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Undersupply of Walkable Neighborhoods

"A California survey found that, although 86% of respondents prefer single-family homes, 47% prefer a walkable, mixed use neighborhood; 49% would choose a smaller house if it provided a shorter commute; and 31% would choose a high-density neighborhood if it had convenient public transit (PPIC 2002).

A survey of Houston, Texas residents (Blueprint Houston 2003) asked, “Would you personally prefer to live in a suburban setting with larger lots and houses and a longer drive to work and most other places, or in a more central urban setting with smaller homes on smaller lots, and be able to take transit or walk to work and other places?” Fifty-five percent of respondents chose the “Central urban setting” and only 37% chose the “Suburban setting.”

The Atlanta, Georgia SMARTRAQ study found that only about 5% of homes in the region are in compact and walkable neighborhoods, and only 40% of respondents indicated that they could walk to any nearby shops and services. Yet, 20% to 40% of respondents expressed a very strong preference for the most compact and walkable neighborhoods (depending on which attributes were considered), 49% prefer a neighborhood where residents can walk to nearby shopping, and 55% prefer a community with smaller lots if it offers shorter commutes. About a third of metro Atlantans living in automobile-dependent, suburban locations indicate they would prefer a more walkable environment but traded it off for attributes such as affordability, school quality, or perception of crime. This suggests a significant undersupply of accessible, walkable neighborhoods.”

from Socially Optimal Transport Prices and Markets: Principles, Strategies and Impacts

26 July 2012 By Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute. [PDF]

read if you’re interested in the economics of transportation; the market failure/distortion/inefficiencies of the current system. 

» The unstoppable rise of bikes

In five years, bicycling will be so common that it’s boring, says author Elly Blue.

What I’m trying to do is provide a window into a new normal. I’m asking people to look around and see how they’re being asked to live their daily lives, what they’re being asked to do financially and with their time — which is sinking a lot of money and time into cars — and to see that as not necessarily a natural, or even economically sustainable thing.

Blue’s new book, “Bikenomics,” draws on a growing body of academic work, along with her own involvement with the country’s bicycle movement, to make the economic case for bicycles. 

interview with Elly Blue: salon, 12.01.14.

copenhagenize says, “Already ‘common’ and ‘boring’ in Copenhagen.”

CicLAvia boosted sales for businesses along route, UCLA research shows. 10.2013.

Approximately 150,000 people on foot, bikes and skates experienced iconic Wilshire Boulevard between downtown and the Miracle Mile as part of the CicLAvia event on June 23. Researchers at UCLA Luskin’s Complete Streets Initiative and the Luskin Center for Innovation surveyed a representative sample of brick-and-mortar businesses along the route, comparing sales revenue and foot traffic on CicLAvia Sunday and a Sunday earlier that month.

read more: briefing report [PDF, 4pgs]
By 2017, the City of Portland will have experienced a net positive return on investment in its bicycle infrastructure of $500 million in healthcare savings and $200 million fuel savings.

Gotschi, Thomas. Costs and benefits of bicycling investments in Portland, Oregon. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 2011,8 (Suppl 1), S49-S58.

via oregon metro regional active transportation plan, aug. 2013 draft, pg.19.

What Happens to Stolen Bicycles?


At Priceonomics, we are fascinated by stolen bicycles. Put simply, why the heck do so many bicycles get stolen? It seems like a crime with very limited financial upside for the thief, and yet bicycle theft is rampant in cities like San Francisco (where we are based). What is the economic incentive for bike thieves that underpins the pervasiveness of bike theft? Is this actually an efficient way for criminals to make money?


It seems as if stealing bikes shouldn’t be a lucrative form of criminal activity. Used bikes aren’t particularly liquid or in demand compared to other things one could steal (phones, electronics, drugs). And yet, bikes continue to get stolen so they must be generating sufficient income for thieves. What happens to these stolen bikes and how to they get turned into criminal income?

The Depth of the Problem

In San Francisco, if you ever leave your bike unlocked, it will be stolen. If you use a cable lock to secure your bike, it will be stolen at some point. Unless you lock your bike with medieval-esque u-locks, your bike will be stolen from the streets of most American cities. Even if you take these strong precautions, your bike may still get stolen.


According the National Bike Registry and FBI, $350 million in bicycles are stolen in the United States each year. Beyond the financial cost of the crime, it’s heartbreaking to find out someone stole your bike; bikers love their bikes.

An Economic Theory of Bike Crime

In 1968, Chicago economist Gary Becker introduced the notion that criminal behavior could be modeled using conventional economic theories. Criminals were just rational actors engaged in a careful cost-benefit analysis of whether to commit a crime. Is the potential revenue from the crime greater than the probability adjusted weight of getting caught? 


Using this risk-return framework for crime, it begins to be clear why there is so much bike theft. For all practical purposes, stealing a bike is risk-free crime. It turns out there is a near zero chance you will be caught stealing a bike (see here) and if you are, the consequences are minimal…

What Happens to the Stolen Bikes?

Just because the risk of a crime is zero, that doesn’t mean that a criminal will engage in that crime…


Criminal masterminds have to value their time and resources, and bike theft isn’t really that profitable. The transportation costs and low value density ratio of the product likely kill the economics of the stolen bike trade. The bike shop proprietor we interviewed that requested anonymity concluded:

You’d be in the prostitution or drugs business if you were running a criminal ring to make money. There just isn’t that much money in bikes. These people who steal bikes are professionals but small time operators. Or, they’re just assholes.


Ultimately, that’s the point everyone seems to agree on — bike thieves are assholes. For everything else, there is little consensus and hard evidence. However, some things are clear and explain a lot of the bike theft that occurs…

no one told me about this blog before??!!!

(Source: priceonomics)

More for less — A generous welfare state that does not cost the earth.
from the economist’s special report on the Nordic countries. (but excludes Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands from “Nordic”.) 02.02.13.
» Now Coveted: A Walkable, Convenient Place

Mariela Alfonzo and I just released a Brookings Institution study that measures values of commercial and residential real estate in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, which includes the surrounding suburbs in Virginia and Maryland. Our research shows that real estate values increase as neighborhoods became more walkable, where everyday needs, including working, can be met by walking, transit or biking.

read more: nytimes, 25.05.12.

hyde park, chicago. 03.2012. my own photo.

I’ve seen a lot of polls ask, “Why do you bike?” and they always have answers I don’t care about. Like, “for fun”, or “for the environment”. Yeah, right. The most significant motivator for why people do anything is how much it costs them. Bicycling is cheap, nearly free. The bus is downright expensive compared to it, and driving a car everywhere (like 60 miles round trip to work) is personal economic suicide.
— Steven Vance, 19.04.12.
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