And another thing… Pedestrian Thinking?

Following on from the last post – no wonder we have such a hard time convincing people to consider the creation of a walking city (note: a walking city includes our rollin’ brothers & sisters).

The word ‘pedestrian’ has become in our society a kind of insult, meaning: slow, stulted, non-creative, inefficient and a bit lame.  In other words not fast, not sexy, not cool.  Which is why I love the work of Living Streets Aotearoa. From their website:

We want more people walking and enjoying public spaces be they young or old, fast or slow, whether walking, sitting, commuting, shopping, between appointments, or out on the streets for exercise, for leisure or for pleasure.

Let’s take back our public spaces!

This is from the page I linked to in the previous post: the Traffic Transport & Road Safety Associates (Ireland) website.  But it was so compelling I just wanted to give it a post all to itself.  Here’s the link again:

Pedestrianisation.

Why Pedestrianise?
  • Improving Road Safety – reducing the potential for conflict between vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists and motor vehicles creates a significant reduction in the number of accidents within the pedestrianised area.  In Odda in Norway accident reductions of over 80% were reported.
  • Improving Economic Vitality – most retailers, at least in town centres, appreciate that the number of people walking past their shop and not the number of people driving past their shop is key to getting people inside to spend money.  Pedestrians comparison shop, and research conducted in the United Kingdom reported increases in sales of upto 20% per year in the first few years following pedestrianisation. Research from 11 cities in Germany showed average rent increases of 50% after pedestrianisation. Chartered Surveyor Weekly reported that following the introduction of the footstreets concept in York, United Kingdom, a boom in retail sales was accompanied by rent increases of upto 400%.
  • Improving Social Interaction – increasing the amount that people meet, talk and interact, has been shown to have health benefits, but also creates a sense of community and a pride in the space or place.
  • Improving Health – in the same way that providing streets to drive on has been shown to increase traffic levels, providing a good walking environment has been shown to increase the number of people walking. Studies tend to show that the number of people walking within the immediate area will increase by over 50%.
  • Improving the environment – It is over 30 years since the OECD studied the link between environmental improvement and the removal of traffic.  Whilst some of the noted benefits such as reductions in Carbon Monoxide have now been addressed through the introduction of catalytic converters to vehicles, creating a modal shift from the car to walking reduces the level of CO2 helping the country to meet its emissions targets. Noise levels are also reduced by up to 15 decibels.

 

So, what kind of city do you want to live in?

Paying for sex, Seinfeld and the tyranny of … Free Parking

 

Free Parking: sounds like some kind of recreational creative picnic sport

 

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!

In the ‘Good Living’ supplement as part of filthy Christchurch rag The Press the other week was an interesting article on international parking guru Donald Shoup.

Headlined, in one of those sub-editor pun wet dream moments, as ‘Free parking’s true toll’ (I can’t hyperlink to it as it’s pay-to-view only, courtesy of unFairfax so not much point and anyway I’m going to discuss the thing intelligently myself.  And you can visit Mr Shoup’s website above, which is far more useful) the article is reprinted from the Los Angeles Times.  Not sure why I’m telling you that but when I get my serious blog voice on it feels proper to start acknowledging sources.  Actually, one should always acknowledge sources.  Anyway…

Why I’m writing about this is that Donald Shoup struck me as someone who fully grasps the double-edged sword of convenience, right way round of course.  He also gets the counter-intuitive concept of how the most convenient option is often the least helpful.  He’s talking about car parking and the problems it presents to town planning and designing for urban revitalisation.

Now for those of you in danger of nodding off at this stage in a riveting post about parking cars and wondering when the hookers are getting here.  Stay with me.

I’m not sure what I like more about Mr Shoup – being 72 and still riding a bike everywhere or the fact he quotes Seinfeld to illustrate his ideas.  Here’s where we get to paying for sex.  Shoup quotes George Costanza from Seinfeld who likened using a car park building to “going to a prostitute”.

“Why should I pay when, if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?”

This line of thinking, in the context of parking, leads to people driving around the block several times waiting for that magical parking space right outside their destination, expending time and fuel in the process.  “Maybe if I go round once more there’ll be a free one this time!”  Shoup argues that when street parking is free or inexpensive as is the case in many towns and cities, that demand soon outstrips supply and people cruising for parks waste time and fuel polluting the air and congesting the streets.  My pet hate is the slow cruise along the line of parked cars, holding up the flow of traffic while searching for a space, usually without the use of indication.  Oh yeah, baby…

Is that one? No... Oh! There! No...

Efforts to revitalise town centres often focus on parking – more of it and cheaper please.  This is very pertinent in Christchurch, a car-centric city.  The central city is constantly under threat from the proliferation of suburban malls with their thousand free car parks above, below and around their monolithic edifices.  These places are veritable Cathedrals of Convenience.  Central city retailers and the City Council are forever racking their brains about how to stop things falling apart, the centre cannot hold etc. etc.  This inevitably rolls around to the retailers bleating at the Council about cars and parking i.e. more and cheaper please.  They even managed to convince the Council (despite international research and evidence to the contrary) to allow cars through previously pedestrian-only inner city malls.  S’funny really, when what the shops really want is more people inside them not cars cruising past looking for parks.

After ‘The Event’ of September 4th last year, there was a considerable drop in the numbers of people visiting the central city.  Not surprising really, even after the cordoned off ‘exclusion zone’ and curfew was lifted, every available space in the media was taken up with images of the ‘catastrophic destruction’ in the central city.  After all a fallen down old building makes for a better lead image or back-drop when doing a live news report than the 50 other ones and entire suburbs behind it that are untouched.  No wonder people were jittery about going there – everything was apt to fall on their heads.  Except for the 99.9% of buildings that were not.  Leading up to Christmas this had retailers crying into their lattes with expected crashing sales figures.  The City Council responded with making all street parking free for a couple of weeks following the major quake and then over the Christmas build-up giving the first 2 hours free in all buildings and street parking.  To me this didn’t seem to make much difference – I noted a lot less cars around and plenty of parking spaces.  I’d wager it wasn’t the cost of parking keeping people away from town.

Est celui-là là ? Non... Oh! La? Non...

Shoup’s work harmonises with plenty of international research that demonstrates the more spaces you open up to cars (either driving or parking) then cars just fill them up again.  It’s just like those ‘awesome’ tax cuts that bribed a change of government in NZ– how much are you noticing that extra $15 dollars per week even a month after you start getting it?  You simply expand your living to absorb the extra ‘dollarspace’.  Hopeless.  No disrespect to the many economist readers of ToC but tax cuts do NOT improve and enhance our quality of life.  Just as cars do not revitalise cities – people do.  He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!

Speaking as someone guilty (now reformed) of cruising around looking for free parking, hoping to hit that little jackpot, I get what Donald Shoup is talking about.  He advocates for ‘fair-market’ pricing on street parking and making Park & Ride and various other options cheaper and more attractive.  Then using the revenue from parking directly for enhancing and revitalising the public space of central cities.  Encourage more walking, cycling and other forms of Active Transport.

And I’d throw in to the mix perhaps not allowing any more soul-destroying suburban malls to be built.  The tyranny of convenience eh?  But that’s another post all in itself.

And by the way, there is no such thing as the Free Parking jackpot in Monopoly.  Look it up.

I Feel Your Pain

Now here’s a thing.

Last week there was a press release and subsequent coverage in NZ newspapers (maybe on tele too but I don’t know cos I don’t have one) about a study and its results.  Named the ‘Commuter Pain Study’ – that in itself should give you an idea of the contents and import of this piece of research – surveying 8,192 motorists in 20 cities on six continents.  Apart from telling us what we probably already knew it has gone a step further and ranked international cities according to an ‘index’.  In NZ the survey covered 937 respondents aged 18-64 years distributed between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  The main points for Aotearoa that the study concluded with were:

– Almost three-quarters of NZ commuters use a car alone to get to work

I don't think this is the way to the beach, man.

– Resulting traffic congestion causing significant stress impacting health and productivity

– Increasing public transportation key to reducing stress caused by commuting

When it came to other solutions the study also had some facts:

Those commuters surveyed recognise that there is significant potential to reduce travel stress by improving public transportation (45 per cent), providing accurate and timely road conditions information (28 per cent) and introducing greater flexibility to work from home (29 per cent).

Now, the study which was commissioned by IBM and is more properly known as the IBM Global Commuter Pain Study also went as far as to say in the media release:

across all New Zealand cities drivers felt that much of this stress could be reduced by the greater use of technology in the management of traffic flows, sophisticated analytics of transport systems…

They don’t offer any actual data on how many or how they reached this conclusion and it didn’t seem to be in the survey index but I wonder if IBM have one or two ideas that might help?  But that’s another story…

Do NOT miss your exit...

Vested interests aside, it seems that the survey revealed some telling information about NZers dependence on private cars for commuting.  According to the study, 80 percent of drivers find aspects of their commute frustrating.  At least a quarter of respondents believe that traffic has negatively affected their health although this number varied regionally.

In the article based on this media release published by The Press (Christchurch) they immediately went out to get some vox pops on the findings.  Even though Christchurch has a public transport system that I would rate as very good several ‘people on the street’ described the buses as ‘just gross’ or unsatisfactory in a number of ways, therefore they continued to use their car to commute.  Apparently sitting in traffic literally idling money away, pumping poisonous gases into the air, and ‘negatively affecting their health’ by being a solo occupant of a motor car is preferable.

I feel like pointing out to those ‘buses are gross’ people that by commuting on the bus I not only save money, but I don’t have to find parking, I get to read or talk to friends, or do this, or experience this.

The study pointed out that only 10 per cent of NZers car-pool regularly.  Bizarre – if we doubled that we’d significantly reduce the cars on the road during the commute rush hours as well as halve (or better) our individual fuel and parking costs.  Auckland’s traffic problems would be majorly improved overnight.  And almost everyone’s wellbeing could be improved.

 

Among those who believe that traffic has negatively affected their health, increased stress (77 per cent) and anger (41 per cent) are the primary symptoms.  As many as 28 per cent of drivers believe that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work, university or school.

Many commuters feel that if their daily commute was reduced there are many other things they would do with their time including exercise (51 per cent), spend time with family (48 per cent) or sleep (30 per cent).

All that stress and anger and lost productivity – when you’d rather be exercising (playing), spending time with family & whanau (playing) or ‘sleeping’ (playing).  And it’s self-inflicted.

You poor things.

Car-free in an earthquake?

Well, of the 25 days since ‘the big one’ we’ve had the use of a car for over 2 weeks, thanks to Kate Kate who has been away for most of the time and left us her car to use.

It’s HARD!  I’m finding all this cheating is making me weak.  Although I did really enjoy the walk up the hill last night in glorious setting sunshine with a warm nor’west breeze in my face.

I’m really missing having a car.  It made it much easier to visit Grilly after the earthquake to check on her instead of the epic bus journey involved.  But I suppose I’m just really appreciating having the use of one.  I’m still determined to be car-free for a year but it has certainly made me mindful of enjoying driving (and convenience) while I can.

Anyway, blah blah.  In the immortal words of Garfield “I’ll be funny again tomorrow, I promise.”

The Long, Hard Goodbye

Not sure why I’ve found it so hard to get the car ready to sell.  It wasn’t as if I could drive it anywhere (no WOF) and I was keen to get whatever cash I could for it before it deteriorates any more.  But still, I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to do it.

Poor Peej, sitting for 4 months now and looking very forlorn out the front of our house.  I noticed her tyres have started to go down a bit, her hope deflating a little every day.  A couple of Seraphine’s toys still lying in the back even though the child seat is long gone.  The warm, hand-knitted blanket that came with the car still sitting primly across the back seat.  The front console stuffed with receipts and parking coupons.  Two wheels are up on the verge (our street is one of Lyttelton’s classic narrow roads hugging the contour of the hill like the glorified horse track it is) and the grass is trying to grow around her.  She is a sad sight, and starting to look abandoned.

And then someone noticed her…

Biggest threat to Big Oil? The Kids these days just aren’t that into you…

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while.  Borrowed the title above from an intriguing post over on Carfree USA which references an article on that bastion of environmentalism the Advertising Age.

It seems that in the US, less and less young people are driving cars.  At least that’s the inference drawn from the statistics of driver licensing there.  If you can assume that doesn’t mean more and more young people are driving illegally, it’s really rather interesting. The Ad Age posits a variety of theories for why this is from various industry big wigs including the competition brought by the digital age vying for the teen dollar i.e. ‘should I buy the latest ipod or that big ol’ chevy to take Peggy-Sue to the drive-in for to get ‘er in the back seat h’yuk yuk‘.  And my personal favourite: ‘blaming the environment’, yes that ol’ chestnut, the pesky, interfering environment ruining our swell oil-swilling (spilling?) party.

Whatever it is, it’s heartening.  I’m not big on prohibition of any kind, I don’t want to ‘ban’ cars.  I just like the idea of people using them less.  Just like I don’t want to ban McDonalds, I’d just love to see them go out of business because the kids stopped going there.

Because it’s short I’m re-posting the whole post from Carfree USA (thanks guys!) here:

Certainly it’s hard to believe for anyone stuck in traffic on the way to O’Hare airport in Chicago, a bridge or tunnel into Manhattan, any freeway in Los Angeles, or the newly repaved four-lane highway to a suburban Walmart. But look around, and the people in the other cars are likely to be in their 40s or older.

In 1978, nearly half of 16-year-olds and three-quarters of 17-year-olds in the U.S. had their driver’s licenses, according to Department of Transportation data. By 2008, the most recent year data was available, only 31% of 16-year-olds and 49% of 17-year-olds had licenses, with the decline accelerating rapidly since 1998. Of course, many states have raised the minimum age for driver’s licenses or tightened restrictions; still, the downward trend holds true for 18- and 19-year-olds as well (see chart) and those in their 20s.

Here’s the link to the source article on the Advertising Age.

By the way, it’s been ten weeks and we’re surviving!

Although I am an ignoramus

… who knows nothing about cars, when I read the slip from the mechanic, listing the things that needed to be fixed for the car to pass her WOF, even I could tell that we were looking at a Significant Amount of Money.

Now our car is an old bird, but when we bought her four years ago, she was the mythical unicorn of the used car trade, one careful lady owner, garaged for years, impeccably cared for with an up to date maintenance log, under 100,000 kms on her clock, putty coloured, hand-knitted blanket on the back seat, all that and the seller only wanted $600 for her. She was the most bargain-like of bargains. I’ve never admitted this to Ciaran, but my winter boots that year cost more than the car did. Still, in all fairness, the boots are still going and the car is not.

So she’s been a sweetheart, comfortable and economical to run, and reasonable to maintain, until now. I believe the old dear has caught a bad case of crap-out-itis, an inevitable condition of her advanced years. Ciaran is an optimistic soul; I tend more towards the negative interpretation of the facts, so holding the WOF slip in my hand I was thinking, “this is the beginning of the end for the old girl, even if we fix up these things and keep her legal, who’s to say that six months later, there won’t be a whole other raft of problems to contend with?” Sure enough, when Ciaran called the mechanic the next day to ask for his advice, he concurred that he didn’t think it was worth doing the work on the car.

It was time for a new car. We gritted our teeth, leapt on our trusty steed Trade Me (think eBay if you’re outside of NZ) and galloped off into the murky depths of the used car section. We’d talked about buying a Toyota Prius for our next car, but we’d talked about this in a nebulous, four or five years down the track kinda way, and hadn’t yet started saving for it. It quickly became apparent that even the cheaper, older models of Prius were beyond our current resources.

So then we asked ourselves how much we wanted to spend. We counted our pennies. Just a week ago, we got back from a five week trip to Scotland. We are officially not very solvent. We did some sums. The results were depressing. It wasn’t going to buy us a lot of car. Maybe half a 1970s Toyota Starlet.

We considered loans, both from established financial institutions, which makes no sense financially, as any fool knows, and from the Imperial Bank of Kind Relations, which we are both a bit uncomfortable with, even though we are blessed to be surrounded by these kind and generous folk.

Eventually, we came to the conclusion that through a combination of the paltry funds we did have, a small, short term loan from Nice People and a bit of nefarious black market activity, we could probably scrape together $2,000. Back to Trade Me. It was about this point in the evening’s proceedings that I lost the will to live, got grumpy and went off to eat chocolate cake.

I can’t actually remember which of us came up with the truly radical idea that maybe we could consider living without a car for a while.

A quick note here; obviously we are both well aware that living without a car is not actually a fate worse than death, that several squillion of the world’s inhabitants do not have a 4WD parked in their garage, and that it’s only spoilt bastards like us in the decadent West that get so dependent on the automobile that the prospects of living without one causes us to gasp, and pale and beat our breasts. This, when you think about it, is as good a reason as any of the other many good reasons to get rid of your wheels.

But to put this tale briefly in its local context, we live in New Zealand, which has a population of just over 4.3 million people* and over 4 million vehicles registered for use on New Zealand roads**. Recent statistical studies quibble over whether NZ has the 2nd or 3rd highest per capita car ownership figures in the world. Either way, those figures paint a picture of a country that is deeply reliant on the car. We plan to explore the reasons for this here over the next months, so I won’t expand on this point here and now, other than to note that we’re planning to do something which is culturally unusual here.

*Statistics New Zealand, Tatauranga Aotearoa

**NZ Transport Agency, Waka Kotahi. This includes all types of vehicles registered for use on the roads in NZ.