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Posts from the ‘Planning’ Category

Rethinking traffic congestion to make our cities more like the places we want them to be

The Conversation, February 25, 2019

Soon after becoming prime minister last year, Scott Morrison appointed a minister for “congestion busting”, signalling the importance he attaches to this issue. The large number of Google search results on “traffic congestion in Australian cities 2019” (9.5 million) and “traffic congestion in Australian cities costing the economy 2019” (8.3 million) seems to support his opinion.

But what if this concern for traffic congestion is based more on “groupthink” than a careful look at the relevant data? What if congestion is not such a big social or economic problem? What if congestion costs are overemphasised?

In thinking about these questions, it should be recognised that there is always an underlying demand for driving, which exceeds the road space available, so building more roads induces more traffic. Congestion soon returns but with more vehicles affected than before. In addition, congestion is likely to increase with rising population and living standards.

Is traffic congestion a problem for the economy?
The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) estimated the “avoidable social costs” of traffic congestion for Australia’s eight capital cities at A$16.5 billion in 2015. While the estimate is carefully calculated, there is scope to consider other relevant factors such as:

traffic congestion is usually a problem only for commuters in or near metropolitan CBD areas – for other road users, their average time delay is a relatively minor problem

the BITRE estimate is a small proportion (about 1%) of Australia’s 2015 GDP

more than one-third of the A$16.5 billion estimate is for private time costs that aren’t factored into GDP calculations

except perhaps for congestion charging, avoiding the BITRE cost estimate would require capital expenditure, reducing the net benefit that action to reduce congestion costs could capture

the BITRE estimate gives insufficient attention to changes in travel behaviour and location decisions in response to congestion.

There is evidence that road users, both private and business, adapt to congestion by changing travel route and time of travel, as well as changing location. In addition, the effects of the so-called Marchetti travel time budget (time saved on one route tends to be used for more travel elsewhere rather than for non-travel purposes) does not seem to have been considered in the BITRE calculations.

Using congestion to guide development

While the avoidable social costs of road congestion are arguably not a big deal, it’s pretty clear congestion plays a significant role in structuring urban areas.

Urban planners in Vancouver recognised this some 40 years ago. Rather than trying to reduce traffic congestion, they consciously used that congestion to limit commuter car access to the city centre. They went so far as to say “congestion is our friend”.

A “carrot and stick” approach was adopted in Vancouver. Traffic congestion was used to discourage commuting by car from the suburbs to the CBD. At the same time, complementary urban planning and design policies were enacted to make the inner city a more attractive place to live for all family types including those with young children. High-quality public transport (particularly the SkyTrain metro system) to the CBD was expanded to cover more of the metropolitan area, providing an attractive alternative to commuting by car.

Of course, congestion management can be used to support other land use planning strategies, such as metropolitan decentralisation. Again this would require a “carrot and stick” approach.

Congestion narrative fuels ‘the infrastructure turn’
Urban researchers have identified what has been called “the infrastructure turn”. This is an excessive focus on building infrastructure, particularly large transport infrastructure, rather than on integrated strategic land use and transport planning.

The infrastructure focus is a simplistic response to growing city populations. Importantly, it fails to manage travel demand towards a more sustainable long-term result, such as metropolitan decentralisation like Sydney’s “three cities” approach.

Emphasising congestion and its estimated costs reinforces a sense that urgent action is needed, and supports the “infrastructure turn”.

Planning for the city we desire

A best practice approach to metropolitan planning requires that transport planning and land use planning work together to achieve a desired future for the city. And community deliberation determines this desired future. The performance of the transport system should be measured mainly by how well this desired future is being achieved, rather than by the level of traffic congestion.

While traffic congestion is real and annoying to many (and also a worry for politicians like the prime minister), it’s not a big social or economic problem. Instead, the congestion could be managed – rather than just catering to projected demand – so our cities become more like the places we want them to be.

https://theconversation.com/rethinking-traffic-congestion-to-make-our-cities-more-like-the-places-we-want-them-to-be-111614?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=twitterbutton

The Political Battle Over California’s Suburban Dream

Citylab 5 April 2019

State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 50 would rewrite the state’s single-family zoning codes. What’s wrong with that? A lot, say opponents.

In a hearing room in California’s capitol on Tuesday, State Senator Scott Wiener described a widespread housing crisis in stark terms. California is short about 3.5 million homes, he said, citing a McKinsey report that projected housing demand by 2025. Buying a home at the Golden State’s median price—over half a million dollars—is a fantasy for most households. Rents are soaring, homelessness is up, and displacement is refacing storied neighborhoods.

“Red or blue, all of our communities are struggling,” Wiener told an audience of lobbyists, citizens, and members of the state senate housing committee, who would later have their say about how to address the housing crisis.

As they spoke, the painted figures in a Depression-era mural depicting the state’s romanticized origins looked on. Flanked by a missionary, a prospector, a frontiersman, and a native Californian, Calafia, the Amazon goddess from whom the state supposedly gets its name, graced its spectacular and varied terrain. In the foreground, a white working-class couple, child in arms, surveyed their land of promise.

As Tuesday’s hearing made clear, rarely has California’s mythic story of opportunity seemed further from reality. From Sonoma to San Diego, the state faces a massive affordability crisis; across the political gradient, few residents disagree on that, even if they don’t see eye to eye on how to solve it. Investment in below-market-rate housing?

Stronger tenant protections? Better city planning? They’re all part of the solution, said Wiener. But what California fundamentally lacks is adequate housing supply, he said, and it needs to tear down needless barriers to market rate construction.

That’s the intention behind Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, which proposes to rewrite the laws that have blocked high-volume housing construction. Like its predecessor SB 827, the transit-oriented housing bill that captured national attention last year, SB 50 faces vigorous opposition from many angles. But it cleared its first legislative hurdle this week when it passed that housing committee (which Wiener leads) with a bipartisan 9-1 vote.

The bill would set an unprecedented state standard for residential zoning codes in certain corners of California. Currently, it is illegal to build anything but single dwellings designed for single families, sometimes with an in-law unit, in roughly 80 percent of California’s residential neighborhoods. SB 50 would change those laws in areas that are near high-frequency transit lines, job clusters, and good schools, prying open opportunities for developers to build to taller heights, with more units per square foot.

It’s a solution to what is, in one respect, a geometry problem. Cities that cling to their coveted coastlines can expand outwardly only so far, and even in big metros like L.A. and the Bay area, the share of land that’s zoned for single-family housing is still about 70 percent. Governor Gavin Newsom has pledged to meet that 3.5 million-unit gap by 2025. But UCLA urban policy experts recently showed that zoning constraints prevent cities and counties from building more than 2.8 million new homes. “If you’re prohibited to build enough housing, then you’re sort of stuck,” Wiener said on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, however, the housing crisis isn’t just about the math. These politics probe deep into fundamental emotional concepts about ownership, sovereignty, and identity. A diverse mix of Californians—from the richest suburbs in the country, to rent-strained neighborhoods fighting gentrification and displacement, to struggling towns from the vast farming region—have arranged themselves on either side of the bill, which has tapped a powerful strain of anxiety about who should live in this state, and how.

For its opponents, SB 50 functions as a Rorschach test that reveals the “real” housing crisis. At Tuesday’s hearing, a parade of naysayers had their moment at the mic.

“This is about destroying suburban, one-home-per-lot neighborhoods … this is discrimination,” said Karen Klinger, a Sacramento real estate broker.

Jason Rhine, a legislative director with the League of California Cities, had another concern: He complained that the legislation would undermine local plans to increase housing supplies. “You tell us to plan, you approve our plan, and now the rules are going to be changed without additional input,” he said.

Rene Christian Moya, the director of Housing is a Human Right, led a group of low-income tenant-activists from Los Angeles and Oakland to testify at the hearing about their key objection: the fear that SB 50 would bring rent hikes and displacement. “We contest vigorously that trickle-down housing is the way to build,” he said. (His organization is a subsidiary of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the global healthcare and advocacy nonprofit that’s become a figure for fighting density measures in Southern California.)

SB 50 is already further along than its predecessor, SB 827, ever got. That bill’s premature demise (it didn’t clear its first hearing) was largely due to the concerns of low-income community advocates, who justly saw transit-adjacent upzoning as a gentrification accelerator. It’s hard to parse the exact reasons why people leave their neighborhoods, but rising rents are indisputably driving some poorer Californians out of their longtime neighborhoods. Highly visible examples can be found in the Mission in San Francisco, and Boyle Heights in Los Angeles.

SB 50 contains a number of new provisions that address those criticisms. That includes a five-year carve-out for “sensitive communities” that could be at risk of displacement, which the bill is leaving up to local planners and advocates to define. It boasts stronger provisions for inclusionary requirements, and it excludes properties that have long had tenants living in them or have been recently subject to evictions. It also targets neighborhoods that are rich in jobs and great schools, in addition to transit-adjacent ones, for higher-density allowances. That way, desirable communities that have long been immune to new development pressure—high-income, high-opportunity, and zoned to be exclusionary—would have to step up, too.

Wiener has drawn a broader coalition behind SB 50 than he was able to do for its predecessor. Supporters include AARP, the California Labor Federation, the California Association of Realtors, CalPIRG, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Habitat for Humanity, Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, the BART Board of Directors, and the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Stockton, and Sacramento. Three-quarters of residents in San Francisco—where housing affordability is the top civic concern, polls show—support SB 50, according to a survey by the SF Chamber of Commerce.

But some tenant advocacy groups and community justice organizations still fear that SB 50 could toss fuel on the fire of urban displacement. And although this draft goes further to establish affordability standards to make sure that new projects are mixed income, its focus is still principally on building market-rate apartments. That doesn’t cut it for very low-income Californians, Moya said, who are struggling the most to hang on to homes. He’s a native of the gentrifying, historically Latino neighborhood of Highland Park in Los Angeles, where median home prices have more than doubled since 2012. Moya has experienced housing insecurity himself, he said: “This is personal for me.”

Other advocates fear that the state government pre-empting community control over zoning and planning—long authorities vested at the local level—would set a dangerous precedent, particularly for vulnerable populations who’ve been left out of planning processes in the past. “Sensitive communities” might also be too narrowly defined by the bill’s language so far, say dozens of prominent low-income housing developers, social justice advocates, and anti-poverty legal groups from around the state who sent a long letter of concerns to Wiener’s office last month. “SB 50 must accurately identify all sensitive communities and preserve meaningful self-determination in those communities so that they can plan for an inclusive future,” that letter states.

But California housing politics creates strange bedfellows. Probably the loudest voices of dissent against SB 50 right now are affluent homeowners who worry that it will bulldoze local control over housing allowances and imperil “historic character”—traditional concerns of Not In My Backyard adherents. Groups like Livable California, founded last year by Marin anti-growth activist Susan Kirsch (who recently told Palo Alto Weekly that she prefers to the milder word “problem” to “crisis” when it comes to housing), have found footing up and down the state. In late March, a few dozen homeowners—mostly white, mostly older—gathered outside a church in downtown San Luis Obispo, where scarcely any building stands higher than two stories, to protest Wiener’s appearance at a housing summit organized by the local chamber of commerce. (I was also on the panel.) They raised signs, passed out Livable California literature, and chanted anti-SB 50 slogans. Sample couplet: “Density is not the way!/Where is the parking, who will pay?”

“We just want to preserve our quality of life,” said Allen Cooper, the secretary of Save Our Downtown, an anti-density preservation group in San Luis Obispo. “And part of that is we don’t want seven-story buildings looming over our houses.”

That’s not what SB 50 would do; it would raise height limits gradually, dependent on the codes already on the books. Nevertheless, S.O.D.’s members join with opponents in affluent communities and their elected leaders from Marin County to Redondo Beach to Sherman Oaks (my own childhood neighborhood in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley).

Up in the Bay Area, Cupertino Mayor Steve Scharf recently joked that the city planned to build a wall around itself to tame congestion problems and would force San Jose to pay for it. In his city, the median price for a single-family home is more than $2 million, unaffordable even to well-paid Apple software engineers. Yet it failed to require that Apple build any new housing when it approved the tech giant’s $1 billion, 10,000-worker new headquarters. In nearby Palo Alto, Mayor Eric Filseth railed against the bill in his recent state-of-the-city speech, complaining that targeting zoning codes would fail to hold big employers accountable for their role in the housing crunch. That’s true, but SB 50 wouldn’t override local housing elements that go above and beyond it.

John Mirisch, the vice-mayor of Beverly Hills, also used a recent address as an anti-SB 50 tirade, likening pro-housing legislators to Haman, a villain from the Jewish holiday of Purim, who attempted to kill off the Jews. He also referred to apartment buildings as “slums,” and encouraged everyone to live in single-family homes. (Median home price in Beverly Hills, the vast majority of which is zoned for single-family homes: $3.5 million.)

These pricey enclaves aren’t wrong to see themselves in the bullseye of SB 50. “We are targeting places like Beverly Hills that have shirked their responsibly to contribute to fixing this crisis,” said Laura Foote, the executive director of YIMBY Action, ahe pro-housing advocacy group.* “We are targeting places like Cupertino, which have added a lot of jobs and not a lot of housing.”

Considering the root of their respective concerns, it makes sense that low-income tenants rights groups concerned with displacement, and the representatives of the wealthiest neighborhoods in California, would be in the anti-SB 50 boat together. Fights against displacement in gentrifying areas generally happen in neighborhoods where it is already possible to build new, multi-family housing units with higher rents than existing tenants can afford—which is to say, in the few neighborhoods in California where that’s allowed.

Part of the reason anti-gentrification battles erupt in neighborhoods like Highland Park or the Mission is that single-family zoning codes have fiercely guarded against higher-density construction in most other surrounding neighborhoods. Homeowners in affluent neighborhoods, meanwhile, can exert disproportionate influence on the local zoning and development approval processes that effectively decide which communities are subjected to neighborhood change. “All of this is a legacy of the fact that you can build multi-family housing on only a few sites,” said Sonja Trauss, the co-executive director of the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund.

SB 50 seeks to upend that legacy by alleviating pressure on the most sensitive areas, opening up development in the areas where exclusionary zoning have put up the highest barriers to opportunity. It would rewrite the codes that have protected more suburban-style communities from physical changes to their composition, physical or demographic. “Homeowners generally benefit from scarcity,” said Michael Lens, a professor of urban policy at UCLA. “So pulling some of the zoning powers away from cities seems like something to consider to reduce those negative incentives.”

The drive down from San Francisco to Silicon Valley offers a visual lesson in why development pressures are so intensely concentrated in the few parts of the Bay Area where multi-unit housing is allowed. On the highway, the city quickly gives way to vast tracts of carefully preserved green fields and tiled-roof suburban sprawl that is nearly indistinguishable from the generally more politically conservative Orange and San Diego counties, hundreds of miles to the south.

The long, leafy, suburban peninsula holds many of the wealthiest zip codes in the United States, and yet is the country’s poster child for the extreme cost burdens created by extreme housing scarcity. It’s where county bus drivers are forced to sleep in their cars at night, and where proposals to house public school teachers spark online fundraisers to stop them by homeowners who are “distraught and concerned.”

Around here, residents look at SB 50 much like an incoming meteor. Silicon Valley’s Atherton, for example, is the very richest zip code in America, and is 100-percent zoned for single-family residential. It’s home to moguls like Sheryl Sandberg, Eric Schmidt, and Meg Whitman. It lost its weekday Caltrain commuter rail service in 2005, much to the chagrin of some residents with jobs in San Francisco or San Jose. But earlier this year, the local rail committee debated whether to petition to cancel its Caltrain service entirely, in case SB 50 might have upzoned the area around its historic train stop. In Atherton, some commuters apparently prefer to keep slogging through congestion than risk an incursion of apartment renters.

Concerns among social justice advocates about SB 50 are genuine and legitimate. Hardly all Californians who are vulnerable to rising rents and development pressures live in hotly contested urban neighborhoods. Take Vallejo, California, a still relatively affordable north Bay Area city and one of the most ethnically mixed places in the state. It has corridors rich in transit and jobs that could be upzoned under SB 50, potentially paving the way for more development, higher rents, and a more affluent demographic mix. “Some of the most diverse communities in Californian are made up of suburban-style, single-family homes,” said Michael Storper, a scholar of regional economics at UCLA who’s been a critic of the bill. It will take careful decision-making to determine what counts as a sensitive community, and eligible to protections from the new development that SB 50 is designed to accelerate.

But emerging analyses are suggesting that developers would be more likely to capitalize on new opportunities in wealthier neighborhoods anyway. A look at the potential effects of SB 50 in the Bay Area by UC Berkeley researchers show developers are more likely to profit from building in well-heeled Menlo Park than poorer Fruitvale, for example. And many constraints would still stand in the way of new construction, including slow permitting processes, local rezoning, and the sheer expense of building something new in California.

Still, it is worth considering what would happen to the people in areas more likely to be affected. High-income neighborhoods near good transit, jobs, and schools could see higher densities permitted in their neighborhoods. But that doesn’t mean leafy blocks of low-slung Craftsmans would be bulldozed overnight and transformed into looming mini-Manhattans. Available properties could be built, or rebuilt, to moderately taller heights. “SB 50 could thus result in a more gradual densification of housing in transit-rich neighborhoods, as underutilized sites become buildings with 10-20 units,” the Berkeley analysis found. The outcome that many anti-SB 50 activists dread is that their neighbors would choose to cash in, selling their houses to a developer who wanted to do that. “That sounds like an opportunity, not a threat,” said Foote.

It’s not hard to understand why homeowners are so sensitive to SB 50 messing with the formula of California living. This is the place that took the postwar suburban promise to its apotheosis. As population boomed in the 30 years after World War II, the state built approximately 6 million housing units. More than 3.5 million of them were single-family homes. These were the houses and backyards and station-wagon-filled driveways that Americans saw on TV every night in the 1960s and ‘70s; they represented the sun-kissed Golden Dream that lured so many millions of newcomers. To revive that promise, California now has to change its physical shape, and change is never easy for incumbents who’ve benefited. People are entitled to want to see their blue skies.

But the Golden Dream was never for everyone. Families with lower incomes and families of color, were locked out of California’s suburban prosperity by illegal and legal forms of discrimination— including the zoning codes that were pioneered here. A 1885 ban on washhouses (and the Chinese immigrants who mostly used them) from parts of Modesto is considered the first true zoning ordinance in the United States. In 1925, the California Supreme Court upheld one of the country’s earliest cases fighting for the “police power” of cities to allow single-family homes in certain areas and tenements in others. These practices were derived from explicitly racist attempts to segregate whites and non-whites. And as residential zoning evolved, stated rationales were rarely rational. Here’s how the judges in the 1925 case glorified the single-family home, and all that it represented:

The establishment of [single family] districts is for the general welfare because it tends to promote and perpetuate the American home… The character and quality of manhood and womanhood are in a large measure the result of home environment. The home and its intrinsic influences are the very foundation of good citizenship, and any factor contributing to the establishment of homes and the fostering of home life doubtless tends to the enhancement not only of community life but of the life of the nation as a whole…

It is needless to further analyze and enumerate all of the factors which make a single family home more desirable for the promotion and perpetuation of family life than an apartment, hotel, or flat. It will suffice to say that there is a sentiment practically universal, that this is so.

But often, that idealized model of California homeownership was a privilege reserved primarily for white people, like that pioneer couple in the mural presiding over the Sacramento hearing room. The millions of Californians who arrived after the postwar building boom ended found rising costs and narrowing opportunities. SB 50 would attempt to start pulling up these legacies, at least at one insidious root. (It does not address, for example, the effects of wage inequality.)

The bill faces long odds. Its next senate committee hearing will be led by a legislator who opposes it, rather than Wiener himself. “We’re not guaranteed to pass it,” Wiener told Palo Alto Weekly. “We’re working hard to build support and build momentum for it. But we have a shot.”

But supporters might take heart that not every resident in places like Beverly Hills or Cupertino agrees with their elected officials. Evan Goldin, a Palo Alto native in his early 30s, told the Weekly that he’s been frustrated by the rhetoric of his mayor and neighbors who don’t seem to want to make way for new faces.

“That makes me quite sad, as someone who grew up here and still lives here and wants to have strong bonds to the community,” Goldin said. “I want my friends to be able to afford to live here. I want my teachers and janitors and baristas to afford a chance to live where they work. The world will be OK if a few more families live on your block.”

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that YIMBY Action is a co-sponsor of SB 50. In fact, California YIMBY, another pro-housing group, is the co-sponsor.

https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/04/california-affordable-housing-bill-sb50-single-family-zoning/586519/

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

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

Chasing China: Chile drives Latin America’s electric vehicle revolution

Sydney Morning Herald, 10 December 2018
A massive cargo ship docked in the Chilean port of San Antonio at the end of November. It carried it its belly the first 100 electric buses from China that Chileans hope will revolutionise their public transport system.
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How your personal information funds share bike schemes

Sydney Morning Herald, 14 November 2017
You’re 25, you ride your brightly-coloured share bike across the city to get dinner and drinks with friends at the same pub every Friday, you take the same route home, and leave the bike near your house each time. That kind of portrait is legally captured by the navigation systems and phone apps linked to the dockless share bike schemes quickly spreading across Australian cities, and is a valuable source of income, especially when they charge as little as $1 per half hour.
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Perth bike paths fail to meet lighting standards

The West Australian, 13 December 2018
Large sections of Perth’s most popular bike paths are poorly lit, with many failing to meet Australian lighting standards. Research commissioned by the RAC examined 67km of inner-city bike paths and found almost 60 per cent had substandard lighting.
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Oslo prepares for ‘war on cars’

New Mobility News, 25 September 2018
Oslo, with its 675.000 inhabitants, is preparing for ‘a war on cars’ and ‘is seriously violating freedom’, critics in the Norwegian capital say, now city government is forcing the car – including the electric one – more and more out of the city centre. “We have to give the city back to the people, to let children play in security and let elderly people find a bench to sit on”, Hanna Marcussen, ecologist and in charge of urban development, says.

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New creatives are remaking Canberra’s city centre, but at a social cost

The Conversation, 27 December 2018
The new economy and new technology are changing Canberra’s city centre, Walter Burley Griffin’s design legacy of 100 years ago. While the central area is becoming an innovation precinct and a dynamic place, it comes with a cost of social gentrification and unaffordability. In Griffin’s design for Canberra, the city centre was planned to be a lively business centre with high-density retailing and commercial uses. The original idea included a citywide tram network supported by higher-density development along the corridors. City Hill was intended to be a heart for the city’s citizens. Griffin’s vision was not truly fulfilled, however.

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Disability compliance the focus of $18m pedestrian crossing program

Railpage, 18 December 2018
An $18 million program to ensure Perth’s pedestrian level crossings comply with disability standards has begun, with 22 crossings to be upgraded over the next 12 months. Pedestrian crossings on the Midland, Fremantle and Armadale lines will be targeted by the Public Transport Authority (PTA) in the first wave of upgrades, between December 2018 and December 2019.
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