I have now been in Australia a year, it’s time for the breakdown: at what does Australia beat the US, at what does it need improvement. Topics listed alphabetially


  • Banking – AUS … There are fewer banks in Australia, but they work better in a number of ways. Electronic payments are standard and quick. Debit cards are far more standard than credit cards … and there is less credit card % rebate gaming here. What’s a cheque? There is still enough upset here about bank behaviour that a Royal Commission will investigate. Superannuation (the fancy name for retirement plans) have issues, but I don’t think it’s worse than US pension funding problems.
  • Broadband – USA  … in Minneapolis, eventually we had 2 competing Broadband providers providing 40MBPS for $40/month, in AUS at home, I might as well be on a dialup 300 Baud modem. Netflix can’t even stream consistently at 5:00 am.
  • Bureaucracy (Tax) – AUS … Filing taxes is much easier in Australia. In fact, you don’t have to, since they already took your money, you only file if you want some of it back.
  • Bureaucracy (Motor Vehicles) – AUS … The time to get a driver’s license in Australia was minimal and the experience was excellent. The staff had uniforms, just like airlines.
  • Citizenship – USA  … I was born there, I am a citizen dammit, it is my birthright, who the hell cares about where your grandparents were born. Who can possibly actually know, as opposed to repeat stories we were told. Yet Australia is in knots over it’s ridiculous Parliamentary citizenship crisis, perhaps the world’s stupidest scandal. Given how the court has ruled, North Korea could disband Australia’s Parliament simply by giving citizenship to all current members.
  • Democracy – AUS  … despite the Citizenship crisis, democracy functions better in AUS. Parliament works, no government shutdowns (lack of supply), voting is mandatory, convenient in general (Saturday), and no efforts are made to suppress voting.
  • Food (Groceries) – AUS … There are some things you can’t get in AUS (essentially bagels), and the sushi is highly geared toward salmon, but the quality of the Turkish bread and the baguettes make up for it. The food system is less industrialized than the US, so the quality tends to be a bit higher, but certainly not universally.
  • Food (Restaurants) – USA … The food is price competitive with the US (especially considering no tipping in restaurants and the sales tax is embedded in the price). However the good middle tier (America’s sit-down chain restaurants) seems to be missing. Food delivery is much more common here, though our experience with it is mixed at best: it’s delivered, but is it still food by that point?
  • Government Transparency – USA … The agencies in Australia are trying to be Open and Transparent, but paranoia is a big destroya. In NSW they are afraid (or prohibited) from releasing even basic information like traffic counts on monopoly toll roads, and the “Business Case” is confidential in cabinet. This should all be public.
  • Health Insurance – AUS … Though I pay for private here, since I don’t qualify for Medicare (the national health insurance scheme), it is tax deducted, not outrageously priced, and trivial to get reimbursed for expenses through an app. The Doctors are less well trained on average, until recently many only had Bachelor Degrees.
  • Housing – USA … House prices are absurd in Australia, even accounting for the superior weather and higher demand. Houses here don’t have insulation, have poor AC, and leaky windows (and roofs). They are building lots of housing in Sydney, so the trend may abate some.
  • Measurement – AUS … The metric system remains superior to the imperial system of measures for everything, except arguably temperature.
  • Newspapers – USA … These are dying here in Australia as well as in the US, though cities here still have two competing newspapers, in addition to the national papers. The depth of reporting has been generally gutted even more in AUS than the United States.
  • Post Office and Last Mile Delivery – USA … While we get stuff from AusPost, it’s just not as good as the USPS/UPS/FedEx combo in the US, and they make us go to the post office to collect things that could have easily been delivered.
  • Radio – USA … NPR’s Morning Edition beats the ABC’s Radio National Breakfast. Still, it is charming that they have national traffic reports so I can find out about traffic smashes in Adelaide back in Sydney.
  • Retail and Shopping – USA …  Amazon is just not a real thing here. The shopping centres are nicer in some ways, with better food choices, but the retail selection is a bit smaller. The supermarkets are smaller as well. However the grocery delivery options seem greater.
  • Spectator Sports – USA  … Australia has more sports leagues per capita than anywhere in the world, but how many different football codes are we supposed to care about. NFL (American Football) while unnecessarily violent and slow, is still more interesting to watch due to the forward pass than AFL or Rugby League or Rugby Union. Baseball still beats the unfathomable cricket.
  • Television News – AUS … The Australian morning breakfast shows on commercial TV are even more of a giant commercial than the US shows. However the ABC is better than the US networks, including PBS, for news.
  • Transport (Highways – Intercity) – USA … Australia doesn’t have a complete intercity freeway system, it’s still working on it, the US finished the Interstate System essentially in 1982.
  • Transport (Public Transit) – AUS … The buses and trains work much better in Sydney than most all US cities, despite the complaining and despite the many, many imperfections. There is also a better regional train service here than most of the US. Not that it’s good by European standards or anything, but it runs.
  • Transport (Walking) – AUS … It’s not great here, but it is more walkable. The noise level of Sydney is surprisingly high, I think due to the effectively unregulated motorcycles.
  • Weather – AUS … Almost every day of the year, on a day-to-day comparison with Minnesota, I would prefer to be in Australia.


So by my count: AUS 11, USA 11. This is an incomplete list and imperfect weighting, so subject to change.

There are some things I won’t comment about publicly at this time due to conflict of interest, like public schools, universities, and the visa system.

They’re Closing Inspiration Point

Happy Days Season 7 | Episode 13 aired 11 December 1979

The gang is stunned to find out that Howard knew about the planning commission’s decision to route one of the new expressway’s off-ramps right through make-out mecca, Inspiration Point.

They're Closing Inspiration Point
They’re Closing Inspiration Point. Source: Getty Images, as if that were not painfully obvious.
  1. Happy Days is Nearer In Time to the historical events it describes than the present
  2. The Aunt Bee the Crusader episode of The Andy Griffith Show was much better (and earlier) sitcom portrayal of the disruption presented from highway construction, though in the end, the roadbuilders win.
  3. Still, representations of the Freeway Revolts  in popular culture are rare.
  4.  By this point, Happy Days had already (1977) Jumped the Shark

Moving the capital of New South Wales to the west

The capital of New South Wales is currently in Sydney, eastern Sydney, historic Sydney, tourist Sydney, or to speak the language the planners understand, the Harbour City. Parliament meets in a gorgeous building adjacent to the Domain, a large urban park. Government offices are scattered throughout the city and the metro area.

New South Wales Parliament Building
New South Wales Parliament Building

Policy in Sydney has recently engaged around the idea of a 30-minute city, the idea that people can get where they need to go on a daily basis (work, shop, school) in 30 minutes or less by walking, biking, or public transport. (Or that 70% of the people do so, depending on which definition.) This can be achieved through a combination of transport and land use strategies. On the transport side is the question of how fast and how direct the transport network is. On the land use side is the question of where desired activities are located relative to each other. The government of New South Wales is promoting the development of jobs in Western Sydney (and housing in Eastern Sydney) to reduce commuting times and encourage the 30-minute city. This is a noble goal, and the market may move in that direction.

At one extreme we can imagine a completely functionally separated city, where all the homes are on one side of town, and all the jobs are on the other side of town. If the sides are more than 30 minutes apart, there is little that can be done to achieve the goal, though perhaps the connection between the two parts can be made faster or more direct. But since transport networks act to spread out cities physically, it might only induce more suburban development. This functionally separated city is equivalent to the classic monocentric city, with a single dominant downtown surrounded by residential suburbs.

At the other extreme we can imagine a completely functionally integrated city, probably relatively dispersed, where jobs and housing are completely integrated, so there are as many jobs in any suburb as there are workers. There is no guarantee that a worker will be able to find a job next door (or choose it), but the likelihood of finding a job nearby is higher than in the monocentric city

If everything else were equal, from a transport perspective, we would probably prefer an integrated city, as this would place the least strain on the transport network. Moving towards jobs/housing balance is a long held goal, if only weakly operationalized.

But all else is not equal. Employers have an affinity for each other. All the big banks want to be near each other, as do other big companies in various sectors. As does the government. This is what economists call economies of agglomeration.

The government is not just an employer, it is also a major player in real estate markets. It can catalyze development of western Sydney, its Aerotropolis/Parkland City, as it is called in the 2056 Three Cities plans, by moving itself there first.


Cities change with the pre-dominant transport technology. When the capital was established in Sydney in 1788, the dominant technology was animal and human powered, with wind and sails moving ships. Since then, much has changed, and the center of population has migrated inland.

The shape and form of the pedestrian city differs from the rail (trams and trains) city, and  differs from the automobile city. Retrofitting trams into the pedestrian city, and especially automobiles into the pedestrian and rail cities broke much earlier urban functionality, while creating new problems, new opportunities, and new designs. Technology played and plays out differently on greenfields, which could be designed to serve a new transport paradigm.

As we approach the transition from the traditional automobile to the autonomous electric and shared vehicle, with all of the ancillary changes, the opportunity for a new city of the future emerges. This technology will invade existing places, which will need to adapt, and new places which can more fully adopt the new technology. But we also need to keep an eye out for the next transition, whatever that may be (flying cars?), so that what we build now is not soon obsolete.

Transport is not the only shaper of cities, other technologies are also critical, from piped water and sewer, electricity, telephony, elevators, and air conditioning historically, to wireless high-speed internet most obviously today, and robotics coming up shortly.

The new capital will need to orient itself around these new technologies, as well as new extensions of well known technologies, like trains and Metros and light rails and bicycles and pedestrians. This is a huge opportunity, and while I won’t suggest a specific design, I will say it should be forward looking as well as reflective of the changes that have come before. Canberra was an opportunity, but by spreading itself out so much, it foreclose the possibility to effectively use slower modes.

If Daniel Burnham were designing the new capital for Sydney, it might look like this.
If Daniel Burnham were designing the new capital for Sydney, it might look like this.


A government campus for key departmental headquarters and Parliament at the end of the Mall, a now traditional design for capitals, with the vast majority of government offices scattered throughout the rest of New South Wales, could spark development. Access to the new airport and rail lines will provide connectivity to the rest of the state.

Ancillary businesses, not just those serving lunch to government workers, but those dealing with government on a daily basis, will migrate to deal with their public sector clients and customers. There are many sites on the axis between Parramatta and the Blue Mountains that could serve this purpose.

Sydney’s soon-to-be-abandoned historic Parliament House can have a variety of uses, from appropriately sized conventions to space for a museum. Other government offices in Sydney can be sold off, retrofitted for urban housing, or replaced as warranted. The Sydney CBD is thriving, and will continue to without a few thousand additional government workers. But that could be all the difference in success for a new city for Western Sydney.

In 1908, Australia, then with a population of 4.1 million, decided to relocate to Canberra. Today (2018) New South Wales has a population 7.8 million. As Australia has proven, the political capital need not be the largest city.  In the US, most state capitals are not the largest city: St. Paul not Minneapolis, Sacramento not Los Angeles, Albany not New York, Harrisburg not Philadelphia, Springfield not Chicago, Annapolis not Baltimore, and so on to name but a few.


Albany, New York, another planned state capital district
Albany, New York, another planned state capital district. Source: Flickr

It is time to plan and create a new government precinct, out west, to help spark the development the government seeks. It will bring the government to the people, de-center the government from its locational bubble, and juvenate new places with new ideas.


Rewinding the clock of techology

Last week, I tweeted

I am looking for examples of technologies that were deployed in a widespread way and reversed, so that the earlier technology resumed its pre-eminence (or nearly). (Like what if we abandoned mobiles and went back to landline phones). Can we wind the clock back?


I was thinking of transport cases, which a number of commenters suggested, like streetcars (trams, LRT) which were once dominant in cities, and then faded in importance, and are seeing some resurgence, but nowhere near original levels. Concomitantly autos in central cities, after decades of growth, are now losing mode share. But these have not gone all the way back to the status quo ante-auto.

Perhaps there were other situations we could point to.

This was a surprisingly popular tweet (110 comments to date, well above average). I have not linked to the original poster, though you can track it down through replies to the Twitter link, but to be clear, these are not my ideas. Since Twitter is a mess, I have distilled and organized them below.

These do not constitute endorsement, more as prospective cases to evaluate, in some cases I have comments. This is more than enough cases for someone to write a dissertation on.

I am not clear how many of them hold to the original request of being fully reversed and the technology before the technology being restored.   Also I would not say these reverted cases are necessarily failed technologies, in that they persisted in many cases for decades or centuries. And of course, technologies never really die, but they do fade away.

The ones I really like (in that I think they are really good fits to the question) are bolded.



  • Nuclear power [still a lot of it, and is replaced by renewables rather than fossil fuels]
  • Leaded gasoline

Food / Agriculture

  • Full fat products and real sugar vs low fat and sugar
  • Cholesterol
  • Butter vs. Margarine (But see link )
  • Slow Food movement
  • Organic Foods
  • Coke/New Coke
  • Ovens/microwaves/ovens [microwaves still seem really useful to me]
  • Baby formula
  • Frozen/Fresh juice,
  • Macro breweries
  • Driftnets
  • The return to Instant Coffee
  • High fructose corn syrup


  • Paper Ballots/ Electronic voting / Paper Ballots
  • Voter suppression (though this is extremely cynical, many places are reinventing the tools of suppression)



  • Vinyl records
  • Pre-lit Christmas trees
  • 3D Movies


  • Lobotomies  (not really widespread though)
  • Shock therapy (not really widespread though)
  • Withdrawn drugs (link)

Information and Communications Technologies

  • Writing/No Writing/Writing (e.g. Greeks)
  • Telegraph
  • MS Windows Vista vs. XP (etc.)
  • Laptops in the classroom
  • Ebooks vs. Physical books (link)
  • Browser plugins (Flash/no Flash / Web VR)
  • Over-the-air/Cable TV/Over-the-air (HDTV/Freeview)
  • Two-way radio (walkie-talkie) / Cell / Two-way radio (in select applications)
  • The rise of Emoticons/Emoji to replace words
  • Mainframe/Desktop/Cloud


Appliances and Household Goods

  • Electric Can-openers
  • Electric blankets
  • Dryers/Clothes lines
  • Wall-to-wall carpeting
  • Chamber pots / Roman plumbing /chamber pots again until 1800s
  • Paper bags/Plastic bags/Paper bags
  • Gas ovens (fire) / Electric ovens / Gas ovens
  • Analog watches/Digital watches/analog watches/smart watches


  • Copper/Aluminum/Copper for electrical wiring

Chemicals and Materials

  • DDT
  • CFCs (though replaced with different technology than went before)
  • Asbestos
  • Smoking (replaced by the technology of not smoking)
  • Lead paint



  • Coined money


  • The re-emergence of home deliveries, especially food.
  • The rise of EVs (but EVs were hardly a dominant technology c. 1900-1915) [link]
  • Trails / Roman road building / trails (until mid 1800s European roads were of lesser quality than those almost 2000 years previous)
  • No aqueducts/Aqueducts/No aqueducts/Aqueducts
  • Catamarans/Hyrdofoils/Hovercraft
  • Large ocean-going ships in China [Zheng He]
  • Double-hulled transoceanic vessels in Hawaii
  • Dirigibles
  • Single use rockets/Space shuttle/single use rockets
  • Concorde/SST/Tupolev Tu-144 (but SST was never really widespread, less than 1% of aviation market share)
  • Cycling is making a comeback, especially bikesharing (still really small market share in North America and Australia, but in China this seems a big deal)
  • Jitney/taxi
  • Trolleys/LRT is making a comeback (also small market share)
  • Time machines. They were everywhere for a few years until someone went back and killed the inventor. Now we have none.

The Transportist: April 2018

Welcome to the April 2018 issue of The Transportist, especially to our new readers. As always you can follow along at the blog or on Twitter.

Thank you to all who purchased Elements of Access and Metropolitan Transport and Land Use in recent months. Copies are still available.

Transportist Posts

Transport News

​Uber’s AV Killed Someone

I’m beginning to think Uber gives capitalism a bad name.

(in reverse chronological order, oldest at bottom)


SVs/Taxis/Car Sharing







Intercity Rail

Land Use





Research & Data


Now available:

Nothing in cities makes sense except in the light of accessibility. Transport cannot be understood without reference to the location of activities (land use), and vice versa. To understand one requires understanding the other. However, for a variety of historical reasons, transport and land use are quite divorced in practice. Typical transport engineers only touch land use planning courses once at most, and only then if they attend graduate school. Land use planners understand transport the way everyone does, from the perspective of the traveler, not of the system, and are seldom exposed to transport aside from, at best, a lone course in graduate school. This text aims to bridge the chasm, helping engineers understand the elements of access that are associated not only with traffic, but also with human behavior and activity location, and helping planners understand the technology underlying transport engineering, the processes, equations, and logic that make up the transport half of the accessibility measure. It aims to help both communicate accessibility to the public.


Still available …
In this book we propose the welcome notion that traffic—as most people have come to know it—is ending and why. We depict a transport context in most communities where new opportunities are created by the collision of slow, medium, and fast moving technologies. We then unfold a framework to think more broadly about concepts of transport and accessibility. In this framework, transport systems are being augmented with a range of information technologies; it invokes fresh flows of goods and information. We discuss large scale trends that are revolutionizing the transport landscape: electrification, automation, the sharing economy, and big data. Based on all of this, the final chapters offer strategies to shape the future of infrastructure needs and priorities.

As cities around the globe respond to rapid technological changes and political pressures, coordinated transport and land use planning is an often targeted aim.
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.


Safety in Numbers: Pedestrian and Bicyclist Activity and Safety in Minneapolis

Recent Report:
This investigation aims to evaluate whether the Safety in Numbers phenomenon is observable in the midwestern U.S. city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Safety in Numbers (SIN) refers to the phenomenon that pedestrian safety is positively correlated with increased pedestrian traffic in a given area. Walking and bicycling are increasingly becoming important transportation modes in modern cities. Proper placement of non-motorized facilities and improvements has implications for safety, accessibility, and mode choice, but proper information regarding estimated non-motorized traffic levels is needed to locate areas where investments can have the greatest impact. Assessment of collision risk between automobiles and non-motorized travelers offers a tool that can help inform investments to improve non-motorized traveler safety. Models of non-motorized crash risk typically require detailed historical multimodal crash and traffic volume data, but many cities do not have dense datasets of non-motorized transport flow levels. Methods of estimating pedestrian and bicycle behavior that do not rely heavily on high-resolution count data are applied in this study. Pedestrian and cyclist traffic counts, average automobile traffic, and crash data from the city of Minneapolis are used to build models of crash frequencies at the intersection level as a function of modal traffic inputs. These models determine whether the SIN effect is observable within the available datasets for pedestrians, cyclists, and cars, as well as determine specific locations within Minneapolis where non-motorized travelers experience elevated levels of risk of crashes with automobiles.
Recent publications from this report include:

Why I am leaving TheFacebook. See you on the Internet.

I joined back in 2004, in a fit of joining all the social networks at the time. Where are they now: Myspace, Friendster, Orkut, Ryzo, LinkedIn, and later arrivalspexels-photo-479354.jpeg Google+, Ping, GameCenter, Connect, and so on? Dead or dying. (I had a list of these, but it got deleted once I cleaned out ancient bookmarks). Most of them petered out. Somehow Thefacebook took off. Though I had an account, I never really used it for many years. I logged in at first, saw some local students at Minnesota who I didn’t know talking about things I didn’t care about, and basically forgot about it till the Obama administration. The blog was just more important, and RSS still worked effectively. For instance, in 2007 after the I-35W Bridge Collapse, none of us went to Facebook to check in on people. By 2008 or 2009, and certainly by the 2010s, that would have been more common.

Now it’s 2018. I have a few hundred “friends” and “followers” (and family members) on Facebook. I have thousands on Twitter and mailing list, countless views of my blog and the remnants of LinkedIn. [Side comment: LinkedIn is strangely more useful in Australia than the US, people use it to avoid email, which is subject to Freedom of Information Access by media, which is more common here because the government is much less transparent. Not to say it is very useful in an absolute sense, but there are people who swear by it here.]

So I have “friends” on Facebook who I don’t actually know (though they may know me, a feature of asymmetric information and knowledge in an age where some of us are communicators) in addition to family members and actual friends, and former students, and students, and their relatives, and friends. I am uncomfortable sharing things that actually matter with strangers. So it’s mainly feeds from the blog, which isn’t bad, but really, you all should leave facebook and join the real web, read it on an RSS Reader, or at least subscribe to the newsletter. I don’t seem to get many people reading those posts anyway, as the inscrutable algorithm doesn’t display all your friend’s posts chronologically, the way it once did, and Twitter and RSS do, and is really how it should be organized.

I suppose I could go and unfriend those of you I don’t know and set sharing really tight, but that seems rude, and a lot of work, and in the end doesn’t solve the problem.

Now this would be harmless enough, the site would be merely useless to me.

But it is clear Facebook has been a bad actor (not as bad as Uber, but bad enough) and both irresponsible in allowing others to slurp up our social graph and behaviours, and malicious in commodifying us to sell to advertisers, tracking us across the web if we are not careful about logging out and setting privacy preferences in Facebook, our browsers and ad blockers. In addition it has become a net drain on human productivity. Now I don’t use it much, Twitter is a much worse distraction for me, but I see students who live on The Facebook, distracted from the few hours of lecture they actually attend without the higher level of discourse found on Twitter (seriously, if you filter your feeds on Twitter, mute some people and keywords (like the name of the current president) you can get reasonably intelligent posts and threads, and sometimes comments and conversation. Comments are nevertheless the internet’s bane).

Social network churn has been an historic feature of the Internet. Do you really want your parents and cousins and uncles in your discussions with your friends and colleagues, and vice versa? Do you really want your social network to grow to include acquaintances. A social network’s growth sows the seeds of its own destruction. The whole logic makes little sense. Once we have to put on highly guarded persona’s when communicating, because we don’t know who we are talking to, it’s work.

I have seen specialized social networks for families, which seems a good idea, but implementation details are everything, and critical mass is everything else.

Anyway, I have scheduled signing off of Facebook for the last time in mid-April. See you on the Internet.

Sydney University should get a Sydney Metro station

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the latest update of the planning for the Sydney Metro West line, which will go from the Sydney CBD to Westmead, with stops in the Bays District and Parramatta and other locations (such as Pyrmont, Kings Bay, North Burwood or Five Dock, and Camellia or Rydalmere). None of those locations will be the University of Sydney main campus, despite the fact the University recently announced a new campus at Westmead, on the Metro line, which could eventually match the significance and size of the main campus in Camperdown and Darlington.

The University of Sydney is a large and growing campus, the largest in Australia by some counts, serving about 50,000 students and expected to expand by half again as many over the next 20 years. As a point of comparison, the Parramatta CBD, Sydney’s second CBD, has only 47,000 jobs, and so perhaps fewer daily commuters than the university campus.

Construction is already in process to serve up to 10,000 more students at the University. That expansion will reduce parking, and make it more difficult to drive to campus. Getting those students, and the staff who serve them, into and out of campus safely and efficiently is critical, and will get increasingly challenging as the transport capacity serving campus remains essentially fixed.

The University of Sydney is served directly by numerous buses, and indirectly by several train stations. The most notable of these is Redfern Station, about 8 minutes walk south of the Darlington Campus, but a nearly 25 minute walk from the north end of campus. Central Station is 22 minutes from the north end of Campus and 19 minutes from the Engineering Precinct. Macdonaldtown is 19 minutes from the Engineering Precinct and 22 minutes to the north end of campus. These are not inconsiderable access costs, experienced each way each day by train users, in a region aiming for a 30-minute city.

Sydney Metro West map (2018-03)
Sydney Metro West map (2018-03)

A new heavy rail line going west, but somehow missing the University of Sydney, the biggest market between the CBD and Parramatta, which is both growing on the main campus and due to interactions with the upcoming western campus at Westmead, is an opportunity that cannot be recovered from. Metro construction is about a once per century investment, and getting it right is essential, failure is irredeemable.

The argument against is that the next target station, the Bays District is farther north is true, so a line that picked up both the University and the Bays District would be circuitous, and thus slower for everyone on-board. There is a classic tradeoff between station number and ridership, lowered access times for higher in-vehicle times. So perhaps the same line shouldn’t pick up both stations, at least not in sequence. The Sydney West line could instead serve Central and the stations west of the Bays District, and Pyrmont and the Bays District dealt with separately.

One alternative would be to run a separate line to the Bays District, Pyrmont, Barangaroo, and downtown, and on to Zetland. While the Bays district (White Bay Power Station) has development potential, it remains speculative. Google for instance has passed on the site for its Australian headquarters. This map shows an earlier version of this alternative that should still be on the table.


Planned route of the 2008 West Metro, which may be indicative of the future Sydney Metro West. Click to enlarge. (Source: Railway Gazette“//””) Via:
Planned route of the 2008 West Metro. (Source: Railway Gazette) Via:

From the transit agency perspective, the Bays District (just east of Rozelle on the second map) offers value capture possibilities. No doubt under the right negotiated framework that is true, and it would not just be a giveaway to crony developers. However, I suspect the University of Sydney is also an entity that would contribute towards the construction of a station serving its main campus and which could provide a high speed service between the main campus and its new campus in Westmead.

The good news is such a line is unlikely to be locked in before an election intervenes, so there is at least an opportunity to revise it over the next few years before serious money is committed and tunneling begins. Comments are open until May 18.

Disclosure: The author works for the University of Sydney and could benefit if such a station were opened. However given the timeframes, and where the author actually works on campus, such a benefit is small, and probably less than the amount of time spent researching and writing this blog post. This is not necessarily the view of the University of Sydney, Transport for NSW, or anyone else.

Speed vs. Safety

March 21 [Updated with more accurate estimate/figure after fixing an excel bug] How fast should we drive? From a social cost perspective, faster speeds save time, which has a value, but faster speeds cost lives, which also have a value. To illustrate the trade-off I did some back of the envelope calculations, imagining, like a macro-economist, a single road represents the whole t

Speed vs. Safety (updated)
Speed vs. Safety (updated)

ransport system. Annually there are about 30-40,000 people killed in the US, there are an annual Vehicle Miles Traveled of 3,208,517,000,000. The average speed of travel isn’t known directly, but if we assume the average person travels in a car 60 minutes per day (the 1 hour travel time budget) this implies, at approximately 30 miles of travel per day per traveler, about 30 MPH, which seems about right (including 1/4 of travel on freeways at higher speeds and 3/4 on surface streets and roads at lower speeds, and including traffic signals). As the saying goes, Your Mileage May Vary, and this is intended to be indicative — not a universal answer. Some additional assumptions:

  • We take the Value of Life to be $10,000,000, and assume fatalities are the only cost associated with crashes (they are about 78 % of total crash costs according to our analyses, so we should inflate this number to get total crash costs) [US DOT says $9.6 M]
  • We take the Value of Time to be $15/hour [US DOT gives a lot of ranges, but this number is high for all surface travel excluding freight]
  • We assume the number of deaths drops linearly with speed, to zero at zero MPH. The improvement is likely non-linear, as reductions in speeds from high speeds are more valuable than from low speeds.
  • We assume the value of travel time savings is constant, independent of the amount of time saved.

To be clear, these are huge assumptions. Examining the figure we see the lines cross at about 75 MPH, which is the minimum total cost. So why don’t we set the speed limit to  75MPH? Note that:

  • Travel time savings are, while still speculative in terms of their valuation, both private and real,
  • The statistical value of life is far more abstract. The value of my life to me is infinite. The value of your life to me is, sadly, not. Yet, I am willing to take risks that increase the probability of my dying in order to save time or earn more money. These are the kinds of factors that allow an estimate of value of a statistical life.
  • Death and crashes are probabilistic affairs, while the time lost is deterministic. People are gamblers.
  • There are some other benefits to faster travel not accounted for, such as more or longer trips (to better destinations, or the ability to get better real estate at the same price), which increase consumer surplus. The analysis here does not consider user response to lower speeds, which would be to travel less (or higher speeds and travel more).  There are also issues like travel time reliability.
  • Since 1988 The Statistical Value of Life has risen 6-fold in US DOT estimates, the value of time has little more than doubled. (If we cut the value of life to $3M, (effectively holding the tradeoff more similar to 1988 levels), the tradeoff is much higher .)
  • Speed limits reflect what travelers will travel at, not what we wish they would travel at.

If you dislike these number, you can roll your own analysis on individual roads. The difficulty is not measuring the speed of those roads, but measuring their safety. There is a Highway Safety Manual for such purposes, but crashes are highly random events.

UPDATE 2: Axel Waleczek made an interactive Tableau, so you can test your own scenarios.

Additional Readings