Now Available: A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions

Now available: A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King, in paper and PDF.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

About the Book

Why should you read another book about transport and land use? This book differs in that we won’t focus on empirical arguments – we present political arguments. We argue the political aspects of transport policy shouldn’t be assumed away or treated as a nuisance. Political choices are the core reasons our cities look and function the way they do. There is no original sin that we can undo that will lead to utopian visions of urban life.

The book begins by introducing and expanding on the idea of Accessibility. Then we proceed through several major parts: Infrastructure Preservation, Network Expansion, Cities, and Institutions. Infrastructure preservation concerns the relatively short-run issues of how to maintain and operate the existing surface transport system (roads and transit). Network expansion in contrast is a long-run problem, how to enlarge the network, or rather, why enlarging the network is now so difficult. Cities examines how we organize, regulate, and expand our cities to address the failures of transport policy, and falls into the time-frame of the very long-run, as property rights and land uses are often stickier than the concrete of the network is durable. In the part on Institutions we consider things that might at first blush appear to be short-run and malleable, are in fact very long-run. Institutions seem to outlast the infrastructure they manage.

Many of the transport and land use problems we want to solve already have technical solutions. What these problems don’t have, and what we hope to contribute, are political solutions. We expect the audience for this book to be practitioners, planners, engineers, advocates, urbanists, students of transport, and fellow academics.

Table of Contents


1 Accessibility

  • 1.1  The duty of the sovereign
  • 1.2  Access as efficiency
  • 1.3  Access as equity
  • 1.4  Why A Political Economy of Access?

I Infrastructure Preservation

2 Hierarchy of Needs

  • 2.1  The nature of need
  • 2.2  The state of infrastructure
  • 2.3  Infrastructure triage
  • 2.4  Report cards
  • 2.5  Infrastructure heal thyself

3 Road Revenues

  • 3.1  From Snicker’s Gap to funding gap
  • 3.2  How the gas tax may fail
  • 3.3  Fix-it-first

4 Subsidy

  • 4.1  Car subsidies
  • 4.2  Bicycle subsidies
  • 4.3  Transit subsidies
  • 4.4  Subsidize users not systems
  • 4.5  Refactoring subsidies

5 The Solution to Congestion

  • 5.1 Welcome to the club
  • 5.2  Supply-side solutions
  • 5.3  Demand-side solutions

6 Pricing

  • 6.1  Temporal variations
  • 6.2  Spatial variations
  • 6.3  You can toll some of the roads some of the time
  • 6.4  You can toll some of the cars some of the time: Phasing in road pricing one vehicle at a time
  • 6.5  Billing systems
  • 6.6  Road service providers
  • 6.7  What about the revenues?
  • 6.8  Planning with prices
  • 6.9  Congestion is over! If you want it

7 Externalities

  • 7.1  Pecuniary and technical externalities
  • 7.2  Negative externalities
  • 7.3  Positive externalities
  • 7.4  Are reductions of negative externalities positive externalities?
  • 7.5  Pollution ethics
  • 7.6  The art of noise
  • 7.7  Safety vs. speed

8 The Solution to Pollution and Greenhouse Gases

  • 8.1  Global warming
  • 8.2  Supply-side solutions
  • 8.3  Demand-side solutions
  • 8.4  Pollution trust funds
  • 8.5  Domain alignment

II Network Expansion

9 Hierarchy of Wants

  • 9.1 Transport costs too much
  • 9.2 Transport benefits too little
  • 9.3 Transport takes too long to build
  • 9.4 Benefit/cost analysis
  • 9.5 Big infrastructure

10 Macroeconomics: Is Transport Stimulating?

11 The Magic of Streetcars, the Logic of Buses

  • 11.1 Ride quality
  • 11.2 Speed
  • 11.3 Operating costs
  • 11.4 Navigability
  • 11.5 Payment and boarding times
  • 11.6 Nostalgia
  • 11.7 Novelty
  • 11.8 Conspiracy
  • 11.9 Amenity
  • 11.10 Sexuality
  • 11.11 Respect
  • 11.12 Status
  • 11.13 Pedestrian accelerator
  • 11.14 Traffic calming
  • 11.15 Superstructure
  • 11.16 Feedback
  • 11.17 Congestion reduction
  • 11.18 Transportainment
  • 11.19 Permanence and directness
  • 11.20 Development-oriented transit
  • 11.21 Discussion

III Cities

12 Clustering

  • 12.1 Multi-sided markets
  • 12.2 Clustering and economic development
  • 12.3 Constraints drive growth
  • 12.4 Simpli-City
  • 12.5 Beyond density
  • 12.6 Competing centers

13 Zoning

  • 13.1 Zoning tries to solve the externalities problem
  • 13.2 Height limits
  • 13.3 Should the Bay Area have 11 million residents?

14 Fielding Dreams

  • 14.1 Defining induced demand
  • 14.2 Induced demand can be a good thing
  • 14.3 Forgetting faster than we learn

15 Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

  • 15.1 Mapping high-speed rail
  • 15.2 A national high-speed rail network
  • 15.3 Nationalize the rails
  • 15.4 Supercities

16 Value Capture and the Virtuous Cycle

  • 16.1  Infrastructure create saccess
  • 16.2  Access creates value
  • 16.3  Value can be captured
  • 16.4  Captured value can fund infrastructure
  • 16.5  Policy implications

IV Institutions

17 Devolve Responsibility

  • 17.1  Subsidiarity
  • 17.2  Ending the federal surface-transport program .
  • 17.3  Transport finance without the feds: The Canadian model
  • 17.4  Transit federalism
  • 17.5  Whose values?
  • 17.6  ‘Dogfooding’: Ensure managers use the system
  • 17.7  Should voters have full information when voting on transport projects?
  • 17.8  Coordinate local transport and land use policies
  • 17.9  Department of Accessibility
  • 17.10  Metropolitan Department for Transport
  • 17.11  The lump of government mistake

18 Private | Public

  • 18.1  Ownership and network size
  • 18.2  Public-private partnerships
  • 18.3  Tender routes
  • 18.4  Thought experiment: Auctioning green time
  • 18.5  Asset recycling

19 Utility Models for Transit and Roads

  • 19.1  What is a Utility?
  • 19.2  TransLink: organizing transport like a utility
  • 19.3  Transit should focus on core markets
  • 19.4  Think of transit like a club
  • 19.5  Enterprising roads
  • 19.6  Minnesota Mobility: A scenario
  • 19.7  Takeaways

20 Politics and Politicians

  • 20.1 Political parties, three axes, and public transport
  • 20.2  Trust as a positive externality
  • 20.3  Lying as a vicious cycle
  • 20.4  It’s a success
  • 20.5  Mischief in Minnesota
  • 20.6  Taking credit
  • 20.7  Expertise
  • 20.8  Frontiers or values as instruments

21  Transport Poverty

22  Pretexts of Safety and Justice

  • 22.1  Safe Streets for All
  • 22.2  Racial Bias in Traffic Enforcement
  • 22.3  US police interactions are needlessly violent
  • 22.4  Why is traffic safety used as a pretext?
  • 22.5  Not in our name

V Conclusions

23 Jam Today, Access Tomorrow, or Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast


A Goods Framework

  • A.1 Rivalry and excludability
  • A.2 Goods and roads
  • A.3 Goods and transit
  • A.4 Anti-rivalry and anti-excludability

B Network Economies, Supply and Demand

C The Price of Privacy

D Governance and Performance

  • D.1 Introduction
  • D.2 Governance
  • D.3 Performance of state highway systems
  • D.4 Analysis
  • D.5 Conclusions

E Long Range Funding Solutions

Postscript: Homo Gridicus



  • 470 pages.
  • Color Images.
  • ISBN: 9780368349034
  • Publisher: Network Design Lab


Measures of Speeding from a GPS-based Travel Behavior Survey

Recently published


Objective: Lacking information about actual driving speed on most roads in the Minneapolis–St. Paul region, we determine car speeds using observations from a Global Positioning System (GPS)-based travel survey. Speed of travel determines the likelihood and consequences of collisions. We identify the road segments where speeding occurs. This article then analyzes the relationship between link length, traveler characteristics, and speeding using GPS data collected from 152 individuals over a 7-day period as part of the Minneapolis–St. Paul Travel Behavior Inventory.

Methods: To investigate the relationship, we employed an algorithm and process to accurately match the GPS data with geographic information system (GIS) databases. Comparing actual travel speed from GPS data with posted speed limits, we measure where and when speeding occurs and by whom. We posit that link length and demographics shape the decision to speed.

Results: Speeding is widespread under both high speed limits (e.g., 60 mph [97 km/h]) and low speed limits (less than 25 mph [40 km/h]); in contrast, speeding is less common at 30–35 mph (48–56 km/h). The results suggest that driving patterns depend on the road type. We also find that when there are many intersections, the average link speed (and speeding) drops. Long links are conducive to speeding. Younger drivers and more educated drivers also speed more, and speeding occurs more often in the evening.

Conclusions: Road design and link length (or its converse, frequency of intersections) affect the likelihood of speeding. Use of increasingly available GPS data allows more systematic empirical analysis of designs and topologies that are conducive to road safety.

As Parking Needs Shrink, How Will That Impact The Future Of Housing Design?

Jennifer Castensen writes: As Parking Needs Shrink, How Will That Impact The Future Of Housing Design? for Forbes. It started out about parking and moves on to  urban aerial transport as a possible solution.

The future of transportation is envisioned here by Humphreys & Partners Architects proposal for an Uber Skyport.HUMPHREYS & PARTNERS ARCHITECTS, L.P.

Yet, there are dissenters who shoot holes in this idea becoming reality in the U.S. David Levinson, Transportist, literally thinks that people will be shooting holes in them, saying that Americans like to believe that they own the air above their house and might make sport of these unmanned vehicles traveling across their airspace.

Although the idea may be attractive, it just may not be practical yet. Buses carry many more people than aerial vehicles can, yet only transport about 5% of U.S. travelers, Levinson says. Plus, the flying vehicles would need more space than buses.

Perhaps a simplified version of the impact of lower car ownership is from the KB Home ProjeKt, themed Where Tomorrow Lives, that offers a community concept of several homes that share access to one garage and an electric vehicle. That would mean that not every home would need the square footage associated with a garage, saving land space in a way that is economically beneficial and more environmentally friendly.

At the same time that we are experiencing a transportation culture shift, Levinson says the reality is that there will be a work revolution, where the new entire tech world is remote.

“I’m thinking there will be a real estate crash,” Levinson says. “The population grows less than 1% per year. We are overbuilt for a world where people work remotely.”

If that’s the case, there will be very limited demand for downtown parking space.

The interview questions referred to the Uber Elevate conference, and some presentations by architects. The questions asked in are in blockquote, answered somewhat snarkily below:

1.  Uber forecasts that these will be in operation in 2023, do you think that will happen?

No (except as an experimental proof of concept, even then, how many people has Uber actually carried in a flying car? And they are projecting service in a few years. Ha.).

2.  Will commutes be redefined making housing accessible in new areas?

No (why would we have flying cars but still commute to work? Is this the Jetson’s Universe?)

3.  How frequent will these stations need to be a tipping point for broad usage?

As frequent as bus stops, but this will never happen. Bus carries fewer than 5% of US travelers. Drones need more space and carry fewer people.

 4.  How will they impact existing infrastructure?

They won’t , see #1 and #2

5.  How close would these get to homes, housing?


How many Americans have guns? Shooting these out of the sky will be sport. People believe they own the air about their house, at least up to the point where airplanes travel.

6.  What would safety factors and regulations have to address?

People don’t like heavy metal objects falling out of the sky.

7.  How will people psychologically get ready for this? I don’t think a lot of people I know would jump into a flying vehicle without a pilot!

They won’t. The autopilot is the least troubling of these, planes take off and land all the time without active pilots. Flying cars in rural areas might make sense in a few decades after surface vehicle automation is mastered.

Pedestrian safety around light rail a balance: transport experts | Canberra Times

Finbar O’Mallon writes for the Canberra Times “Pedestrian safety around light rail a balance: transport experts“. I get quoted …

A pedestrian was struck by a light rail vehicle at the intersection of Northbourne Avenue and Barry Drive on Saturday morning.

University of Sydney transport expert David Levinson said in European cities trams shared the streets with pedestrians.

“It’s not a problem. Part of it’s the speed and the expectation,” Professor Levinson said.

But Professor Levinson said at Northbourne Avenue, pedestrians were crossing six lanes of traffic and now two tracks.

“That’s eight different points where someone can come in and hit you and you’re trying to make the decision before that happens,” he said.

“That’s a complicated thing for a human to do.”

He also suggested having one consistent green light for pedestrians when crossing Northbourne so they could travel across the entire avenue instead of having to stop midway.

“Cars don’t have to stop halfway through the intersection, why would pedestrians need to?” Professor Levinson said.

Professor Levinson also warned against overloading the network with safety warnings.

“You put a sign everywhere, no sign means anything. You put a sign nowhere and no one has any information,” Professor Levinson said.

Professor Levinson said getting it right was a balance.

Putting up fences risked making it too restrictive for pedestrians, having safety supervisors at major intersections would be too expensive in the long term and loud warning horns would disturb people living in or using the area, he said.

“You want this to be a self explaining experience for the pedestrian.”

Obviously the local engineers on the project, in consultation with the community, will have to consider the alternatives and site in-depth, and test various strategies. This is an issue many LRT systems face, including those in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and I expect the City and Southeast Light Rail in Sydney.

GTFS but for …

2000px-GTFS_class_diagram.svgJacob Baskin writes:

The Story of GTFS

GTFS is one of the biggest success stories in mobility data. In 2005, Chris Harrelson, a Google engineer, worked together with IT managers at TriMet, the transit agency for the Portland, Oregon metro area, to take an export of their schedule data and incorporate it into Google Maps to provide transit directions. The next step was adding transit in four more cities. Naturally, when Chris asked them to give him their transit data, he asked them to all provide it in the same format. In 2006, that format was enshrined as the Google Transit Feed Specification.

This GTFS format was static, a representation of where buses and trains were supposed to be according to schedule. Since then, a lot of progress has been made on real-time transit vehicle location data, and standards have emerged, and there is a real-time GTFS standard. Version 2.0 is out.

Given the success of GTFS, we want to know why so many other things are not standardized and openly available. This post summarizes the state to date of “GTFS but for.”



  • Curbs
    • “SharedStreets creates a structured language for the street, unlocking new ways of collecting, analyzing and sharing information. A shared language lets us exchange information about what’s really happening on our streets, breaking down barriers the between public and private sectors, and combining layers of data in new ways to make streets work better for people.”
    • While it lacks curb usage data, DDOT (Washington DC DOT) has open public street cross-sectional data.
  • Parking (on and off street)
    • This is related to curb data in the on-street sense, but would track utilization as well as capacity, legality. It would also include off-street data.
  • Traffic signals states (past, present, and scheduled/future)
    • “There is an ongoing challenge to get 20 signals in all 50 states by 2020 to broadcast the signal phase and timing. A lot of progress has been made & agencies are deploying well into the 100s of signals. Resources and info can be found at  ” – Patrick Son
    • Traffic Technology Services has an API, which they charge for, for accessing this standard traffic signal data which AUDI uses for in-vehicle traffic light information. They claim 4700 signals in the system currently. Some DOTs have feeds accessible with registration.
    • VDOT’s SmarterRoads open data. Includes signal phase and timing based on J2735, for all state-controlled signals (which is most of Virginia). Also includes real-time tolling HOT tolls for I-66 and much more.
  • Services
    •  Taxis/ridesourcing
      • Some cities, e.g. New York, require taxi and ridesourcing companies to make data available. In other places, this is proprietary. Some companies are sharing selected data (Uber is sharing some data via Movement, as well as SharedStreets.)
    • Shared vehicles (bikes, ebikes, scooters)
      • Some of the shared bike and scooter companies make their data available. Others don’t. For instance, New York’s CitiBike data is available. There is a GBFS (General Bikeshare Feed Specification) standard. The trove of available data is collated at
      • DC also requires bike and scooter shares to provide public real-time information via an API, although the format varies. 
    • Shared vehicles (cars)
    • Mobility-as-a-Service – The City of Los Angeles has established a Mobility Data Specification. Transport for NSW has a proposed Specification for MaaS.
  • Traffic data (vehicle counts, turning movements, speeds, vehicle locations, etc.)
    • Various states have information like this, but it is not standard between states as far as I can tell. See e.g. PEMS (California) or IRIS (Minnesota)
  • Real-time tolls, road prices.
    • There is no standardized feed type, though various agencies make this public.
  • EV charging stations and occupancy (queue length)
  • Logistics (open delivery services, physical internet)

There is of course some movement. The V2X community (vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to infrastructure, etc.) is setting standards, but they are not widely deployed nor used, nor are the outputs freely available on the internet  — the challenge to get 1000 traffic signals by 2020, out of the million or so out there in the US, “broadcasting” their state (locally and online), shows the sluggishness of deployment.

The first issue is standardization. When the data is standard, applications can be built that suck it in, process it, and provide useful outputs. No one has to reinvent the data filter for every distinct agency.

The second issue is openness. The data needs to be easily accessed. The traffic signal data may exist, but there is as far as I can tell, no open source place where one can go and grab it all.

Some providers might value incompatibility or secrecy for their data, especially parking vendors who are in competition. From a societal perspective all of this information should be freely available (gratis (free as in at no cost) and libre (free to use in any interesting way)). Making these data available in a standard format should be a quid pro quo for a license to operate a parking facility, a taxi or shared vehicle, or a toll road.

What else should there be a “GTFS” for? How do we get from here to there? What other initiatives out there show promise?

World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research 2020

July 13-16, 2020
Portland, Oregon, United States

bicyclist and light rail train and station

We are pleased to announce that the 2020 World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research (WSTLUR) will be held in Portland, Oregon, USA, July 13-16, 2020. We seek original, full-length papers on the interaction of transport and land use from the broad set of disciplines engaged in transport and land use research. Papers must be submitted by November 15, 2019. WSTLUR membership is not required to submit a paper.

Each conference registrant may be a co-author on multiple papers, but there is a limit of one presentation per registrant. Detailed submission instructions and conference information will be available here by July 2019. Sessions will be developed from high-quality papers received and authors of a select number of papers will be invited, based upon their conference paper reviews, to resubmit their papers for a second round of reviews for publication in the Journal of Transport and Land Use.

We will be accepting submissions starting July 2019. Please check this website for more details regarding the submissions.

Discounted registration rates at the symposium will be available for registrations from developing countries as well for students. WSTLUR will be offering a limited number of scholarships to students. WSTLUR is seeking submission from diverse disciplines and will be welcoming case studies especially from developing countries.

We are seeking original, full-length submissions on all the themes described below. Theme leaders will be in charge of the paper review and selection process. Questions about the specific themes should be directed to the theme leaders identified below. Detailed descriptions of these themes are below.

Conference Co-Chairs

Kelly Clifton and Yingling Fan

Local Hosts

Jennifer Dill and Kelly Clifton

More information

SMART Seminar Series: Evolving and Designing the 30-minute City

SMART Seminar Series, SMART Infrastructure Facility University of Wollongong
SMART Seminar Series, SMART Infrastructure Facility University of Wollongong

I am pleased to be visiting the University of Wollongong to present at the SMART Seminar Series March 13 @ 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm. Admission is Free, and Priceless.

Evolving and Designing the 30-minute City

The 30-minute isochrone has long defined people’s use of cities, from ancient times, through the trams era, to modern times. Networks and land use co-evolve with technology subject to the constraints of available time. There are opportunities (low-hanging fruit) to use design to reduce the costs of travel. This talk discusses both the measurement of accessibility, why it matters, and how it might affect traveler behaviour, institutional behaviour, and public policy. Looking at data from rail and tram development in Sydney from the 1800s and Australia today, implications about the effects of accessibility are described.

Sign-up here.

Open Access in Transport

With today’s announcement that the University of California is dumping Elsevier (and we expect the rest of the world follows over time), where is a transport researcher to publish? Obviously there are many places, including general open access journals like PLOS One.

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists 51 open access journals with Transport in their descriptor. I don’t know most of them … The ones I am aware and know the people involved from the DOAJ list

There are also these which are affiliated with major publishers …

I am on the Editorial Boards of the ones marked with **, I was founding editor of JTLU of course (***).

Obviously, we prefer non-profit to for-profit organisations in general, as their costs should be lower. Also note that the open access charges in conventional journal are on the order of $3000, which is simply unacceptable.

Transport Findings
Transport Findings

Two additional journals which the DOAJ does not list yet are:

Good luck all moving beyond the Transportation Research part X series, they own a lot of mindshare and will be difficult to break free of, as well as the rest of the Elsevier collection of transport journals. And to be clear, Elsevier is setting up its own open access in Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, but why would we go that way? Their spider web has trapped us for too long. The Mathematicians started boycotting Elsevier a few years ago, see The Cost of Knowledge project

Sadly some open access journals did not make it, including:


8th International Symposium on Transport Network Reliability (INSTR)

KTH Royal Institute of Technology are pleased to invite you to attend and participate in the 8th International Symposium on Transport Network Reliability (INSTR), which will be held in Stockholm on 24-26 June 2020. The INSTR series is the premier gathering for the world’s leading researchers and professionals interested in transport network reliability, to discuss both recent research and future directions in this increasingly important field of research. Transport networks support the full spectrum of human activities and their supporting supply chains, and when disaster strikes provide life lines for rescue services and survivors, so their reliability is a matter of global concern. The scope of the symposium includes all aspects of analysis and design to improve network reliability.



  •  User perception of unreliability and vulnerability
  •  Public policy and reliability of travel times
  •  The valuation and economics of reliability
  •  Network reliability modeling and estimation
  •  Transport network robustness and resilience
  •  Reliability of public transport and supply chains
  •  Travel behavior under uncertainty
  •  Vehicle routing and scheduling under uncertainty
  •  Risk evaluation and management for transport networks
  •  Traffic management (including ITS) to improve network reliability
  •  Evacuation and disaster relief distribution
  •  Network interdependencies and cyber security
  •  Reliability in the era of connected and automated vehicles


Important dates

  • Extended abstracts submission deadline: October 2019
  • Acceptance notification: January 2019
  • Final extended abstract submission deadline: March 2020


For the latest information, visit the conference webpage:


Please help us circulate the information to all who may be interested in contributing to the symposium!