On Greater Sydney’s 40-Year Plan

On a Sunday (yes a Sunday, now that is odd) the Greater Sydney Commission and Transport for NSW both released draft 40 year plans:

Since I am under contract to neither organization, I am free to give a review of the documents. I have comments prepared on the idea of the Three-City plan (dislike) and have something in the hopper on the 30-minute city (like), but am not clear whether it realisable.

The Draft Greater Sydney Region Plan is a gorgeous document, it is well-laid out, and pleasing to read. The Transport for NSW plan is much draftier, and appears to have been rushed. On the assumption that this is not staff’s fault, but rather that it was grabbed from their reluctant hands by political higher-ups who wanted a joint release, and who correctly assume that no one (i.e. only internationally-originating transport planning professors) actually reads plans, I will not pick on them for their unreadiness. The Sunday release is perhaps a tell in this regard.

My first blush comments about some remaining aspects of the Greater Sydney Region 40-year Plan are below (with the caveats that I have read the document once, have not read the previous documents, and am new to the country).

It is great to see the coordination between the agencies, and at least the idea that the transport and land use planning should be in sync.

The plan writes “Importantly, infrastructure will be sequenced to support growth and delivered concurrently with new homes and jobs.” This is good planning practice, and it is important that timing as well as end-state is considered.  Whether this is well-executed remains another matter. As they say, time will tell.

In general, most of the GSC plans seems reasonable and hard to disagree with, if somewhat vague in many cases. For instance. “Strategy 8.1 consider cultural diversity in strategic planning and engagement.” OK, I’ve considered it, now what should I do with it?

It is a 40-year plan (Well a “40-year vision and 20-year plan”). Infrastructure lasts a long time, we want to make sure we take sound, long-term decisions. Now I like the future and all, and even think visioning is a good idea, as is preserving options, but 40 years is a long time, even in something as slow moving as transport networks.

The Chronologically-Aware might note that it is already 2017, not 2016, and it is a 40 year plan for 2056. Let us not be bound by petty calendars, this is planning time. Also since it is already 2017, and it won’t be adopted for at least some time, it might wind up being a 38-year plan.

Think back to 1976, it was before the internet or mobile telephony (or even wireless phones), before widespread Cable TV or the VCR, before Personal Computers even (it was the year Apple was founded). How much of a 1976 plan’s prediction of life today would be correct?

I’d suggest very little of the difference between 1976 and the present would have been accurately estimated by most people, or even most planners, or futurists, in 1976. Certainly we imagine that road projects that were funded in 1976 were realised soon thereafter. And much hasn’t changed.

To borrow from Sting (1983, i.e. 34 years ago): People still face a

rush hour hell

packed like lemmings in shiny metal boxes,

contestants in a suicidal race,

‘… shouting above the din of  their Rice Krispies,’ living their lives of quiet desperation. Other aspects are far different. Far fewer factories ‘belch filth into the sky’ as least in the developed countries. Far fewer workplaces are ‘hindered by  picket lines,’ as the power of labour has withered. Far fewer businessmen have their own secretaries. We don’t have flying cars. We do have 280 characters.

Still, plans (or visions) can shape growth patterns, even if the forecasts of life are terribly inaccurate. Plans I am most familiar with, the New Town Plan of Columbia, Maryland (where I grew up) and the Wedges and Corridors plan of Montgomery County (where I worked for 5 years) both gave form to, and continue to shape their communities. Columbia was expected to be completed (built out with 100,000 residents) within 15 years (in fact, it was closer to 35 years, and the Town Center area still is not finished, 50 years on).

The Interstate Highway System of course was an important shaper of development patterns across the US, and enabled the rise of just-in-time production, among other things. It was expected to be done in 16 years (1972, from 1956), but wasn’t really essentially done until 1982, and officially done a decade later.

Laying a street network, like the Manhattan Grid,  is a largely irreversible process, as evidenced by the lack of change in the street grid even after catastrophic events like the London fire or San Francisco Earthquake.

The expectation of the plan is that Greater Sydney grows to 8 million over 40 years. Demographics are among the easiest things to forecast for long time periods, as people age and migrate slowly. At current rates, I don’t doubt the estimate of 8 million. This however depends on an open immigration policy, which I am not sure traditional Australia will continue to support.

I don’t see any discussion of an intercity High-Speed Rail or Very Fast Train. Yet clearly the transport agencies are considering this and making provision for it. Certainly the notion of HSR remains vague, and the details missing, but this is a 40-year plan.

Aspects of funding made me happy to read, even if they were hedged:

  1. “explore and, where appropriate, trial opportunities to share value created by the planning process and infrastructure investment (such as rail) to assist funding infrastructure” … Land Value Capture ! p. 31
  2. “investigate the potential of further user charging to support infrastructure delivery” … Road Pricing ! (though “charging” users  only shows up on 3 pages) p.31
Movement and Places Framework. Source: TfNSW and GSC
Movement and Places Framework. Source: TfNSW and GSC

The technological tsunami about to hit surface transport is acknowledged, but not dealt with. The word “autonomous” (as in Autonomous vehicles) shows up on 5 pages. Not enough thought is given to this, given the timeframe.

The Movement and Place framework (p. 39) is good, and highly reminiscent of the Hierarchy of Roads. I like the more detailed and nuanced design from Transport for London better, (TfL’s 9 cells vs.  GSC/TfNSW’s 4), but there is an argument for simplicity.

On education, the document says: “The NSW Government will spend $4.2 billion over the next four years on school buildings, which it estimates will create 32,000 more

Streets types matrix from Transport for London looking at tradeoff of Movement and Place. http://content.tfl.gov.uk/street-types-matrix.pdf
Streets types matrix from Transport for London looking at tradeoff of Movement and Place. http://content.tfl.gov.uk/street-types-matrix.pdf

student places and 1,500 new classrooms.”

This is $131,250 per student! This is $2.8M per classroom. This seems a lot, even for Sydney. (p. 40) I sure hope some of this maintenance, not just capacity expansion.

The term “Accessibility” shows up on 14 pages. This is good, and the word seems to be used correctly. This is consistent with the idea of the 30-minute city.

Under “Directions for Sustainability” (p. 122) It is great they are using metrics. I take issue with some of them …

“An efficient city
Metric: Number of precincts with low carbon initiatives

A resilient city
Metric: Number of local government areas undertaking resilience planning”

Honestly, these specific ones are terrible metrics. Particularly the first one. Just measure (or estimate) the carbon emissions, not the number of “initiatives”.  Compare with the tree canopy “Metric: Proportional increase in Greater Sydney covered by urban tree canopy”, which looks at the actual amount of tree coverage. Resilience is admittedly trickier to assess.

 

Constructing a plan is hard (in a political sense of finding something that enough people will agree to that is more than pablum, writing down a coherent set of strong ideas is actually not that difficult at this stage in history, with so many go ideas to draw from). I applaud the effort, and think it is better than the alternative. But it could be better still, and that is the reason for discussion and comment.

On Transparency

I recently came across a story in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH)Central_Walk_gateline

Internal documents show makeover of Sydney’s Central Station to top $3 billion by Matt O’Sullivan

The first paragraph reads …

“The cost of transforming Sydney’s Central Station into a gateway that includes a five-star hotel, high-rise towers and a new route for the inner west light rail line is estimated in leaked documents at just over $3 billion.”

[Emphasis added]

I am not entirely clear what is the newsworthy element of the story aside from the fact they were leaked (By whom? Was this intentional policy or disgruntled staffer?), but, perhaps the shocker is that the transformation is $3B, which used to be a lot of money (about $US 2.4B at current exchange rates). Seriously though, who knows what that includes, and what is really for the benefit of travelers as opposed to real estate interests.

The details of the transformation are interesting, but nothing someone who has been paying attention wouldn’t know was already going on. There are plans for the already announced new metro train line into the station, and a Central Walk, and redevelopment of the Central to Eveleigh corridor. Some more details in the leaked document, including a hotel in the station and a possible linkage to a vaporous high-speed rail.

But the more appalling thing to my American sensibilities is that this is a “leaked document”. (According to the SMH, it was also leaked to ABC, a credible news source in Australia, but I can’t find reference to it on their website). And as the recipients of the document, shouldn’t the SMH show us, their subscribers, the document. One more thing which makes me suspicious.

Assuming the leak was intentional, it is a way of getting public input before owning the project (‘oh, it was just a staff draft, that thing everyone hated, we never agreed to that’), but is it really necessary to filter this through the media. Can’t they just announce a study, announce findings periodically, hold real workshops, have real hearings, and then make a decision.

Shouldn’t all of this be public? Isn’t transparency good. If the government is watching us, shouldn’t we watch the government?

One important value of transparency in the process is that it establishes public sense and consensus before projects are made official. Proposals are discussed BEFORE they are adopted. Information becomes available, there is feedback, the project may be modified or adapted, and then the government “of the people” makes a decision to go forward OR NOT. Elected officials are not required to take an opinion until the details have been worked through in an open process. Often they don’t, so outcomes are unknown until the actual vote.

In contrast, in Australia, it seems as if a project is discussed internally and secretly within government, and then adopted, and then justified rhetorically after the fact if the Business Case supports it. (And the business case will be iterated until it complies.) Public feedback occurs only at elections. (Which is better than dictatorship, but that is not the bar we want to compare to.)

Now, many of these projects were on earlier plans, so it is not a complete surprise that the new regime is proposing a new motorway or rail line, but often they were only vaguely specified, and the Business Case comes after the Political Decision, and also is kept secret.

Source: ABC http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-07/state-opposition-criticises-cost-of-new-south-wales-logo/7006034

The downside of course is that it is harder to do things that are controversial if the public has input before hand.

Maybe it should be. It would however undermine the official New South Wales slogan: Making **It Happen.

And to their credit, the present state government is building things everywhere, satisfying a pent-up demand that previous state administrations were unable to achieve. This is not cheap, and the government public works all taking place simultaneously are driving up costs, as they compete with each other for labor and materials.

The most famous example is the controversial WestConnex tunneled motorway. This is an $18B dollar expense, so one might think ensuring the Business Case is accurate and justifies the project before proceeding would have been important.

The Updated Strategic Business Case  document (November 2015) says:

WestConnex was a recommendation of Infrastructure NSW in October 2012, with Government adopting the concept in the 2012 State Infrastructure Strategy and the NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan.

This was followed by the development of
a business case, which was approved by Government in August 2013. An Executive Summary of that business case was publicly released.

This Updated Strategic Business Case consolidates the work undertaken in the original business case, with the significant modelling, analysis and scope enhancements completed in the past 24 months.

Look at the timeline. If I read this correctly, the business case was approved after the government adopted the concept. An executive summary was released afterwards (September 2013), but not the details until November 2015. The 2013 Business Case Executive Summary is basically a PowerPoint (landscape layout and all), and even then, the budget had already been approved before that was released.

Later the document notes that “In May 2014, the Australian Government entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with NSW to provide $1.5 billion in funding for WestConnex.”

 

The business case was released after pre-construction and some construction had already begun.* Which means the publicly available Business Case did not affect the decision to proceed (assuming no time travel). Which raises the question of why it exists at all and how decisions are actually made.

As to why it exists:

This business case has been developed with three specific sets of guidance in mind. It is intended to meet:

  • NSW Treasury requirements for Capital Business Cases, as outlined in NSW Treasury Policy Paper 08-5
  • Infrastructure NSW content expectations set out in the Infrastructure Investor Assurance Framework
  • The requirements and expectations set out in Infrastructure Australia’s ‘Better Infrastructure Decision Making’ guidelines.

In short, someone made us do it.

Now, like I said, I am not commenting on the substance of the decision, which also assumes we should take the Business Case on face value, but indicates a benefit/cost ratio well above 1. And props to Australia for actually using Benefit/Cost ratios (in principle) which is more than I can say for the United States.

However we can observe the project is controversial, particularly in the affected areas. This is largely because all transport projects create winners and losers . This is in part however because the project was perceived as being done to people, rather than done with people.

 

Two reasons are often given explaining why transparency lacks here.

The first is the commercial nature of the case. Many public endeavors here have a large private component. WestConnex, e.g., is ‘owned’ by the  Sydney Motorway Corporation, which is supposed to be sold off. So apparently business is sensitive to the terms of the profits being discussed publicly. It might be possible that lack of transparency maximizes resale value of the asset, and so benefits the public. This is hard to establish, however, since each asset is unique.

I am sure however the many bondholders of the many toll projects that have wound up bankrupt would have preferred more oversight along the way. Peer review (and public review) processes work better in an open environment. Many eyes make all bugs shallow. These infrastructure projects are not a minor contribution to science, where an individual scientist’s or journal’s reputation might be protected if wrong science is not made public, and it is in the public interest that facts be established before they are embossed with a journal’s mark . In contrast the object of review here is a very expensive public works project that needs oversight before the decision to accept/reject/modify. Oversight only achieves its aim if review happens before the decision is made. Many eyes are even more important.

The second cause for lack of transparency is Parliament, aligning the Executive and Legislature, which reduces the checks and balances I am familiar with in  American government. So the Parliamentary government can act without heeding opposition. And the unity of the party, and its majority status, help fast-track decision processes in-house.


 

* A feature concomitant with doing the business case after the decision was made in Australia is the design/build process. First a project is built, then it is designed. Ok, I exaggerate. First a sketch is drawn, then building starts, then the design is modified, and the building costs rise, and the design is modified again. Major project features are adopted midstream.

Navigation signs in Sydney

Lately a bunch of new wayfinding navigation signs have been popping up in the City of Sydney. These are not just in the downtown area either, but out in the neighborhoods. The general idea is great, and makes the city far more useful than it otherwise would be to non-locals (and signs, after all, are for people who don’t already know where things are), especially pedestrians.

Navigation sign to Redfern Station
Navigation sign to Redfern Station

I do have some question about the execution.

For instance in the Redfern Station sign shown, it tells us Redfern Station is 2 minutes to the left. (and is a transit station, and requires stairs). This is true, but less useful than saying it is 2 minute straight ahead, which would also be true, and get you to the front of the station, where you can easily access all of the platforms,  not just the back of the unused platform 10. (We will discuss it being next to a four-lane one-way street in another post).

However the second, Yellonundee Park sign lets us know where there are men’s and women’s rooms, which is extremely useful information at certain times, that might otherwise be unavailable. As far as I know, Google Maps does not surface this information.  There are of course toilet finder apps, but these are incomplete. I have not seen a GTFS-like standard, General Toilet Feed Specification.

Yellomundee Park
Yellomundee Park

Access to jobs by transit increases in many U.S. metros

From the Press Release

Bus interior

Top increases in job accessibility by transit
1. Cincinnati (+ 11.23%)
2. Charlotte (+ 11.02%)
3. Orlando (+ 10.83%)
4. Seattle (+ 10.80%)
5. Providence (+ 10.65%)
6. Phoenix (+ 7.51%)
7. Riverside (+ 6.59%)
8. Milwaukee (+ 6.53%)
9. Hartford (+ 6.44%)
10. New Orleans (+ 6.18%)

Top 10 metro areas for job accessibility by transit
1. New York
2. San Francisco
3. Chicago
4. Washington
5. Los Angeles
6. Boston
7. Philadelphia
8. Seattle
9. San Jose
10. Denver

Annually updated research from the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota ranks 49 of the 50 largest (by population) metropolitan areas in the United States for connecting workers with jobs via transit.

The new rankings, part of the Access Across America national pooled-fund study that began in 2013, focus on accessibility, a measure that examines both land use and transportation systems. Accessibility measures how many destinations, such as jobs, can be reached in a given time.

Though rankings of the top 10 metro areas for job accessibility by transit remain unchanged from the previous year, new data comparing changes within each of the 49 largest U.S. metros over one year helped researchers identify the places with the greatest increases in access to jobs by transit. Cincinnati and Charlotte improved more than 11 percent. Seattle, which ranks 8th for job accessibility by transit, improved nearly 11 percent. In all, 36 of the 49 largest metros showed increases in job accessibility by transit.

“This new data makes it possible to see the change from year to year in how well a metro area is facilitating access to jobs by transit,” said Andrew Owen, director of the Observatory. “Transit is an essential transportation service for many Americans, and we directly compare the accessibility performance of America’s largest metropolitan areas.”

This year’s report—Access Across America: Transit 2016—presents detailed accessibility values for each of the 49 metropolitan areas, as well as detailed block-level color maps that illustrate the spatial patterns of accessibility within each area.

Key factors affecting the rankings for any metro area include the number of jobs available and where they are located, the availability of transit service, and population size, density, and location. Better coordination of transit service with the location of jobs and housing will improve job accessibility by transit.

The findings have a range of uses and implications. State departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit agencies can apply the evaluations to performance goals related to congestion, reliability, and sustainability. In addition, detailed accessibility evaluation can help in selecting between project alternatives and prioritizing investments.

The research is sponsored by the National Accessibility Evaluation Pooled-Fund Study, a multi-year effort led by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and supported by partners including the Federal Highway Administration and 11 additional state DOTs.

The Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota is the nation’s leading resource for the research and application of accessibility-based transportation system evaluation. The Observatory is a program of the Center for Transportation Studies. CTS is a national leader in fostering innovation in transportation.

 

The Transit 2016 report and other Access Across America research reports for auto, walking, and soon biking, are available at access.umn.edu.

Detailed interactive color maps illustrating the jobs accessible by transit in each metro area are available on the study web page at Access Across America: Transit 2016.

Metropolitan Transport and Land Use – Planning for Place and Plexus

Now available for pre-order, with a shipping date in December if all goes well: Metropolitan Transport and Land Use.

Metropolitan Transport and Land Use: Planning for Place and Plexus, by David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.
Metropolitan Transport and Land Use: Planning for Place and Plexus, by David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.

As cities across the globe respond to rapid technological changes and political pressures, coordinated transport and land use planning is targeted as a solution and is the subject of increased interest.

Metropolitan Transport and Land Use, the second edition of Planning for Place and Plexus, provides unique and updated perspectives on metropolitan transport networks and land use planning, challenging current planning strategies, offering frameworks to understand and evaluate policy, and suggesting alternative solutions.

The book includes current and cutting edge theory, findings, and recommendations which are cleverly illustrated throughout using international examples. This revised work continues to serve as a valuable resource for students, researchers, practitioners, and policy advisors working across transport, land use, and planning.

ISBN-13: 978-1138924260

ISBN-10:1138924261

About the Author

David M. Levinson is Professor of Transport Engineering at the University of Sydney School of Civil Engineering. From 1999-2016 he taught and served as Chair of Transportation at the University of Minnesota, where this book was first crafted. He serves as the editor of the Journal of Transport and Land Use and is the author or editor of a dozen books.

Kevin J. Krizek is Professor and Director in the Program in Environmental Design at the University of Colorado Boulder. He recently served as a Visiting Professor of ‘Cycling in Changing Urban Regions’ in the Institute of Management Research at Radboud University (the Netherlands).

Apple doesn’t think people move, Part II: The iTunes / App Store

In part I, I discussed the issue of getting electrical-system appropriate hardware. Today I will discuss software.

For largely unfathomable reasons, some apps are available only in the local Australian iTunes/App Store (why these are one thing is another question). [To be fair, some apps are probably only available in the US App Store, but I have access to those]. These Australian-only apps include things that are intended for people in Australia, like CarNextDoor, or some food delivery apps (Delivery Hero), or some local media, like ABC iView and other local channels. While surely usage could be geo-fenced in other ways (like the IP address or the GPS location), it is a way that is convenient for programmers not to think about better ways. In particular, I would like all of these apps, e.g. to watch ABC iView programs on my AppleTV, rather than depending on my Fetch Box from Optus. I understand this is a convenience issue, but everything is a convenience issue.

In one sense, this isn’t so bad, you could change the country of your iTunes store. There is a but, however, a big but. You lose your Apple Music.

So I understand why I am not legally able to take some music on Apple Music from one country to another, as the rights may not have been secured globally. But surely if I acquired it in one country on one store, and then move, I should still have rights to play it on the app as if I had downloaded the mp3 (or AAC as the case may be). Even more so if  I uploaded the song in the first place from a ripped CD which I owned (though I understand this is indistinguishable from a ripped CD which stole, or someone leant me, or just the mp3s which I may have borrowed). So while I could see losing selected music I added to my collection from the Apple Music store, for which rights had not been secured (though this makes little sense), I don’t understand losing all of it.

If Apple is concerned about gaming the system and listening to a song I should not be able to listen to, they could see that I am (1) not on a VPN, and (2) have an IP address in the relevant country.

I am not sure how much of this is the lawyers vs. the programmers?  I wouldn’t put it past the lawyers saying it is the programmers fault, and vice versa, and of course moving internationally is an edge case. But Apple pretends to be a global company and acts like it is a bunch of independent national companies.

On Halloween in Australia

Having grown up in North America, I have seen Halloween, the holiday celebrating people in colorful costumes pretending to be scary and children shaking down their neighbors for candy come to consume a larger and larger mindshare over time. It is not my favorite holiday, but the kids like it (despite not being candy fiends), and my wife views it as a competition. While it was certainly well known in my youth, and children were of course free to roam the streets unsupervised by adults after a certain age (this being the age before helicopter parents), it has become more significant, both commercially and culturally.

Moving to Australia, I expected Halloween to not be a big deal.

This is not terribly inaccurate. It is spring in Australia, so the idea of Halloween, a fall holiday in North America would be very different. No leaves on the ground, the colour scheme in the trees in vibrant greens and purples, not reds, oranges, and yellows.  It is also light longer (this being the southern hemisphere’s spring) so it is a daylight holiday rather than a nighttime one.

Commercially, the stores don’t emphasize it much compared with the US, and my neighbours in Alexandria didn’t do much in terms of pumpkins or decorations.

But there is one street in our neighbourhood, Belmont Street, where it takes on a block party like atmosphere, well-organised by a committee, where many houses turn spooky. One imagines a few people were into it, this attracted trick-or-treaters, more people on the block got engaged, and this attracted more kids, while simultaneously depressing turnout on neighbouring streets and thus lolly distribution there. It’s a positive feedback system, like the emergence of hierarchy on roads more generally.

IMG_9061

This is no Prospect Park by the tower, which has an entirely new interactive stage production annually, and the tradition seems to be people on their terrace home (townhouse) porches  handing out candy rather than climbing onto people’s stairs and knocking on doors, with some people doing the convenient thing of leaving a bowl out. It starts early. I saw some pre-schoolers out around 4 pm with parents doing the rounds, Belmont gets going at 6 pm. By 7 pm, the candy was mostly gone.

On Writing Tools

I have been book-creating too much recently. I have used a number of tools to create these books. The tools below have all been used at various points for Future of Access, Spontaneous Access, the forthcoming Elements of Access, and the in-progress A Political Economy of Access.

MS Word – This is a terrible piece of software for writing and laying out books.

I don’t like MS Word and have issued a ukase against it.

Pros:

  • Everyone else in the world uses it, so it reduces time in migrating text from platform 1 to platform 2.
  • Track changes can be useful and doesn’t always crash.
  • It can be used to create proper figure and table captions.

Cons:

  • Consistent styles between words, paragraphs, sections chapters. Styles just proliferate, I can’t find a mode that doesn’t limit style proliferation automatically.
  • The ability to easily drag and drop sections and chapters. The text is continuous. Dealing with subsections is a pain.
  • Stability lacks, still.

Scrivener – This is a terrible piece of software for writing and laying out books.

I used this when initially setting up the books from blog posts, but eventually migrated out.

Pros:

  • It organizes books into Chapters and Sections, which is useful for reorganizing things without cutting and pasting. Its Storyboarding is the best feature.
  • It creates ePubs that can be uploaded to iBooks and Kindle, though I never got this far.

Cons:

  • It doesn’t keep styles consistent between chapters. The book is stylistically a mess, and anytime I bring text in from a new place, I have to fix the styles as well.
  • Footnoting/endnoting are not great.
  • Referencing is a mess.
  • Dealing with Figures and Tables is also not good.
  • Dealing with multiple authors (sharing files over DropBox) was a problem and led to version conflicts. Some of this was likely the fault of co-authors who don’t use DropBox carefully, but Scrivener seems not designed for this application.

Pages by Apple – This is a terrible piece of software for writing and laying out books.

Pros:

  • It’s a simple WYSIWYG writing tool.
  • It allows creation of  footnotes/endnotes.

Cons:

  • Consistent styles between words, paragraphs, sections, and  chapters are hard to achieve.
  • The ability to easily drag and drop sections and chapters.
  • Referencing is a mess.
  • It does not create proper figure captions. You are supposed to use a Text Box and attach it to the figure.
  • Each figure needs to be appropriately sized for ePub, it doesn’t do this intelligently.

iBooks Author by Apple – This is a terrible piece of software for writing and laying out books.

The ePub version of Spontaneous Access was published in this. Later I ported End of Traffic over from Pages because it is easier to reorganize with, and I wanted more consistency with the LaTeX version. I am using it not in the way it was intended to create iBooks, but instead the feature that creates ePubs.

Pros:

  • It creates ePubs that can be uploaded to iBooks and Kindle.
  • It also organizes books into Chapters and Sections, which is useful for reorganizing things without cutting and pasting.
  • It keeps styles consistent between chapters.

Cons:

  • It doesn’t create proper footnotes (it uses pop-ups instead, which is good on iBooks, terrible for Kindle),
  • It doesn’t create proper figure captions, though it is better than Pages in that it has some italic text below the figure. The Gallery feature is better in this regard.
  • Referencing is a mess.
  • It loses internal hyperlinks when cutting and pasting. Now I understand breaking links when moving if the thing linked to is no longer there, but when the two named things are both moved, the link should be regenerated, as it would be when moving an HTML or LaTeX file. In short the named link should be retained, not an index to that link which can then be lost. This is especially pertinent as the document may need to be rebuilt after a crash.
  • In addition to missing features, it is crash-prone. This kills just about everything. I have attempted to port Elements of Access, but get crashes for some reason. I assume there is a problem in the inputs (but somehow it worked before), but it doesn’t tell me what they are. In my limited time on earth, I will not spend more time debugging this document.

LaTeX – This is a terrible piece of software for writing and laying out books.

Pros:

  • It allows the author to organize books into Chapters and Sections, through use of \includes.
  • It keeps styles consistent between words, paragraphs, sections, and chapters.
  • It does footnotes well enough, though the raw text becomes a mess to look at, as the footnotes are not separate objects but part of the stream of text.
  • Referencing via BibDesk is excellent and allows standardization (aside from capitalization of proper names, which still needs customization). The .bib references can come straight from Google Scholar with a simple cut and paste.
  • The end product looks pretty good as PDF or paper. I really like the general look of the Tufte-Latex style.
  • It stores text in plain-text files, so it is robust to software evolution.
  • What you see is what you mean.

Cons:

  • Creating ePubs. ePubs from PDF look terrible.
  • Globally standardizing objects like figures and tables. Each can vary if the author is not careful, there are not systematic styles
  • It requires documents to be compiled, so you cannot immediately see your changes in a WYSIWYG manner. (Overleaf does this sort-of, but is laggy).
  • It drives the author to thinking like a programmer instead of getting out of the way, but The Overleaf cloud version reduces the pain points somewhat, but bogs down for long documents. Tracking down wayward commands or characters wastes time.
  • The learning curve is exceptionally steep

 

The problem is not writing text per se, it is combining text with images in an elegant way. Writing a book without images would be relatively straight-forward in most of these tools.

In short, my recommendation is to not undertake the creation of books until tools get better. Civilization can wait.

To be fair, I have not tested the Adobe products like InDesign. They look hard to learn (and I have learned LaTeX and program computers), are pricey, and proprietary.

Interview with Evan Ellis

Interview with Evan Ellis, 9th grader at Liberal Arts and Science Academy in Austin, Texas:

 

Hi Mr. Levinson,
Thank you for helping out! My questions are composed below:

  • What do you see transportation looking like in a hundred years? Will cars have been replaced by other technologies, or will they have just evolved?

Let’s just say 100 years is a long time. At some point, if civilization continues to progress and the world doesn’t get a major setback (disease, AI, war, solar flares, asteroids, or whatever), we should see personal flying vehicles. The difficulties have been in control (most people aren’t pilots), cost to build (these have been expensive), and energy intensiveness (they use a lot of fuel). However the progress in manufacturing, automation and control, and batteries or equivalents over a century should be enough to make these common place. Now surface transport is still likely to be useful for most trips, but for longer trips personal aviation (flying cars for lack of a better catchphrase) should be more widely used than today, when general aviation is the exclusive domain of people with a lot of resources.

  • Are there any companies in particular that you might admire or agree with what they’re doing? Why do you support them?

There are some companies that are doing interesting work, but I try not to be a fanboy. Now companies doing work in electrification and automation are moving in the  right direction, but I don’t know who will be the winners. 10 years ago, the dominant cell phone handset makers were Nokia and RiM.

  • What is the ideal situation for city planning that would have the least traffic, pollution, and travel times? How might we get there?

The ideal city for one mode of technology is not ideal when the technology changes, and the ideal for some purposes is not ideal for others. There can only be one New York, for instance, because in a country the size of the US, there are only a small set of industries for whom the benefits of being in New York (close interaction with other firms, especially in finance, advertising, fashion, media, and a few others), while for other industries the costs (higher land costs, higher wages, more transport costs) don’t outweigh the benefits.

  • When do you see autopilot finally being implemented in almost every car? Will their be any market for conventional driving after that?

At the level of today’s Tesla AutoPilot, (or Cadillac SuperCruise)  it should be standard in new cars by 2025. It will take a couple of decades for almost all the existing cars to be retired. Conventional driving will eventually be prohibited (say 2040) on public roads at most times.

  • Many consumers say they are still nervous about trusting a self driving car with their lives. What is your response to them? Do you too feel worried about the safety of these cars?

The safety of AutoPilot is on par with humans now, it will get better while humans will get worse. If they aren’t safer, they won’t be permitted by regulators.

  • Have you heard about the Hyperloop project? If so, do you see it playing a role in future commutes? Is their anything that we can learn from it?

Yes, No, No.

The only benefit of Hyperloop is exciting students about transport, but the idea itself (whatever it is, the definition keeps changing) doesn’t scale well.

People have been talking about maglev for a long-time, there are a few test tracks, it has not proven itself better than conventional High-speed rail. People have been talking about evacuated tube transport for a long time. There have always been problems (maintaining the vacuum, what happens when you loose vacuum) and the costs of construction could never be justified by demand. Now maybe there will be a set of technological breakthroughs, I doubt it. We have now written 3 editions of “The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport” and have not mentioned Hyperloop at all. [Editors note, it is mentioned once in the most recent edition as an identifier of something Elon Musk has done.]

  • What are some ways an urban planner can work to alleviate traffic?

Designing cities for people, not for cars, will enable people to achieve their daily goals without a car. This is primarily through good (implemented) land use plans that put people near jobs and other activities, and within reach of a transit network that gets them to destinations.

  • What are the most realistic solutions to transportation? How can we work to achieve this?

Someone (maybe a planner) should implement road pricing. This would charge drivers for the full social costs, including the congestion they impose on others, the pollution from their tailpipe, and the risk of crashes they impose on others. The charge needs to be salient, that is drivers need to think that every additional minute they are traveling is costing money, like a taxi-meter in a taxicab.

This is the simplest thing we can do for urban transport to get towards more rational travel patterns. We can start with pricing for Electric Vehicles, which don’t pay gas taxes, and phase it in over time.

Providing safe networks for bike transportation, including exclusive and protected bikelanes on all major streets is also really important to get more people willing to travel by bike, which can work for a large number of trips.

Improving conditions for pedestrians is also important. Pedestrians are second-class citizens in most cities, even places like Manhattan. Many more places should be car-free zones, as in urban Europe.

  • How do you see city transportation evolving to fit our ever growing population?

I think in core cities, walking and biking (and e-bikes) will become more significant, and driving less significant. Most people in the US will continue to live in suburbs and rely on the car for decades to come, but cities, which had peaked in population in 1950 and declined for the next half-century, have started growing again, so there is some promise that the people who live there will demand a better environment.

  • Are their ways to incentivize travelers to leave their cars and use alternative forms of transport?

Road pricing (see above). The alternatives need to be better in most places as well, so the transition needs to be staged, it can’t be all at once.

  • How do you get to work every day? Why do you use this method? How long is your commute?

I walk (23 minutes from home to my office). I like walking, it builds in physical activity, it is cheaper, it is calmer, it lets me think. I walked when I was in Minnesota as well (30 minutes, uphill in the snow, in both directions).