On Frederick Law Olmsted

I recently read A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century by Witold Rybczynski. Some quotes from the book below, and then some comments.

The report observed that “the present street system, not only of Brooklyn but of Portrait_of_Frederick_Law_Olmsted.jpgother large towns, has serious defects for which, sooner or later, if these towns should continue to advance in wealth, remedies must be devised, the cost of which will be extravagantly increased by a long delay in the determination of the outlines.” The chief drawback, according to Olmsted, was the undifferentiated grid plan with its network of intersecting, uniform streets. He had already spelled out his opposition to this characteristic nineteenth-century device in his report on San Francisco. “On a level plain, like the city of Philadelphia, a series of streets at right-angles to each other is perfectly feasible, and the design is as simple in execution as it appears on paper,” he had written, “but even where the circumstances of site are favorable [emphasis added] for this formal and repetitive arrangement, it presents a dull and inartistic appearance, and in such a hilly position as that of San Francisco, it is very inappropriate.”

Olmsted and Vaux proposed modifying the grid. Their solution … called it a “Parkway.” The parkway was a 260-foot-wide avenue divided into five traffic lanes, each separated by a row of trees. The two outside lanes were reserved for commercial vehicles ….  The parkway was an essential link. For him the “metropolitan condition” included cities and suburbs.

Unlike modernist city planners of the 1920s, Olmsted was neither a radical nor a utopian; he believed that it was possible “to realize familiar and traditional ideals under novel circumstances.” This attitude appealed to civic leaders, businessmen, and politicians alike and explains why his planning proposals were easily accepted.

[Describing the collection of architects at the White City of the Chicago World’s Fair] “Look here, old fellow, do you realize that this is the greatest meeting of artists since the fifteenth century!”

According to him, landscape architecture involved composition and perspective in which details were subordinate to the whole, contrary to decorative gardening, which treated “roses as roses, not as flecks of white or red modifying masses of green.”

Olmsted is a fascinating individual who went through many careers, a farmer, a travel- writer who visited the south before the Civil War, and of course later in life a landscape architect

He was not a transportation planner as such, though his development of parkways and multi-way boulevards did contribute in an important ways to transportation designs and should be used more. One could argue he anticipated the idea of complete streets, serving multiple modes of transportation in the same corridor, to improve not only aesthetic design, but efficiency and equity.

We recently did a study showing how the quality of environment, including the presence of trees, at transit stops affected riders perception of time. Nicer environments reduced people’s overestimate of wait time. A similar observation holds with driving experience, people prefer to drive on boulevards than channelized freeways. This isn’t surprising, but it doesn’t fit much into standard engineering design of either roads or transit stops and stations. Since we are designing for people, it should.

Olmsted also developed garden suburbs, and opposed the rectilinear street grid. I think it depends on how you use it, and what you do in residential neighborhoods should differ from what you do in commercial areas.  And what you can and should do depends in part on the transportation technology you are trying to facilitate. How you design for trains differs from pedestrians, and those, which need to be more direct, differ from automated vehicles, which we are only now beginning to think about.

An argument in favour of streetcars

I am a noted streetcar skeptic. I have written blog posts about their issues. As an objective analyst, I will however admit an advantages streetcars or trams have over buses.

This is not the ‘permanence’ justification that is often heard and easily disproved (i.e. where are they now if they were so permanent?). But it is related, once laid down, tracks are harder to move than buses, and tracks are more expensive, so it is harder to make routes circuitous. Many bus routes look like they were designed by drunk transit planners. One local bus the 370, which runs near my office and my home is so circuitous it is faster to walk even ignoring schedule delay. (It is not quite faster to walk end-to-end though, walking time is 2:30 vs. 1:14 on the bus, so the effective bus speed, assuming schedule compliance, is about 9.6 km/h vs. 4.8 km/h walking.) I have written about this before in Minneapolis, (and nearby Rosedale) and circuity is hardly an unknown problem.

370 Bus Route on Google Maps
370 Bus Route on Google Maps

Now there are undoubtedly reasons for every indirect deviation that diverts buses from the straight and narrow. However, every circuitous zig also loses passengers, and bus routes in the US are much more circuitous than travel by road. Serve this building, serve that one, cover this street, reduce pedestrian walking time.

In contrast, trams in practice are much more straight-laced, paragons of transit routing virtue. The historic Sydney Tram Map, as this map in wikipedia shows, gives a sense of routes that were pretty much as direct as possible.

Eastern_trams-1.png

Now it can be argued this particular bus provides and east-west service that no tram did, which is true in part. But that doesn’t mean trams could not. It also could be argued that almost no one rides the 370 end-to-end. Though I have not checked the Opal data, this is probably true as well. But a well-structured suburb-to-suburb transit network (my fantasy map is here, Jarrett Walker has done this as well) could avoid this. To be fair as well, the Sydney frequent network is not nearly as circuitous as the 370 bus, which has a roughly 20 minute headway

Multiple academic opportunities at multiple levels – School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney

Multiple academic opportunities at multiple levels – School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney

School of Civil Engineering
Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies
University of Sydney
Reference No. 2002/1018C

About the opportunity
The School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney is searching for faculty members at all ranks and in all areas of Civil Engineering, with a preference for candidates in Construction Engineering Management, Humanitarian Engineering and Transport Engineering. The School is especially interested in candidates who increase the diversity of the academic staff in the School.

Successful candidates will be expected to develop an independent research program, making internationally recognized advances on problems of importance, engage in collaborations within and outside the University, participate in both undergraduate and graduate teaching and curriculum development, and contribute to the working of the School and the University.

If successful you should expect an internationally competitive salary, a generous start-up package and a first-class research environment.

https://sydney.nga.net.au/cp/index.cfm?event=jobs.checkJobDetailsNewApplication&returnToEvent=jobs.listJobs&jobid=1B592665-6301-4DB5-B08B-A97400F2894A&CurATC=EXT&CurBID=949319BC-8898-4F11-AC4B-9DB401358504&JobListID=7447e3ad-96dd-4a31-0a88-88e7514fc7de&jobsListKey=386e8da5-81d9-4d53-a62a-9d3bde5205b6&persistVariables=CurATC,CurBID,JobListID,jobsListKey,JobID&lid=75320070128

Postdoctoral Research Associate in Transport

  • Join an organisation that encourages progressive thinking
  • Be valued for your exceptional knowledge and experience in Transport Data Analytics and Reliability
  • Full-time fixed-term for 1 year with possibility to extend a further year, remuneration package: $92k per annum base salary, plus leave loading and up to 17% superannuation)

 

School of Civil Engineering

Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology

Reference no. 1985/1018F


About the opportunity 

Applications are invited for the appointment of one Postdoctoral Research Associate (Level A) in the School of Civil Engineering, within the Faculty of Engineering and IT at the University of Sydney. The position will contribute to the research and leadership of the School of Civil Engineering in the newly launched Transport Engineering program.

Emergence of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, increases in data availability and advances in data science are paving the way for exciting and unprecedented opportunities to shape the next generation of transportation systems. The successful applicant(s) will help build a new research group headed by Dr. Emily Moylan to develop data-driven, stochastic methods in transport system performance assessment to support the adoption of new technologies and understand the evolution of travel behaviour.

About you

The University values courage and creativity; openness and engagement; inclusion and diversity; and respect and integrity. As such, we see the importance in recruiting talent aligned to these values in the pursuit of research excellence. We are looking for a Postdoctoral Research Associate who:

  • Holds a PhD in civil engineering, spatial planning or related fields
  • Has published ground-breaking research in the area of transport data science or transport system performance assessment in high quality international journals
  • Possesses strong communication skills

 

About us

Since our inception 160 years ago, the University of Sydney has led to improve the world around us. We believe in education for all and that effective leadership makes lives better. These same values are reflected in our approach to diversity and inclusion, and underpin our long-term strategy for growth. We are Australia’s first university and have an outstanding global reputation for academic and research excellence. Across 9 campuses, we employ over 7600 academic and non-academic staff who support over 47,000 students.
We are undergoing significant transformative change which brings opportunity for innovation, progressive thinking, breaking with convention, challenging the status quo, and improving the world around us

 

For more information about the position, or if you require reasonable adjustment or support filling out this application, please contact Dan Kuhner, Recruitment Partner, on +61 2 8627 0934 or dan.kuhner@sydney.edu.au

 

Intending applicants are welcome to seek further information about the position from Dr Emily Moylan emily.moylan@sydney.edu.au

 

Closing date: 11:30pm 11 November 2018 

 

The University of Sydney is committed to diversity and social inclusion. Applications from people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; equity target groups including women, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTIQ; and people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, are encouraged.

 

The University reserves the right not to proceed with any appointment.

Candidate Information Pack

Full cost accessibility

Recently published:

Traditional accessibility evaluation fails to fully capture the travel costs, especially the external costs, of travel. This study develops a full cost accessibility (FCA) framework by combining the internal and external cost components of travel time, safety, emissions, and money. The example illustrated compares FCA by automobile and bicycle on a toy network to demonstrate the potential and practicality of applying the FCA framework on real networks. This method provides an efficient evaluation tool for transport planning projects.

Full Cost Access
Full Cost Access

Network Structure and the Journey to Work: An Intra-Metropolitan Analysis

Recently published:

Variation of estimated network measures by Minor Civil Division.

This research quantifies the variation of network structure within the Minneapolis – St. Paul metropolitan area and relates it to average travel time to work for each Minor Civil Division (MCD) in the metro area. The variation of these measures within the metropolitan area is analyzed spatially. The measures of network structure are then related to observed travel. Better connected networks have lower average travel times, all else equal. The results corroborate a relation between network structure and travel and point to the importance of understanding the underlying street network structure.

Measuring polycentricity via network flows, spatial interaction, and percolation

Recent working paper:

Polycentricity is most commonly measured by location-based metrics (e.g. employment density or total number of workers, above a threshold, used to count the number of centres). While these metrics are good indicators of location ‘centricity’, the results are sensitive to threshold-choice. We consider here the alternate idea that a centre’s status depends on which other locations it is con- nected to in terms of trip inflows and outflows: this is inherently a network rather than a location idea. A set of flow and network-based centricity metrics for measuring metropolitan area poly- centricity using Journey-To-Work (JTW) data are presented: (a) trip-based, (b) density-based, and, (c) accessibility-based. Using these measures, polycentricity is computed and rank-centricity distributions are plotted to test whether these distributions follow Zipf-like or Chirstaller-like distributions. Further, a percolation theory framework is proposed for the full origin-destination (OD) matrix, where trip flows are used as a thresholding parameter to count the number of sub-centres. It is found that trip flows prove to be an effective measure to count and hierarchically organise metropolitan area sub-centres, and provide one way of dealing with the arbitrariness of defining a threshold on numbers of employed persons, employment density, or centricities to count sub-centres. These measures demonstrated on data from the Greater Sydney region show that the trip flow-based threshold and network centricities help to characterize polycentricity more robustly than the traditional number or density-based thresholds alone and provide unexpected insights into the connections between land use, transport, and urban structure.SankeyFlowsSydney

Travel Cost and Dropout from Secondary Schools in Nepal

Recent working paper:

Distribution of one-way travel time to lower secondary and secondary public schools in Nepal. Children enrolled vs. children dropped out.
Distribution of one-way travel time to lower secondary and secondary public schools in Nepal. Children enrolled vs. children dropped out.

The study relates the association between travel time to the lower secondary and secondary public schools of Nepal and the dropout grade before leaving secondary school using an ordered logit model. It is shown that as the travel time to the school increases, students are more likely to dropout from the school system in earlier grades. The results from this study will be useful to policymakers, especially from developing countries, as it places transport in the context of education.

Green Pace – A Watch App to Save Time.

Look closely at the traffic lights. What could go wrong?
Look closely at the traffic lights. What could go wrong?

Imagine an Apple Watch app (Green Pace) that used haptic feedback to pace your walk so you made the “Walk” signal at every traffic light. It would tap faster if walking faster let you make the signal, it would tap slower if you would hit a “Don’t walk” signal anyway. This could save pedestrians perhaps 20% the time wasted standing on corners and breathing in fumes on each walk trip. What’s required for this?

Well, obviously a watch with haptic feedback. Such already exists.

More importantly, we would need a real-time advance feed of when traffic signal phases changed, and their control plan. This is more difficult, since so many signals are “adaptive” to real time traffic. Many however are fixed time and amenable to this. There are a few examples, but they are newsworthy, not widespread. This should be standardized.

We would also need some API that would read the standardized signal feeds and match them against a Directions/Map app, and GPS, on the watch.

So the most interesting thing here is that the simplest of these technologies (the traffic signal) is the last one to be implemented. We have satellites, we have computers on our wrists, we have wireless telecommunications, but we don’t know the timing of timed lightbulbs in most of the world.

 

 

NB: This traffic signal timing feed technology also has obvious applications for cars and trucks, which could speed up (potentially, subject to speed limits and prevailing traffic) or slow down (which is more interesting, as they can make a green wave by driving slower, and thus save energy and aggravation),  or re-route, if they knew the green lights in advance.

There are some traffic signal feeds out there, but I don’t see standardization, I see proprietary standards. Some articles from a quick search. Mostly related to the company Connected Signals.