disappointing Peter Newman interview
- Hi All,
People should be aware of this interview with Peter Newman in Portland.
It's rather discouraging to have him saying these things, which I find
somewhat contradictory. A response might be indicated. I don't have time.
Australian Peter Newman: To make a sustainable city, boost rail and reduce driving
Posted by Dylan Rivera, The Oregonian March 09, 2008 18:18PM
Categories: Green headlines
Australian professor Peter Newman is credited with coining the term "automobile dependent" to describe the way most American and Australian cities were built in the last half of the 20th century.
Dylan Rivera/The OregonianPeter Newman, an Australian professor, spoke in Portland last week about sustainability and rail transportation.
He has written several books looking at the way cities grow and how their transportation systems help or hinder efforts to protect the environment and reduce fossil fuel consumption.
Dylan Rivera, transportation reporter for The Oregonian, interviewed Newman before his recent speech at the Metro Regional Center.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: What does it mean to say that American cities can be described as promoting "automobile dependence"?
A: It's where you have no other genuine options other than to use the car. So the car becomes the default position for every journey, apart from walking the dog. But even then, people will drive the dog to a park.
Suburbs were seen to be little cocoons and you went everywhere by car. It rapidly became not just a preference but a time-based phenomenon. If you provided a bus with a five-minute service to those areas it wouldn't get people because it was going to take too long to get anywhere and it would be stopping too often.
The average travel time budget is one hour for every city in the world through history. There's data in England for six centuries, its sort of a biological phenomenon. You used to walk. Cities only grew as far as you could walk half an hour. Then the trains and trams spread out but only so far as you could travel in a half hour.
The car spread it out further but still in a half hour...Beyond that people get into road rage and people can't stand it. There is a real conflict with family time, and they eventually move.
You can do a certain amount of that, but in the end those numbers are not changing. You get some fast rail that will take the city out in some places, but not much longer.
Cities are coming back in. They are reaching those kinds of limits...There is now market pressure to redevelop, particularly around train stations where you can get reasonable time savings.
Q: There are people living in Portland who would say, look, even in the Portland area 75 percent of people use cars everyday to commute, and many people who are poor are still hoping to get enough money to buy a car. That would be an indicator of market acceptance, right?
A: Yes but they hate being trapped on freeways. It's a terrible political nightmare for the politicians who are trying to support the car. It's got its downside.
What GB (Arrington, of PBPlaceMaking) and I have been doing for a fair time is not to say that you shouldn't have a car. Cars are going to be part of households. They do provide flexibility. But if that's all you've got, and if that's the only thing that you can use to get anywhere, you will be trapped and there will be serious problems for that city.
City centers cannot work when you do that because of the space requirements.
You can save space and create the environment that people need to work. People can't meet and create future projects in a car park, they just don't do it.
Q: So you don't advocate some sort of wholesale getting rid of the automobile or that people will on a large scale in small or midsize cities not use cars at all?
A: No. The ideal city, I reject.
You can have carfree areas. I would say the city center of Portland is car free in that sense. There is a freedom from the car. You don't have to have a car there. You can live there, you can work there, in a way that enables you to have that freedom.
We need that kind of freedom in 100 different subcenters - small cities - all through the suburbs. What is happening is in those inner areas where there is a degree of car freedom as well, are rapidly gentrifying and becoming quite wealthy.
Q: Doesn't this imply a kind of dense land use - large scale apartments and condominium buildings - that tend to not be very family friendly?
A: Yes, in the past they haven't been. They've been designed for a particular market, which was A for the poor and B for students, young trendies, you throw in a healthclub into the building; and then the empty nesters have come in and they tend to be more wealthy, but still reasonably small spaces.
The European tradition of large space, small apartments. The internal spaces are large - three bedrooms, four bedrooms...
Families have moved back into Coal Harbour (in Vancouver, B.C.) into these 40-story apartment complexes and there's a very good reason for it.
The women are working. They've got these multiskilled lives where the kids need to be taken to childcare or schools, and they've to shop and the weekend soccer mom type thing. If they're car dependent for them, your life is incredibly taken up with cars.
If you can break that and if you can simply walk and particularly if your kids can walk to things as well, it's enormously appealing because you can get on with your career in a way that, there's much more freedom.
They have deliberately targeted families for some of these redevelopment areas.
They've had to put in schools and a lot more family oriented facilities into these areas. But it's happening and there's real problems with some of the real estate developments on the fringe because they can't sell them anymore.
A third of suburb's developments is tarmac (asphalt).
So you're providing 5 to 8 car parking spaces (for housing, retail and employment spaces combined) for a vehicle in a suburban area, so there's a lot of tarmac.
You can bring it down to less than three car parking spaces for every car in that city, you can free up spaces for local parks, community centers. You can in fact have more walkable space, and less car space.
Q: Then why do people resist dense new development in suburbs?
A: The density issue has been in most people's minds associated with poverty and bringing more cars. So the reason people in suburbs don't want density is it's bringing poverty and more traffic.
What it can do is bring more walkability and more wealth. That is something that we document and in almost every case that's what happens. The value of the land goes up because there are so much more you can do in the walkable environments.
That's our goal and every time it is done well, you can see that is the result - more walkable and more wealthy.
Q: Done well: The spaces in between the buildings are important?
A. Very, very important. And this is what they do brilliantly in Vancouver.
They do that with the community. This is the interesting dynamic.
Five percent of the cost of any new development goes into what they call social infrastructure - the space in between buildings. What you can do in landscaping, the cycle paths, the community centers...they've even built schools with it. But the local community decides what to do with it.
So if the local community has stake in density, there's no NIMBY there anymore: You want to go 40 stories? Well, maybe you could go to 50 stories, so we can have more money for our purposes.
It's a very different dynamic, which is why they've achieved high densities and very brilliant on the ground walkable neighborhoods.
Q: Even in Portland, there are a lot of light rail stations that don't have much density, that have been around 10 or 20 years. There are also some examples of attempts at density that have had financial troubles like The Round at Beaverton. Dense development tends to be an expensive product in a low value market...building a more expensive structure in a market that can't support it. Is there an appropriate level of subsidy?
A: Part of the Portland problem in this is that you are on the edge of innovation in this. You are a little bit ahead of the market trends in many American cities.
I don't find many examples of that. Mostly where the real estate developers are nervous about this in the suburbs - our experience in Perth is they sell far better than they ever thought and they should have put in more.
They are nervous about it because it's different. I don't know the reasons for the Beaverton one. The location I doubt would be the problem.
The location near a train station is increasingly a very dominant factor in why people are choosing to move there, whether it's for work or living. There is a real premium that people will pay, so the value tends to go up not down.
That value is going to be accelerating as the price of oil goes up.
Q: Many of the critics of mass transit tend to have a free market argument that says transit always required a subsidy, doesn't pay for itself, and then you add subsidy for transit oriented development on top of that. How does that contrast with the history of highways and cars paid for in large part by the gas tax, which one could argue is self-supporting for roadways?
A: What wasn't included in that were a whole lot of other subsidies to the fossil fuel industry for a start.
Just purely taking the health and safety costs associated with that road system blows it away. Forty thousand people a year die in America on the roads. The billions of dollars in health costs associated with the maimed and the ongoing health requirements to just keep people alive after they've been maimed from cars is enormous.
It is a heavily subsidized thing. Now it was politically acceptable to put those subsidies in, to not worry about health costs - 'oh, that's just an externality, we can cope with that.'
But to attack transit as being subsidized whilst not seeing the subsidies for car dependence is not a level playing field. We do those numbers in Australia, they're similar in America.
The politics is changing. We can no longer subsidize the increase in VMT (vehicle miles traveled) - we have to subsidize the decrease in VMT. There is no choice in that.
Q: We have a $4 billion proposal to replace a six-lane highway bridge on Interstate 5 with a new bridge that would have six highway lanes, plus six auxiliary lanes. It would also extend light rail to the northern suburbs and have generous pedestrian facilities. It's been billed as having a little bit for everyone. Is that kind of project worth pursuing?
A: Four billion dollars is what you're going to need for building these transit lines and subcenters.
Keeping the traffic moving is what you have to stop doing. VMT (vehicle miles traveled) reductions are not going to be promoted by that bridge.
There will be a whole series of freeways taken down when they reach the end of their life in cities around the world. The one in Seoul (South Korea) came down. Now it's a beautiful river, and a park with transit. The mayor who did it is now the president.
Q: So increase rail transit, to the detriment of roads?
A: Any decent rail system can carry eight lanes of traffic equivalent - on this narrow little track. It's a capacity issue. You can only carry 2,500 people an hour down a freeway lane. You can get 50,000 an hour on a rail system - 20 times as much.
That space is enormously valuable. There's no doubt in my mind that's what you've got to do.
-- Dylan Rivera; dylanrivera@...
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J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities