourne is to keep its most-liveable-city title.

This means more roads dedicated to trams, separated bike lanes and space for walking, Cr Frances Gilley said.

Sebastian Tong, “Singapore Will Stop Increasing Car Numbers From February 2018“, Bloomberg.

Singapore, among the world’s most expensive places to own a vehicle, will stop increasing the total number of cars on its roads next year.

The government will cut the annual growth rate for cars and motorcycles to zero from 0.25 percent starting in February, the transport regulator said on Monday.

“In view of land constraints and competing needs, there is limited scope for further expansion of the road network,” the Land Transport Authority said in a statement on its website. Roads already account for 12 percent of the city-state’s total land area, it said.

Singapore requires car owners to buy permits — called Certificates of Entitlement — that allow holders to own their vehicles for 10 years. These permits are limited in supply and auctioned monthly by the government. At the most recent offering last week, the permit cost S$41,617 for the smallest vehicles.

Here are a couple of interesting articles on autonomous vehicles.

Todd Litman, “The Many Problems With Autonomous Vehicles“, Planetizen.

If my analysis is correct, autonomous vehicles may become commercially available in the 2020s, but will initially be costly and constrained, adding a few thousand dollars in annualized costs, and able to self-drive only on designated highways in good weather, and so will mainly be purchased by affluent, longer-distance motorists. Like most automated systems, autonomous vehicles will often be frustrating. Like automated vehicle navigation systems, they will sometimes choose sub-optimal routes. Like computers, they will sometimes stop unexpectedly, requiring a reboot or expert intervention. Like automated telephone systems and bank machines, they will often be confusing and require extra time and effort to use.

Jeff Speck, “Ten rules for cities about automated vehicles“, CNU Public Square.

1) Be afraid

One of my favorite books of all time is Technopoly, The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by Neil Postman. In it Postman describes what he calls the technological imperative. What it means to me is this: New technologies that increase convenience are unstoppable, whatever their impact on our long-term quality of life.

It happened with cars. Enthusiastic adoption followed by some dubious outcomes. This includes: The doubling of the percentage of incomes spent on transportation; We travel no faster in cities than we used to with the horse and buggy; The impending drowning of our coastal cities, now occasional and eventually permanent; The transformation of so much of the American public realm into an unmitigated soul-sucking eyesore; The mortification of our bodies through inactivity brought on by the elimination of the useful walk; The loss at last count of 40,000 American lives each year. None of this was planned, the technology won, and it will win again.

And now on to housing. Here is an article describing how housing policy has shifted from providing supply i.e., building housing, to stoking demand through subsidising ownership. Almost universally, this turns out to be bad policy. Jonathan Manns, “The housing crisis will only get worse until England scraps right to buy“, The Guardian.

We’ve inverted an economic rationale that saw local authorities providing almost 30% of the total housing stock as affordable homes in 1980 to only 8% today. In doing so, we’ve gone from more than 80% of housing subsidies being supply-side in 1975 to support the construction of social homes, to more than 85% of subsidies being on the demand-side by 2000, helping people to purchase – including the help-to-buy scheme introduced in 2014.

The result has been less building and inflated demand, reflecting an expectation that the state should largely withdraw from an active role in housing provision. Though it is delayed until April 2018, the government still remains committed to extending the right to buy to housing associations. Accounting for 9% of total stock, this could double the future impact of the policy. The could also cost the Treasury £5.8bn a year, money that could be better spent facilitating construction.

And here’s the brilliant Benjamin Ross highlighting the old school left’s uncomfortable and outdated position of restricting housing development as some sort of battle against capitalism, or something…. Thankfully, this position is not so common in Auckland anymore. “The Clintonism of the Left“, The Bay City Beacon.

The far left rails against the opportunism of mainstream politicians, but its own practices can be similarly unprincipled. On housing, a central organizing focus, it builds support outside the left-wing base by opposing new building projects in city neighborhoods. Although the issue is framed as a battle against capitalist developers, its main appeal is to adherents of a system of class segregation – the zoning that keeps renters away from single-family residences.

Zoning is popular, and as recent electoral successes show, this strategy can succeed. But it does so by allying young urban progressives and minorities with affluent homeowners – not a united working class, but a “woke” version of the Hillary coalition. As much as the far left claims to go beyond Bernie, the trajectory of its politics points toward Clintonism.

The doctrinal contradictions built into this strategy could be swept under the rug when its practitioners were out of the public eye. But in the wake of Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders campaign, the far left has gained enough strength in some cities to contend seriously for elected office. Maintaining the illusion of leftist purity now requires fancy rhetorical footwork.

An open appeal to homeowner disdain for apartments and their residents is out of the question; dog-whistles must be hidden in ostensibly progressive platforms. One common trick is to pin the blame for tenants’ travails on developers – creators of new homes – rather than the landlords who actually raise the rent.

The American NIMBY movement spans the political spectrum, but seems to take special pleasure in trolling the old liberal alliances (Sierra Club, etc).  Atlantic Erin McCormick, “Rise of the yimbys: the angry millennials with a radical housing solution“, The Guardian.

The movement is fuelled by the anger of young adults from the millennial generation, many of whom are now in their late 20s and early 30s. Rather than suffer in silence as they struggle to find affordable places to live, they are heading to planning meetings en masse to argue for more housing – preferably the very kind of dense, urban infill projects that have often generated neighbourhood opposition from nimbys (“not in my back yard”).

Clark and other members of yimby groups consider themselves progressives and environmentalists, but they’re not afraid to throw the occasional firebomb into the usual liberal alliances. They frequently take aim at space-hogging, single-family homeowners and confound anti-capitalist groups by daring to take the side of developers, even luxury condo developers. They have started a “sue the suburbs” campaign that targets cities that don’t approve big housing projects and have even attempted to take over the board of the local Sierra Club.

Featured image is the Dominion Road flyover, 1968. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A13540)

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11 comments

    1. I think the question of whether cities have reached ‘peak space’ is a critical factor in whether cities are a force for good in the world. I cautiously advocate that they are for NZ in the following article titled -“What is the true nature of cities?”. The article discusses the worldwide housing and congestion movements -Generation Rent and the various YIMBY movements etc -and discusses this with NZ political economic examples.
      https://medium.com/land-buildings-identity-and-values/what-is-the-true-nature-of-cities-8d01eba2583b

    2. Alternative title:
      ‘Have We Reached The Point Where Planners Remove Straightaways On Shared Space So Vehicles Can’t Keep Driving On Them At High Speeds?’

      1. Agreed. I’ve seen many “shared spaces” that are actually just traffic calmed spaces, because there is still an obvious straight route through for driving. A true shared space has an uncertainty in the alignment that would make it near impossible for a motorist to plough into some pedestrians at speed.

        1. Yes! I visited NorthWest shopping centre in Westgate for the first time yesterday. There is zero good reason for a T junction and through road in the otherwise nice public space on Maki street! It’s ridiculous. Pedestrian only spaces work great IN the mall, why not right outside it?!

    3. Absolutely. I see shared spaces as a kind of awkward compromise that reflected the political realities of the time, and the enshrined resistance to full pedestrianisation. Relatively soon I’d expect cars to be removed entirely from these streets, and eventually from the entire CBD.

  1. I am very hopeful that, during the upcoming law changes for various transport related policies the new government is going to no doubt have to introduce in order to “move the needle” on transport.

    That a “get rid of compulsory cycle helmets for adults” law change is included in one of the omnibus bills.

    I think both Minister and Associate Ministers of Transport (well at least one associate anyway – JAG, not sure of Shane Jones position), would readily agree to that change without needing years of Select Committees and enquiries first [exactly like how the original law had none of those “evidence based” decision before it became law either literally overnight.]

    I am sure that regardless of what the “expert advisors” would say to the Minister and Ministry, yes you can make helmets optional for adults and the world will not end any quicker as a result.

    If the ministers are still squeamish about the bad press resulting from too many adults getting killed as a result, then put in a requirement to review the law after 5 and 10 years if per-capita adult cyclist death rates have gone up significantly in the previous 5 year period.

    That should put this issue to bed for good.

    1. It wouldn’t happen under an Omnibus Rule change; that tends to be for relatively minor changes in traffic law. I think the bike helmet rule would be above the threshold for significance (at least in the eyes of the general public and media).

  2. Unless the speed limit is low or there is a cycle-way parking should be restricted to delivery vehicles and public transport, it’s time we got cars of the side of the roads where it forces cyclist to pass alongside high speed cars and trucks. As it is now cars park on verges, roads and any were they feel like it even when there is parking near by, people are to lazy to walk. a law change would give every one the incentive to put in safe cycle/walk ways. even the car drivers would welcome them if it got them their parking back.

  3. The housing issue comes down to economics.

    1) A growing population in most cities leading to increased demand. With a sticky supply curve the prices get bid up (along with ultra low interest rates worldwide at the moment)

    2) Sticky supply curve – The many building and zoning restrictions mean that developers cant build fast enough in many cities to keep up with demand. The price of land gets bid up.

    3) Also due to many building and zoning restrictions, developers cannot make money on affordable housing and focus on the middle and upper end of the market.

    4) Governments have also pulled out of providing new affordable housing pushing up demand further for the housing that is available and shutting the poor and young out of the market.

    5) Its debatable, given the building standards we require and the zoning restrictions, whether it will be profitable for developers to build affordable housing or whether the can build enough market priced housing fast enough that the bottom end of the market becomes available to the young and poor.

    6) Given market failure due to the distortions above (zoning, land use restrictions, tax treatment) in the market Its pretty clear that government need to step in and provide affordable housing.

  4. LOL, yeah, somehow I think it was a good thing for long-term quality of life that we no longer have city streets piled high with horse crap. That ten rules article actually has the gall to suggest that fewer people dying in crashes is a bad thing.

    I don’t think AV’s will be that bad. Congestion costs a few billion a year, the road toll costs a few billion a year. If road toll goes down from fewer accidents and congestion goes up, that’s ok. As long as buses and trams have their own lanes and we don’t stop investing into PT we will be fine.

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