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Living ‘liveable’: this is what residents have to say about life on the urban fringe

The Conversation, 21 February, 2019

Recent studies show Melbourne’s and Sydney’s fast-growing outer suburbs lag behind other parts of the city in access to urban design, employment and amenities and services that foster liveability. The National Growth Areas Alliance of local councils launched a national campaign, “Catch up with the outer suburbs”, on Monday. But what is it really like to live in these areas?

Living Liveable is a short documentary film produced by RMIT University researchers showcasing the lived experiences of residents in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. The film includes interviews with 11 residents that highlight their perceptions and experiences of liveability in their suburbs. This article explores their reasons for living where they do and recounts their experiences of life in the outer suburbs.

Why all the fuss about liveability?

Liveability and its underlying indicators have been the subject of substantial research. Most well-known liveability indices produced by the private sector — such as the Mercer Quality of Living Ranking and the Economist Intelligent Unit’s Liveability Index — rank cities against each other. And most Australian capital cities are ranked relatively high in such global liveability indices.

These measures overlook inequities within cities between established inner areas and newer outer suburban areas. Many of these urban fringe suburbs are experiencing rapid population growth. RMIT researchers have developed spatial liveability indicators, showing that residents in outer suburbs lack access to basic amenities that inner-city residents take for granted.

Yet residents’ perceptions of their neighbourhoods and their lived experiences are often unheard in such measures. The interviews show that a combination of factors shapes decisions to live in an outer suburb. These include perceived affordability, people’s aspirations for a good life, and access to public transport. As one resident said: I was looking for an affordable area where I can, you know, buy a decent-size house within a decent budget and all those things. So, this area probably suits me, which is nearest for public transport, but yeah, it’s a bit far from the CBD area, which is alright. – male resident of Wyndham

Access to green spaces and a sense of community were among the things residents loved most about living in their suburb : We live opposite a beautiful park … it’s right at our doorstep. We feel very, very lucky to live opposite this beautiful park, it’s very well maintained by the local council and it’s highly utilised. So even just out there walking, I’ve got to know people in my neighbourhood. – female resident of Wyndham

Traffic makes life worse

However, traffic volumes and poor access to daily living destinations and public transport had negative impacts on residents’ lived experiences. While current liveability indices usually consider access to daily living destinations – such as food outlets, schools, hospitals, and public transport – traffic is often overlooked. Yet, 10 out of 11 people mentioned traffic, in 30 separate instances, as something that makes their neighbourhoods less liveable.

A painter living in the City of Casey described how increasing traffic in recent years was forcing him to wake up half an hour earlier and get back home half an hour later in the afternoon.

I’m a painter, so I work anywhere from here to the city. The Monash [freeway] … I call it my driveway. So I’m on that every day, and it just depends which exit I’m taking for the day. So, I get up at the moment at 4.50am. I get up to beat the traffic, which starts at about 5.20, and then I get to the job, and then I might have a bit of a snooze in my car or eat breakfast. And that’s just all just to beat traffic. And I can stay there for an hour before I have to, you know, knock on the client’s door, and say, “Oh I’m here to start.” And, yeah, then at the end of the working day, which is 4pm, after I’ve done my eight hours, I just have to grind with the traffic on the way home… I might get home at about 6.10pm.

For some, the traffic has affected their mental health and increased stress levels.
We’ve lived in this house for 16 years and just the buildup of traffic … I was used to getting from A to B very quickly. I now have to plan, embed in my day, more time to get from A to B. I think that’s the biggest negative. And it’s certainly one that impacts my husband. He doesn’t work locally. He works in the eastern suburbs and he also has to travel around a lot for his work. And that’s becoming a bit of a nightmare for him and actually creating a bit of stress. – female resident of Wyndham

Lack of access to daily living destinations, including employment and supermarkets, means residents depend on their cars. This adds to their cost of living and reduces neighbourhood liveability.

Lack of public transport or infrequent services also has negative impacts on residents’ quality of life and well-being.

I take my hubby to work in Derrimut and so that normally takes me … about two hours easy; just over two hours. … he doesn’t drive. He can’t use the train simply because the train doesn’t go anywhere near where he works. There’s nothing. No public transport to take my husband to work. S0 … we’ve got no choice. So, if something happens to me, uh, we’re in a load of trouble. That’s where it’s difficult. We need more public transport. We really do. – female resident of Wyndham

Planners need to hear what residents say

The film highlights the gaps in current measures of liveability. For example, future liveability indices should consider including traffic and car-dependency indicators. Increasing traffic, the time spent travelling, and the financial burden of car dependency can detract from some of the key reasons residents choose to live in Melbourne’s outer suburbs – namely, affordability and sense of community.

We need to engage with communities and hear from them about their lived experience to better understand and measure their quality of life, their health and their neighbourhoods’ liveability. Objective measures of the quality of access should be accompanied by insights from residents about their lives in the suburbs. The voice of residents needs to be included in the planning of our cities as they grow, as well as the metrics of how successful we are in delivering equitable cities that foster healthy, affordable and prosperous lives for all.

https://theconversation.com/living-liveable-this-is-what-residents-have-to-say-about-life-on-the-urban-fringe-111339

Newcastle light-rail service in Australia begins operations

Railway technology, 20 February 20, 2019

The Newcastle light-rail service in the Australian state of New South Wales has started commercial operations.
The service is being operated by Keolis’ Australian subsidiary Keolis Downer on behalf of Transport for New South Wales.

Comprising six stations, the 2.7km-long tram network runs between Wickham and Pacific Park.
The service, which commenced a month ahead of schedule, will offer connectivity with the existing bus and ferry services.

Additionally, the line is catenary-free, involving no overhead wire installations across the route.

Before launching the light-rail service, Keolis Downer trained 14 drivers over four months in the testing phase to ensure smooth operations.

Six CAF-built trams exhibiting a fully accessible low floor design will run on the light-rail network. Each vehicle is designed to accommodate up to 270 passengers.

In December 2016, Keolis Downer received a multimodal transport contract in Newcastle. The scope of the contract included operations and maintenance of the entire transport network comprising light-rail, buses and ferries for ten years. Keolis Downer started operating the bus and ferry services from July 2017.

Keolis Group International CEO Bernard Tabary said: “We redesigned the bus and ferry network with efficient interchange hubs for light rail to encourage more people to use public transport.
“Thanks to light-rail, Newcastle’s transport network is truly multimodal and will make residents’ and visitors’ lives easier and the city even more enjoyable.”

Located north of Sydney, Newcastle has more than 360,000 residents.

Keolis is responsible for 25 tram networks across the world, including three networks that are to be launched soon.

Newcastle light-rail service in Australia begins operations

CCC warns without a ‘true zero-carbon plane’ demand for aviation may have to be curbed

Business Green, 14 February 2019

UK’s climate body confirms net zero target assessment will be published in May, stressing greater effort will be needed to cut aviation emissions

Adopting a net zero climate target in the UK would require greater effort to cut emissions from aviation, particularly through developing clean technologies and limiting growth in flight demand, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has told the government.

In a letter to the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, CCC chairman Lord Deben stressed that limiting emissions from UK aviation would require contributions from all parts of the aviation sector, and that the government should avoid relying on biofuels or international carbon offset credits to do the necessary heavy lifting.

Deben welcomed the government’s commitment to keeping UK aviation emissions at 2005 levels by 2050, as advised by the CCC, and to ask the National Infrastructure Commission to scrutinise the case for further airport expansion with consideration of the potential climate impacts.

However, Deben reiterated the CCC’s view that the government should not plan for significant use of biofuels to power planes, due to uncertainty surrounding sustainable biomass supplies and costs.
Instead, he said the government and industry should focus on developing new low emission aircraft designs, improved air space management, and the use of more sustainable fuels in the coming years.

The letter also predicted brokering a long-term climate target for aviation at an international level would help incentivise investment in new, cleaner technologies, but emphasised technologies alone were unlikely to be enough to stem the climate impact of aviation.

“In the absence of a true zero-carbon plane, demand cannot continue to grow unfettered in the long-term,” the letter states.

Deben’s letter on Wednesday comes in response to the government’s Aviation 2050 strategy, which was launched for consultation in December. That draft strategy insisted the UK’s aviation sector could grow to meet rapidly increasing demand for air travel over the next three decades, while at the same time limiting emissions at 2005 levels by the middle of the century.

The strategy attracted criticism from green campaigners who highlighted the lack of detail on exactly how the government plans to limit the climate impact of growing demand for air travel over the next three decades.
Aviation is widely seen as one of the most challenging sectors of the economy to decarbonise, with emissions from the industry having more than doubled since 1990, in contrast to emissions for the economy as a whole having fallen by around 40 per cent.

The Department for Transport, however, has said it is currently developing a long-term policy framework with industry that will address how to ensure sustainable growth, and that it plans to update the aviation strategy at regular intervals. It has also pledged to work at an international level through ICAO to negotiate a long-term global goal for aviation emissions that would be consistent with the Paris Agreement.

The latest developments came as the CCC today confirmed its assessment of the UK’s potential to set a net zero emissions target for the middle of the century would be published on May 2nd 2019, conceding the publication date was “later than requested – a reflection of the scope and importance of the task”.

The UK currently has a legal requirement to achieve an 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 against a 1990 baseline, but the government last year asked the CCC to look at whether this should be replaced with a more ambitious goal.

In light of current work to develop both a UK aviation strategy as well as a potential net zero emissions target for the whole economy, CCC chief executive Chris Stark said there was therefore now a “clear opportunity” to clarify the role of aviation in the UK’s long-term climate ambitions.

However, campaigners remain sceptical about the government’s abilit to seize that opportunity. Grayling has faced fierce criticism over his support for aviation expansion and his limited engagement with climate change issues. When announcing the government’s backing for a third runway at Heathrow Airport last summer, the Transport Secretary made no mention of the potential impact the decision could have on the UK’s climate targets, prompting Lord Deben to express “surprise” in another letter from the CCC last year.

The CCC’s latest intervention will therefore ramp up pressure on the government to ensure its aviation ambitions come alongside robust plans to ensure any growth in UK airport capacity does not blow a hole in domestic carbon budgets.

The move also came ahead of Airbus’s shock announcement today that following a review of its operations it will stop making its huge A380 planes by 2021, potentially putting thousands of UK jobs at risk. The plane manufacturing giant said it was also reducing its A380 output in the meantime due to a lack of order backlog with airlines “and in light of developments in aircraft engine technologies”.

The move could have an important impact on emissions scenario planning for the UK and international aviation sector, commentators have pointed out. The huge A380 planes – first launched as a rival to Boeing’s 747s in 2007 – have four engines, while much of the sector has shifted over the past decade towards smaller, more fuel efficient aircraft.

With the CCC planning to publish its net zero emissions assessment in May, this week’s letter suggests the UK’s independent climate body is keen to ensure there is a robust long term plan in place to ensure sustainable growth of the domestic aviation sector in line with the UK’s carbon targets. The pressure is now on the government and aviation sector to set out in much more detail how it foresees an increase in flights in a net zero carbon world.

https://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news-analysis/3071084/ccc-greater-effort-from-aviation-required-for-net-zero-uk

Is this the day that solar and wind changed the W.A. grid forever?

Renew Economy, 22 February 2019

The Australian Energy Market Operator has been fretting about the increase in the penetration of rooftop solar for some time now, and perhaps most of all in Western Australia, one of the world’s biggest “stand alone” grids, where the solar uptake is accelerating rapidly.

The state now has more than 1GW of rooftop solar on its main grid, which is located in the south-west corner of the state, and which is known as the South West Interconnected System (SWIS).
That makes rooftop solar the biggest source of electricity by capacity, and the uptake is growing at 35 per cent a year, according to AEMO.

It also has a growing amount of large-scale wind and solar capacity, as construction resumes following a three-year hiatus engineered by the previous Coalition government, and reforms are made that will facilitate access for renewables to the grid.

The isolated nature of the SWIS, both in its physical characteristics and some say in the culture of many in the industry, makes W.A. a fascinating case study.

And rooftop solar is particularly attractive because the west gets gets a lot of sun, and because consumers are finally being asked to pay the true cost of the fossil-fuel based grid, which was hugely subsidised by the government that has decided it can no longer foot the $500 million a year cost of making the electricity bills appear slightly more palatable.

But that rapid switch to rooftop solar is creating a very big “duck” curve that the grid operator is having to learn how to manage, as are others around the world where solar is a growing share of production.
The duck curve relates to the fall in demand in the middle of the day – driven by the uptake of rooftop solar – and the “ramping” needed to catch up with grid demand as it rises quickly as the sun sets in late afternoon, early evening.

The operator says that on October 18 last year, it was forced, for the first time, to call in “backup load following ancillary services” – broadly the equivalent of the directions that AEMO has grown accustomed to issuing in South Australia and more recently Victoria.

The operator said this was the result of volatile wind output, which delivered swings of up to 50MW in short time periods during the morning, compounded by variations of up to 100MW in the output from rooftop solar in the late morning as cloud cover moving across the south-west corner and Perth in particular.

At 11.30am, local time, the operator called on 50MW of Backup LFAS Down and 50MW of Backup LFAS Up, for a period of 3.5 hours to meet what it expected to be a volatile load profile. AEMO says it was justified because – as the arrow is pointing to in the above graph – a band of clouds around 1pm reduced solar PV output and caused a 300MW increase in demand, and its passing caused a 250MW reduction in demand in the next time interval (1.30pm). The back-up call was not costly – around $36,000 – although a second back-up call, on December 26, at 1am, caused on this occasion by rapid changes in wind output, was imposed for 8.5 hours (35.5MW) and cost around $81,000.

AEMO says the increasing level of penetration of rooftop PV and other renewable generation is going to increase the amount of volatility experienced on the power system going forward, and the number of directions. AEMO boss Audrey Zibelman addressed this issue at a symposium at UNSW this week, when she said that in Western Australia there is sometimes “too much rooftop solar that is not managed”, causing voltage to drop at a distribution level, and leading to curtailment of rooftop solar output.

“We have to start introducing the solutions now to make sure it works – otherwise we will be in the unenviable position of saying we can’t do any more,” Zibelman said. Those solutions include a shift to “orchestration”, which will allow networks owners and grid operators to use smart inverters to help manage distributed solar output. Battery storage, demand management and aggregated systems through smart controls of devices such as pool pumps could also do the trick.

“We want to be able to use all these investment, in a way to provide a private benefit and a public benefit and integrate then into the system,” Zibelman said. “It’s important for markets to be able to reward people to do that so that they are getting payments for the service. We have to get cracking.”

Is this the day that solar and wind changed the W.A. grid forever?

Making cities more walkable by understanding how other people influence our journeys

The Conversation, 19 February 2019

Cities around the world are changing to become more “walkable”. As more and more people move to cities, the benefits of encouraging people to walk are clear. Aside from making the urban environment more pleasant, safer and less polluted, improving a city’s walkability can also ease traffic congestion and improve public health.
This is a particular challenge in cities built for cars, so there’s been lots of research to find out what sort of features make a city more attractive to pedestrians, and encourage them to walk further and more often: whether it’s the size of urban blocks, the quality of the pavement, the presence of trees or street furniture or initiatives such as car-free zones.

But while planners and researchers strive to work out what makes urban spaces enticing to pedestrians, they often overlook the fact that people’s decisions about where to walk, and when, are not only determined by the physical qualities of the environment. In fact, new research suggests that these choices are strongly influenced by other people.

Under the influence

There’s already lots of evidence that people are highly influenced by their friendship groups. As early as the 1970s, an American sociologist called Mark Granovetter suggested that the spread of rumours, adoption of new tech and job searches were all influenced by a person’s social network – especially their “weak ties” with acquaintances.

At the same time, two other American sociologists, Paul Burstein and Carl Sheingold, found that political voting patterns were also significantly influenced by a person’s social network. Even more recently, researchers discovered that you are more likely to be obese if your social network contains obese friends.
There’s clear evidence that there’s a social dimension to walking, too. For example, a child is more likely to walk to school if they have a sibling or friend to walk with. Gender, class and the distance to work all affect whether or not a person chooses to walk. And people prefer to go with friends when walking for leisure in the city.

More than that, in new research I conducted with colleagues at ETH Zurich and the University of California, we looked at how the routes people choose to take when walking can be influenced by others; we call this phenomenon “social wayfinding”.

Social wayfinding

Perhaps the clearest example of social wayfinding is when two or more people are walking together, trying to reach a destination. They might plan where to go, identify landmarks along the way, and discuss their choice of route together.

This activity becomes less social when one person leads the way, and others follow along; whether that’s a guide leading a tour, or a person leading a friend to their house. Both of these are examples of “strong” social wayfinding, because decisions about where to go are directly and intentionally influenced by other people.
Social wayfinding also happens when pedestrians take hints from others, which influences their choice of route. When a walker believes that other travellers might share the same destination – for example, when they follow fellow supporters from the train station to the football stadium for a match – he or she may simply go with the flow.

Similarly, the movement of people through a gap between two buildings might indicate a shortcut you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed. This is what we call “weak” social wayfinding.

Timing also plays a role. For example, directions or guidance can be given before a journey, or while walking (over the phone, for example). It can even be that the past movements of others leave “social trails”, which can indirectly inform pedestrians where to go – like the worn tracks across grass, which might hint at a shortcut through a park.

The social city

Of course, people navigate using many different types of social wayfinding during the course of their walk. Apps such as Google Maps or Citymapper can also be used in a social way: although they’re typically designed with a single navigator in mind, in reality it’s not unusual for two or more people to be using a device at the same time, passing it around, discussing the instructions and jointly making decisions about where to go.
To create walkable cities, of course it’s important for planners and city leaders to understand what sort of physical features encourage people to walk more. But acknowledging how social interactions influence people’s choices about when and where to walk would give leaders a much more realistic understanding of people’s behaviour – and put them in a better position to encourage walking as a means of getting around.

Understanding how other people influence wayfinding could also clear the way for many exciting technological innovations, which could make cities easier to navigate. Social trails could be mapped by digital apps or physical markers, and signage could be dynamic, possibly even functioning like an online recommendation system – for example, by flagging quieter routes during busy periods of the day. Wayfinding aids such as maps, signage and apps can be tested on groups, as well as individuals, to make them more useful in both settings.

By being more responsive to the social influences, which affect where people choose to walk, urban planners and leaders could gain valuable information about the way people use the city, and make smarter decisions about what to build, and where.

https://theconversation.com/making-cities-more-walkable-by-understanding-how-other-people-influence-our-journeys-111767

‘What about the plug?’ Australia’s electric car infrastructure stalled by policy paralysis

The Guardian, 4 February 2019

Why has it taken so long just to move past the bare minimum needed to support what is now an expanding sector?

Most electric car owners will charge at home or at work but one in three will still be reliant on public charging stations. Last September, Sylvia Wilson became the second person in the country to drive around Australia in an electric car. The entire 20,396 kilometre trip took the 70-year-old 110 days in her Tesla S75 and cost just $150.90.

Her success served as an answer to critics who have long argued “range anxiety” – the worry about whether an electric car’s battery will die out of reach of a charging station – is a factor stopping more people buying electric cars. “The reality is that if you can see the lights on or that the kettle works, then you can charge. Even in the remotest places, you can still charge the car. In a way there are more places to charge an EV [electric vehicle] than there are a fossil-fuel car,” Wilson told Guardian Australia at the time.

While Wilson showed what’s possible with existing infrastructure, industry insiders and engineers have been left wondering why it’s taken so long for Australia just to move past the bare minimum needed to support an expanding electric car sector.

Behyad Jafari, chief executive of the Electric Vehicle Council, says the failure to so far provide this infrastructure – from charging stations and uniform standards for components, to the tools needed to maintain each vehicle – is a symptom of political paralysis that has taken hold in Canberra. “Let’s be clear here, these aren’t electric vehicle problems, they’re Australian policy problems,” says Jafari. “In the absence of that, companies are left wondering, well what the hell do we do?”

According to modelling commissioned by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, most electric car owners will charge at home or at their place of work but roughly one in three will still be reliant on public charging stations. With just 783 charging stations around the country in 2018, compared with 6,400 petrol stations, building the infrastructure to support the widespread take-up of electric vehicles will cost $1.7bn.

Tim Washington is a director of Jetcharge and a cofounder of Chargefox, one of the biggest companies in Australia which supplies and installs charging stations across the country.

Washington says most of the infrastructure needed to support the mass uptake of electric cars is already in place, because most people living in a city only drive up to 30 kilometres a day. “Public charging stations are a visual signal to the public that you are now able to charge the car. People are very used to seeing petrol stations and they have confidence in buying a petrol car because they have a petrol station,” says Washington. “People immediately think service station-style charging stations. That’s just not the case. A lot of the charging infrastructure is invisible infrastructure. It’s not apparent to the public eye to where the vast majority of charging stations are. “They’re in homes, in basements, in commercial building car parks, in public car parks – in all the places where you don’t see a traditional fuel source – and that’s all that required for a healthy uptake of electric vehicles.”

The problem for companies like his, Washington says, is that the infant nature of the industry and the way people will use the technology makes it a risky investment. “One of the troubles for public infrastructure providers is that you invest all this money to encourage people to come to electric, but once you invest this money, people will charge at home,” Washington says. “It’s classic market failure.”

To get around this, state and local governments have so far been eager to support the building of new charging stations, but often the support they can provide is limited by their resources and their authority.
Instead, help must come from Canberra which for the last few years has been slow to respond to the growth of the new industry – despite some recognition of its potential. Indeed, one of the recommendations in the select committee report on electric vehicles released this week is that the federal government work with “operators in the charging infrastructure industry to develop a comprehensive plan for the rollout of a national public charging network”.

Last October the federal energy minister, Angus Taylor, announced $6m to support Chargefox in building a network of ultra-fast charging stations along the highways that link Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide, and four around Perth. These stations have the ability to take recharge times from eight hours down to 15 minutes in some cases.

While it was a welcome announcement, the government has so far failed to address other infrastructure issues that aren’t the most obvious – or headline grabbing. An early example involved the humble plug. With no clear standard in Australia, global manufacturers had no guide for how to build their cars for the local market. In some ways it risked repeating what happened at federation when each state mandated its own rail gauges, making it impossible to take a train across state lines in one continuous trip.

“It had been an understood issue for quite a number of years before but then there hadn’t been any action,” says Jafari. Instead, industry players themselves had to organise to decide on a voluntary standard that was later communicated in a technical document released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. While it was a good news story for the industry, it should never have been left to get that far.

Now researchers such as Professor Iftekhar Ahmad from Edith Cowan University are looking ahead to stop future problems before they happen. “Electric cars will increase what’s called high peak-to-average demand. When the owners go home and plug in, we’ll see high peak demand during those hours,” says Ahmad. “The current distribution network is not designed for high peak. When you think about putting so much load on the network, the infrastructure lifetime can be shortened and also it can put too much stress on transformers.”

While several fixes have been proposed, Ahmad says the problem can be overcome with proper planning.
“It has to be well planned,” he says. “It’s not currently happening in a coordinated fashion and the perspective from the government [and] the utilities is that there’s not enough cars in the market to think about it.
“It will happen, there is no stopping it. If you go to Beijing or Europe, you will see them everywhere and if enough planning can be done, electric cars have a huge potential to complement our renewable energy system.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/04/what-about-the-plug-australias-electric-car-infrastructure-stalled-by-policy-paralysis

Bike-friendly cities should be designed for everyone, not just for wealthy white cyclists

The Conversation, 8 February 2019

Designing for bikes has become a hallmark of forward-looking modern cities worldwide. Bike-friendly city ratings abound, and advocates promote cycling as a way to reduce problems ranging from air pollution to traffic deaths.
But urban cycling investments tend to focus on the needs of wealthy riders and neglect lower-income residents and people of color. This happens even though the single biggest group of Americans who bike to work live in households that earn less than US$10,000 yearly, and studies in lower-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Boston have found that the majority of bicyclists were non-white.

I have worked on bicycle facilities for 38 years. In a newly published study, I worked with colleagues from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston groups focused on health and families to learn from residents of several such neighborhoods what kinds of bike infrastructure they believed best met their needs. Some of their preferences were notably different from those of cyclists in wealthier neighborhoods.

Cycling infrastructure and urban inequality

Bike equity is a powerful tool for increasing access to transportation and reducing inequality in U.S. cities. Surveys show that the fastest growth in cycling rates since 2001 has occurred among Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American riders. But minority neighborhoods have fewer bike facilities, and riders there face higher risk of accidents and crashes.

Many U.S. cities have improved marginalized neighborhoods by investing in grocery stores, schools, health clinics, community centers, libraries and affordable housing. But when it comes to bicycle infrastructure, they often add only the easiest and least safe elements, such as painting sharrows – stencils of bikes and double chevrons – or bike lane markings, and placing them next to curbs or between parked cars and traffic. Cycle tracks – bike lanes separated from traffic by curbs, lines of posts or rows of parked cars – are more common in affluent neighborhoods.

Compared with white wealthier neighborhoods, more bicyclists in ethnic-minority neighborhoods receive tickets for unlawful riding or are involved in collisions. With access to properly marked cycle tracks, they would have less reason to ride on the sidewalk or against traffic on the street, and would be less likely to be hit by cars.
In my view, responsibility for recognizing these needs rests primarily with cities.

Urban governments rely on public participation processes to help them target investments, and car owners tend to speak loudest because they want to maintain access to wide street lanes and parallel parking. In contrast, carless residents who could benefit from biking may not know to ask for facilities that their neighborhoods have never had.

Protection from crime and crashes

For our study, we organized 212 people into 16 structured discussion groups. They included individuals we classified as “community-sense” – representing civic organizations such as YMCAs and churches – or “street-sense,” volunteers from halfway houses, homeless shelters and gangs. We invited the street-sense groups because individuals who have committed crimes or know of crime opportunities have valuable insights about urban design.

We showed the groups photos of various cycling environments, ranging from unaltered streets to painted sharrows and bike lanes, cycle tracks and shared multi-use paths. Participants ranked the pictures according to the risk of crime or crashes they associated with each option, then discussed their perceptions as a group.

Studies have shown that awareness of criminal activity along bike routes can deter cyclists, and this is an important concern in low-income and minority neighborhoods. In a study in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, I found that African-American and Hispanic bicyclists were more concerned than white cyclists that their bikes could be stolen. Some carried bikes up three flights of stairs to store them inside their homes.

From an anti-crime perspective, our focus groups’ ideal bike system was a wide two-way cycle track with freshly painted lines and bike stencils plus arrows, free of oil or litter. Conditions around the route also mattered. Our groups perceived areas with clean signs, cafes with tables and flowers, balconies, streetlights and no alleyways or cuts between buildings as safest. They also wanted routes to avoid buildings that resembled housing projects, warehouses and abandoned buildings.

For crash safety, participants preferred cycle tracks separated from cars by physical dividers; wide cycle track surfaces, colored red to designate them as space for bicyclists; and bike stencils and directional arrows on the tracks. In their view, the safest locations for bike facilities had traffic signals for bikers, clearly painted lines, low levels of traffic, and did not run near bus stops or intersections where many streets converged.

Rules for the road

We compared our results with widely used bicycle design guidelines and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles to see whether those sources reflected our participants’ priorities. The guidelines produced by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the National Association of City Transportation Officials provide engineering specifications for designing bicycle facilities that focus on road elements – paint, delineator posts and signs – but do not describe design features that would protect vulnerable humans bicycling through an environment at night. Our study asked people about what kinds of surface markings and features in the surrounding area made them feel most comfortable.

As an example, our groups preferred street-scale lighting to brighten the surface of cycle tracks. In contrast, tall highway cobra-head lights typically used on busy urban streets reach over the roadway, illuminating the road for drivers in vehicles that have headlights.

In higher-income neighborhoods, cyclists might choose bike routes on side streets to avoid heavy traffic. However, people in our study felt that side streets with only residential buildings were less safe for cycling. This suggests that bicycle routes in lower-income ethnic-minority neighborhoods should be concentrated on main roads with commercial activity where more people are present.

Decisions about public rights-of-way should not be based on how many car owners or how few bicyclists show up at public meetings. Our study shows that city officials should create networks of wide, stenciled, red-painted, surface-lighted, barrier-protected, bicycle-exclusive cycle tracks in lower-income ethnic-minority neighborhoods along main streets. This would help residents get to work affordably, quickly and safely, and improve public health and quality of life in communities where these benefits are most needed.

https://theconversation.com/bike-friendly-cities-should-be-designed-for-everyone-not-just-for-wealthy-white-cyclists-109485

There’s Nothing Ridiculous About Trains Replacing Planes High-speed rail in California was a disaster. But there’s a better way.

Slate, 12 February 2019

What a train wreck.

Last week, the rollout of the Green New Deal brought sustained attention to the idea of high-speed rail in the United States for the first time since the early years of the Obama administration. Various Democratic presidential contenders endorsed, albeit in the vaguest possible terms, the idea of getting more people to more places via faster and more dependable train service. The office of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went one further, suggesting—by mistake, apparently—that a souped-up rail system could replace domestic air travel.

D’oh. A GOP meme was born. “The authors of the Green New Deal assume that technocratic planners can master the movements of 328 million Americans and design a transportation system so that ‘air travel stops becoming necessary,’ ” David Brooks jabbed in the New York Times. “This is from people who couldn’t even organize the successful release of their own background document.” By the time Rep. Liz Cheney discussed the plan on the House floor, Democrats were planning to “outlaw air travel” within the decade.

That was fancy. But reality wasn’t on the Democrats’ side either. On Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would be truncating the nation’s flagship public high-speed rail project, the train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, to run between … Bakersfield and Merced. Driving that great strawberry patch takes just 2½ hours.

It’s a staggering step back from the plan as it was envisioned more than a decade ago, and it feels like a blow to the idea that high-speed rail can meaningfully compete with air travel beyond the Northeast Corridor. It shouldn’t: High-speed rail is in fact eating into domestic airline industries from Italy to China, making travel easier, cheaper, faster, and cleaner. Modern, purpose-built high-speed rail has captured 90 percent of the market between Paris and Lyon (267 miles) and 85 percent of the market between Tokyo and Osaka (320 miles). Insert your favorite short-distance U.S. airline route here.

But first you have to lay the tracks.

In 2008, California voters approved a $10 billion bond for a new train route between the Southland and the Bay. At the time, the project was supposed to cost $32 billion and finish in 2029. Last year, a revised business plan had it at $77 billion, finishing in 2033. The state broke ground on the 119-mile Central Valley segment in 2015, but still hadn’t acquired all the land in the corridor as of last year. The entire route is 520 miles.

To Californians who have followed the project, Tuesday’s announcement comes as no surprise. In December, Newsom professed his support for the so-called “Valley-to-Valley” section of the California project, the first to break ground, but otherwise thought it was “time for a fresh start.” “What Newsom said today wasn’t news. It was news that he said it out loud,” said Nadia Naik of the grassroots group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, which supports the high-speed rail plan but has argued for greater transparency and accountability. “For Californians, it’s really sad. We knew California could be a model and that if we screwed this up, people would point and say we shouldn’t do that. All the fears have come to pass.”

What makes this failure so biting for environmentalists and rail advocates is precisely the fact that high-speed rail projects around the world have proven to be exactly what Ocasio-Cortez’s office suggested: major threats to domestic airline routes. A broader lesson is that the greatest threat to a progressive national agenda lies with its own incompetent administrators.

Opponents of high-speed rail often invoke some kind of American exceptionalism, arguing that America is too big, too dispersed, and too car-dependent to have a market for intercity train travel. In reality, the only American exceptionalism is our debilitating lack of expertise. “I’ve always quoted Churchill when it comes to high-speed rail,” says Anthony Perl, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. “The Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”

A recent overview of research suggests that planes and high-speed trains are competitive on routes under 600 miles. Internationally, that includes routes like Rome–Milan, Tokyo–Osaka, and Paris–London. Domestically, it might include Atlanta–Charlotte, Los Angeles–Las Vegas, and, yes, Los Angeles–San Francisco. Under 300 miles, rail becomes dominant. “Several regions in the United States have comparable density that might support the success of high-speed rail,” says Yu Zhang, one of the report’s authors. Park-and-ride, Uber and Lyft, transcontinental flights, and short-haul, low-ridership airplane shuttles should all be viewed as complements to new high-speed rail, which is often linked to airports as well as city centers.

Even long routes can succeed if passengers are willing to sacrifice a couple of hours for the comfort of the train. Beijing–Shanghai is only a bit shorter than New York–Chicago (though with more forgiving terrain—a U.S. version would have to trace the old Erie Canal). At 4½ hours, it’s one of China’s most popular and profitable routes.

California’s project had little in common with its peers in France or China. “You hear a lot about best practices,” says Jeff Davis at the Eno Center for Transportation, a think tank in Washington. “This particular California project has a series of worst practices.” Those include:

• A meandering route through the Central Valley devised to win support at the ballot box, locking planners into a scheme that took the route away from its goal of connecting the state’s biggest cities.
• A mad rush to begin construction without knowing the route, acquiring the right of way, studying the geology, or securing the funding.
• An irresponsible partner in the federal government that rushed California to get going and encouraged the state to proceed with half-baked plans.
• A balkanized planning process teeming with eager private-sector beavers who were afraid to report how flawed the enterprise was, a system that Naik called “no consultant left behind.”
• The determination not to engage French and Chinese engineers who offered to just build the damn thing for us. “The equivalent of Bangladesh saying they’d go to the moon with indigenous technology” is how Perl describes the general attitude. “We excluded all the learning and tech that happened elsewhere.”

Is there reason to be optimistic? Perhaps: Newsom’s promise to bring transparency to the high-speed rail project can serve as a teachable moment for the state and others that want to follow in its footsteps. “It’s a very expensive misstep,” says Naik. “But if Gavin Newsom is able to make a real change, and get more accountability, it’s probably worth more to California than any amount of rail.” Once a useless Central Valley spur is in place, there might be appetite to try again. (We could ask the Japanese to clean up our mess.)

Critics will whine, as they always do, that high-speed rail can’t pay for itself. The evidence suggests it hasn’t and won’t. (Though a private company is trying in Texas.) But neither do highways or airports, especially when you account for their enormous externalities. Democrats are right to want to subsidize the development of a transportation mode that brings us less close to a global meltdown than the other subsidized transportation mode. Once operating, many high-speed rail routes are self-sufficient, with ticket sales covering operations and maintenance. What makes the failure in California so frustrating is not that it was crazy to suggest the train could sharply curtail California’s intercity air travel—but that it might have, if we’d done it right.

https://slate.com/business/2019/02/high-speed-rail-in-california-and-the-green-new-deal-it-could-work-in-america-but-were-screwing-it-up.html

E-Scooters Could be a Last-Mile Solution for Everyone

ITDP, 14 December 2018

Like docked and dockless bikeshare before them, dockless electric “kick” scooters are taking off in popularity, responding to a strong and growing need for urban car alternatives like transit and “last mile” connections. As part of a menu of urban transportation options, scooters have the potential to reduce short-distance, single occupancy vehicle and TNC (Transportation Network Company, e.g. Uber, Lyft, Via) trips, reducing urban congestion and emissions.

Scooters provide a low cost, flexible mobility option for short trips, particularly those connected to transit. Bikes have long provided an excellent option for last-mile trips, and they continue to do so. However, the popularity, and user-friendliness of e-scooters may offer an even easier option for the first and last mile.
Scooters, particularly e-scooters, offer an option that pretty much anyone, regardless of fitness or ability, can ride for short trips. As with shared bikes, cities have an opportunity to leverage scooters, and other privately-operated, shared modes in a way that more directly encourages their use in coordination with transit. For example, cities could work with operators to subsidize scooter and bikeshare rides that start or end at transit using common payment options. This level of targeted integration benefits cities by expanding access to transit at a relatively low cost per mile (compared to building new stations, adding buses, etc.), benefits users by making sustainable, multi-modal trips more streamlined and affordable, and benefits companies by establishing a loyal, diverse customer base.

Scooters, bikes, and other technology-enabled shared modes have a role to play in shifting the paradigm away from personal car ownership. Cities can take advantage of this opportunity by understanding the demand for car-alternatives for short trips, and setting smart, goal-oriented regulations that help address that demand. Data from Portland’s scooter pilot shows that 34% of resident scooter riders would have otherwise driven a personal car or taken a taxi or TNC if a scooter hadn’t been available for their most recent trip. While this is promising support for scooters helping to reduce car trips, the data also indicates that 37% of respondents would have otherwise walked if a scooter wasn’t available. When asked how often they rode a scooter to or from a transit stop, 61% responded ‘never’. These last two data points underscore the need for cities to ensure that scooters support public transit, walking and cycling, instead of competing with these modes.

More, and longer-term data on scooter trips could help cities decide whether scooters are, in fact, providing a first-last mile connection to transit, substituting car trips, or pushing pedestrians and cyclists away from biking and walking.

Funding the Last-Mile Solution

Cities are now more prepared for the “ask forgiveness, not permission” attitude of privately-operated mobility services, and are responding to the unpermitted launch of e-scooters much more quickly and systematically than with transportation network companies like Uber, or even dockless bikeshare companies. While a few cities have outright banned scooters, most have launched pilots to test regulations and evaluate potential for long-term integration of scooters into the transportation network. In some cases, such as in Austin, Denver, and Los Angeles, cities are moving to combine permitting of dockless bikes, e-bikes, and e-scooters under a common regulatory scheme.

Other cities are taking more concrete steps to improve scooter and bike riders’ comfort on the street by requiring private operators to help fund infrastructure and other road safety improvements. Indianapolis is the first city to require scooter operators to pay $1 per scooter per day into a fund for road safety improvements for cyclists and scooter riders. Scooter operator, Bird, has volunteered to pay a similar amount for infrastructure improvements in other cities (many of which have been hesitant to accept Bird’s offer) however, some reportedly do not have a process in place to accept this type of funding from the private sector. Regardless, this new model of collaboration between cities and private companies to fund projects that make choosing a scooter or bike as a last-mile solution safer could prove successful, as long as cities are clear about what their goals are and why they are asking companies to share costs.

Encouraging the use of dockless scooters as a first-last mile option could also help connect people living further from the city center to public transit. Residents who live in outer neighborhoods tend to have fewer transit options, and likely require both a first and last mile solution for their trip. These residents stand to benefit the most from improved access to reliable, affordable first-last mile options.

Cities and e-scooter operators have an opportunity to learn from bikeshare by recognizing the demand – especially in neighborhoods further from downtown – for low-cost, reliable transportation options that aren’t private vehicles. It’s also critical for cities to realize their role in supporting sustainable transport like bikeshare and e-scootershare with protected infrastructure that can serve cyclists and scooters well, along with cost-effective and convenient connections with transit. Technology and private capital offer cities great tools to improve the lives of their residents, and taking full advantage of these tools means making space on our streets for many mobility options: scooters, bikes, transit, and shared vehicles all have a role to play in a healthy, vibrant transport system.

E-Scooters Could be a Last-Mile Solution for Everyone

Launching the first unmanned delivery service

Medium, 18 December 2018

Today, Nuro launched the first-ever unmanned delivery service for the general public. People in Scottsdale, Arizona can now have their groceries delivered by the R1, a self-driving, unmanned on-road vehicle. We are incredibly proud of our team and our partners for reaching this milestone together.

Eleven years ago, I was fortunate to be part of the DARPA Urban Grand Challenge. In the final competition, eleven teams launched autonomous cars into a mock urban environment. It was the first time self-driving vehicles interacted with neighborhood traffic in realistic, unscripted on-road scenarios. And we got goosebumps. My co-founder Jiajun and I were also fortunate to be part of Google’s self-driving car project in its early years. In 2015, the team at Google performed the first unmanned trip on public roads. Steve Mahan ‘drove’ a self-driving vehicle while being legally blind. And we watched in awe. Since then, the industry has taken further big steps towards bringing this technology to the world. We believe our launch today is one of them. For the first time ever — as far as we know — an unmanned service is available to the public. For us at Nuro, this represents the culmination of years of long days and team breakthroughs, sweat and (literal) tears.

We founded Nuro two years and four months ago to accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life. We wanted to tackle challenges that had an immediate impact on communities everywhere. As described in earlier posts, we realized that we could give back millions of hours of time to people if we built an inexpensive service that provided anything, anywhere, anytime. We started by partnering with Kroger — America’s largest grocery retailer — to create a grocery delivery service with self-driving vehicles. After launching this service in August with our fleet of self-driving Priuses, we’ve completed roughly one thousand deliveries, received best-in-class customer satisfaction ratings, and freed up many hours of our customers’ time.

In parallel, our technical teams have been preparing the R1 to join the pilot. We can’t wait for our customers to meet this special unmanned vehicle. Every team, from hardware to software, operations to product, worked together closely to design and build R1 from scratch. Truly joint development meant we could thoughtfully dive into everything from compartment ergonomics to vehicle shape to sensor design and placement. The constant goal: Build the best vehicle, and service, for goods transportation.

Being the ‘best’ vehicle also means being incredibly safe. The R1 features world-class self-driving software and sensing hardware, redundancy across every critical driving system, and a lighter and nimbler footprint than a standard car. In the initial phase of the development, we’ve also thoroughly trained our robot operators who monitor R1 and are able to take control at any time. Read more about how we incorporate safety into every step of the development process in Delivering Safety: Nuro’s Approach.

While this first unmanned service represents the culmination of many years of work, it also represents another beginning. For this may be the first, but it will be followed by many more: more vehicles, more cities, and more services. Together with others in the industry, we will usher in new ways to provide transportation, and more time, to everyone.

Want to keep up with Nuro? We invite you to follow our blog and connect with us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Consider joining us to be part of the journey.

https://medium.com/nuro/launching-the-first-unmanned-delivery-service-3fa574ca6e25

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