Jonathan Hair reports on ABC Radio “The World Today” (Tue 22 May 2018) about the new study from Australia’s Property Council: Creating Great Australian Cities. The segment runs from about 15:15 – 18:43 on the linked .mp3 file. I get to have my say as well, arguing that access is a good, even if congestion is a bad and a feature of people wanting larger homes in the suburbs and commuting by car and population growth in excess of infrastructure growth. (I also talked about road pricing in the interview, but that was cut for time … that’s what I meant when I said “managing”.) The Sydney Morning Herald breathlessly reports “Sydney’s congestion at ‘tipping point‘” interviewing my colleague Stephen Greaves at ITLS.
Everyone (all the cool kids, anyway) says more housing is the solution to high rents and the urban housing shortage. To be sure, it is “a” solution. I have an alternative solution. Compression. Putting more people in the same number of units. Seriously, we used to have a lot more people living in the same number of housing units, with even less floor space. As a typical example of US cities, the City of Minneapolis once (as recently as 1950) had over 500,000 people, now it’s just over 400,000, in about the same number of housing units.
Double, triple, quadruple up. Living room couches are unproductive resources when everyone’s in a bed. Share the same home as your parents and your grown children, it makes for great TV comedy.
Even more systematically, repeal the Third Amendment to the United States Constitution, conscript the millennials (call it National Service) and post-millennials, declare a war against poverty, and quarter them in existing housing in neighborhoods which won’t build more!
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
If you don’t want more housing, love the housing you’re with, and stop mocking adult children living in the basement of their parents home. People aren’t going away just because you don’t build them houses.
Congratulations to soon-to-be Dr. Mengying Cui for successfully defending her dissertation: ‘Full cost accessibility’ at the University of Minnesota campus on 8 May 2018.
Accessibility measures the ease of reaching destinations, and is the product of a function of the cost of travel between two points and the number of opportunities at the destination. That cost is usually represented as individual travel time, and occasionally as time and out-of-pocket monetary costs. Thus, it fails to fully capture travel costs, especially the external costs, of travel. This study develops a full cost accessibility (FCA) framework combining the internal and external cost components of travel with accessibility evaluations, to provide an efficient evaluation tool for transport planning projects.
The FCA framework includes three major steps: analyzing cost components of travel, proposing new path types, and performing FCA analysis. The cost analysis distinguishes the internal and external costs of travel for alternate cost components and proposes a link-based cost model applied to each road segment in a metropolitan road network. The new path types, including the Safest and Greenest/Healthiest paths, in addition to the traditional Shortest Travel Time and Cheapest (least expensive) paths, are proposed to translate link costs into trip costs by selecting the routes with the lowest cost. For the FCA analysis, we measure the number of opportunities that can be reached in a given cost threshold.
The key cost components for travelers are categorized as time costs, safety costs, emission costs, and monetary costs. The Minneapolis – St. Paul Metropolitan (Twin Cities) region was selected as the study area to implement the FCA framework based on each of those key cost components. Our major findings indicate:
The average full cost of travel is $0.68/veh-km in the Twin Cities region. Time and monetary costs account for approximately 85% of the total. It is unlikely that travelers will shift their route significantly to consider safety and emissions.
Except for the infrastructure cost, highways are more cost-effective than other surface roadways considering all the other cost components, and the internal and full costs.
Most new path types show largely the same spatial distribution as the shortest travel time path. However, the healthiest path, concerning the emission intake cost, detours to exurban areas where the on-road concentrations are lower; the lowest infrastructure cost path detours to local surface roadways where the infrastructure expenses are lower.
Job accessibility measurements based on different cost components show similar spatial distribution patterns. Accessibility decreases with the distance to the downtown area. Slight differences exist depending on the properties of cost components.
Accessibility difference assessment reveals a cost-benefit trade-off showing that travelers will save $0.24/veh-km of full cost on average based on the lowest full cost path rather than the shortest travel time path by paying a time-weighted accessibility loss of 191 jobs.
This dissertation demonstrates the practicability of the FCA framework in metropolitan areas.
This study estimates the accessibility to jobs by auto for each of the 11 million U.S. census blocks and analyzes these data in the 50 largest (by population) metropolitan areas.
Travel times are calculated using a detailed road network and speed data that reflect typical conditions for an 8 a.m. Wednesday morning departure. Additionally, the accessibility results for 8 a.m. are compared with accessibility results for 4 a.m. to estimate the impact of road and highway congestion on job accessibility.
Rankings are determined by a weighted average of accessibility, with a higher weight given to closer, easier-to-access jobs. Jobs reachable within 10 minutes are weighted most heavily, and jobs are given decreasing weights as travel time increases up to 60 minutes.
The report presents detailed accessibility and congestion impact values for each metropolitan area as well as block-level maps that illustrate the spatial patterns of accessibility within each area. It also includes a census tract-level map that shows accessibility patterns at a national scale.
There is unquestionably a continuing housing shortage in Sydney, leading to some of the most expensive real estate in Australia and the world.
It is a law of modern cities that no urban water feature should stay underdeveloped. The Alexandria Canal was built around 1900, widening Shea’s Creek, a tributary of the Cook’s River, to serve industrial activities like tanneries that lined its shore. Proposals have been floated to transform it to into a Little Venice, but these were spiked for environmental reasons, disturbing the canal would let loose toxic sediments which would contaminate other waterways. So instead it was left fallow, to wallow in its chemical filth. While that may (or may not) have been a wise decision under one set of economic cost calculations, considering the current costs of remediation, the environmental costs of doing nothing and the value of the redevelopment, conditions have changed and the decision should be revisited.
The parallel Airport Rail Line opened a century later in 2000, just prior to the Sydney Olympics. It was financed under a poorly structured public-private partnership which initially levied exorbitant station access charges, that the NSW government eventually bought down for the non-airport stations. Nevertheless it has significant excess capacity which could be taken advantage of. If we assume it eventually becomes a normal line, we can think about how it might be used to promote the kind of growth that is beneficial to the public.
I walked the corridor this weekend. This Airport Rail Line cries out in pain for an additional stop halfway between Mascot and Green Square. This lands just south of Huntley Street and Bourke Road, at the northern edge of the Alexandria Canal, home today to the redeveloped Mill at Bourke Road.
The distance between the rail stations at Green Square and Mascot is 2.6 km, 32 minutes walking, 3 minutes by train. Typical station spacing this close to the CBD is much shorter. Redfern to MacDonaldtown, e.g. is only 1.7 km. Given 800m is a useful threshold for walking distance to rail stations, 1.6 km (1 mile) is a natural spacing. 1.3km might be a bit close between stations, but it is still longer than the CBD stations (Town Hall to Central is 1.1 km). I don’t know the cost of designing and constructing a new station on this existing line, it is undoubtedly more expensive than it should be, but there is experience with infill, and it is less expensive than a new line on a per passenger basis. I would think the real estate development could cover it.
The historic Mill plus a train station would make a great community centre for a new precinct, perhaps the Mill District, or the Canal Zone, which would feature more intense residential, office, and commercial development complementing, and eventually replacing, single story warehouses, auto dealerships, big box retail stores, and light industrial between Mascot and Green Square, lining the area from the canal to O’Riordan Street.
The region is focusing on new Metro Lines while forgetting opportunities that lie immediately at hand, incremental investments in the Trains network which likely reveal benefits well in excess of costs. Mascot and Green Square will soon be built out, and new land will need to be engaged.
So the moral question: should we change our planning for pedestrians to ensure safety from a crazy person in a van, terrorists, drunk drivers, just incapacitated drivers. This is not the first, and will not be the last, time a driver plows down pedestrians. By doing so we show weakness to terrorists? Are we converting the outdoors to a Zoo placing pedestrians in cages. Should the woonerf, for example, be like an open zoo.
It’s a moral and ethical question how much separation should we have in an era when crazy people uses cars as weapons to kill random humans. How many incidents and deaths will it take to change the approach for pedestrian environments to make it as safe as air travel. If we add more small obstacles, how much will they spoil the pedestrian environment and sense of freedom.
The crazy person in a van problem is only going to get worse with automation and especially connectivity, a remote control car bomb is even easier than a suicide.
In my view, cars should be in the cages, the people should be free. And then the cages need to be made smaller and smaller.
All urban streets in heavily pedestrian trafficked areas should have bollards or equivalent to keep the cars away from the people. Woonerfs are fine for residential streets, and if people want to encroach on shared space that is also fine, but cars should not encroach on people space. Just as we don’t let cars in most buildings, there should be outdoor public spaces where they are also prohibited.
We don’t need fences or chains like in the photo of Egypt, just lots of posts (trees, bike racks, benches, bus stops, street furniture, planters etc.) that make it impossible for a car to run down the sidewalk or into buildings. This furniture of course should not interfere with the free flowing movement of people, and might require taking lanes from the storage, or even movement, of cars. As with all good urban design, examples of this are in Delft, with some lowerable Bollards to allow service, emergency, and freight vehicles in when needed.
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.
TelevisionNews – 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.
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.
Happy Days is Nearer In Time to the historical events it describes than the present
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.