290 - 15 minutes access

An article about city development [1] suggests that a measure of accessibility is what you can conveniently reach. In our current eco-friendly thinking, this becomes what you can reach under your own steam. Ambitious, perhaps, but worthy of consideration.

Finding a measure of 'convenience' is a good beginning in exploring how we might change the ways in which we live. 

Personally, due to living in a town and being healthy, I have most of Blackpool within 15 minutes walk. That could include, if I changed habits, all food shopping. The problem with that, though is the long carry; this is the thing that I use the car for most—frequency, not distance, so most often—and as such I currently use the car for many trips of around 15 minutes, which then includes all the trips to band, to places like B&Q, Curry's  Asda, Tesco. The boss reaches school in 20 minutes by car; it's more than twice that by tram, more like an hour each way when you add in the walk to the tram stop and the wait for the next tram. So, if the long term intention was that 'everything' was within, say 20 minutes of home, we are close to that.

Suppose a target for city planners—a term I use here to describe whoever it is (usually just Them, in Britain) might be trying to change our habits for the better—is to create an environment where everything is within 15 minutes, what [1] calls a 15 minute city. Let's leave aside for now what 'changing for the better' means and to whom it applies and who gets to say what 'better' actually is. How much of what we do could be within a 15 minute radius? How little would a city, or its planning, need to change to make this so? I think that in Britain's towns, surprisingly little change would enable this. Those who live in the suburbs of cities possibly have some local shopping, what Americans would possibly call a strip mall, but whether that is considered to be a walk rather than a drive is the crucial matter. The people interviewed for the prompting piece soon found themselves including bicycle trips, presumably on the basis that this too is self-powered. If one's bike is suitable for carrying the shopping and perhaps if one utilises a delivery service for the weekly shop, maybe this woudl bring a large area and access to sufficient facilities.

So the thing to measure is the extent to which travelling can be reduced to this 15-20 minute window. The inset map shows where I can, allegedly reach within 20 minutes using public transport, thanks to [2]. I say this is the same as my 20 minute walking range. I disagree with the mapping, since it only shows the effect of buses, not trams or trains. The multicoloured map with green at the centre is from [3], successive rings adding 5 minutes, walking. I rate this as about right, and the three bands of green demonstrate what is within 15 minutes from, more or less, home. Lower down I show the equivalent map for driving, just reaching the M6 in 30 minutes.


As Carlos Moreno, a professor at Paris-Sorbonne University, puts it. “There are six things that make an urbanite happy” he told Liberation. “Dwelling in dignity, working in proper conditions, [being able to gain] provisions, well-being, education and leisure. To improve quality of life, you need to reduce the access radius for these functions.” [1]


Funnily enough  the wife & I built up an isochrone map when we lived in Cambridge in the late-70s. We wanted to know how house prices fell as one contemplated living further from the city. Or, if you prefer, to investigate how being prepared to live further out allowed us to afford a bigger house in exchange for the same money but more travel time. Having spent many years (since) living steadily further from work, this is a trade-off with costs and consequences. Not least of the consequences is the variability of your journey; those who commute by train in Britain have, of late, suffered quite outrageously from delay: to put that differently, the assumption they used in making the decision to live <at home, this far from work> at an obvious cost of <transport> and <daily commute time>, is rendered quite differently when the expected travel time is doubled several times a week. The costs attributed to that travel are thus increased, easily to the point where the earlier decision to locate is now wrong or regretted.

Underlying my own position, I am aware that one should be attempting to be more green and that this might translate into living such that travel is self-powered when possible. I am not (yet) returned to cycling. ¹ 

Conversely, I wonder how little one must use one's own car before it becomes more sensible to not own a car at all. In a sense, that is asking what the cost of convenience is. We have learned that, in going to school, the car used for that is worth 40 minutes each way every day—which rapidly adds up to something worth having, just as the time on public transport is not time one could use for peripheral work. So we could choose to allocate a cost to this, say £2000 additional per year for the gain of that time, 300-350 hours. Whether this is worthwhile is something to determine, perhaps by saying "yes it is" and then translating that decision to a value on downtime. Odd, isn't it, that so many of us have a monetary value for 'work' say £30 per hour, but no such number for 'not-work'.²  To do so requires us to be very clear indeed where we draw the line between necessaries and luxuries. I am certain there is grey between these states, and also that there is similar gradation in the values we might attribute to time: time at work (and working); time at work but not honestly doing so; time at home and constructive; down time occupied and vacuous; time asleep. I doubt that more than a very few would attempt to classify their own time down to even as few as five classes so as to express some relationship between productive work and, say, a leisure activity.

In a similar way, we have no good ways as yet to measure how 'green' we are. We may have thrown capital at the issue; we may spend time each week doing things not done a decade ago that we deem to be eco-virtuous. Too often neither of those stands up well to external scrutiny. Example; the hybrid car is (and the solar panels are) cost-effective only because of the government subsidy, without which they would be recognised as expensive, even before one looks at there carbon footprint. Example; the time spent sorting the recycling is wasted if that sorting is not done well—I have written about this on earlier pages, so that is a cost in time of dubious result when looked at by others and all too often it matters not that you do that task well if one other in your bin collection cycle does it so badly that the whole cartload has to be sorted all over again, perhaps even to the point where there was little residual value in the time you spent. This cries out for education, but also for sorts of social transparency and responsibility we are probably unwilling to accept.

On transparency, which may have nothing to do with the titled topic, and may turn into a separate page, I have been wondering about the disparity between what we demand as behaviour from others where we are more than reluctant to allow that others demand the same from us. Examples: as someone who lives near to a local primary school, I am bothered that the parents collect their kids by car but more still by the parking behaviour of parents who do so. Yet these same people would complain if parking occurred on their own street in a similar fashion. Many of us complain about traffic speed — but only when we are on foot; when in the car we complain at the speed restrictions. If you live on a quiet street you resent that others find your street attractive as a way of avoiding other traffic — they make your street a quiet one no longer, but the very same people will use a cut-through in another part of town. This is intolerant thinking; it is inconsistent in that it demands rules that only apply to everyone else. I find myself steadily happier with the prospect that a sat-nav might well be allowed to keep record of one's driving behaviour; I see this as the price for causing those that think motorway 70 does not apply to them — and I am far more bothered by those who think 85 is 'okay' than those who think 75 is acceptable. We have many values of 'the speed limit' and I accept that, but not so far different that the message to everyone else is 'this doesn't apply to me'. That non-application applies to a very limited group, one which we should define carefully and with clarity.


DJS 20200220

top pic from Paris en Commun

Edit 20200403 (3rd April) Please note that while I'd already written the maths page on Coronavirus, 28th Jan, and Epidemics, 27th Jan I had not commiited the same thinking to such as essay 291, next here and 10th March. In part that is becasue essay 291 came from overflow from the maths section.  The speed with which our lives have changed—general isolation, out of the house at most once (exercise; shopping at all is once a week or less)—reflects many of the activities above, but for none of the expected reasons. This may make many populations much more ready to accept these ideas. Of course, reaction to confinement might have quite the opposite effect too. If the movement restrictions are lifted and re-imposed, we might adopt a variety of new habits and new social norms. Best would be if each of us tested the need for travel against some new, diffeernt criteria.



[1] https://www.citylab.com/environment/2020/02/Paris-election-anne-hidalgo-city-planning-walks-stores-parks/606325/

[2] https://mapumental.com/  Try it: put in a London postcode and see how far you can get in a time on transport. There may be a map for the whole of the UK. Try hunting for similar (isochrone) maps for other countries and cities.

[3] https://app.targomo.com/demo/#!/map?

[4] https://lifehacker.com/want-to-be-happier-live-closer-to-the-stuff-you-want-t-1834892230

areaID=britishisles&travelTime=30&travelTimeRangeID=0&travelDistanceRangeID=0&travelType=bike&travelDistance=5000&edgeWeight=time&colorRangeID=0&intersection=union&transition=true&zoomAllTheTime=true&mapstyle=light&frameDuration=18000&rushHour=true&sources=53.813128,-3.047864  actually much the easiest to use.

http://iso4app.net/demo.jsp

http://www.mkrgeo-blog.com/how-to-make-isochrone-map-in-google-mymaps-quickly/

1 My perception is that: (i) my bike must be reliable, ie not break down in any way since I would be using a bike when going further than I am prepared to walk. (ii) Implicit in both walking and cycling is that one is not carrying unmanageable weight or bulk and that the weather permits such a choice. (iii) the bike needs a place to be parked such that it is both secure and out of the way; I am often not (and not often) satisfied that this is possible and that is preventing me taking the steps to render a bike functional again. (iv) There are overheads to using a bike which I could categorise as safety (clothes, helmet, lights) and security (lock, target parking space, reliability of bike). There is also an overhead of the time it takes to 'get the bike out', such that I observe that it is no slower to walk into town than to have cycled; to make cycling effective for short distances, it would have to be sited at the front of the house, where I deem it insecure. In consequence, a bike would be useful for distances I am not prepared to walk; so I take the car, which is already available at the front and secure, though we don't have a garage.

I find that I am prepared to walk in conditions that I would not cycle in, which applies increasingly often to running too; I'll go to town in the rain (often to the gym and lunch) but I won't go running when it is raining. Or cold, since about 2015. Simply, I don't enjoy a bike; the sort of bike I'd enjoy is a security risk.

2 There is a disparity in money value here. Many of us are actually paid much nearer £10 per hour (30 years of teaching supports that), but the declared value, what you'd like to charge for an additional hour of well-defined work, is the £30 figure. Even back in the 80s, my school Common Room had a rule about what we could charge for extra lessons, not far from this £30/hour figure even that long ago.


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