Welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here are the best things from the interwebs this week. Please add your links in the comments below.

Christopher Standen’s PHD on transport evaluation methods and their limitations has been floating around places for the last few months. Here is an editorial where he highlights the major flaws. The Conversation, “Why the need for speed? Transport spending priorities leave city residents worse off“, Christopher Standen.

As early as the 1960s, however, it become evident that prioritising speed above all else is counterproductive. It’s making our cities less efficient and liveable, and consigns many people to stressful and unhealthy daily commutes.

Faster travel does allow people to move further from work and other destinations – and not have to spend any more time travelling. It’s also true that many households value the ability to move to outer suburbs, where lower land values mean they can afford a home (or a larger one).

But when thousands of households migrate to low-density suburbs, we end up with urban sprawl. This is bad not only for productivity and public health, but also makes public transport less viable. Sprawl entrenches dependence on cars. This limits access to economic and social opportunities for those unable to drive.

High vehicle speeds and longer driving distances create multiple other problems. These include more traffic noise, more road trauma, higher transport costs and neighbourhoods too dangerous for children to venture outdoors on their own.

Like John Snow’s famous cholera mapping in London, here is a similar story from Wellington. Laura Vaughan, “Mapping Diseases: Typhpoid in 1890s Wellington, New Zealand“, Mapping Urban Form and Society.

Chapple’s map identifies a cluster of typhoid cases in the Holland Street area of the city, where he had found that the street’s sewer was leaking had contaminated the surrounding soil. Coupled to empirical fieldwork, which found overcrowded housing in the street, the maps were able to highlight (with graphic emphasis of the leaking sewer), the spatial association between housing quality, urban situation and disease.

Section of map of central Wellington drawn up by the city’s medical officer, William Chapple, to show the location of typhoid between 1890 and 1892. Source: Wellington City Archives. Reference: 00233:34:1892/740 typhoid map

Hey, it’s Women in Urbanism Aotearoa featured in a Forbes article. Deborah Talbot, “Why Women Matter In Urbanism And City Planning“, Forbes.

Deborah Talbot: Why did you set up Women in Urbanism?

Women in Urbanism (WiU): We are fed up with the glaring lack of women decision-makers in our urban industry (planners, architects, engineers and politicians, for example.)

We in Women in Urbanism Aotearoa believe this lack of representation has a direct effect upon the urban form of our city. City building has just become a competition between men to see who can build the biggest motorway or tallest tower. The biggest size, speed and spend seem to be the only things that have historically mattered to male city planners – especially the men at the top.

What do panels, keynote speakers, managers, senior leaders, boards and meeting rooms in the urban industries all have in common? A serious lack of representation of women. In Aotearoa, this also means women of colour: Māori and Pasifika are notably left out.

Instead, there’s an over-representation of men – mostly white and middle-aged – from privileged backgrounds, and they are the ones who make decisions about our cities.

This is a great story that I’m sure will resonate with GA readers. Simon Day, “How public transport saved my marriage“,The Spinoff.

Then the 171 and the Western Line saved me.

My new job at The Spinoff was in Britomart and suddenly public transport was my friend. The 171 leaves from almost directly outside my house and drops me at New Lynn. The Western Line takes 33 minutes from New Lynn to drop me two minutes walk from the office. Door to door it takes 55 minutes. I almost wish it took a little longer.

There are few other times when I have an hour all to myself. In the last year I’ve read the most books since the lazy days of university. I listen to podcasts about US politics. I spend guilt free time on Instagram. If I really need to I get a valuable head start on sending some emails.

Both the bus and train are modern and clean, warm in winter, cool in summer. Mostly they’re on time. It costs $4.80. It’s relaxing and pleasant. And I feel proud to be a part of the public transport revolution, a participant in the future functionality of the city.

Here’s a summary of how quickly electric bus technology is progressing. Like solar energy, it is a quiet revolution that will change the way we live in the near future. David Roberts, “Electric buses are coming, and they’re going to help fix 4 big urban problems“, Vox.

At the top of the list: buses! City transit buses are ideal candidates for electrification.

For one thing, the world is rapidly urbanizing and particulate pollution — especially from diesel, the fuel of choice for older buses — is increasingly seen as a health crisis. Old buses drive around the city all day, at low speeds, spewing diesel smoke directly into urbanites’ faces, leading to countless illnesses and early deaths. (Diesel smoke is a big contributor to the 6.5 million deaths a year caused by air pollution.)

Electrification would mean that buses emit virtually no air pollutants or greenhouse gases. (The power plants where their electricity is generated might still generate those pollutants, but even if it is powered by coal plants, an electric bus averages far less pollution per-mile than a diesel bus.) Urban air quality would notably and immediately improve.

Urban density it the best solution to climate change since people don’t spend so much energy driving long distances. (It also makes for more interesting and productive cities). Lloyd Alter, “Green building isn’t enough; we need green zoning“. Treehugger.

These days it seems that everyone is fighting over zoning. Housing costs in many cities are unaffordable but the great proportion of the cities are locked into single-family zoning and building anything but a detached house seems almost impossible. Right now we see these battles in Seattle, San Francisco, and Toronto, but they are happening just about in every successful city.

And the hilarious thing about it all is that these are also cities that have green building standards. San Francisco has a green building code designed to reduce energy use, Seattle’s green standard “saves resources and promotes renewable, clean energy”, Toronto’s standard’s intent is to “reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The great hypocrisy is that the single biggest factor in the carbon footprint of our cities isn’t the amount of insulation in our walls, it’s the zoning.

Maybe some of car yards and panel beaters in Auckland located in “industry” zoning or similar can be converted to housing. Erica Barnett, “Are Outdated Notions of “INDUSTRIAL AREAS” Hiding a Giant Housing Opportunity?“, Sightline.

Like Seattle’s evolution from sleepy outpost to big city, the definition of “industrial” has been quietly changing for at least the past several decades. Instead of factories spewing toxic fumes and “enormous vats of splashing and spluttering metal,” Thompson says, the term now encompasses firms that make software that enables customers to make their own robots at home, or labs where food production companies test new products. Or companies like Interbay’s Thermetrics, which makes mannequins that measure how fast an air conditioner cools down a car, or how effectively a sleeping bag retains a person’s body heat.

Here are photos from the 1968 protests in Paris matched to their locations today. Guy Lane, “Protests in Paris, May 1968 – photographs then and now“, The Guardian.

As Paris exploded in mass protests, words scrawled on the walls of the Sorbonne summed up the revolutionary zeal: “Run free, comrade, we’ve left the old world behind!” Fifty years on, May 1968 remains a watershed moment. Photographer Alicia Canter revisits the key locations.

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  1. I’m really not sold on pushing public transport as a time for people to ‘get a head start’ on work. Kiwis already work some of the longest hours in the OECD for some of the lowest pay. People need to be working less, not more. Weaponising a commute for your employer’s benefit is as much of a step backwards in lifestyle as sitting in congestion, unless you have the privilege of being able to offset that time against the rest of your working day.

    1. There are plenty of self employed people, contractors and folk with flexible working arrangements for whom this is a good strategy. Of course it assumes that you do less work later as a result or otherwise find benefits with your day. That’s not always for the employers benefit, it could be as simple as you get to take a decent lunch break or run some errands during the middle of the day (a luxury for me).

      My job doesn’t have fixed hours for example, I basically have to work as much as I need to work to get things done. If I can do half an hour of emails on the way to the office that’s half an hour less I need to spend there at night.

      1. “unless you have the privilege of being able to offset that time against the rest of your working day.”

    2. Using the commute for “quiet time” in which you can just zone out, read a book, listen to music or just look out the window, is great for mental health, of that I’m sure. I look at the countless sets of headphones in use on the train and the calm demeanour of the passengers and marvel at the difference in stress levels by comparison with car drivers. I rarely use the motorway system at peak hours but did so just the other day. I cannot begin to describe the difference in my mental and physical state compared with the use of the train. How do all those people tolerate this twice a day, every day?

      I’ve also wondered at the potential for a joint campaign by AT and the health authorities (or perhaps the Heart Foundation) along the lines of “walk to the bus/train/ferry” for the benefit of your own health AND the health of our environment. What about it, AT?

      1. When travel is pleasant it’s a great way to start the day, I few years ago when public transport was being discussed I commented along much the same lines as you have about my experience traveling to work in the 1950’s by train, (it was the magic of steam in those days), meeting friends walking to the station chatting or sleeping on the train you got to work refreshed. A comment I got was “I was looking at the past through rose colored glasses”, I thought you don’t know what you are missing.

        1. The “magic of steam” was made possible by all of those locomotives burning coal, spewing all sorts of contaminants into the atmosphere, and starting wild fires in the rural areas from sparks from the exhaust stacks. Steam may be romantic. yes, but in truth I would be joining those who accused you of “I was looking at the past through rose colored glasses”,

        2. But steam was the only choice we had at the end of the war and was all the things you say it was but did less harm than diesel today idling at traffic lights in city streets, we didn’t have the luxury of electric trains which should be a top priority today and I only wish we could go back to what we had but replace it with electric and get all the madness of the roads which kill more than all our steam trains of 70 years ago.

      2. “I’ve also wondered at the potential for a joint campaign by AT and the health authorities (or perhaps the Heart Foundation) along the lines of “walk to the bus/train/ferry” for the benefit of your own health AND the health of our environment.”

        Could be an interesting study to hook people up and measure their vitals as they travel to work using different modes. I would imagine blood pressure would be sky high for the drivers.

    3. Some people are under pressure to work outside typical hours, some are not. Some choose to, some choose not to. None of this has anything to do with transport mode, and pointing out that discretionary effort is more effective on a train is a realistic observation, not an appeal to employers to squeeze harder. Clevedon residents still try to get stuff done during their 2 hour driving commutes, they’re just less efficient at it because they have to be transport operators at the same time.

      1. Yes, I think that’s a good point. Also I know people who have been able to travel from outer suburbs by train once their employers agreed to allow the time they logged as working on the train as work time. This allowed them to start their work day later, avoiding the peak hour, and reducing their travel time, benefiting everyone involved.

        1. if you normalise that sort of approach to the time involved with PT on the basis that some have that ability then you’re projecting that over a whole bunch of people who don’t. Their commute still takes just as long, it’s just tacked onto the start and end of a full working day. Normalising long commutes is great for those who have that power but it’s actually a huge quality of life issue for people who can’t.

        2. ive started running and cycling to work a couple of times a week. the time savings is pretty revolutionary and freed my weekends from having to exercise.

        3. That’s great, Luke. Buttwizard, you’re right. For example, let’s hope NWLR is not advertised as a relaxing way to get to work in a comfy seat while doing something useful, if the majority of users end up being far better off than driving but having to stand most of the way.

          Sprawl can’t be justified, and improved PT will fix a lot of our problems, but there’s no excuse for continuing the sprawl when there’s so much intensification we can do.

        4. That’s a good idea, great advantage of trains & I presume LRT compared to a lot of bus trips/some drivers where it’s more of a “hold on to ya hats folks, rough ride ahead”.

  2. For the economics nerds it is interesting to note that Australia has finally updated its guidelines for assessing transport projects. And the much improved guidance on assessing public transport projects draw heavily on NZ studies on such things as the value of quality passenger facilities, travel time reliability, and health benefits of walking. Of course there are still some huge issues in Australia with no long term program to fund public transport as opposed to freeways. One step at a time…

    1. Interesting. So we surely have sufficient NZ research to submit on the IAF (due 18 May) that while the “mode neutral” approach they have used in the draft is a good step in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough to address the poor transport decisions of the previous few decades. Some people are submitting that instead a “mode-optimised” approach is needed. I’m going further, of course 🙂 and am submitting that we have sufficient research to know that we now need to invest in public transport and active modes. Increasing road capacity for the private car should be rejected at the initial “high level filtering” stage.

      1. Heidi
        I think it depends on location. In outer suburban areas where density is low and there is no congestion then maybe more road capacity is OK. And even buses need a connective road network, so filling in genuine missing links in the road network is also fair enough. But yes, once an urban road is congested, and hence subject to induced demand, any argument to increase road capacity as a solution should be challenged.

        1. But SP, those outer suburban areas with low density are exactly the problem. We’re struggling to provide cost-effective PT to the existing low-density areas. Adding more road capacity in such areas instead of bringing the existing ones to a higher density which could support PT is heading in the wrong direction. Extra road capacity in those low density suburban areas induces traffic and creates further car dependency. That traffic adds to traffic throughout the city.

        2. Heidi
          Fair point. I should have referred to connectivity, freight links and removing specific bottlenecks only. As a general guide, IMO you should almost never build six lane roads or freeways – before then you should have started building transit. Two or four lanes should be the limit. You can always convert four lanes to local traffic + transit, as Dominion Road with LRT will prove.

  3. Those Paris photos, with the slider tool to toggle between 1968 and current day photos are fantastic. I’d love to produce a similar set of photos for Auckland to show, among other things, the epidemic of illegal parking that we have now.

  4. The cost of energy chart ignores the simple fact that solar stops producing as the evening demand just starts to pick up. In the absence of storage, solar reaches a point where energy generated during the day has to be wasted. In some parts of California grid managers turn off some solar panels at noon. They call it curtailment.

    1. Yes, and in some parts of New Zealand, gas power stations are turned off at night because the price of electricity is too low – you could also call this curtailment. California has some solar curtailment (about 1 kWh/person/month) because it’s not cost-effective overall to massively build out the transmission network to cope with the full range of intermittent supply. Still, storage is increasing rapidly too and California is a good example of a large economy that is rapidly decarbonising.

      1. I don’t think that counts as curtailment given that gas power stations are designed to provide peak supply at the time of peak demand. They were always intended to be shut down or partially shutdown outside of the peak. That was factored into the planning and economic analysis. When these gas power stations are shut down the energy in the gas is not wasted but saved. The difference is that solar energy has to be wasted at the very time it is most efficient. It means if you try and add more solar to deal with the shoulders of the peaks then the marginal cost is going to be much higher than the current average.

        1. In parts of the country they could use closed loop pumped storage hydro for peak demand, expensive to build but with a long service life and 70% to 80% efficiency it would be better than gas which has a nasty habit of escaping.

    2. miffy, “in the absence of storage”. Well, we can put in storage. Like, hot water cylinders, storage heaters, batteries. My household, for example, won’t need any grid electricity in the evening peak, even in winter. We can time things to use grid electricity, if we need to, when it suits the network.

      1. That seems to be the answer Heidi. We will need to start having our hot meal at lunchtime like we are in a retirement home. Either that or get a thumping great diesel generator for power and a truck load of coal for the fireplace 🙂 .
        Maybe the answer is to size solar arrays for your own noon demand and buy the rest from the grid. It seems to me people who assume they can sell the midday solar surplus to the power companies are living in a fools paradise.

        1. Bring on the midday hot meal for us younger ones, too. 🙂 One of the things I liked about Finland in the 90s was that each workplace seemed to be connected with a couple of different canteens, which produced hot midday meals at break-even prices. Which was similar cost to taking your own sandwiches, so why wouldn’t you? You didn’t have to go there – you could pay retail prices elsewhere, if you wanted variety, but anyone on a budget would.

          It would free up the evenings, too. You could just make a snack for the family instead of trying to interest tired kids in a balanced meal. And yes, better alignment with solar power generation. Any excuse to have someone else cooking for me, I reckon…

      2. Yes, you can combine storage with PV but that storage has not been included in the comparitive costing graph. These comparisons are not apples-to-apples. Absent storage the cost of PV at night is essentially infinite.

        That being said it is a reliable, scaleable technology that will take its place in the generation mix for NZ. Heat-pump water heating, ice-lined refrigerators, daytime electric car charging (all with appropriate microprocessor control) will make it more attractive and vanadium flow batteries look promising for electrical storage and a revisit of phase-change thermal storage is overdue.

        I have some PV to install for the coming summer but it’s strictly for our own summer loads: refrigeration and pool pump. Pool heat (to extend the season) is home-made solar thermal.

        1. I haven’t looked at ice-lined refrigerators… is that something I should consider? Our frig/freezer is 13 years old so we’ll keep monitoring it but I imagine it’ll be replaced soonish.

          The most obvious way to store some solar energy is in the hot water. That’s a big part of household energy use. Even people without solar should just have a timer to turn it off during the evening peak. Pricing at different times of day to reflect the costs on the whole supply network would encourage this sort of behaviour, but I find the power companies pretty opaque about different price plans.

          Other ways to use solar during the day without storage cost includes using slow cookers, setting ovens, dishwashers and breadmakers, etc, to come on during the day.

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