In December, Dunedin City Council released its Peak Oil Vulnerability Analysis. We’re going to weather the peak oil age largely reliant on the built environment we already have in place – we can’t tear it all down and start again in time – but, the report shows there’s a lot we can do with the infrastructure we have to make it less oil-dependent.
I’ll leave you to read the details of the proposals outlined by the authors, here’s the summaries of the three most important:
Accessible Urban Form Scenario: 100km of Bikeways
A bike-oriented urban form is a city containing a network of safe cycleways, which results in increased cycling as a primary transportation mode. These cycleways are purposely designed to make travel from residential areas to activity centres and amenities feasible, safe and convenient. Residents feel safe cycling and therefore have higher adaptive capacity for riding a bicycle to carry out their activities than those living in the current urban form. In Dunedin a strategic step towards development of cycleways would be to start with the car trip to primary and middle school to drop off children. In this scenario, the traffic engineers focus on neighborhoods around schools and construct dedicated cycleways which can give 95% of children in a school zone car-free access to their local school. The next project is to connect residential areas with local amenity areas of shopping and recreation by construction of dedicated bikeways. Finally dedicated bikeways are built along stream and open space corridors, again out of the road traffic, to connect residential areas with the city employment centres. Creating 100km of cycleways is a target goal designed to deliver ancillary benefits of increasing community contact and health as the population becomes more active. The adaptability to bike transport can provide about half of the target. All trips under 2 km, 70% of trips 2-5 km, 50% of trips 5-10 km and 10% of trips 10-15km are adapted to active mode. Bicycles and bicycle infrastructure are feasible and available now. The cost of engineering and building cycleways is low relative to any of the urban form development options.
People don’t realise that Amsterdam’s amazing bikepath network was only created in the last few decades, its not impossible to alter the existing urban form to accommodate it.
Urban Form Scenario: Dense Urban Centre
Densification of the Dunedin City Centre moves large numbers of residents from the surrounding low-density housing areas into the centre of the city, where much of the activity occurs. This greatly reduces and sometimes eliminates the need for a personal vehicle. Public transportation and active modes, such as cycling and walking, become the primary transport modes. With residents living near the activity centre, the travel distance decreases significantly. Major development and investment in new apartments and housing areas in the central part of the city are in demand. In addition, current lifestyle block living declines and the land is returned to production in small farms. Apartments can be developed in existing buildings and new mixed-income apartment complexes can be developed. The adaptability to active modes and shorter distances provides about 60% fuel reduction for the residents who move into the centre. This results in a 25% overall fuel demand reduction for Dunedin if 80% of the people who currently live 10-30 km from town, but work in town, move into the city. The densified urban form is definitely feasible as it is well known in Europe and planned cities like Canberra. We assign moderate cost to this scenario, as the development of housing in desirable areas is normally taken as generating wealth.
Urban Form Scenario: Integrated Urban Villages
In the integrated Dunedin City, at least half of non-work activities can be carried out in the immediate neighbourhood within walking distance. The hallmark of the integrated city is the development of new urban villages around existing market areas. Activity destinations, including small businesses and services, are found in the urban village. The urban village has a pedestrian centre with room for weekend markets for local foods, goods, and entertainment. Active modes, such as cycling and walking, are the predominant transport modes to access these local destinations. Urban villages are spaced roughly 4km apart, so that the longest distance from a residence to a centre is 2.5 km (Figure 5.2(C)). Due to the short travel distances, a city designed in this manner can support the use of lightweight and economical battery electric vehicles similar to golf carts. Public transport is highly efficient in this urban form even though there is a relatively low density of residential housing. The urban villages form hubs where people can wait for and meet the bus in a friendly and multi-purpose environment. This kind of transport network and market integration has been very successful in other cities. The adaptation to shorter distances and active modes for 50% of shopping and entertainment provides about 25% of the fuel reduction target. Public transport replaces the car for 30% of the trips to the city centre. The integrated urban form is clearly feasible, and is a traditional New Zealand urban form with small shopping centres common in suburban developments until the last few decades. We assign moderate cost to this scenario as the development of shops, services and businesses is normally considered positive for the economy.
The report also hits on the major impediment to making the required changes in time – the mindset of the capitalist class, which is complete denial of anything that threatens the status quo:
There is very clearly a less than analytical attitude in the business sector toward the forward planning of transport resilience. Without exception, business managers and industrialists exhibited a hostile attitude toward “Peak Oil”. Future oil supply, rather than being one of a number of valid planning issues, is seen as a theory that is being espoused by certain types of irrational individuals with an anti-business agenda. Upon further discussion, all of those interviewed acknowledged that fuel price and supply is a major issue, and that low cost oil supplies will peak and then decline. However, all interviewees were adamant that oil supply is not a “doomsday” issue, oil is just a commodity. When oil gets scarce, the market will bring in alternatives and new technologies will become available. When asked what the alternatives and new technologies might be, and if they expected the price to be higher than oil, the interviewees agreed that any alternatives to oil would
be more expensive, so oil is likely to be the fuel used into the future. Rail and bus services were again seen as important options to have for the city, but that major deterioration problems exist with infrastructure and operation.
Unfortunately, that “less than analytical attitude” is found in government too – not just this current useless lot – Cullen had a blindspot in his otherwise impressive forward thinking when it came to peak oil.