Cage the Automobile

Is the purpose of bollards to keep people in or keep cars out? A reader writes:

 

Bollards done wrong, Egypt.
Bollards done wrong. It’s a long pedestrian street, would you bollard the entire street,  because they are proposing low risers. You will end caging the people like in Egypt.

After the attack in Toronto last week with a guy driving a van and killing 10 people and injuring 15, Montreal announced a new plan for Saint Catherine street making it pedestrian friendly, with a nice wide sidewalk showing young people walking, yet  when the mayor was asked if they planned for pedestrian safety from such attack she said ‘no, we did not.’

So the moral question: should we change our planning for pedestrians to ensure safety from a crazy person in a van, terrorists, drunk drivers,  just incapacitated drivers. This is not the first, and will not be the last, time a driver plows down pedestrians. By doing so we show weakness to terrorists? Are we converting the outdoors to a Zoo placing pedestrians in cages. Should the woonerf, for example, be like an open zoo.

It’s a moral and ethical question how much separation should we have in an era when crazy people uses cars as weapons to kill random humans. How many incidents and deaths will it take to change the approach for pedestrian environments to make it as safe as air travel.  If we  add more small obstacles, how much will they spoil the pedestrian environment and sense of freedom.

 

The crazy person in a van problem is only going to get worse with automation and especially connectivity, a remote control car bomb is even easier than a suicide.

This Delft Bollard is a casualty of the Car Wars.

In my view, cars should be in the cages, the people should be free. And then the cages need to be made smaller and smaller.

All urban streets in heavily pedestrian trafficked areas should have bollards or equivalent to keep the cars away from the people. Woonerfs are fine for residential streets, and if people want to encroach on shared space that is also fine, but cars should not encroach on people space. Just as we don’t let cars in most buildings, there should be outdoor public spaces where they are also prohibited.

We don’t need fences or chains like in the photo of Egypt, just lots of posts (trees, bike racks, benches, bus stops, street furniture, planters etc.) that make it impossible for a car to run down the sidewalk or into buildings. This furniture of course should not interfere with the free flowing movement of people, and might require taking lanes from the storage, or even movement, of cars. As with all good urban design, examples of this are in Delft, with some lowerable Bollards to allow service, emergency, and freight vehicles in when needed.

 

Delft defining Pedestrian domain.
Delft, lowerable Bollards on a bridge

 

 

 

 

 

USA vs. AUS

I have now been in Australia a year, it’s time for the breakdown: at what does Australia beat the US, at what does it need improvement. Topics listed alphabetially

 

  • Banking – AUS … There are fewer banks in Australia, but they work better in a number of ways. Electronic payments are standard and quick. Debit cards are far more standard than credit cards … and there is less credit card % rebate gaming here. What’s a cheque? There is still enough upset here about bank behaviour that a Royal Commission will investigate. Superannuation (the fancy name for retirement plans) have issues, but I don’t think it’s worse than US pension funding problems.
  • Broadband – USA  … in Minneapolis, eventually we had 2 competing Broadband providers providing 40MBPS for $40/month, in AUS at home, I might as well be on a dialup 300 Baud modem. Netflix can’t even stream consistently at 5:00 am.
  • Bureaucracy (Tax) – AUS … Filing taxes is much easier in Australia. In fact, you don’t have to, since they already took your money, you only file if you want some of it back.
  • Bureaucracy (Motor Vehicles) – AUS … The time to get a driver’s license in Australia was minimal and the experience was excellent. The staff had uniforms, just like airlines.
  • Citizenship – USA  … I was born there, I am a citizen dammit, it is my birthright, who the hell cares about where your grandparents were born. Who can possibly actually know, as opposed to repeat stories we were told. Yet Australia is in knots over it’s ridiculous Parliamentary citizenship crisis, perhaps the world’s stupidest scandal. Given how the court has ruled, North Korea could disband Australia’s Parliament simply by giving citizenship to all current members.
  • Democracy – AUS  … despite the Citizenship crisis, democracy functions better in AUS. Parliament works, no government shutdowns (lack of supply), voting is mandatory, convenient in general (Saturday), and no efforts are made to suppress voting.
  • Food (Groceries) – AUS … There are some things you can’t get in AUS (essentially bagels), and the sushi is highly geared toward salmon, but the quality of the Turkish bread and the baguettes make up for it. The food system is less industrialized than the US, so the quality tends to be a bit higher, but certainly not universally.
  • Food (Restaurants) – USA … The food is price competitive with the US (especially considering no tipping in restaurants and the sales tax is embedded in the price). However the good middle tier (America’s sit-down chain restaurants) seems to be missing. Food delivery is much more common here, though our experience with it is mixed at best: it’s delivered, but is it still food by that point?
  • Government Transparency – USA … The agencies in Australia are trying to be Open and Transparent, but paranoia is a big destroya. In NSW they are afraid (or prohibited) from releasing even basic information like traffic counts on monopoly toll roads, and the “Business Case” is confidential in cabinet. This should all be public.
  • Health Insurance – AUS … Though I pay for private here, since I don’t qualify for Medicare (the national health insurance scheme), it is tax deducted, not outrageously priced, and trivial to get reimbursed for expenses through an app. The Doctors are less well trained on average, until recently many only had Bachelor Degrees.
  • Housing – USA … House prices are absurd in Australia, even accounting for the superior weather and higher demand. Houses here don’t have insulation, have poor AC, and leaky windows (and roofs). They are building lots of housing in Sydney, so the trend may abate some.
  • Measurement – AUS … The metric system remains superior to the imperial system of measures for everything, except arguably temperature.
  • Newspapers – USA … These are dying here in Australia as well as in the US, though cities here still have two competing newspapers, in addition to the national papers. The depth of reporting has been generally gutted even more in AUS than the United States.
  • Post Office and Last Mile Delivery – USA … While we get stuff from AusPost, it’s just not as good as the USPS/UPS/FedEx combo in the US, and they make us go to the post office to collect things that could have easily been delivered.
  • Radio – USA … NPR’s Morning Edition beats the ABC’s Radio National Breakfast. Still, it is charming that they have national traffic reports so I can find out about traffic smashes in Adelaide back in Sydney.
  • Retail and Shopping – USA …  Amazon is just not a real thing here. The shopping centres are nicer in some ways, with better food choices, but the retail selection is a bit smaller. The supermarkets are smaller as well. However the grocery delivery options seem greater.
  • Spectator Sports – USA  … Australia has more sports leagues per capita than anywhere in the world, but how many different football codes are we supposed to care about. NFL (American Football) while unnecessarily violent and slow, is still more interesting to watch due to the forward pass than AFL or Rugby League or Rugby Union. Baseball still beats the unfathomable cricket.
  • Television News – AUS … The Australian morning breakfast shows on commercial TV are even more of a giant commercial than the US shows. However the ABC is better than the US networks, including PBS, for news.
  • Transport (Highways – Intercity) – USA … Australia doesn’t have a complete intercity freeway system, it’s still working on it, the US finished the Interstate System essentially in 1982.
  • Transport (Public Transit) – AUS … The buses and trains work much better in Sydney than most all US cities, despite the complaining and despite the many, many imperfections. There is also a better regional train service here than most of the US. Not that it’s good by European standards or anything, but it runs.
  • Transport (Walking) – AUS … It’s not great here, but it is more walkable. The noise level of Sydney is surprisingly high, I think due to the effectively unregulated motorcycles.
  • Weather – AUS … Almost every day of the year, on a day-to-day comparison with Minnesota, I would prefer to be in Australia.

 

So by my count: AUS 11, USA 11. This is an incomplete list and imperfect weighting, so subject to change.

There are some things I won’t comment about publicly at this time due to conflict of interest, like public schools, universities, and the visa system.

They’re Closing Inspiration Point

Happy Days Season 7 | Episode 13 aired 11 December 1979

The gang is stunned to find out that Howard knew about the planning commission’s decision to route one of the new expressway’s off-ramps right through make-out mecca, Inspiration Point.

They're Closing Inspiration Point
They’re Closing Inspiration Point. Source: Getty Images, as if that were not painfully obvious.
  1. Happy Days is Nearer In Time to the historical events it describes than the present
  2. The Aunt Bee the Crusader episode of The Andy Griffith Show was much better (and earlier) sitcom portrayal of the disruption presented from highway construction, though in the end, the roadbuilders win.
  3. Still, representations of the Freeway Revolts  in popular culture are rare.
  4.  By this point, Happy Days had already (1977) Jumped the Shark

Moving the capital of New South Wales to the west

The capital of New South Wales is currently in Sydney, eastern Sydney, historic Sydney, tourist Sydney, or to speak the language the planners understand, the Harbour City. Parliament meets in a gorgeous building adjacent to the Domain, a large urban park. Government offices are scattered throughout the city and the metro area.

New South Wales Parliament Building
New South Wales Parliament Building

Policy in Sydney has recently engaged around the idea of a 30-minute city, the idea that people can get where they need to go on a daily basis (work, shop, school) in 30 minutes or less by walking, biking, or public transport. (Or that 70% of the people do so, depending on which definition.) This can be achieved through a combination of transport and land use strategies. On the transport side is the question of how fast and how direct the transport network is. On the land use side is the question of where desired activities are located relative to each other. The government of New South Wales is promoting the development of jobs in Western Sydney (and housing in Eastern Sydney) to reduce commuting times and encourage the 30-minute city. This is a noble goal, and the market may move in that direction.

At one extreme we can imagine a completely functionally separated city, where all the homes are on one side of town, and all the jobs are on the other side of town. If the sides are more than 30 minutes apart, there is little that can be done to achieve the goal, though perhaps the connection between the two parts can be made faster or more direct. But since transport networks act to spread out cities physically, it might only induce more suburban development. This functionally separated city is equivalent to the classic monocentric city, with a single dominant downtown surrounded by residential suburbs.

At the other extreme we can imagine a completely functionally integrated city, probably relatively dispersed, where jobs and housing are completely integrated, so there are as many jobs in any suburb as there are workers. There is no guarantee that a worker will be able to find a job next door (or choose it), but the likelihood of finding a job nearby is higher than in the monocentric city

If everything else were equal, from a transport perspective, we would probably prefer an integrated city, as this would place the least strain on the transport network. Moving towards jobs/housing balance is a long held goal, if only weakly operationalized.

But all else is not equal. Employers have an affinity for each other. All the big banks want to be near each other, as do other big companies in various sectors. As does the government. This is what economists call economies of agglomeration.

The government is not just an employer, it is also a major player in real estate markets. It can catalyze development of western Sydney, its Aerotropolis/Parkland City, as it is called in the 2056 Three Cities plans, by moving itself there first.


 

Cities change with the pre-dominant transport technology. When the capital was established in Sydney in 1788, the dominant technology was animal and human powered, with wind and sails moving ships. Since then, much has changed, and the center of population has migrated inland.

The shape and form of the pedestrian city differs from the rail (trams and trains) city, and  differs from the automobile city. Retrofitting trams into the pedestrian city, and especially automobiles into the pedestrian and rail cities broke much earlier urban functionality, while creating new problems, new opportunities, and new designs. Technology played and plays out differently on greenfields, which could be designed to serve a new transport paradigm.

As we approach the transition from the traditional automobile to the autonomous electric and shared vehicle, with all of the ancillary changes, the opportunity for a new city of the future emerges. This technology will invade existing places, which will need to adapt, and new places which can more fully adopt the new technology. But we also need to keep an eye out for the next transition, whatever that may be (flying cars?), so that what we build now is not soon obsolete.

Transport is not the only shaper of cities, other technologies are also critical, from piped water and sewer, electricity, telephony, elevators, and air conditioning historically, to wireless high-speed internet most obviously today, and robotics coming up shortly.

The new capital will need to orient itself around these new technologies, as well as new extensions of well known technologies, like trains and Metros and light rails and bicycles and pedestrians. This is a huge opportunity, and while I won’t suggest a specific design, I will say it should be forward looking as well as reflective of the changes that have come before. Canberra was an opportunity, but by spreading itself out so much, it foreclose the possibility to effectively use slower modes.

If Daniel Burnham were designing the new capital for Sydney, it might look like this.
If Daniel Burnham were designing the new capital for Sydney, it might look like this.

 

A government campus for key departmental headquarters and Parliament at the end of the Mall, a now traditional design for capitals, with the vast majority of government offices scattered throughout the rest of New South Wales, could spark development. Access to the new airport and rail lines will provide connectivity to the rest of the state.

Ancillary businesses, not just those serving lunch to government workers, but those dealing with government on a daily basis, will migrate to deal with their public sector clients and customers. There are many sites on the axis between Parramatta and the Blue Mountains that could serve this purpose.

Sydney’s soon-to-be-abandoned historic Parliament House can have a variety of uses, from appropriately sized conventions to space for a museum. Other government offices in Sydney can be sold off, retrofitted for urban housing, or replaced as warranted. The Sydney CBD is thriving, and will continue to without a few thousand additional government workers. But that could be all the difference in success for a new city for Western Sydney.

In 1908, Australia, then with a population of 4.1 million, decided to relocate to Canberra. Today (2018) New South Wales has a population 7.8 million. As Australia has proven, the political capital need not be the largest city.  In the US, most state capitals are not the largest city: St. Paul not Minneapolis, Sacramento not Los Angeles, Albany not New York, Harrisburg not Philadelphia, Springfield not Chicago, Annapolis not Baltimore, and so on to name but a few.

 

Albany, New York, another planned state capital district
Albany, New York, another planned state capital district. Source: Flickr

It is time to plan and create a new government precinct, out west, to help spark the development the government seeks. It will bring the government to the people, de-center the government from its locational bubble, and juvenate new places with new ideas.

 

Rewinding the clock of techology

Last week, I tweeted

I am looking for examples of technologies that were deployed in a widespread way and reversed, so that the earlier technology resumed its pre-eminence (or nearly). (Like what if we abandoned mobiles and went back to landline phones). Can we wind the clock back?

 

I was thinking of transport cases, which a number of commenters suggested, like streetcars (trams, LRT) which were once dominant in cities, and then faded in importance, and are seeing some resurgence, but nowhere near original levels. Concomitantly autos in central cities, after decades of growth, are now losing mode share. But these have not gone all the way back to the status quo ante-auto.

Perhaps there were other situations we could point to.

This was a surprisingly popular tweet (110 comments to date, well above average). I have not linked to the original poster, though you can track it down through replies to the Twitter link, but to be clear, these are not my ideas. Since Twitter is a mess, I have distilled and organized them below.

These do not constitute endorsement, more as prospective cases to evaluate, in some cases I have comments. This is more than enough cases for someone to write a dissertation on.

I am not clear how many of them hold to the original request of being fully reversed and the technology before the technology being restored.   Also I would not say these reverted cases are necessarily failed technologies, in that they persisted in many cases for decades or centuries. And of course, technologies never really die, but they do fade away.

The ones I really like (in that I think they are really good fits to the question) are bolded.

Weaponry

Energy

  • Nuclear power [still a lot of it, and is replaced by renewables rather than fossil fuels]
  • Leaded gasoline

Food / Agriculture

  • Full fat products and real sugar vs low fat and sugar
  • Cholesterol
  • Butter vs. Margarine (But see link )
  • Slow Food movement
  • Organic Foods
  • Coke/New Coke
  • Ovens/microwaves/ovens [microwaves still seem really useful to me]
  • Baby formula
  • Frozen/Fresh juice,
  • Macro breweries
  • Driftnets
  • The return to Instant Coffee
  • High fructose corn syrup

Democracy

  • Paper Ballots/ Electronic voting / Paper Ballots
  • Voter suppression (though this is extremely cynical, many places are reinventing the tools of suppression)

 

Entertainment

  • Vinyl records
  • Pre-lit Christmas trees
  • 3D Movies

Medicine

  • Lobotomies  (not really widespread though)
  • Shock therapy (not really widespread though)
  • Withdrawn drugs (link)

Information and Communications Technologies

  • Writing/No Writing/Writing (e.g. Greeks)
  • Telegraph
  • MS Windows Vista vs. XP (etc.)
  • Laptops in the classroom
  • Ebooks vs. Physical books (link)
  • Browser plugins (Flash/no Flash / Web VR)
  • Over-the-air/Cable TV/Over-the-air (HDTV/Freeview)
  • Two-way radio (walkie-talkie) / Cell / Two-way radio (in select applications)
  • The rise of Emoticons/Emoji to replace words
  • Mainframe/Desktop/Cloud

 

Appliances and Household Goods

  • Electric Can-openers
  • Electric blankets
  • Dryers/Clothes lines
  • Wall-to-wall carpeting
  • Chamber pots / Roman plumbing /chamber pots again until 1800s
  • Paper bags/Plastic bags/Paper bags
  • Gas ovens (fire) / Electric ovens / Gas ovens
  • Analog watches/Digital watches/analog watches/smart watches

Construction

  • Copper/Aluminum/Copper for electrical wiring

Chemicals and Materials

  • DDT
  • CFCs (though replaced with different technology than went before)
  • Asbestos
  • Smoking (replaced by the technology of not smoking)
  • Lead paint

 

Economics

  • Coined money

Transport

  • The re-emergence of home deliveries, especially food.
  • The rise of EVs (but EVs were hardly a dominant technology c. 1900-1915) [link]
  • Trails / Roman road building / trails (until mid 1800s European roads were of lesser quality than those almost 2000 years previous)
  • No aqueducts/Aqueducts/No aqueducts/Aqueducts
  • Catamarans/Hyrdofoils/Hovercraft
  • Large ocean-going ships in China [Zheng He]
  • Double-hulled transoceanic vessels in Hawaii
  • Dirigibles
  • Single use rockets/Space shuttle/single use rockets
  • Concorde/SST/Tupolev Tu-144 (but SST was never really widespread, less than 1% of aviation market share)
  • Cycling is making a comeback, especially bikesharing (still really small market share in North America and Australia, but in China this seems a big deal)
  • Jitney/taxi
  • Trolleys/LRT is making a comeback (also small market share)
  • Time machines. They were everywhere for a few years until someone went back and killed the inventor. Now we have none.