Page 1



DRIVING OVER THE EDGE North American Planning Alternatives to a Car Dependent Melbourne Joanna Cuscaden and Brodie Blades

The development and growth of metropolitan Melbourne has long been perpetuating urban sprawl, which has necessitated the unsustainable consumption of large expanses of Greenfield peri-urban land. An obvious key driver for this development pattern is development economics, which entails that housing supply can be released quicker and at a considerably lower price point than that of what can be achieved in established urban areas. However, as new residential developments continue to sprawl without the construction of new public transit infrastructure, this – combined with difficulties in accessing high frequency, quality public transport in outer metropolitan growth areas – entails that the typically lower income residents of these communities are becoming increasingly dependent on the car as the primary means of transportation and connectivity. Yet as increasing importance is placed on environmental sustainability – as well as the economic considerations of the looming ‘peak oil’ scenario – what will become of a car-dependent Melbourne in the future from a planning and policy perspective? This short research report is based on this scenario, and considers a range of high level planning and policy responses to the issue of a car dependent Melbourne based on the juxtaposition of two North American cities renowned for the good and bad of car dependency: Los Angeles (California), and Portland (Oregon). Far from being an exhaustive analysis of these cities and their policies, this paper instead offers a number of implementable planning and policy considerations that could apply to Melbourne (based on recent fieldwork and interviews in each city) as starting points for a conversation on how to begin addressing the issue of car dependency from a planning and policy perspective. Fieldwork and Research This research report is primarily based on fieldwork undertaken between February 22nd and March 8th 2014, in which the authors conducted site inspections and interviews in Los Angeles and Portland. In particular, the following were interviewed as part of this research: • • •

Brian Taylor – Director, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA); Steven Mateer – Senior Transportation Planner, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA); Alan Lehto – Director of Planning and Policy, TriMet Portland;

Driving Over the Edge - North American Planning Alternatives to a Car Dependent Melbourne

• •

Eric Engstrom – Principal Planner, City of Portland; Bill Chandler – Senior Town Planner, City of Portland.

The State of Car Dependency in Melbourne With regards to the issue of car dependency in Melbourne, it is first necessary to understand the current state of car dependency as well as the underlying issues related to this concept. The key issue underpinning the planning concept of car dependency is the concept that oil is a finite resource. Without investment in alternative fuel sources, an increase in the scarcity of oil (and the associated increase in the market value of petrol) culminating in a peak oil scenario will place petrol-powered personal automobile transit out of reach of the masses. From a planning perspective, this will manifest in socially isolated communities and fractured settlements – particularly for lower income households traditionally located within periurban fringe communities. The concept of peak oil marks an especially significant problem for households that depend on their vehicle to access employment and social opportunities. The credibility of a peak oil scenario is still debated by the scientific community, but – as Figure 1 shows - oil discovery peaked between 1960 and 1970, and has since been on a steady decline since (Exxon Mobil, 2002). This is despite rising global demand for oil as traditionally developing nations become quickly and increasingly affluent. If this is the case, proactive consideration of the effects of peak oil on Australian cities from a planning perspective is clearly within the public interest. The correlation between spatial vulnerability in Australia and the rise of peak oil has been studied in depth by Dodson and Sipe in the publication ‘Unsettling Suburbia: The New Landscape of Oil and Mortgage Vulnerability in Australian Cities’. The authors developed the wellknown ‘Vulnerability Assessment for Mortgage, Petrol and Inflation Risks and Expenditure (VAMPIRE)’ index, and have applied this concept with data prepared by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to develop maps of oil vulnerability across each Australian capital city. The VAMPIRE index was created to assess the risk to households arising from the combined impact of rising mortgage costs, high fuel prices and pressures from inflation, and is derived from a combination of three variables: average taxable income, fuel use, and the percentage of non-automobile weekly travel. 2

With regards to Melbourne, the VAMPIRE index shows a strong correlation between wealth and proximity to the CBD. The wealthiest suburbs least vulnerable to peak oil are located primarily in close proximity to the CBD within the established ‘inner core’, with more vulnerable communities located towards Melbourne’s growth areas where transit alternatives to the car are scarce and personal oil consumption is at the highest levels. This is a trend that is repeated across Australia’s capital cities. Refer to Figure 2 below. In response to studies such as this, Australian planning vogue has become increasingly centred on the implementation of New Urbanist planning principles such

as Transit Oriented Development and an increase in residential densities in appropriate locations. However, at the same time recent planning developments – including expansions to Melbourne’s Urban Growth Boundary (Logical Inclusions), state investment in road over rail (East West Link), the preservation of existing suburban densities (new residential zones, and – in particular – the Neighborhood Residential Zone) and the facilitation of the entrenched consumer ‘Australian Dream’ mentality (detached suburban house and backyard) – call into question Melbourne’s preparedness for a scenario in which personal car travel is unviable. Successful growth management policies are ones that mitigate the adverse effects of urban growth and the impacts they have on all households – including those of lower income. If recent Melbourne planning developments and studies such as VAMPIRE identify that Melbourne is yet to fully address this issue, then it is prudent to research international examples of planning policy aimed at addressing car dependency to determine lessons for Melbourne. Los Angeles, California

Figure 1 - Oil Supply and Demand (ExxonMobil, 2002)

Los Angeles was selected as a case example for the study of the impact of car dependency as it has long been regarded as perhaps the leading global example of a car-oriented city. Renowned for spaghetti freeways, smog, and as a physical manifestation of the consumerist ‘American dream’ culture, the greater Los Angeles area (including Los Angeles, Orange County, San Bernadino, Riverside, and Ventura Counties) is in fact the most densely populated city in the United States and is home to some 17 million residents over 1,215 km2 (Taylor, 2014). Given the sheer size and density of Los Angeles, there are a myriad of challenges that face transportation policy makers and planners alike, such as retrofitting existing infrastructure, accommodating a largely suburban population, accommodating the transport habits of both the extremely wealthy and extremely poor (and influencing modal shifts for the two), and managing a transportation network that experiences almost as many daily trips as Australia as a whole. Unsurprisingly, it is estimated that approximately 86% of trips in Los Angeles are made by the private automobile – with ridership on public transport receiving a mode share of just 10% (compared New York City where ridership is over 40%) (Taylor, 2014). But the city pays a steep price for its love affair with cars and highways, with the city experiencing high motor congestion and pollution (Taylor, 2014). However, Los Angeles is also a city committed to planning for (and investing in) various transit projects that would affect a shift in the manner in which people commute for the long term. There is bottom-up political will from the constituents of Los Angeles to affecting meaningful change.

Figure 2 - VAMPIRE Fuel Usage in Melbourne (Dodson, 2008)

Driving Over the Edge - North American Planning Alternatives to a Car Dependent Melbourne

Firstly (and perhaps most interestingly), in 2008 Los Angeles voters recently approved a range of taxation mechanisms (with a two-thirds majority) committing a 3

projected $40 billion to traffic relief and transportation upgrades throughout the city. Entitled ‘Measure R’, voters signalled a willingness to financially contribute to bring transit projects and infrastructure to fruition through sales taxes. The ‘Measure R Expenditure Plan’ devotes its funds to seven transportation categories, including rail and bus rapid transit (35%), Metrolink projects (3%), Metro Rail system improvements (2%), various road projects (20%), rail operations (5%), bus operations (20%), and local city sponsored improvements (15%) over a thirty (30) year timeframe, which – when combined with other county taxation mechanisms (namely Map 21, Proposition A and Proposition C) – solidifies bottomup financial commitment for transit investment. And the results are already beginning to manifest, with construction of additional metro heavy rail transit lines (Expo Line) currently underway (Metro 2013). Secondly, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) and the State of California are currently working on a number of fundamental strategies designed to connect more of Los Angeles with the public transport system, and to improve the cycling and/or walking experience. Importantly, these strategies are directed at giving residents tangible transport alternatives to the motor vehicle. Within this context, the ‘First Last Mile Strategic Plan’ advocates for the development of a rail system with stations that will be a short distance (4.8kms or less) from the homes of 7.8 million people. The plan also seeks to attract new patrons and increase the mode share of transit, whilst improving the transit experience for existing customers by bridging the ‘first-last mile’ gap (urban interventions aimed at making it easy, safe and efficient to get to and from stations), encouraging use of bicycles and walking as a means of transport by upgrading and enhancing the public realm (it is hoped that Los Angeles will implement its own bike share system by 2015), maintaining an affordable price point for public transport tickets (February 2014 one-way Metro train price in Los Angeles is approximately $1.75AUD, compared to approximately $7AUD for a journey of similar distance using Melbourne’s Myki), implementing congestion charges for vehicles using major roadways, and increasing ridership of Los Angeles’ public transport network by encouraging safety, aesthetics, and accessibility.

Finally, like many Western cities, California has implemented legislation aimed at creating a net reduction in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions associated with transport. Legislation such as the ‘Californian Assembly Bill 32’ (AB32 - Global Warming Solutions Act) acknowledges transportation as a major contributor to CO2 and seeks to reduce Los Angeles’ GHG emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. If achieved, this will benefit approximately 80% of Los Angeles county residents through additional transit services and options, reduced freeway congestion and reduced GHG emissions (and associated economic and physical health benefits for communities) (Mateer, 2014). Importantly, legislation and policies such as these are aimed at implementing a shift in the mindset of Californians in that automobiles are not the only viable transport option within Los Angeles, which will assist in increasing the city’s resilience to a peak oil scenario. Whilst many of these policies, strategies and legislation are long term (and thus will not be fully implemented for many years), the mentality of Los Angeles as a city demonstrates a commitment by constituents and policy makers alike to explore and implement genuine transport alternatives to the private automobile. The net result of the political willpower currently at play in Los Angeles is a city that is actively planning to increase its resilience to peak oil scenarios by providing tangible alternatives to the private automobile as the mode of choice. Portland, Oregon Nestled north of Los Angeles in the State of Oregon, Portland is the ‘textbook role model’ of transit planning which – conversely to Los Angeles – has constructed a reputation for itself for innovative land use and transportation planning in which the car is not necessarily king. It was for this reason that Portland was selected as a juxtaposing case example to Los Angeles for the study of car dependency and planning policy. With a metropolitan population of approximately 2 million residents (as opposed to Los Angeles’ 17 million) and a net density figure of 1629ppl/km2 (approx.) (as opposed to Los Angeles’ 3176ppl/km2 [approx.]), the magnitude of transport issues is simply not on the same scale as that of Los Angeles. However, the fundamental issues

Figure 3 - Smog on the Los Angeles Skyline, February 2014 (own photo)

Driving Over the Edge - North American Planning Alternatives to a Car Dependent Melbourne


remain the same – decreasing car dependency, investing in public transit infrastructure, increasing public transport mode share and increasing land use efficiencies through proactive land use planning. Portland maintains a number of interesting and innovative transportation planning mechanisms, the first of which is the capacity to fund transit projects at early stages in the development cycle. Trimet (the metropolitan public authority charged with the management of Portland’s public transit system consisting of buses, light rail, street car and heavy rail systems) works collaboratively with the City of Portland and the private sector to establish better transit nodes and infrastructure for new developments and urban renewal projects alike. The construction of public transit in Portland is facilitated from the start of the development process through funding mechanisms, investment, collaboration, and development incentives in order to ensure that transit choices are available at the time of occupation. For example, when Portland’s centrally located Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) (a major employer and institution within the City of Portland) spatially outgrew the constraints of it’s mountaintop Marquam Hill campus, it seemed the only viable alternative would be to vacate and relocate operations to a suburban county. Instead, Trimet – in conjunction with City of Portland and OHSU – implemented an innovative array of funding mechanisms (consisting of $8m from Tax Increment financing, $30.5m from Local Improvement District funding, $15.5m in OHSU cash and $2.5m NMI funding) to pay for and construct a $60m aerial tram from OHSU to Portland’s South Waterfront urban renewal district. Completed in 2007, the Aerial Tram attracts approximately 1.6m rides per year, is 85% operated by OHSU, and has allowed OHSU to remain within the City of Portland by expanding growth directly into the South Waterfront district. At the same time, a $46m investment into the extension of Portland’s streetcar network to South Waterfront was also constructed, which was financed through a combination of Tax Increment financing ($14m), State and Regional grants ($12.1m), Land Sales ($3.1m) and other various funding mechanisms. The streetcar network allowed transit connections between downtown Portland and South Waterfront (and the aerial tram), and sparked the redevelopment of the South Waterfront district as one of Portland’s premier infill urban renewal and employment districts. And other examples of this form of proactive transit investment also exist in Portland. For example, the same principle of providing transit connections early in the development process also heralded the urban renewal of Portland’s Pearl District in the same manner as South Waterfront through the provision of a local connected streetcar transit line. Secondly, the innovative manner in which Portland implements it’s strategic metropolitan plan assists in fostering transport alternatives. Like Melbourne, Portland has an overarching strategic growth plan known as the ‘Regional Vision: the 2040 Growth Concept’ which provides a guide for the metropolitan development of the city. This plan, in conjunction with the City of Driving Over the Edge - North American Planning Alternatives to a Car Dependent Melbourne

Figure 4 - OHSU and South Waterfront Transit Investment (PDX Innovation, 2014)

Portland’s ‘Portland Plan’, consists of familiar concepts such as polycentric decentralisation of growth and the implementation of a UGB. However, unlike Melbourne, Portland’s Metropolitan Plan is administered by an elected regional government, consisting of public custodians called Metro. The Metro agency serves more than 1.5 million residents in Portland’s Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, and consists of a regionally elected president (and six councillors) who are elected by district every four years in non-partisan elections. Portland’s elected Metropolitan Council was the first to form in the United States, and still stands as the most successful and effective in the country. In 1992, the region’s voters approved a home-rule charter that directed Metro to make regional growth management its primary mission. As a governing agency independent from state and federal politics, Metro provide leadership form a regional perspective by focusing on issues that cross local boundaries and require collaborative solutions. As custodians of the Portland Plan, the overarching direction and implementation of Portland’s strategic plan is both long term and free from the political cycles of change that affect the shape and implementation of strategic metropolitan plans within Melbourne. For this reason – combined with the extensive community investment in the development and implementation of the Metropolitan and Portland Plans – the strategic planning concepts such as polycentric decentralisation of growth, public transit investment and the enforcement of a UGB are far more fixed in their implementation. Although an ‘apples with apples’ comparison of Portland with Melbourne is simply not possible for a variety of reasons (including population density and net population growth), the detachment of strategic metropolitan planning from political cycles (and the role of formalised bottom-up community led custodianship of metropolitan strategic planning) are concepts that could be applicable to the Melbourne experience. Thirdly, in addition to implementing public transit for new developments and renewal projects, public policy in Oregon has also focused on locating affordable housing within established residential areas that already have good access to transit infrastructure under. Investment in new infrastructure as part of new development precincts and connecting outer suburban areas to the public 5

Lessons for Melbourne So from all of this, what can Melbourne learn? If we can agree that oil is a finite resource and that we can no longer rely on it to be our only source of transport (in lieu of the availability of new commercially feasible transport technologies), we should also agree that Melbourne cannot continue to grow as it has from a planning and policy perspective. Based on Los Angeles and Portland, the following are offered not as ‘fix all’ solutions to car dependency in Melbourne, but rather as starting points for a conversation on how to begin addressing the issue of car dependency from a planning perspective: •

Establishing a Metropolitan Council: In the Portland context, Metro is an agency of elected representatives responsible for the implementation of the city’s strategic plan. By de-politicising the strategic planning process, Portland is able to effectively implement many of the strategic directions that Melbourne cannot, such as UGB rigidity and truly decentralised transit-oriented polycentric growth. An elected agency similar to Portland’s Metro could have a role to play within the Melbourne context to work with the community in developing a truly bottomup strategic plan decoupled from State political cycles aimed at capping sprawl and reducing car dependence. Such an agency would also become responsible for the implementation of strategic directives regardless of State political agendas;

Implementation of proactive, innovative funding mechanisms to supply transit at the start of development: Portland has made use of innovative funding mechanisms (including developer incentives, innovative developer contributions, and PPPs) to work with the private sector in the provision of transit at the start of development projects. Further investigation into mechanisms such as this could

Figure 5 - OHSU/South Waterfront Aerial Tram, Portland (February 2014) (own photo)

transport network also forms part of this strategy. In order to encourage affordable housing within inner city areas where accessibility to public transit already exists, the City of Portland passed a resolution in 2006 to establish a policy that dedicates 30% of all Tax Increment Financing revenues from all Urban Renewal Districts citywide to an affordable housing ‘Set Aside’ fund (calculated as a percentage of total project expenditures in an urban renewal area). This allows the release of housing opportunities households with incomes below 80% of the median family income. To date, the fund has been used to meaningfully develop affordable and community housing within established areas, which assists in bolstering Portland’s resilience to a peak oil scenario through the inclusion of lower-income households in inner and middle-ring established areas. Finally, Portland’s affordable housing requirements are combined with the City of Portland’s ‘Complete Streets’ policy as identified within the Portland Plan. This policy mandates safe and convenient access to goods and services within close proximity through proactive land use planning to create local clusters accessible without the need for use of the private automobile. Essentially, ‘Complete Streets’ advocates for the development of a variety of housing options, retail opportunities, education facilities, commercial services, recreational facilities and affordable active transportation modes within established urban areas as a means of creating a polycentric Portland. Through the implementation of this policy, it is the goal of the Portland Plan to reduce the number of miles travelled by car to 11 miles per person per day on average, with 70% of commuter trips made by either walking, cycling, transit, car pool or telecommute.

Figure 6 - South Waterfront Urban Renewal Area, Portland (February 2014) (own photo)

Driving Over the Edge - North American Planning Alternatives to a Car Dependent Melbourne


identify the parameters for replicating this approach within the Melbourne context, particularly within our growth areas where levels of car dependence and social isolation are at their highest; •

Constituent contributions for transit investment: In the case of Los Angeles, voters have elected to contribute to enhanced transit infrastructure and services through taxation (Measure R). Assuming political ‘bravery’ is not an obstacle, the willingness of the community to financially contribute to transit projects in Melbourne through personal and/or sales taxation should be determined by the State, and – if viable – implemented in conjunction with State and Federal investment; and ‘Complete Streets’ decentralisation planning policy implemented in conjunction with affordable housing statutes: Whilst Plan Melbourne and its predecessor Melbourne 2030/Melbourne @ 5 Million advocate for the establishment of activity centre hierarchies with a range of local goods and services as a means of reducing the need for car travel, the reality of this planning approach – combined with market forces - has been the continued displacement of lower income households towards Melbourne’s periurban regions in vulnerable car dependent clusters. However, in the case of Portland, decentralisation planning policies are coupled with stringent ‘set aside’ development requirements for affordable housing within established urban areas. By replicating these stringent affordable housing development quotas within the Melbourne context (in conjunction with existing decentralisation planning policies), those most vulnerable to peak oil isolation could afford to live closer to established goods and services within Melbourne’s existing footprint (and thus become less car dependent).

Acknowledgements A special thanks to those who have volunteered their time and resources and agreed to be interviewed as part of this research: • • • • •

And thanks to VPELA and PEET for the support of young planning professionals through the annual Young Professional Award. References and Further Reading: • •

• •

Conclusion The unsustainable growth and sprawl of Melbourne has resulted in a city in which lower income households have become clustered in car dependent fringe communities. As the triple-bottom-line considerations of a peak oil scenario begin to take on increasing importance, it is necessary to assess Melbourne’s vulnerability and postulate proactive planning and policy responses aimed at increasing our resilience to peak oil and car dependency. This short research paper offers a number of high level implementable planning and policy considerations that could apply to Melbourne based on analysis of the North American cities of Los Angeles and Portland as starting points for a conversation on how to best begin addressing the issue of car dependency in Melbourne from a planning and policy perspective.

Driving Over the Edge - North American Planning Alternatives to a Car Dependent Melbourne

Brian Taylor – Director, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA); Steven Mateer – Senior Transportation Planner, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA); Alan Lehto – Director of Planning and Policy, TriMet Portland; Eric Engstrom – Principal Planner, City of Portland; and Bill Chandler – Senior Town Planner, City of Portland.

• •

City of Portland (2013), ‘The Portland Plan’ [online] cfm?c=58776 Dodson, J., and Sipe, N. (2008) ‘Unsettling Suburbia: The New Landscape of Oil and Mortgage Vulnerability in Australian Cities’, in ‘Griffith University Urban Research Program, Research Paper 17 (August 2008)’ [online] data/assets/pdf_file/0003/88851/urp-rp17-dodsonsipe-2008.pdf ExxonMobil (2002), ‘The Future of Oil and Gas Industry: Past Approaches, New Challenges’, in World Energy, Vol.5, No.3 Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) (2013), ‘First Last Mile Strategic Plan’ [online] sustainability/images/path_design_guidelines_draft_ november_2013.pdf Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) (2013) ‘Measure R’ [online] http:// OHSU Campus Development & Administration (2014), ‘Oregon Health & Science Univeristy’s South Waterfront Expansion’ [online] http:// Document/310/Mark%20Williams%20SNS%20 Summit%20Presentation.pdf] PDX Innovation Quadrant (2014), ‘Portland’s Innovation Quadrant’, [online] http://www.

All photos and images (including cover image) are personal photographs taken from site inspection


Driving Over the Edge  

Based on fieldwork (West Coast USA), interviews and research, Driving Over the Edge explores the issue of car dependency in Melbourne and ju...

Driving Over the Edge  

Based on fieldwork (West Coast USA), interviews and research, Driving Over the Edge explores the issue of car dependency in Melbourne and ju...