Welcome back to Sunday Reading. These posts are now irregular, but hopefully still interesting. I’ll start off here with a bit of disappointing news from California where State Representative Scott Wiener’s housing bill was killed.

Benjamin Schneider, “YIMBYs Defeated as California’s Transit Density Bill Stalls“, CityLab.

An ambitious zoning bill in California that was aimed at alleviating the state’s acute housing shortage has not survived its first committee hearing. On Tuesday night, legislators killed SB 827, which would have allowed the construction of apartment buildings up to five stories tall near every high-frequency mass transit stop in the state.

SB 827 sparked a spirited debate about how the state should address its housing crisis. Its lead sponsor, State Senator Scott Wiener, argued that wresting zoning decisions away from local municipalities and forcing communities to build more densely near transit was the best way to both ease housing affordability in cities like San Francisco and help the state hit its ambitious environmental goals. Supporters of the bill—dubbed YIMBYs, for “Yes In My Backyard”—took on residents from wealthier, single-family home neighborhoods, who deployed the traditional NIMBY argument that the bill imperiled neighborhood character and would lead to traffic and parking woes.

Housing and urbanism in the West Coast is not so much of debate anymore as it is a numbers game. How long will the surge of younger workers be locked out of cities by arcane and exclusive housing policies?  Paul Roberts,”My Generation Is Never Going to Have That”, Politico.

To Lubarsky, a number cruncher-turned-housing activist, Wallingford’s architectural jewels, with their grand front porches and exquisite topiary, are emblematic of this city’s potentially fatal flaw: a housing market so expensive it’s throttling one of America’s biggest urban success stories. Decades ago, these tidy homes were cheap enough for schoolteachers and firefighters. Today, most cost at least a million dollars, and what was once a proudly middle-class neighborhood has morphed into a financially gated community.

Part of the problem, Lubarsky admits, is people like himself: Seattle’s red-hot tech economy, led by companies such as Amazon and Groupon (where Lubarsky works), has filled the city with an army of well-paid workers bidding up the price of housing. But that tech-fueled demand has tended to overshadow the other driver: insufficient supply. Since the end of the financial crisis, Lubarsky says, Seattle has added roughly 100,000 jobs, but barely 32,000 new homes and apartment units. “We’ve underbuilt every year since 2010,” he adds. And a big part of that deficit, Lubarsky says, is due to neighborhoods like Wallingford, where zoning laws make it almost impossible to build anything other than a single-family house.

That’s why Lubarsky wants to radically reconceive the way Seattle lives. For several years, he and fellow activists have waged a data-driven campaign to change the city’s zoning to allow more “density” in single-family neighborhoods, which account for more than half of the city’s land. If this pro-density campaign succeeds, neighborhoods like Wallingford could be transformed by a wave of new construction that would gradually replace single-family homes with duplexes, town homes, apartments and other multifamily housing types. And that would go some of the way toward solving a paradox that threatens many of America’s most successful cities: the younger workers needed to maintain that urban success can no longer afford to live there.

From the 1955 Master Transport Plan for Auckland

Here’s straight talk from Justin Gillis and Hal Harvey on how cars haven’t been working out for cities- “Cars Are Ruining Our Cities“, The New York Times.

A century of experience has taught us the folly of it. Three pathologies emerge. First, every car becomes the enemy of every other. The car you hate most is the one that’s right in front of you not moving. As cars pile in, journey times and pollution rise.

Second, after a certain point, more cars make the city a less congenial place for strollers, bicyclists and people who take public transit to their destinations. The cars push out frolicking kids, quiet afternoons reading on a bench and sidewalk cafes. So we give up our public space, our neighbor-to-neighbor conversations and ultimately our personal mobility for the next car, and the next one.

And then there is the odd fact, counterintuitive as it is, that building more roads does not really cure congestion and can even make it worse. The problem, as experts realized starting in the 1930s, is that as soon as you build a highway or add lanes to a freeway, cars show up to fill the available capacity. The phenomenon is so well understood that it has a name: induced traffic demand.

I look forward to visiting Dunedin. It reminds me of my favourite college towns in California. Zooming around in Streetview has given me the impression that it suffers from road gigantism with standardised road reserves and a nasty looking one-way system through downtown. Here’s a story about an effort to scale back motordom with a pedestrianisation scheme in the ‘Octagon’. This sounds great and I’d like to hear more about it. Tim Miller, “No-cars Octagon possible“, Otago Daily Times.

A pedestrian-only zone in Dunedin’s city centre could be a step closer to reality.

A report on the public’s response to the five-day pedestrian-only trial of the area during Easter weekend was also presented.

More than 90% of the 550 people surveyed, both by independent contractors during the weekend and online, rated the experience positive.

Online feedback on the trial is open until April 30 but so far more than 90% have supported a permanent or occasional pedestrianised Octagon.


Getting to a transit stop/station is an under appreciated part of a public transportation journey. For whatever reason, transit provider don’t consider the micro-level details that make the system work. Here’s a new world city that is starting to do a better job at this. Steve Hymon, “First/Last Mile Plan to improve neighborhood access to Blue Line is adopted; first of its kind plan in U.S.” TheSource.

Among the improvements the plan calls for are better sidewalks, more and safer crosswalks, more lighting for pedestrians, better and safer bike lanes and facilities, more trees to supply shade, bus stop improvements, pickup/dropoff locations near stations and landscaping.

Here’s a book review of Richard Sennett’s new book “Building and Dwelling”. Justin McGuirk, “Can Cities Make Us Better Citizens?”  The New Yorker.

More bracing is the assertion that a healthy city cannot merely be designed; it needs to be enacted by its citizens. The nub of “Building and Dwelling” is that the open city is a demanding place. Anyone who has taken part in community meetings, resident groups, or planning consultations will know that getting people to agree is hard work. And to be a citizen of the open city requires patience and adaptability in the face of the unfamiliar—qualities that Sennett finds embodied in the migrant. One of the book’s final sentences concludes, “The ethical connection between urbanist and urbanite lies in practising a certain kind of modesty: living one among many, engaged in a world that does not mirror oneself.” Typically idealistic, typically urbane, it’s a sentiment that’s well-timed for the disputes of our day.

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

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  1. I can’t resist the opening photo, the cluster of leaking and now pretty much abandoned lease hold units know as Quay Park, slapped up on the old NZR Road Services depot, at the height of no building regulations. The take away I get from them is taking little interest in politics (that created this nightmare) and the basics of building can be very very damaging

    Opened in 2000, designed by Francis Clark Architects and slapped up out of world leading shit material by Broadway Developments, who and to quote their publicity from Broadway Developments Lindsay Kennedy at the time, “Broadway Developments has won more Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) awards for its buildings than any other developer in New Zealand. Oh my God, there’s more out there?

    Sadly within a few short years these slum builds were leaking and the poor bastards who are losing or lost everything after millions have been spent to get them as far as the photo above, whilst they have rented elsewhere and the homeless have moved in from elsewhere. What can they do? Estimates of $11 million, then $20 million, now 24 million plus are what is needed to ground zero the place and rebuild. And again, all on leasehold land.

    So how did it happen? The deregulated building nirvana was brought in by a very ideological/business friendly National government in the 1990’s. (Yes re-regulation to some extent rectified the problems in the early 2000’s) so in my mind you cannot but squarely attribute the blame to the idiot politicians in government at that time who, in summary, listened to “Business”. The same “Business” who told them silly red tape and regulations meant that houses were all the more expensive as a result and slower to build. Get rid of the hurdles, let us self regulate, in fact, let the market regulate and we will deliver…. What-effing-ever! All it did was allow cowboys to give us flasher Manila slum housing and walk away with mattress’s stuffed with profits.

    My question is this, when is the Mammoth in the room of leaking homes, namely our crap building standards since deregulation and since then its partial regulation going to be addressed? And when is the blame and to some extent liability going to be sheeted back to the fools who allowed it to happen? Because I worry in all of the hurry to build more dwellings, we sill see a repeat of Quay Park again!

    1. Embarrassing when “third world” countries are so much more advanced than us. Clean green NZ yeah right.

  2. The same applies to road building. We know how to do it properly we just don’t. whether the supervision of contracts is the problem or the writing of the contracts it is past time that the problem was solved.

    1. One of the answers is simple Ted and that is simply not to build them. As some have suggested for example, why is Mill Road extension not light rail?

      Is there a PT option instead of Pen Link? And Penlink is going to produce other costs. It is probably part of the reason that AT is going to spend 35 million on a park and ride at Albany. $35 million that on current parking pricing policies produces absolutely no return. Why does PT infrastructure always seem to come last, when all other alternatives have failed?

      1. Labour would have had to include those two large roading projects for political reasons, of which I can think of two main ones:

        – They need something to water down the inevitable criticism from the road lobby and the National Party. Not including any major roading projects would threaten the credibility of the entire ATAP 2.0 with a certain sector of the populace and would be a PR nightmare.
        – They need to be reelected in 2020 if they’re going to get to build most of their PT projects. Announcing two major roading projects in Auckland should help them given they will need the votes of a substantial number of pro-road swing voters (of which I suspect there are many).

  3. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of overhead connections. How do they get the energy? Are they battery operated? How are they recharged? what are the passenger numbers served/day?

  4. The just released (on Friday) Productivity Commission draft report on getting to a low emission economy by 2050 is available to read, and makes for some valuable reading.

    Backgrounders and summary versions available here from the relevant part of the commissions website.

    The full draft report (PDF) – which is over 500 pages long, can be downloaded from this link.

    Normally [well to date anyway], the commission have done a number of these sorts of reports, including the one they did on the building industry productivity and they tend to cover a lot of ground in a report.

    But have usually, along the way, ended up being captured by the industry cronies in the industry they’re reporting on, and go on to simply state the bleeding obvious as “solutions”, and then point to the usual [well known, but seldom the real/actual] “suspects” as to the cause, and actually offering no real insight as a result.

    So the Government of the day goes ho hum, and so nothing of substance actually happens as a result. But at least it makes it seem like the Government of the day was/is doing something about whatever the problem is.
    [Its either commissioned the report, its being drafted, or the draft is being reviewed so its still “waiting for it” so can’t prejudge the outcome, or its got the report and is “considering it”. All of which simply buy the Government of the day a lot of time to do not much if it chooses, or selectively pick the parts they like ignoring the rest].

    This report however, started while National was Government, and no doubt given a slightly different emphasis, and probably a hurry up, under Labour/Greens/NZ first Govt. It does read as detailed and considered and looks into all sorts of areas of the economy that you would not think were relevant to the topic by do seem to be interlinked in ways not that obvious until you start to consider the big picture.

    So it seems they have done a lot homework and brought together a lot of existing research and knowledge via submissions into one report. Making specific findings, recommendations and raising questions or possible decisions that need to be answered or considered.

    The sections on transport, electricity, land use and buildings for instance all make for some good reading all directly relevant to the issues usually discussed on this site.

    The do specifically call out the third main funding issue in Auckland as but one [of many] examples to show exactly how unbalanced transport spending has been due to the RoNS and the NLTF spending rules, leading to local and Central governments focusing on roads [and state highways in particular] over other modes, solutions or choices.

    The one outcome of the report you likely heard about and is the one that you probably heard most of on Friday anyway, is the idea of levying all future imported Fossil Fuelled [petrol and diesel fuelled] cars and trucks – these two types – cars and light trucks make up what is called the “light vehicle fleet”] with a $ amount charged, based on their expected lifetime of CO2 emissions still yet to be released.

    Then using the money raised in a revenue neutral form, to directly “discount” as a $ amount rebate (called a “feebate”, not a “freebate” as some media called it) the cost of imported electric vehicles. As a way to speed up the conversion of the light vehicle fleet to electrification.

    That’s just one of the many dozens of recommendations they made. and while it seems at first to be yet another frivolous idea and once again shows governments pushing “their” desired/pet outcomes as winners and causing others to become losers.

    But this biasing of imports is exactly what has been done in Norway [and France] and has worked very well in Norway. Hence why EVs make up the large/majority proportion of newly registered vehicles in Norway from near zero a few years ago. And no the EVs imported into Norway aren’t just high end Tesla’s either [- they have EV BMWs and VWs [e-Golfs], Nissan Leafs and a few others, Tesla is but one of many imported there in Norway]. So it is [as we all generally always like to see] an evidence based recommendation.

    When you read the report and the section on transport (see page 299 for that) you can easily see the reason why. In a nutshell, the key reason they point out, is that the 1.2 million additional light vehicles expected to be introduced in to the NZ vehicle fleet over the next 5 years, [i.e. from now til 2023] if mainly fossil fuelled as they have mostly been to date will, due to their long life operational use in NZ, lock us in to emit CO2 at levels that commit us to releasing 50% of NZs annual gross CO2 emissions each and every year that they collectively remain active in the fleet.

    Which is a hell of a lot of emissions for just the light vehicle fleet (which admittedly, do cause 75% of the transport sectors annual emissions, which is itself 30% of the total CO2 emission now). But that growth of emissions from transport if left as is will grow and become a very big mountain we need to climb.

    So in effect – “business as usual” with imported cars and light trucks means we are reducing our likely future CO2 emission budgets for the next 25+ years – by half. If we do nothing different to what we do right now.

    And that’s why electrifying the light fleet as much as possible, and as soon as possible, is needed.
    As this changeover becomes not just just a nice to have for a few rich buggers. Its needed, and needed soon – almost an imperative in fact – if we as a country want to avoid having to make some pretty hard [and expensive] economic decisions in the [not so distant] future.

    It also means that we have to stop using [and bringing in more of] the worst polluting vehicles currently in our fleet. So those old dungers of cars, trucks, buses and heavy vehicles – they’ll likely need to be removed too.

    So in that vein, they also recommend we finally implement/enforce, imported vehicle emissions standards and back it up with enforced emissions testing at the border to avoid NZ becoming [more] of a dumping ground for vehicle models no longer able to sold anywhere else due to tougher overseas emission rules. Seems only NZ,and Russia have no proper emissions testing on imports. So we’re probably already getting such dumping going on. And even more so as diesels are phased out in Europe and elsewhere.

    Seems testing the vehicles we already have here is not on the horizon though. That may have to come in time to clean up emissions further.

    So that poor family in South Auckland who need a cheap fossil fuelled people mover as was portrayed in the media stories as being hardest hit by the feebate scheme? Well regardless of that scheme, they will find they are priced off the road soon enough – either through much higher fuel/emission taxes, failed or toughened emissions tests and/or simple economics of running old, clapped out, petrol/diesel vehicle.

    So they [and also everyone else too] will need to live in a place that has PT and other choices so that they eventually don’t need to own a car to get around. And can spend the money on other things.

    Regardless of all the headline & once over lightly media coverage, I am sure Governments (local and central), and maybe upcoming posts on this blog? will be mining this report for ideas, evidence and guidance for some time yet to come. So it will be a useful report to have around unlike the other reports mostly have been.

    Anyone can make a submission on the draft report too – the above web site has a link to the submission area. If you want to have your say on their report. Just do so by the close off date.

    1. Battery prices still have a way to go before electrics will be a realistic option on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Thankfully charging tech is progressing nicely which will mean there’s less of a need for massive batteries as well. That tipping point is coming, but we’re not there yet.

    2. Emissions testing should be part of getting a WOF, NOx, SOx and particulate, for cars, trucks and buses. We are the only first world country without emissions testing. It’s crazy.
      I’d rather see the balance of EV vs fossil vehicles controlled by owners requiring a COE, Singapore style. Make EV free and limit the total number registered to Auckland addresses to the same as today.
      Further on the subject of emissions, Pukekohe to Te Rapa should be electrified and electric locos used.

    3. The Commission obviously gave the paper a re-write to reflect the flavours of the new government, and are equally obviously conflicted.

      I think the transport section over-relies on market forces and needs to be a lot more direct about urban design and the need to ‘over-steer’ the system to correct for the degree of car dependency. In relation to which, I think a good point was made in the earlier section on the carbon price, which recognised that you need a true carbon price to encourage transparent choices, AND you need other policies on top to effect the corrective shift. E.g.:

      – Meaningful PT needs to go to the poor and their places of employment, and that is a transition cost that should be met head on, not left to trickle down economics to meet later on (i.e. never).

      – if active modes do only replace short range trips (and I think PT was included in this statement, which seems odd) as stated in the report, then how do we reconfigure our urban areas to increase the opportunities to live within short distances of our daily tasks?

      It is also a shame that they did not stay current on relevant transport topics when updating the report. McKinsey have done some interesting work on heavy EV total cost of ownership parity etc by fleet-task segment that, if combined with this report’s musings on freight patterns et al, could have supported a richer discussion of policy possibilities. A lot of focus is on heavy BEVs and long-haul tasks, but a lot of work and emissions is urban short haul, which emerging BEV designs can cope well with – buses being the popular example thanks to China Daily and Bloomberg, but the light truck segment is well poised to race on as well.

      Pricing externalities has some obvious appeal, although it looked like ACC premiums had been left out, along with other insurance (unless captured in ownership costs; but is that double counting?). This could have been integrated with the road pricing/congestion charging discussion to some degree. I think what marks transport as a bit of an afterthought is that, in a number of other sections of the report, these sorts of ideas then set up a more detailed discussion of a specific example or idea. I think the 2008/2009 work of the independent review of road user charges could have provided a useful basis for a section testing the impact of climate change perspectives and requirements against the traditional land transport cost recovery perspective that has shaped our current system, hopefully leading to some actual advice on how to pick a path forward. As it is, the section doesn’t really even set the scene in a conscious and integrated way so much as wave a hand and say ‘there be dragons’.

      I can see the response being a package of otherwise disconnected pricing and charging tools, when what is really being pointed at is major charging reform.

      I wonder whether it is time to decouple fuel tax and road funding, and instead make FED a sin tax to underwrite climate change action? Transport needs a revenue stream that does not embed a conflicted interest, while the relatively predictable declining revenue from FED could potentially be leveraged to debt fund climate change hump costs.

      Something to submit about I guess…

      1. Yes, I’d support that decoupling. Politically, I think it would be clearer if we kept three subjects separate:
        – total tax take required
        – what we tax. If half or more of the population’s income tax was wiped and replaced with taxing of polluters, that could be presented well to voters
        – what we spend the tax on

        Transport is too interconnected with every facet of life for its planning to be in any way directed by how we receive funding for it.

  5. Dunedin’s Octagon pedestrianised? How wonderful. How obvious. How superb that the population support it. And what a lot of drivel from the councillors with all the excuses why not.

    “…the thin edge of the wedge for further pedestrianisation of the city.” Oh my lord, pedestrianisation! Sell your shares, the world’s about to collapse. Sorry for sarcasm, but really…

  6. Pedestrianisation of Dunedin’s Octagon is probably a good idea, but since this is “GreaterAuckland”, let’s talk about pedestrianising Queen St. Why not? It’s planned anyway, so why not do it now instead of waiting until AT gets around to laying tramtracks up it, and get some immediate benefit?

    1. The main reason is nervousness around traffic, particularly construction management for the CRL and other big projects. They want Queen St to put all the cars on while they close other roads and intersections down.

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