Welcome back to Sunday Reading.
Housing is on my Sunday Reading agenda for 2018. Here’s an epic article covering a new bill filed in California by State Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco. Wiener proposes a blanket upzoning of transit-adjacent properties across the state. The bill will amplify the conversation about how our dated zoning laws are stifling urban productivity and exacerbating inequality. I predict it will take 10 years to get rid of the anachronistic concept of single family/house zoning. In big, growing cities, it will happen much sooner. Dante Ramos, “Go on, California — blow up your lousy zoning laws“, Boston Globe.
A state senator from San Francisco recently filed legislation to sweep away minimum-parking requirements, limits on density, and certain other restrictions on residential housing construction within a half-mile of a train station and a quarter-mile of stops on high-frequency bus routes. Senator Scott Wiener’s bill would promote bigger, taller new buildings in transit-rich urban areas across California.
The bill may be the biggest environmental boon, the best job creator, and the greatest strike against inequality that anyone’s proposed in the United States in decades.
Here is Wiener’s response to the initial feedback received from the bill.
Scott Wiener, “My Transit Density Bill (SB 827): Answering Common Questions and Debunking Misinformation“, Medium.
To be clear, in terms of the big picture:
- The only way we will make housing more affordable and significantly reduce displacement is to build a lot more housing and to do so in urbanized areas accessible to public transportation (along with investments in affordable housing and strong anti-displacement protections).
- The only way we will meet our climate and air quality goals is to build a lot more housing and to do so in urbanized areas accessible to public transportation.
- The only way we will continue to grow California’s economy is to build a lot more housing and to do so in urbanized areas accessible to public transportation.
This is a fascinating article positing why a rural intersection has such a terrible safety record. Bez, “Why This Type Of Road Junction Will Keep Killing Cyclists“, Single Track World.
Hidden In Plain View
Far and away the most plausible answer is a phenomenon known as “constant bearing, decreasing range”, or CBDR. Originally noted by sailors, it is the phenomenon whereby two vessels, or vehicles, moving at steady speeds in straight lines towards a collision will maintain the same bearing.
If you’re a dab hand with basic trigonometry, you can probably figure the principles out for yourself, but if not then of course Wikipedia has an explanation.
CBDR is required knowledge in maritime and aviation, where ships and aircraft travel significant distances with constant speed and bearing, but it is rarely taught in the context of highways, where motion is generally less constant. But it is nonetheless important where two straight routes cross: not just two roads, but also where roads and railways cross at unsignalled level crossings (a design which is rarely if ever found in the UK but which is not uncommon in parts of the US).
Sailors and pilots are taught to detect ships and planes at a constant bearing and to take avoiding action. When it comes to drivers, however, things are very different, because almost all motor vehicles have a design flaw which means not only that a CBDR condition precedes a collision, but that unless (as we shall see) the driver does one of two things, the same condition means that the driver will never even see the phenomenon occurring.
That design flaw is the front ‘A’ pillar, at the edge of the windscreen.
— Stan (@geckobike) January 9, 2018
The promises made by boosters of AVs are eerily similar to the ones made by those supporting urban motorways and priority for cars over pedestrians. William Leimenstoll, “An “Unprecedented Mobility Revolution?” We’ve Been Here Before“, ENO TRANSPORTATION WEEKLY.
“They are designed to make automobile collisions impossible and to eliminate completely traffic congestion.” Norman Bel Geddes, Magic Motorways, 1939.
“[It] has the great potential to enhance public safety and mobility, reduce traffic congestion, and advance transportation efficiency…” David L. Strickland, Counsel, Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, 2016 Congressional hearing.
While these two quotes are largely interchangeable, they describe two different technologies in two very different eras. If you switch the publishing years and the technology named, many articles extolling the virtue of automated vehicles (AVs) would be remarkably indistinguishable from those supporting urban freeways decades ago.
The rise of urban freeways offers a number of lessons on how to manage new transportation technologies. AVs promise changes on a wide scale and, depending on how they are rolled out, could have positive or negative effects on communities and the environment.
Agence France-Presse, “France cuts speed limit on roads after alarming rise in deaths“, The Guardian.
The French government said on Tuesday it would lower the speed limit on two-lane highways to 80km/h (50mph) from 90km/h, hoping to reverse an alarming rise in road deaths.
Several previous governments had toyed with the idea as a means of reducing highway deaths, which reached nearly 3,500 in 2016, but backed off in the face of widespread public opposition.
About 55% of those deaths – 1,911 victims – occurred on the 400,000km of so-called secondary roads across France, two-lane routes with no separating guardrail.
“Excessive or inappropriate” speed was involved in 32% of those fatal accidents, which far exceeded those in urban areas.
The government says the lower speed limit could save 350 to 400 lives a year.
A couple weeks ago I linked to this website RINGWAYS that catalogs all the unbuilt roading schemes in London. This Guardian article documents the international motorway projects that were stopped in their tracks by freeway revolts. Douglas Murphy, “Unbuilt cities: the outrageous highway schemes left as roads to nowhere“, The Guardian.
Of all the mistakes made by city planners in the postwar era, the passion for highway construction has to be one of the most foolhardy. After the early success of systems like the autobahn and freeways, cities everywhere were carved up to make way for giant roads, crashing through neighbourhoods and creating opportunities for “comprehensive redevelopment”.
This was considered progress, a necessary part of entering the modern world. But some strange things happened – the most damning being that these new roads didn’t reduce traffic at all. Instead, they induced demand, clogging up almost as quickly as they were built. As time went on, communities began rejecting the plans and fighting back against the bulldozers, halting development in its tracks and kickstarting the modern conservation movement.
That’s it for this week. Please add your links in the comments section below.