Nov 20, 2010

Download my thesis on urban transport and urban form in Pacific Asia

Despite its age (I finished it in 1999), I still get requests now and then for my PhD thesis.

The old link to download it broke some time ago but last week the Murdoch University Research Repository came to the rescue and put it back up. So you can again download it as a pdf via this page. Please forgive the shameless self promotion here!

I never turned my thesis into a book, as many academics do. Instead I simply made it available on the web. A bad move? I did have some doubts when I saw bits of it plagiarized once or twice. But it also has 61 citations according to Google Scholar. I guess that's not too bad for an unpublished thesis. Last year, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) picked up some of its ideas for their document, Changing Course: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Urban Transport [PDF].

The full title of my PhD dissertation is:  An international comparative perspective on urban transport and urban form in Pacific Asia: the challenge of rapid motorisation in dense cities

By the way, the data collection work towards the dissertation was part of the team effort that became the book: An international sourcebook of automobile dependence in cities, 1960-1990 by Jeffrey Kenworthy and Felix Laube (with Peter Newman, Paul Barter, Tamim Raad, Chamlong Poboon and Benedicto Guia, Jr.

Here is a summary of the key arguments in the thesis:
It focuses on nine major cities in Pacific Asia (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Seoul, Singapore, Surabaya and Tokyo). 
The study provides an international comparative perspective on these cities using a large set of data on urban transport, land use and economic factors, as part of a wider study on 46 international cities.
A historical review of transport and urban development between 1900 and the 1960s found that, by the end of the period, most of the Asian cities were more vulnerable to problems from an influx of private vehicles than Western cities had been at the equivalent stage in their motorisation. 
This greater vulnerability was primarily due to higher densities and greater dependence on road-based public transport in most Asian cities, which could be described as “bus cities”, an archetype that is developed in the thesis. 
High density offers the opportunity to foster successful public transport and non-motorised accessibility. However, it also means that very high levels of motorised traffic per unit of land area (and hence intense traffic impacts) can emerge quickly, even if vehicle use per capita remains low. Traffic congestion can also emerge rapidly as dense cities motorise. This is a result, not just of poorly developed road systems, but of the fact that road capacity per capita is inherently low in dense cities. 
This research thus challenges notions in the literature that congestion problems in Asian cities can be solved by road expansion. It establishes, through sound comparative urban data, that there are inherent limits to road provision in dense cities.
Contrasting urban transport strategies or models were identified within the Asian sample of cities. In particular, upper-middle-income cities, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, were shown to have experienced very rapid motorisation and to have had little success in increasing the relative roles of public transport and non-motorised modes. These trends have led to a severe mismatch between emerging car and motorcycle-oriented transport patterns and the pre-existing highdensity urban form, especially in Bangkok. 
This “unrestrained motorisation” model is contrasted with the experiences of wealthier Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo, which have all restrained and slowed the pace of motorisation to some extent and enhanced the role of public transport. In all four cities, 1990 levels of motorisation and vehicle use were low relative to their levels of income. This “restraint” model takes advantage of the transport opportunities that are inherent in existing dense urban forms while avoiding many of the problems. It is also shown to have encouraged, or complemented, the evolution of public transport-oriented patterns of urban development. 
Jakarta, Surabaya and Manila face the choice of following either of these models, but appear more likely to follow Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, unless policy changes are made.
The study then reviews key choices and policies in urban transport in the nine Asian cities over recent decades. It identifies which have been most decisive in defining the models “chosen” by each city. 
Although many decisions are important, the thesis argues that a particularly crucial choice is the decision of whether or not to restrain private vehicle ownership and use. The Asian cities following the “restraint” model began to restrain private vehicles at an early stage in their motorisation and generally well before they had developed high-quality or high-capacity public transport systems. 
This challenges the common view that a city must already have a first-class public transport system before traffic restraint can be effective or politically acceptable. In fact, this study suggests that early introduction of traffic restraint can facilitate the gradual development of well-functioning transport systems, including mass transit systems. Insights drawn from the results of this study potentially have important implications for transport and urban policy debates in low-income and middle-income cities everywhere, particularly those that are beginning to motorise quickly from previously low levels of vehicle ownership.

Nov 7, 2010

Taxi insights and fun

The newly resurrected Transport Blog has an interesting riff on taxis around the world. The post is an entertaining read, full of pithy observations (and quite a lot of speculation I suspect).

Yet it cleverly sneaks in some important points on the dry dry topic of taxi regulation. Which is great because improving taxi industry arrangements is an important but sadly neglected element of urban transport policy.

Hanoi's taxis feature prominently - hence the intriguing title "How to spook a Vietnamese taxi driver". You have to read to the end to understand the reference. There are brief comments on taxi service and its regulation all over the world. If author Michael Jennings is to be believed, taxis in Bulgaria and Buenos Aires are to be avoided if humanly possible.

Hanoi taxis in their natural habitat (a sea of motorcycles!)

Singapore's get a little nod too. Which reminds me that a few years ago I wrote something about Singapore's taxi arrangements. Singapore has 'deregulated' the taxi industry. But what does that mean?

First, there is now no cap on the number of taxis. And the numbers did indeed go up.
Second, there is no limit on the number of taxi companies (although complying with service standards means that tiny operators would have difficulty staying in the market).
Third, each taxi company can set fares to whatever the market will bear - provided they inform the government and the public in advance. Thus, deregulated fares does not mean unpredictable fares. The drivers must still use the tamper-proof meters. In practice, the differences among the companies are small and restricted mainly to the extras.
Most taxi drivers here rent their cab from one of the companies (at S$90 per day). The taxi companies are thus basically rental companies - with medium term rental agreements with the drivers of their fleet.
In this model, the drivers face an extremely competitive environment out on the streets. The companies are competing to keep drivers so that their taxi fleets are fully utilised.
Some of the details in my old post may be a little out of date but the basics remain accurate.

By the way, the Transport Blog is a libertarian take on transport policy from the UK but don't let the libertarian bit put you off checking them out even if that part of the political spectrum is not your thing.

Oct 24, 2010

Can "shared space" street design reassure vulnerable users and still be shared space?

Shared-space design for streets and intersections deliberately creates a sense of uncertainty about who should proceed first.

Such uncertainty is not a bug, it is a feature, as they say. In a well designed scheme, the results are said to be almost magical. The removal of clear-cut rules and signs and traffic lights prompts caution, low speeds and a negotiated approach to right-of-way instead of a rules-based approach.

New Road, Brighton - shared space

But there may be a problem. 

Some of the most vulnerable users of streets don't seem to like shared space. It makes them feel ... vulnerable.

In a comment on my post on Shared Space designs in Japan, David Hembrow (author of  a view from the cycle path blog) points out the Dutch cycling advocacy groups are not too keen on Shared Space:
"Don't get too excited about Shared Space. I've yet to meet anyone here in the Netherlands who is enthusiastic about it. In fact, there is much criticism of it due to it having lead to a reduction in safety, and especially subjective safety, for cyclists vs. drivers. Thankfully, there are very few busy shared space areas, and I'm not aware of any more which are planned. Many villages always were like this, of course, and many still are."
David's comment is not the first time I have heard such concerns. He has much more here. In various countries, people with vision impairments have also expressed their worries about shared space. I have been excited about shared space but such concerns cannot just be dismissed.

So here is a design challenge for you. 

Could shared-space design be modified to retain a sense of 'subjective safety' for pedestrians and bicycle users WITHOUT giving motorists too much confidence about their right-of-way? Can the vulnerable street users be given safe havens without prompting motorists to get complacent and assume they will stay within their designated spaces?

Are Dutch-style bicycle paths really not compatible with a shared space? Are protected pedestrian crossings? 

In places that are candidates for shared space treatments, we really want a calm environment that makes people feel very comfortable walking and cycling. We want motorists to proceed with caution and to feel uncertain of their right of way in locations where sharing the streets is important. But we actually DON'T really want vulnerable road users feeling vulnerable or facing uncertainty about their safety.

Can we get such a 'best of both worlds' outcome?  

I don't have a full answer and I have an open mind on this at the moment. I suspect that it may be possible to use clever design to reassure most pedestrians and bicycle users about their safety (and to really keep them safe) while still keeping motorists in a state of cautious uncertainty.

Maybe there are already designs or schemes somewhere which achieve these objectives? I wonder if the result would look more like shared space or would it look more like a typical street in the Netherlands?

In any case, I think it would be foolish to be 'shared space fundamentalists'. It would be lunacy to become obsessed with staying true to the pure ideals of 'naked streets' rather than on achieving their goals. As I have said before, shared space is just one of many ways to  get a 'public space dividend' by slowing down traffic. 

Any thoughts?

Sep 1, 2010

'Might makes right' versus 'duty of care' on the roads

'Who should be liable in road crashes involving bicycles?'. That's the question I posed over at Cycling in Singapore blog this morning.

In many low-income or middle-income countries the road culture norms dictate that 'might makes right'. Small vehicles learn to get out of the way of the larger ones and the largest vehicles tend to barge their way through (more carefully perhaps than it seems at first glance... but they do seem to expect others to make way).

However, in several European countries and in Japan, large road users are expected to exercise a strong duty of care for the more vulnerable ones. So in the Netherlands for example, it will almost always be the motorist who is held primarily responsible in a crash with a bicyclist, even if the motorists broke no road rules. Does that seem crazy to you?

Bicycles and scooters in Shanghai.
It probably does seem strange if you live in the UK, the US or in almost any Commonwealth country, such as Singapore. In these places, a motorist must be proven negligent or in violation of the road rules to be held responsible for compensating the other party in a crash.

The Netherlands approach is based on the so-called 'strict liability' principle.  Pedestrians or cyclists who are struck by a motor vehicle can claim for compensation from the motorists' insurance company without having to prove any negligence by the driver.

According to Tokyo by Bike a similar policy applies in Japan:
In the event of an accident, when the enforcement of the law actually kicks in Japan attributes blame to the larger party. In a car against bicycle bout, the driver of the car is automatically at fault even if the cyclist was riding the wrong way down a one way street holding their umbrella while listening to their iPod. When a cyclist injures a pedestrian the cyclist is at fault, and the person deemed to be at fault covers the medical expenses of the other party.
Does your country apply a 'strict liability' approach to road crash compensation? Maybe it should? 
Check out a little more on this at the post on Cycling in Singapore (where there is also a video from a UK campaign for this law reform).

Aug 20, 2010

New parking policy blog: Reinventing Parking

"Parking" is currently the most common tag on this site and much of my research now focuses on parking. So it seemed time to consider starting a blog to focus specifically on parking policy.

So that is exactly what I have now done. It is called Reinventing Parking. Among other things, I want to try to help communities understand the parking choices they face and to help them to improve their policies.

If you agree with me that parking policy is important please visit Reinventing Parking and consider subscribing to its feed or via email.  Please spread the word to people who care about improving parking policy anywhere in the world.

Persuasive video on Pay-As-You-Drive (PAYD) car insurance

Here is an entertaining video explanation and exhortation on Pay-As-You-Drive (PAYD) insurance. Does your country, state or province have PAYD insurance yet?

It was made by Cliff Caprani of British Columbia, Canada. See more context at the original site where there is a link to a petition for residents of BC.

Hat tip: VTPI Newsletter, Summer 2010, by Todd Litman, one of the key experts on PAYD Insurance.

Aug 13, 2010

In urban transport be careful what you wish for

Freely flowing traffic is a good thing, right? And affordable motoring is good too, isn't it? Most motorists in most cities would surely agree. Maybe you would too?

But as citizens and voters I think we need to be careful what we wish for. When political leaders decide that the central goals of urban transport policy are 1) solving traffic congestion and 2) keeping driving affordable, they may make themselves popular with motorists, but they also risk gradually turning their city into a monster. 

I argued along these lines in a talk I gave on Wednesday to a couple of hundred junior college (high school) students (the presentation is at the end of this post). It was a non-technical talk on basic priorities in urban transport planning.

Below is part of my reasoning.

The Los Angeles region is not the world's most automobile-dependent city but it is the only mega-city to try so hard to keep driving fast and cheap.

When faced with traffic problems it is tempting to just expand roads in the hope of increasing traffic speeds. This can actually work, given enough investment in high-capacity roads (a huge amount in fact). It is also tempting to avoid congestion by planning for low densities, so traffic doesn't concentrate too much in any one place, and to require lots of parking (free of course). But if these are our key priorities, they lead to unfortunate long term results.

After a few decades of such efforts to ease traffic we will have built ourselves a much more car-dependent urban structure than before. All those roads end up buying more space, not the time savings they were expected to. On average, traffic will probably move pretty fast but a sprawling urban fabric means that most people will have no choice but to travel long distances every day. At every step in this scenario, motorists can see that the alternatives to driving are bad and getting worse while key destinations are scattering over a wide area. In such a context, price rises for vehicles, fuel, parking or road use are extremely unpopular.

Eventually, we will have created an 'automobile dependent' metropolitan area. This is what happened in most North American metro areas between the 1950s and today. Atlanta is a classic example. Suburban dwellers in such places don't perceive much alternative to driving and are desperate to keep driving cheap.

So what should we wish for, especially in Asian cities that are not yet car dependent?  How about calling for policies that focus on these three things?
  1. Focus more on REACHING things than on moving (especially not on moving vehicles). In other words, focus more on accessibility
  2. Make PLACES a higher priority (and their quality). Don’t let traffic blight key urban places. Treat streets as places and as access facilities and not just traffic facilities 
  3. Nurture alternatives to privately owned cars that are comprehensive, integrated and of high quality.

If we are successful at priorities like these would anyone worry so much about traffic speed or the cost of driving?

Here is the presentation that went with the talk.

Aug 3, 2010

Useful analogy? Your car as a jack-of-all-trades and the alternatives as contractors

Can you help me make this analogy more useful?

A household owning a car is like a tiny business hiring a jack-of-all-trades (but master of none ...). Your mobility needs during the course of a whole year can be likened to the skills and labour needs of a new business contemplating its first employee.

Having a car gives you a tool that handles most of your mobility needs. It is like hiring a full-time staffer who is a 'jack-of-all trades'. He or she is versatile but not especially skilled or quick at any particular task. There are significant fixed costs too. You have to pay him or her about the same in both busy times and slow periods.

In both cases there is an alternative. 

A family can refrain from getting a car and rely instead on the various alternatives. That's like the small business putting off that first full-time employee and deciding instead to engage a series of contractors to do tasks that the owner-founder can no longer handle, as and when they are needed.

So mobility services for hire, like public transport, taxis, carsharing, car rentals, shared bicycles, are like contract staff or consultants. We pay for them when we need them and only then. No single one of them can beat a jack-of-all-trades or generalist employee. But each can do their specific task better (when all costs are considered).

And when their work is skillfully coordinated (in a project say), they can amount to a team which can give better value than the generalist. The alternative package of services can potentially give more bang for the buck. Some cities try to create mobility packages like that.

Unfortunately, many cities today don't have a full range of high-quality mobility alternatives. That's like a small business in a tiny town, where it might be impossible to find contractors with all the skills the business might need. In such situations we are stuck with our generalists. Or we make do with inferior service.

Even if there are skilled people around, there may be too much hassle and inconvenience involved in finding contractors, paying them and coordinating their schedules. If so, you may give up and buy (I mean hire) that generalist, Mr or Ms Automobile.

Once a small business hires a jack-of-all-trades it will put them to work on a very wide range of tasks, even if they are not the best person for any of them. After all, the jack-of-all-trades is sitting right there in the driveway (oops I mean office). Now you rarely, if ever, even consider those contractors (unless you have a really special task that is beyond even your generalist).
By Milkmandan on Wikimedia Commons.
Does this analogy help you think about how to improve the alternatives to cars?

Jul 24, 2010

Singapore needs help with bicycle infrastructure design

After decades of mostly ignoring bicycles, Singapore's authorities have recently become more positive. "Bicycle paths" are appearing but we may need more help to get them right.

An example in Sembawang. A painted line separates pedestrians from bicycle users.

The change in attitude is very welcome. But some of us here are worried about the designs of these paths. The photo below illustrates one problem.

'Dismount and push' sign where the bicycle path meets the entrance to a parking area in the housing estate.

My recent post at Cycling in Singapore looks at the bike paths in one such town (Sembawang).

Be aware that most bicycle use in Singapore is at very low speed, is for short trips, and takes place on the footways, which are usually much narrower than the paths shown here. Conflict between bicycles and pedestrians is an emotive issue often raised in newspaper letters and online forums. Riding on sidewalks/footpaths is illegal but ubiquitous. The exception is the new town of Tampines, which has taken the pragmatic step of making walkway cycling legal. This allows education and enforcement efforts in the hope of reducing conflict between the bicycle users and people on foot. However, bicycle paths are also being built in Tampines.

Your views on this would be welcome. And they would be especially welcome if you have any experience with bicycle planning or if you know Singapore.

So please do take a look at Sembawang's bicycle paths and consider offering a comment there to suggest how Singapore could do better.

Jul 21, 2010

Did the Japanese invent Shared Space Streets?

The shared space (or 'naked streets') approach to street design was developed in the Netherlands right? The late Hans Monderman was the pioneering hero who extended it to some surprisingly busy roads and intersections, correct? And it has been popularised and applied in the UK and elsewhere by Ben Hamilton-Baillie, hasn't it?

Or did shared space emerge in Japan?

In a recent Ecohearth post explaining the shared space idea, Dawn Marshallsay includes this sentence:
It could be said that Tokyo led the way, as most of its roads follow the shared-space principle, although they were not purposefully designed to reduce accidents.
Actually, it is mainly small side-streets that are like that, not most roads, but you get the point. Here are some examples photographed during my short visits to Japan. (Scroll down for more discussion after the pictures)

Near Fukuoka airport and a subway station.

Near Tokyo University and Ueno in central Tokyo.
In Nishitokyo City, Tokyo. With a mamachari ('mother bicycle') and kids right on cue to demonstrate the high level of subjective safety here.
Also in Nishitokyo, with another mamachari.
Near Shinjuku, Tokyo (southwest)

Also southwest of Shinjuku.

OK. Let me retreat a little.

I don't really want to take any credit away from Hans Monderman and the other pioneers of today's efforts on Shared Space. Their projects are much more ambitious than these Japanese examples. They extend "public realm" much further into what used to be "traffic space". The side streets of Tokyo and other Japanese cities are not such a challenge to mainstream traffic engineering practice precisely because they are side streets.

Still, it seems a little rough that Hamilton-Baillie fails to mention such Japanese shared space in a June 2010 paper for City Planning Review (pdf), published by the City Planning Institute of Japan.

I suspect Japan deserves a bit more recognition for its little shared-space streets.

What do you think? Are Japanese urban planners, designers and transport planners proud of their side streets? Are they really as successful and safe as they appear to be? Have they been carefully evaluated and researched in Japan?

If you want to see more, try this location then click into street view and explore a little in a shopping district near Ikebukuro station.  

Jul 18, 2010

Connections (July 2010)

In this segment I try to connect you with recent items relevant to reinventing urban transport. 

From a public domain image at Wikimedia commons
  • Robin Chase suggests a cap-and-trade approach to residential parking permits. An idea with potential I think.
  • Charting Transport provides fascinating graphical analysis of journey-to-work mode shares in Melbourne.
  • Cycling in Singapore blog highlights fruits of the slow shift towards more positive bicycle policy in Singapore (bike paths aimed at local, low-speed bicycle users but I worry about their quality and design).
  • Human Transit marvels at the new Paris commitment to giving buses priority and space in the streets, even narrow ones.
  • New York Times reports on the Guangzhou BRT. Great quotes from ITDP folks. The BRT was reported to have set a new BRT record of 800,000 trips a day. Hat tips Streetsblog and Transport News.
  • Tokyo by Bike discusses confusion over Japan's bicycle laws. Twice.
  • Copenhagenize warns of the dangers of listening to 'Cycling's Secret Sect' (the 'vehicular cycling' movement, which objects to segregated bicycle infrastructure).  
  • This blog suggested that conventional planning treats parking like toilets (every building is required to have a certain number, so that we don't need to do 'it' in the street). But the analogy breaks down. Planning parking like toilets is a bad idea.
  • The CityFix sorts through a menagerie of animal names for pedestrian crossings and infrastructure (building on debate triggered by a question from India on the sustran-discuss list).
  • Six-minute video on the work of Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). 
  • Slate's Nimble Cities series puts parking under scrutiny, via How We Drive.
  • A meta analysis asks: Do the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks? Answer: yes, at least in the Netherlands. 
  • Robin Chase ponders personal mobility vehicles, hoping for motorcycle-like vehicles with car-like safety for their occupants (somewhat similar to the idea of personal mobility devices).
  • The June G20 meeting reached a 'mixed bag' of an agreement on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. Something to watch and monitor. Progress is highly unlikely without ongoing political pressure.

Connections is a helpful public transport term highlighted at Human Transit blog. It is a more positive and illuminating term for what are sometimes called 'transfers'.

Jul 16, 2010

Let's give cars more competition!

What competition do cars have in your city? I don't mean competition between Toyota, Ford or Hyundai. I don't even mean competition between cars and public transport for this morning's work trips.

I am talking about competition between a car-owning lifestyle and a set of alternatives that add up to a whole lifestyle, creating a complete 'mobility package' attractive enough to make car ownership feel optional.

In places like Manhattan or Hong Kong or the inner cities of Zurich, Paris, Tokyo or London a lifestyle without your own car is already an attractive option even for wealthy people.  But could we extend the range of places where not having a car is an excellent lifestyle choice? Can we make car use more provisional and less locked-in to our liefstyles and our urban systems? How?

Here is a presentation I gave last year which tackles some of these issues in a non-technical way.

In the presentation above I claim that the following issues in urban transport are under-appreciated and neglected.
  • Public transport integration and comprehensiveness; 
  • Short trips between 1 and 4 km; 
  • Taxis and car-sharing; 
  • Car ownership cost structures; 
  • Parking policy. 
They have in common that they seem much more important when we focus our minds on competing with the car-owning lifestyle and not just to get people out of their cars for specific trips.

My central messages were:
  • Urban transport policy for liveable cities can and should dare to compete successfully with car ownership.
  • Seeing the car-owning lifestyle as our primary competition expands and enriches our policy horizons.
  • Imagining excellent mobility without owning a car prompts a more critical look at car ownership arrangements.

I think this line of thinking offers hope for gradually offering a real alternative to the car-owning lifestyle. It brings together themes I have written about before, here, here and here. People who have been thinking along similar lines include Robin Chase, Chris Bradshaw, Eric Britton, the late Bill Mitchell, and Susan Zielinski.

For more detail on this approach to competing with cars see my working paper on the issue.

Jul 13, 2010

Parking in Asian cities - highlights and comparisons

[Update: Looking for more parking policy information?  
Try Reinventing Parking.]

Here is a presentation with highlights from the Asian Cities Parking Study that I have mentioned before. I gave this at the ADB Transport Forum in Manila in late May 2010.

Barter for ADB Transport Forum 2010

What do you think? Post a comment.

You may feel that the policy implications near the end don't necessarily follow obviously from the data in the earlier slides. And you would be right. Some of them are a little speculative. They are based on the wider findings, on the data in the study, on my wider research on parking, and on arguments advanced in the study report itself (out soon I hope).

  A parking meter in Guangzhou.
It serves two spaces and accepts only contactless card payment.

Jul 1, 2010

Singapore through New (World) eyes

On Sunday I spent an enjoyable few hours here in Singapore with Jarrett Walker, author of the excellent Human Transit (a must-read blog for anyone with an interest in transit planning).

Today he blogged about the evening, complete with many photos. Jarrett works mainly in the 'New World' cities of North America and Australasia as a consultant on public transport planning. This was his first visit to this Asian city. It is interesting to see his take on the bits of Singapore that we explored together (Ang Mo Kio mainly).

A few days earlier he also had some sharp observations on the pedestrian environment near his hotel near downtown Orchard Road.

Image from Vsion at Wikimedia

After reading Jarrett's post, you may want more on transport and urban planning in Singapore. You could start with my previous posts on the city-state (see here and here).

Jun 17, 2010

India's years of walking dangerously - a sobering video

Just how bad can walking environments get?

Answer: Very bad, as demonstrated in "Where are we to walk?" a 9 minute video from Pune in Maharashtra, India. 

Parisar explains who was behind the film:
The film was conceptualised and shot by Susan Michet, an American student intern during her time in Pune in May 2009. The Alliance for Global Education funded Susan's stay and work in Pune, Janwani provided the office space and infrastructure, while Parisar provided the inputs regarding the content of the film. We also acknowledge Hema Gadgil's contribution of her voice-over to the film.

After watching the film, do you have any ideas for our Indian friends? What can turn this around? Do you know of a city where things got this bad but which has since created a walkable city? Do you see redeeming features of Indian cities that offer some hope and which can part of the solution?

For more on (un)walkable cities in Asia (especially South Asia) see also:

Jun 10, 2010

Parking slots are like toilets (according to conventional parking planning)

[Update: Looking for more parking policy information?  
Try Reinventing Parking.]

Planning systems treat parking and toilets in very similar ways and for similar reasons (such as to deter people from 'doing it in the streets'). Is this just a funny observation? I guess it is quite funny but I also have a serious point.

Planning toilets like we plan for fire-escapes, elevators and plumbing does work quite well (mostly). However, planning for parking like we plan for toilets is problematic. Below, I list ways that conventional planning does in fact treat parking and toilets the same. Then I highlight key differences which make planning parking like toilets seem like a very bad idea.

First, a list of how parking and toilets are (conventionally) planned in very similar ways:
  1. Both are treated as an essential ancillary service that every building will need.
  2. It is usually assumed that no fee (or a token fee at most perhaps) will be charged. Remember, we are talking about the conventional approach to parking policy here. Some jurisdictions even ban fees for such facilities.
  3. There is thus little direct return on the investments. So the private sector would under-provide them unless forced to. To the rescue come regulations in the form of parking or toilet requirements in planning or building codes.
  4. As mentioned above, one rationale for requiring them with buildings is so people won't have to use the streets (or not too much anyway).
  5. Another reason they are required with buildings is so people don't freeload on the facilities of neighbouring buildings. In parking this is called "spillover". This might be apt for toilets too, come to think of it.
  6. Demand for these facilities is usually assumed in the regulations to be associated with specific premises rather than a whole neighbourhood.
  7. When the buildings can't provide enough (as in old neighbourhoods for example), local governments may step in and provide some. Otherwise people (or at least high-end customers) may avoid the area.
  8. There are provisions in the codes to ensure access for people with disabilities.
  9. Sometimes facilities for females are specified for both. OK, this one is rare for parking but I couldn't resist putting it in.
  10. The planning system assumes it can predict demand and therefore set reasonable and accurate requirements. In both cases, getting it wrong can cause problems.
  11. The standards can end up being very complicated. Singapore's parking standards (pdf) list about 50 different building uses, each with its own parking standard. The American Restroom Association (ARA) website reveals several competing models for 'restroom codes' (including: the 2003 Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) published by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials and the 2000 International Plumbing Code (IPC) published by the International Code Council (ICC). Their provisions look remarkably similar to parking standards. For example, the International Plumbing Code includes:
    "403.1 Minimum number of fixtures.  Plumbing fixtures shall be provided for the type of occupancy and in the minimum number shown in Table 403.1. Types of occupancies not shown in Table 403.1 shall be considered individually by the code official."
  12. In both cases, old buildings built before modern standards were enacted are treated differently ('grandfathered', so that they must only comply with the rules at the time they were built). However, the new codes may kick in if the owner wants to do anything that requires planning permission (such as a change of use).
  13. A distinction is made in both between private facilities and those that are available to the public. These may be treated differently in the standards. There is often conflict over whether the facilities in any particular premises should be open to the public. 

BUT the analogy breaks down. Parking differs from toilets in crucial ways (besides the obvious!)

  1. It is much more difficult to predict parking demand than to predict toilet demand (which itself is not easy). The human need to expel waste changes little (except when beer is consumed in large quantities perhaps). The demand for parking can change enormously over time as car ownership changes and as mode choices shift.
  2. Everyone needs toilets. Only car users need parking. (But conventional parking policy assumes that 'car users' = 'everyone')
  3. Parking takes a lot more space than toilets. Forgive me for stating the obvious here. It is common for American suburban office parks to be required to have as much parking space as they have floor space for other uses. Buildings in Kuala Lumpur (see the picture) or Bangkok often have a third or more of their floors devoted to parking. Parking standards often dramatically limit the density that is feasible on a site.
  4. Required parking is extremely costly. Even the most lavish provision of toilet space does not threaten the feasibility of building projects.
  5. Even the most generous provision of toilets would not dramatically influence people's behaviour or discourage us from using less harmful alternatives. There is no toilet analogy for walking, cycling and public transport. No toilet alternatives get starved of users, of investment or are rendered unpleasant and unsafe as a result of excessive toilet provision.
  6. It may be reasonable to prohibit charging for toilet use (as some American jurisdications do). Failing to charge efficient prices is much more problematic for parking (as Donald Shoup spent 700 pages or so explaining).
  7. Parking in the streets can be regulated and managed to render it less problematic, whereas public urination or defacation are never acceptable public policy outcomes.
  8. Toilet requirements are rarely (if ever?) so onerous that they freeze redevelopment or reuse of old buildings in inner city areas. Parking standards often do so (and in the process they can worsen inner urban blight).

These differences highlight problems with conventional parking policy. It is probably NOT such a great idea to plan parking like we plan toilets.

Does this analogy work for you? Does it help you think about parking policy? Can you help me to improve these lists? Are some of the points weaker than others? Have I missed any?

*  Some background: I have been developing this analogy in recent months and included it in several talks about my parking research (first in Ahmedabad, then in Singapore and recently in Manila). A few audience members in Manila said, "I want to use that!". That response has prompted me to get down to posting it here.

I have been blunt in this post and mostly said 'toilets' rather than use euphemisms like restrooms, bathrooms, WCs, etc.

Jun 5, 2010


Connecting you with web destinations that caught my eye recently. 

From a public domain image at Wikimedia commons
*  Why call this segment "connections"?
Of course I want to connect you with useful reading related to 'reinventing urban transport'. But connections is also a helpful public transport word highlighted at Human Transit blog as a more positive and illuminating term for what are sometimes called 'transfers'.  

Jun 3, 2010

Shoup's parking agenda is more profound than you think

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Donald Shoup's 'The High Cost of Free Parking' points towards a profoundly different way of thinking about parking policy. It offers much more than just a nifty way to price on-street parking efficiently. 

Conventional parking policy in action in New Zealand

Yet, in real-world policy debates over Shoup's parking ideas most people seem to focus only on his call to price kerbside parking for 85% occupancy. That's a pity because his agenda is much more interesting than that.

First, a recap on Shoup's parking reform ideas.  He is focused on cities that currently have a conventional suburban-style parking policy, with cheap on-street parking and every building required to have plentiful parking. He is based in Los Angeles and his focus is on American cities. His ideas are also obviously relevant to places like suburban Canada, Australia and New Zealand which have adopted the same parking approach. In fact, I am finding that conventional autocentric parking policy has infected many other countries too. So Shoup's critique, and his solutions, are probably relevant to places as diverse as India, Malaysia, the Gulf States, the Philipppines, and many more.  

For places with conventional autocentric parking policies, he suggests three key reforms:
  1. Price on-street parking to ensure a few vacancies and eliminate cruising for parking
  2. Return the street-parking revenue to local benefit districts.
  3. Eliminate off-street parking requirements, and allow developers to provide as little parking as they like.
Item 1 has been getting a lot of attention with trials in Redwood City in the Bay Area, New York City, San Francisco and Washington DC. Item 2 is usually there in these debates but seems to get lost in some of the trials.

Item 3, eliminating the off-street parking requirements, gets lip service and not much more.Yet, this aspect was a huge proportion of Shoup's book. He was taking aim squarely at suburban parking requirements! Yes, the on-street parking reforms are good in themselves AND a way to help us relax about requiring off-street parking. But Shoup's reform agenda points toward a transformation that is more profound than just getting efficient parking in the streets.

What is this profound change? I would call it a market-oriented parking system. This has been noted before by various people (such as here and here). But somehow, it is consistently downplayed in most planning and transport discussions of Shoup's ideas. Could this be because market-oriented parking seems too right wing? Maybe that is an issue. But market-oriented parking should have appeal beyond the right. These days, a wide cross-section of the political spectrum agrees that many (or most) goods are best provided by competitive markets. It is not necessarily right wing to ask if parking is one of them.

Don Shoup himself is not crystal clear that he is really pointing towards market-oriented parking. However, he is fairly explicit in his chapter entitled, "Let Prices Do the Planning":
'Since [on-street] prices will vary to maintain a few curb vacancies, spillover will no longer be a problem. Individual property owners and merchants can then choose how much on-site parking to provide based on business considerations, not zoning. Some may choose to provide their own off-street spaces, while others may offer to validate parking in nearby garages. Regardless of the strategy, all firms will be able to decide for themselves whether parking is worth its costs. Parking will increasingly become unbundled from other transactions, and professional operators will manage more of the parking supply.' (Shoup, 2005, p. 496).

I think market-oriented parking represents a third major approach to parking policy. It contrasts with both of the more familiar ones. So, in my view, parking policy come in three main varieties:
  • Conventional parking policy in which parking is treated as a type of infrastructure and the primary goal of parking policy is to meet demand.
  • Parking management in which parking is viewed as a tool for serving wider goals in transport policy and urban planning.
  • A market-oriented stream that calls for market-based parking prices that are responsive to supply and demand conditions and allows private decisions to shape supply.

Shoup's agenda points in the direction of market-oriented parking but I don't think it would take us all the way there. We would probably need some additional public policy action to make sure that the new local parking markets work well and stay competitive.

I argue these points (and some others) in a new paper:
Barter, Paul A. (2010) 'Off-Street Parking Policy without Parking Requirements: A Need for Market Fostering and Regulation', Transport Reviews, First published on: 20 April 2010 (iFirst). DOI: 10.1080/01441640903216958. 
The journal's online version is behind a pay wall but there is an earlier pre-print version (pdf) here.

May 31, 2010

Singapore-Malaysia cross-border transport agreement and opportunities

Singapore's bicycle community has noticed that last week's agreement on the Malayan Railways (KTM) corridor could create a wonderful bikeway opportunity. So far, this angle has had no media attention. More on this at the end but first I want to reflect on the wider issues in the agreement.

A few years back, in my geographer days, I wrote about the surface links between Singapore and Malaysia. These are both international transport and urban transport at the same time. After a long saga, the two countries have finally reached an agreement on several important cross-border transport issues. 

At the time I studied this about 5 years ago, it was an intriguing tale and a case of remarkably problematic cross-border cooperation. I am glad that win-win resolutions look like emerging. 

My 2006 paper on this (pdf; publisher site) discussed three main aspects and the latest announcement relates to all three (as well as several other issues, such as cross-border taxis, buses and revived plans for a cross-border mass transit system to connect with Singapore's MRT). 
  1. The big news is the resolution of the dispute over land in Singapore leased to Malayan Railways on a 999 year lease for its rail line running south from Johor Baru across the causeway to Tanjung Pagar next to Singapore's CBD. This corridor will apparently now revert to Singapore government control. Adjacent significant land plots or land of equivalent value will be transferred to a joint venture by sovereign wealth funds from both countries for development.
  2. The announcement also includes plans to reduce the tolls on the Second Road Link at Tuas, which has always had rather low traffic due to its high tolls. These arose from a lack of cooperation and compromise between the two countries in the crucial early days of the bridge. 
  3. The third case was the Mahathir proposal to replace the old causeway with a bridge. When Singapore failed to agree, this morphed into his plan for a 'crooked half bridge' or so-called 'scenic bridge' to be built unilaterally by Malaysia. This was dropped by Mahathir's successor as Malaysian PM, Abdullah Badawi, to Dr M's great annoyance. The latest agreement is to move the terminus station to Woodlands, just over the straits on the Singapore side. This suggests no bridge to replace the causeway in the short term but does not necessarily rule it out in the long run.

So will Singapore seize the opportunity to create a new Park Connector along the Malayan Railways corridor? There is no news on that for now. 

The KTM corridor would make a wonderful "rails to trails" type project. It would be tragic not to preserve this right-of-way for non-motorised transport. Such a park connector could provide a direct, flat, bicycle route free of road-crossings all the way to the edge of the financial district at Tanjung Pagar from Woodlands via Upper Bukit Timah, Ghim Moh/Holland Village, Biopolis and Queenstown. Right now, the PCN network is rather disjointed (see the map below).

View NParks Park Connectors, Singapore in a larger map

[Update:  I made some small corrections to some details in this post 9 hours after first posting.]

May 20, 2010

Parking prices from a different angle

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Is $400 per month for season parking outrageous or reasonable?

Well, it depends ... But what does it depend on?

One suggestion: the price of a hamburger! This rule-of-thumb for hourly parking prices comes from Pete Goldin at the Parking World blog yesterday, citing Dr Adhiraj Joglekar, founder of the website Hmmm. I guess they are alluding, tongue-in-cheek, to the Big Mac Index from the Economist. This index uses burger prices to correct for differences in the purchasing power of money in different countries.

But seriously, what is the right comparison?

Purchasing power is obviously not the only issue here, since parking prices usually vary from place to place within every city. Prices range from zero in many suburban parking lots to 'expensive' in the city centre. But the last time I looked burgers were not free-of-charge in the suburbs.

How about comparing parking prices with property prices?

After all, parking is a use of real estate, right? Space that is not used for parking could be used for some other real-estate use. India’s National Urban Transport Policy says explicitly that public parking prices should take account of land prices (although it doesn't say how to make this happen).

So, as part of the Asian cities parking study, I compared city-centre parking prices with office rents.

This was helped by nice data from Colliers International on both CBD parking prices and Grade-A office rents for many cities around the world. The graph below is the result, using their 2009 data.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Interesting, no?

The contrasts are striking (even allowing for possible inaccuracies in the data and other quibbles).

We have cities near the diagonal line where CBD parking prices per square metre are comparable with Grade A office rents. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are prominent along with London City, Vienna, The Hague and Sydney.

At the other extreme, Delhi and Mumbai in the upper left part of the graph have expensive office space but extremely cheap parking. So much for having parking prices take account of land prices.

Jakarta and Bangalore at the bottom left have cheap parking and cheap office space.

I was a little surprised by Singapore's rather cheap CBD parking relative to its CBD office rentals. However, since 2003 the parking requirements were lowered drastically. So the CBD parking supply per worker is gradually decreasing now, which should push parking prices up.

Hong Kong and Tokyo are also intriguing. Their CBD parking prices are among the highest in the world. But from the perspective offered by this graph, such parking prices are not surprising given their expensive CBD real-estate generally.

What do you think? Are real-estate prices (rents) a useful comparison for parking prices? Can data like this provide any policy guidance?

In the graph both CBD parking prices and CBD Grade A office rents are shown on a rent per square metre basis. To convert parking prices per space per month to parking prices per square metre per month I used 19.5 sq. m. as a very rough estimate of the space required for a parking space, including aisles, etc. So $10 per sq.m. per month is about $195 per parking space per month.

The data for the graph came from:

  1. Colliers International. 2009a. Global CBD Parking Rate Survey 2009. Colliers International.
  2. Colliers International. 2009b. Global Office Real Estate Review: Mid-Year 2009. Colliers International.

May 18, 2010

Motorcycles squeeze into urban nooks and crannies

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Parking on the door-step (literally) in Hanoi

The space efficiency of motorcycles is important for many Asian cities.

Traffic engineers usually assume that motorcycles consume about half the road space of a car. In other words, two-wheelers' PCU value is typically given as 0.5 'passenger car units' in heavy traffic.

But motorcycle parking can usually squeeze in many more than two machines per car space.

These Taipei scooters may be an extreme case. How do they get them in and out?

For the forthcoming Asian cities parking study, we found motorcycle parking space norms of up to 10 two-wheelers per car space.
Singapore’s parking standards specify perpendicular car slot dimensions and its minimum and preferred size for motorcycle slots. Together these suggest that between 4.6 and 6 motorcycle spaces take the same area as a car space (Land Transport Authority 2005). In India, motorcycle spaces are assumed to take 0.16 of an equivalent car space, suggesting a little over 6 two-wheelers per car space (CSE India 2009). Viet Nam’s parking standards suggest a standard area of 25 m2 per car and 2.5 to 3.0 m2 per motorcycle, or about 8 to 10 motorcycle spaces per car space (Vietnam Ministry of Construction 2004).

The other extreme is one motorcycle per car parking space. Vancouver bikers did this recently when they protested the lack of designated parking for their machines by taking entire parking spaces, and paying for them. [Update: here is a more in-depth account of the Vancouver protest.] Image credit: Bobskoot's blog.

By the way, the space taken by moving motorcycles also depends on the situation. A recent UK study "suggested that the slower the traffic, the lower the PCU value for motorcycles. In fast traffic they are hardly more space-efficient than cars. The study found "the PCUs of motorcycles in congested flow to be 0.40, 0.55 and 0.75 when the speeds of passenger cars are ranging from 10 to 20, 20 to 30, and 30 to 40 km/hr respectively." Presumably lower PCU values at low speeds reflects the ability of two-wheelers to lane-split and make their way through stalled queues of larger vehicles - a common sight in Southeast Asian cities.

May 14, 2010

More on park-and-ride in dense parts of Asian cities

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I asked the sustran-discuss list for responses to my post on park-and-ride being a bad idea. In response to the discussion so far, I tried to clarify some of my points. Here is an edited version.

1. My objection to park-and-ride is strongest when such facilities are within the dense urban fabric (such as 'inner city' areas).

It is in these dense areas that the opportunity cost of space is highest. Most of the other uses of station-vicinity space will do much more to build public transport ridership than P&R.

Many mass transit systems in developing Asia are, for now, limited to these dense/mixed-use areas. In most cases, they don't yet extend out into the newest 'suburban areas'. P&R seems least defensible in these high-density locations with high property prices. Yet it is still being implemented in various dense urban localities in Asia.

The photos of Bangkok in the previous post are examples. These are in locations that are now considered to be inner-urban. They are not in a low-density suburban context.

2. My objection to park-and-ride is strongest when it involves a large subsidy from government or from the public transport company's budget.

P&R in dense areas with high property prices involves a very large subsidy (even if it is not obvious as in cases where government already owns the land).

[BTW, This objection actually applies to almost all of the parking (not just P&R parking) that local governments are trying to provide in Asian cities. That's another issue!]

These are extremely regressive subsidies in cities with low car ownership rates. For example, why should general taxpayers and the majority of passengers cross-subsidise the parking of the wealthy minority who drive to the stations of the Delhi Metro?

3. Park-and-ride is aimed at objectives which could be achieved more effectively by other means.

This is about making the best use of the TDM budget or the public transport budget (which need to be used wisely). It is certainly good to reduce Central Business District traffic and to get middle-class motorists into public transport. But it seems obvious that we could get more traffic reduction per dollar spent with various other initiatives than with P&R subsidies. [Has anyone seen serious analysis of this?]

Remember, I am still talking about dense areas for now. In such areas we can expect any (well-governed) city to be able to foster good bus-based transport to complement mass transit, to have plentiful taxi service (2-wheel, 3-wheel, or 4-wheel), and to have high-quality pedestrian environments. [Safe bicycle space seems harder but most of us do expect that too.]

Of course Mumbai came up in the sustran-discuss debate as a case where these conditions do not yet exist. But they should be the priorities. They help everyone. The P&R strategy accepts defeat on these and undermines ever achieving them. For example, in Mumbai is it really so hard to imagine small premium buses (with premium fares comparable to autorickshaw prices perhaps) bringing middle-class people to stations of the Metro when it opens?

4. Objecting to subsidised park-and-ride is not the same as saying there will not be any parking near mass transit stations.

But it does mean there would be no government-subsidized parking near the station.

A final thought:

If we stop subsidising parking at stations would drivers really just drive to their city centre jobs? I guess some would. But city centre parking is (or should be) very expensive [again that is another story!]. And mass transit is usually faster for commutes to CBD jobs in large congested cities. Mass transit stations are still pretty attractive even without P&R.

I suspect that Asian entrepreneurship can handle this challenge (if regulations allow). Taxis, auto-rickshaws and pedicabs already serve rail stations of course (even if imperfectly). In some cities, minibus businesses serve stations well. I wonder if valet-parking businesses might even arise just as they do in busy restaurant districts. They might store the vehicles at lower-cost parking opportunities nearby (but beyond the expensive station-vicinity itself).