Busting Urban Planning Myths

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There’s a lot of misconceptions about how to make cities a better place to live that need to be cleared up. A popular belief is that adding more lanes for cars will help curb traffic jams – when the opposite it true. Some backwards-looking individuals think that adding bike lanes is bad for business when multiple studies have proven otherwise. These myths have bothered a columnist over at Metro paper enough that they wrote an article focussed on busting these urban planning myths that hold back better cities.

A common political argument is that bike and transit riders should “pay their own way.” A study in Vancouver however suggested that for every dollar we individually spend on walking, society pays just 1 cent. For biking, it’s eight cents, and for bus-riding, $1.50. But for every personal dollar spent driving, society pays a whopping $9.20! Such math makes clear where the big subsidies are, without even starting to count the broader environmental, economic, spatial and quality-of-life consequences of our movement choices. The less people need to drive in our cities, the less we all pay, in more ways than one.

Want more examples? There’s math showing that replacing on-street parking with safe, separated bike-lanes is good for street-fronting businesses. That crime goes down as density goes up. That providing housing for the homeless actually saves public money. That you can move more people on a street when car lanes are replaced by well-designed space for walking, biking and transit.

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Trees are Great for Cities

Cleaning the air and keeping areas cool are what trees do best. A new study has looked into how best to use trees from a purely utilitarian standpoint. Essentially they drilled down to what trees do best and where they can thrive. The researchers cataloged the best places to plant trees based on factors like removing particulate matter from the air and where they can have the greatest impact on local temperatures. As a result their research outlines the most efficient use of money when deciding where to plant more trees.

As always, the best time to plant a tree is today.

There is one catch, though: The tree-planting campaign has to be well-targeted. And that gets a bit complex.

Trees only improve air quality in their immediate vicinity, about 100 feet or so. That means cities need to figure out which neighborhoods benefit most from new trees (typically the densest areas, but also areas around hospitals and schools). They also have to plant species that are most effective at trapping pollution (typically those with large leaves).

Officials also need to account for things like wind patterns and tree spacing and figure out whether they’ll be able to maintain their trees. Plus, if water is scarce, they’ll want to consider drought-tolerant varieties. And they may want to steer clear of trees that increase pollen and allergies.

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Bike Lanes Save Lives of Non-Cyclists

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Cities can improve the health and well being of everyone by simply adding bike lanes. That’s right, drivers not only benefit from faster traffic flow they also benefit from increased health when cities install bike lanes. As Bloomberg reports, cities around the world are catching on and adding bike lanes to benefit all citizens.

There’s math to show how cost-effective the strategy could be for public health. When New York spent about $8 million in 2015 on bike lane expansion, the cost per additional “quality-adjusted life year,” or QALY, was about $1,300, according to the Mailman paper.
A QALY, pronounced “qually,” is a standard measure of cost-benefit analysis. It takes into account the number of people who benefit from an intervention, how many years of extra life they can expect to get, and how healthy they will be during the extra years.
As it turns out, when you apply this to bike lanes, it makes them more economical per added QALY than, say, kidney dialysis, which costs over $100,000 per QALY—although not quite as cost-effective as standard vaccines, which cost in the low hundreds of dollars per QALY, Mohit said.

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Cities Improve Parking by Removing Parking Spaces

Car culture greatly damaged urban centres the world over and now cities are trying to undo the damage. Smart cities are banning cars from certain areas, installing bike lanes, more sidewalks, and now are removing parking. Cities built too many parking spaces for cars and now they are reclaiming that space. It’s important to remember that most of the time parking spaces are empty – and you can improve parking by managing the supply.

Sometimes, the supply of parking goes down because nobody needs it. Since 1990, the city of Philadelphia has conducted an inventory of parking every five years in the downtown Center City neighbourhood, counting publicly accessible parking spaces and analysing occupancy rates in facilities with 30 or more spaces. Because of plentiful transit options, a walkable environment and a high downtown residential population, Philadelphia is finding that it needs less parking. Between 2010 and 2015, the amount of off-street parking around downtown shrank by about 3,000 spaces, a 7% reduction. Most of that is tied to the replacement of surface lots with new development, according to Mason Austin, a planner at the Philadelphia City Planning Commission and co-author of the most recent parking inventory.

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Toronto’s Green Roofs Keep Growing


Back in 2006 we first looked at how green roofs were becoming a development issue in Toronto, in 2009 Toronto implemented that green roof bylaw. Then in 2014 we took a look at how North America’s green roof industry is growing.

This year, Toronto has become the hub for green roofs! Torontist took a look into what made this happen and why green roofs are perfect for cities.

There are approximately 500 green roofs, big and small, in Toronto. This is thanks to a 2010 bylaw [PDF] requiring all new developers to cover between 20 and 60 per cent of their buildings with vegetation. It’s the first (and, for now, only) regulation of its kind in North America, making Toronto uniquely positioned for environmental design.

The bylaw is why the 41-story RBC WaterPark Place [PDF] at Bay Street and Queens Quay has three green roofs that together could fill a NFL football field.

Developers can opt out of installing anything remotely grassy for a fee. But Jane Welsh, City Hall’s project manager for environmental planning, told Torontoist only five per cent of buildings choose to go sans-green roof.

Welsh also says municipally-owned buildings install a green roof anytime there’s a repair or replacement to the top of the building, when feasible.

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Thanks Delaney!