The Transportist: April 2017

Welcome to the seventh issue of The Transportist. As always you can follow along at the blog or on Twitter. I am pleased to report I am now in Sydney, as long promised. Contact information is at the bottom of this newsletter. Due to the move, it should have been a bit lighter than usual, oh well.

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(and you thought March and February were bad news months for Uber.)

There’s no bubble. Really, there’s no bubble.

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Contact Information

David Levinson,
Professor of Transport Engineering
School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney

Mail to: David Levinson c/o School of Civil Engineering,
Rm 418, Civil Engineering Building (J05) | The University of Sydney | NSW | 2006

Office: Room 314, School of IT Building (J12) at the Corner of Cleveland Street and City Road

Office Phone Number:
Campus 7-6136
Australia: 0286276136.
International +61 286276136.

This month’s episode brought to you by the Glyph and Induced Demand (via David King).


On my commute to and from work, as well as other times in motion, I often listen to Podcasts (On the Overcast App). This is the current list of Podcasts I have on the app. …






Innovative expert in transport engineering joins faculty

The article announcing I am at the University of Sydney has dropped, they now admit I work there:

The Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies has attracted leading transportation engineer and analyst Professor David Levinson to the School of Civil Engineering. innovative-expert-in-transport-engineering-joins-faculty-250x214

Professor Levinson arrives at the faculty with a breadth of knowledge gained through his previous work at the University of Minnesota, where he held the distinguished position as ‘Richard P. Braun / Center for Transportation Studies Chair in Transportation Engineering’, for the past decade.
Professor Levinson has authored six books and over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles on various aspects of transport engineering, as well as editing three collected volumes, with his most cited works covering the themes of transport accessibility and travel-time budget.
“I am excited to be able to contribute to the University’s goal of becoming a world leading centre for transport research and education,” said Levinson.

“Opportunities like this don’t arise very often and especially not in a cit
y that itself is currently undertaking a generation’s worth of major transport infrastructure projects simultaneously.”

Professor Levinson will be at the forefront of the recently launched Transport Engineering major available within the Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Civil),Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Mechatronics) and Bachelor of Project Management undergraduate degrees.
The Transport Engineering major provides students with the key mathematical and engineering methods required to plan, design, operate and manage the infrastructure necessary to achieve safe, economical and environmentally sustainable movement of people and goods.
He will also be involved in the transport specialisation available within the Master of Complex Systems postgraduate degree as well as offerings in the Institute for Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS).
“The University already offers globally recognised programs through ITLS and we intend to complement this here in the faculty through the new transport engineering major,” said Levinson.
Professor Levinson’s research explores transport planning, policy, economics, and geography, the evolution and development of technology, and the intersection of transport and land use.
He is currently investigating the projected impact that electric and autonomous vehicles will have on our society and future transport networks.
“David is a welcome addition to the faculty and his expertise in the field of transport engineering will put us at the forefront of addressing the important issues relating to this growing area,” said Professor Archie Johnston, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies.

Observations of Balmain, Rozelle, Lilyfield, and Leichhardt

I took the bus out to Balmain for a walk on Easter Monday. The transit trip is especially circuitous (map) from my current abode in the Alexandria neighborhood, despite the as-the-crow-flies distance being not too far (7 km), as it seems most buses and trains converge in the Sydney CBD. In my case the recommended route at the time was the 343 Bus to the 442, which was about an hour (the map said 45 minutes, but that assumed I knew what I was doing with the transfer) after counting access, transfer, and egress time.  Walking is only 90 minutes, driving 16 minutes. It is clear that one is not meant to travel from here to there by transit. This is to say nothing against the quality of Sydney buses, which are nicer rides than I am used to in the US, just their inscrutable routing. Where is Jarrett Walker when you need him?

Balmain Post Office
Balmain Post Office

Balmain, a neighborhood of about 10,000 people, occupies a peninsula geographically quite close, but by land, somewhat far, from the Sydney CBD. There is a short ferry to the city, which I have not taken yet. Given its geographic remoteness, it appears to have evolved somewhat more independently from the rest of Sydney than other suburbs, and has a stronger identity. The peninsula is itself a steep hill, and Darling Street is basically a ridge road that forms the local Main Street. At the apex (map) is the post office, Town Hall, church, fire station, and school complex that is at a major crossroad (whose cross-street changes names multiple times). Along the street are hundreds of shops and restaurants, which I am sure now appeal more to higher income sensibilities than they did 100 years ago when the area was more oriented toward an industrial workforce. If I worked from home it would be nearly perfect.

Following Darling Street  southward, we run into Rozelle (map). This is hard to differentiate from Balmain at first glance, (and was originally called Balmain West until renamed by the postmaster (who differentiated  the neighborhood because the Balmain Post Office was at capacity)  in honor of the adjacent Bay) aside from it seeming to straddle Victoria Road (the A-40, which is a highly trafficked through road connecting Drummoyne and points north with the Anzac Bridge and the CBD), as the businesses along Darling Street are nearly continuous.

Wikipedia writes:

The name Rozelle and Rozelle Bay (often shown as “Rozella Bay” on old maps), originated from the parrots found in abundance at Rose Hill (near Parramatta) the first suburb of Sydney, established as a prime farming area for the new colony. The parrots, also in abundance in the inner west Bay area of Sydney, were commonly called “Rose Hill parrots” or “Rose-hillers” then Rosella.

Rozelle (pop. ~ 8000) is not as wealthy as Balmain, and the opposition to the WestConnex underground freeway project that will either help or hurt the community (depending on who you believe) is pretty strong here, as seen in the photos. The WestConnex project proposes to tunnel under the neighborhood (taking a few houses along the way, but many fewer than such a project would have demolished six decades ago when this sort of thing was still in fashion) to divert through traffic from Victoria Road to a new limited access tunnel in a Biggish Diggish sort of way. The construction costs to the community are fairly high. Whether the traffic benefits are realized depends on implementation. In any case, I would bet the impending WestConnex construction has suppressed property values and people’s willingness to invest capital in their own property.

After crossing the A-40, but before the A-4 (City West Link), we get an area that is not even coherently defined by the traffic arteries that bound it, but is in physical form largely indistinguishable, though perhaps more recent. Darling Street becomes Balmain Road. However it is less leafy and I suspect significantly less expensive than the neighborhoods to the north. I don’t think I found the heart of Lilyfield (map) (pop. ~7000) on this walk. It faces some of the same issues as Rozelle with the WestConnex project undermining the community (literally, as well as perhaps figuratively). The A-4 will also be complemented with a new WestConnex (M-4) tunnel to connect to the same Anzac Bridge, but from points west, hopefully diverting traffic, but in the meantime disrupting the suburb. Lilyfield is also home to the Sydney College of the Arts and associated hospital complex, whose future seems indeterminate. Lilyfield is served by a circuitous light rail line on a former goods line.

Balmain Road (which leads to Balmain, hence the name) falls a block west of Norton Street, which becomes the main street of Leichhardt (map) (pop. ~13000), just south of the A-4. Leichhardt, named for a lost Prussian explorer, is the “Little Italy” suburb of Sydney, with a concentration of Italian restaurants and shops. It is far less urban than the Little Italys I remember from Baltimore and New York. Leichhardt, like Balmain, and unlike Rozelle and Lilyfield, is a much more coherent neighborhood, with a town hall and well defined shopping area, which contains a nice bookstore, a small mall, a movie theater and miscellaneous other things that constitute a coherent place. It ends at Parramatta Road (which much east of here is Broadway), an east-west artery connecting Sydney with Parramatta (which is now a secondary CBD) and points west. The aim of WestConnex in many respects is to “relieve” this road of through traffic. Parramatta Road it is universally agreed has seen better days. Returning to Alexandria was also a bit circuitous, but only 30 minutes by transit if done optimally (which it wasn’t) (map)

The photo album can be found here.

Civilization VI and its Discontents

While waiting for the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of Australian’s immigration system to give me an actual decision on whether I and my family may be permitted to grace their fatal shores, I completed many things, writing books and papers, readings, and playing the computer game Civilization.

My first exposure to a game by the title of Civilization was the Avalon Hill version, a Board Game we played sometimes as undergraduates on our game nights, Friday (or Saturday, but usually Friday) at Georgia Tech, when there wasn’t a quizbowl tournament. The game starts with ancient civilization, trading and earning technologies. It’s good, but it reminds you, as with the game Diplomacy,  all your friends are, in the end, backstabbers. The game involves technology and trade, but not exploration and expansion.

My first exposure to the computer series was  Sid Meier’s Civilization II, which took up many hours of my evenings as a post-doc and first year faculty on my PowerMac G3 with its nice, but huge, 17 inch color monitor.

My favorite strategy to win was to deploy many spies late in the game and simultaneously nuke all of my enemies with suitcase bombs, and then roll in the tanks. The tanks by themselves would be insufficient to conquer the enemy city, but after the devastation wrought by my nuclear attacks, they were. The downside is now all the cities were much less valuable once conquered, and needed to be cleaned up by engineers.

The space race in Civ II was difficult for me to master, even if I launched, another later civilization would launch later and reach earlier, more engines or something. And given it is the end of the game, you have many fewer opportunities to practice than the dynamics at the beginning of the game (as you either lose early or abandon a badly going game). If you did get off the planet, you went to Alpha Centauri. I think Mars would have been a more likely choice.

I completed a campaign in the follow-up game Alpha Centauri, which has the same basic mechanics, but very different chrome than Civ II (and the others).  The chrome of building a civilization on earth is more interesting to me than the much more fictionalized chrome of building one on an alien planet. Not that humans won’t eventually do that, I hope we will, but we really have no idea what it will be like, or whether there will be alien life, and so on. It is likely Mars rather than a planet so far away in Alpha Centauri is the first target as well. So it is much more fictional than Civilization.

I never played Sid Meier’s Civ III. I did try Civilization “Call to Power“, which was in a sense a fork, by Activision. It had some elements of Civ, like the Technology Tree, but just wasn’t that fun.

Civilization Revolutions for the iPhone, was a dumbed down version of the game, and really, the game requires a BIG screen to enjoy. I played a few times, but it isn’t memorable.

I feel that I should have played Civ IV a lot, (following the Star Trek rules that only the even number releases are good), but I can’t remember it, and after reading the article, it doesn’t look particularly familiar, so maybe I never owned it. Oh well. I had young children, and I certainly did not play it while on sabbatical in 2006-07.

Steam revolutionized the acquisition of games. No longer would I be dealing with CDs or DVDs as media, games, like music and eventually videos would be downloaded over the internet. You could transfer them between platforms as well.

I started playing Civ V late, I bought it after it had been deeply discounted on Steam. It sat on my computer for awhile, but I picked it up again in October 2016. It’s a good game, with decent visuals for this type of game. It also has a lot of User Mods, some of which worked on my Mac (now an iMac from 2013). After playing more than a few campaigns, Civ VI became available. After confirming it would run on my hardware, I bought it. At full price. (In fact it ran on a machine it was not specced to run on, with a different graphics card, as well as the one it was, without hiccups).

Civilization: Beyond Earth has a similar theme to Alpha Centauri. My reaction was also similar, and I couldn’t get into it.

I have spent the most time on Civ VI since Civ II. While fun is not the right word, it was absorbing, and one could easily lose a day being involved in the game. This is a classic example of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s Flow. The game’s steps are too slow, why can’t the computer compute instantaneously? Because if it did, they would just make the code more complicated. Like work, models fill the time allotted. I have in the past called this Induced Model Complexity, but we might just think of it as Induced Game Complexity in this context.

In a campaign that I will call the Ultimate Campaign (since I will not play Civ VI again at this point, at least until there is another interesting expansion pack, but probably not until Civ VII), I played well beyond satisfying the victory conditions just to see what would happen. The game allows “Just one more turn”, which is my case was “Just 250 more turns”.

As background, this was a game a played on a Small Two-Continental planet (Small to speed things up, compared with full-size) at the Prince level, the last level at which the computer doesn’t cheat with extra military units. I won a military victory against my opponents in the usual sort of way, destroying their capital and picking up the remaining pieces of their civilizations, a few early in the game, and the rest much later.

After the game was over, there were still a few potential city sites. One was an island in the middle of the ocean. The island was one hex, it had a few fisheries nearby. But if I located my city (which was to be named Beijing, not quite the last of the Chinese cities) there, there were no Districts that could be built. What would happen? I eventually realized I could still build the Harbor improvements, but there was no way to add land from the ocean (there really should be, although it should be expensive), and the island was too far from the continents. The city nevertheless grew to a surprisingly large population of 16 from just the one city hex and exploiting water resources.

I added a few more cities in the last remaining city sites in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, just to complete the map. They tended to grow quickly at first, but leveled off at a lower level, given the lesser quality environment, though they had fisheries and mines, and industry, and were fully capitalized so that they got all the improvements.


After I conquered other civilizations, there were still 6 city-states remaining. I let them hang around, with my suzereinity over them. The problem was, they had Barbarian problems, and were unable to put down Barbarian uprisings conclusively. There was spillover, so I was forced to step in. Ultimately, I choose to conquer them to impose a single world government, rather than let them continue to host terrorists. It was for their people’s own good, although they probably didn’t see it that way.


The most important lesson is Hayekian. The World, even in the form of a simulator like Civ, is too much for one person to optimally manage. Decentralization is required. Because I could not control the past, nor even all aspects of the present, I cannot optimally decide where to site Districts given even a finite number of potential locations, or what exactly to produce where.

The second lesson is that of life-cycle (S-Curve), and one might say “The Limits to Growth“. There are a finite number of city sites on the globe. Once all those cities have been founded, there is no more room. There is a reason we don’t found new cities any more in the developed world, and the last US city of importance, Las Vegas, is now over a century old. City-founding is a mature technology. Similarly, once all of the land is developed, and in the model all the technologies discovered, cities grow very slowly and eventually stop growing entirely. Hence the need for Alpha Centauri and the like.

The third lesson is of fixed and variable costs. Each city has a high fixed cost, so you want to exploit it by making them as large as possible. One city of 10 is more than 10 times better than 10 cities of 1 in many respects (except territorial coverage).

Game Annoyances:

The trading system is not automated. If you control a lot of trade routes (for instance after you conquer the world) this gets really boring.

Once I have completed the game, technology runs out, which is reasonable, but I can’t turn it off, so I have to keep researching the same “Future Technology” tech over and over again.

Civics run out, but I can’t turn it off. So it’s just “Globalization” and “Social Media.” This is the same problem as the Technology Tree. Once you have earned all the Civics, continuing to produce Civics is pointless. The cheery quotes which were cute the first time you heard them are of little interest the 250th time. I realize the game was over, but it should still be possible to shut this off.

Diplomacy is very strange. In general the other countries will eventually turn on you, especially if you are leading but not by too much and they can ally with someone, or you are disposable, or you are about to win, or they are leading, mostly independent of their personality and how you treated them in the past. But even simple things, like putting an embassy in their capital, is sometimes resisted. Other world leaders will sometimes give you cryptic messages, or words of praise.

National Parks are “national”, but all the hexes must be in the same city. While sometimes hexes can be traded between adjacent cities, sometimes they cannot. There are several sites where I would like to place National Parks, where they are otherwise eligible, but where rules about Parks being in the same city prevent it. The benefit of more parks is it is one of the few amenities you can provide after everything else is built out.

Now it is important to remember the computer cheats in various ways. Sometimes it cheats worse than others. In the most recent version of the game Civ VI, the cheating is standardized, it just can build more military units than you for the same resources at the more advanced level (post-Prince). Prince is the last fair man vs. machine competition in Civ VI. The computer AI should be able to perform more calculations, but the agents are not that bright, nor terribly creative, so the experienced human player still has an advantage I suppose (since I win at the Prince level, I assume this to be the case).

Below are screenshots of my last ultimate campaign illustrating various features of the game.

Post-Doc Wanted: Transport Networks at University of Sydney

I am recruiting a Post-Doc at the University of Sydney. The ad is below:

Postdoctoral Research Associate in Transport NetworksUsyd_new_logo

Faculty of Engineering and IT

School of Civil Engineering

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 support the research and leadership of  School of Civil Engineering in the newly launched Transport Engineering program.

The successful applicant(s) will help build the new research group headed by Professor David Levinson to further the analysis of Transport Networks, understand the relationships between Transport Networks and Land Use, and consider the implications of changing Transport Technologies on optimal Network Structure.

Applicants should hold a PhD in civil engineering or a related field. They should be able to demonstrate high quality research in the area of transport networks, geo-spatial analysis, and econometrics. Demonstrated ability to publish research outcomes in high-quality international journals is also essential. Since the position will require frequent liaising with government and industry, applicants should demonstrate strong communication skills.

Please see the following link or contact me for details.

Link – Postdoctoral Research Associate in Transport Networks Ref 779/0417

Closing date: 11:30 pm 21 May 2017

Network Growth Research Wins Major Award

Sadly, it’s not my research on network growth that won a major award, the penalty of being a civil engineer and thus invisible to economics. But nevertheless congratulations to Stanford economist Dave Donaldson for winning the John Bates Clark medal for work in economic history, and better still, transport history, and even better still for examining network investment and Its consequences.


How large are the benefits of transportation infrastructure projects, and what explains these benefits? To shed new light on these questions, this paper uses archival data from colonial India to investigate the impact of India’s vast railroad network. Guided by four predictions from a general equilibrium trade model, I find that railroads: (1) decreased trade costs and interregional price gaps; (2) increased interregional and international trade; (3) increased real income levels; and (4), that a sufficient statistic for the effect of railroads on welfare in the model (an effect that is purely due to newly exploited gains from trade) accounts for virtually all of the observed reduced-form impact of railroads on real income in the data. I find no spurious effects from over 40,000 km of lines that were approved but – for four different reasons – were never built.

[More discussion of the paper at “A Fine Theorem“]

Hopefully this brings more attention to the subject, which is a vitally important, and bidirectional positive feedback system: the relevant question is not only how does transport affect the economy (Donaldson’s question, as it has been of many before), but also the complementary mutual causality question of how does the economy (including land use) affect the construction of transport. Too bad (according to the NBER version of his paper) he was unaware of the great and long-standing literature in transport geography and regional science, and more recent literature in physics and network science. This starts perhaps with Bill Garrison (as all things do):

  • Garrison, W. L., Berry, B. J. L., Marble, D. F., Nystuen, J. D., & Morrill, R. L. (1969). Studies of highway development and geographic change. Greenwood Press.
  • Garrison, W.L., and Marble, D.F. (1965). “A prolegomenon to the forecasting of transportation development.” Office of Technical Services, United States Department of Commerce, United States Army Aviation Material Labs Technical Report.

See a summary of the literature to 2005 (and it’s probably time for a new synthesis, PhD candidates) in this 2005 paper:

  • Levinson, David (2005) The Evolution of Transport Networks,
    Chapter 11 ( pp 175-188) in Handbook 6: Transport Strategy, Policy and Institutions (David Hensher, ed.) Elsevier, Oxford

Obviously it’s an area I have been researching (with both empirical and simulation methods) for a number of years, hopefully making what I think are useful scientific contributions. For some more recent examples, my 2008 paper Density and Dispersion and the papers collected in 2011’s Evolving Transportation Networks by Feng Xie and myself from his MS Thesis and Dissertation, among others. Other of my publications, including the work of Feng Xie,  on the subject are listed at the bottom of this post. I will also note a couple of Special Issues that I edited on the subject:

Network Growth, My Contributions

The development of transportation networks is a function of policy, planning, and engineering decisions, the inherent geographical and topological structure of networks, and traveler preferences dictating how the network is used. Research into Network Growth aims to disentangle these phenomena, and by doing so, understand the implications of present decisions on future options.

My first major contribution was the discovery of the self-organizing nature of the hierarchy of roads. Some roads are more important (carry more traffic at higher speeds) than others (e.g. major highways vs. local streets). Current design guidelines suggest how a road hierarchy should be laid out by highway planners. However, even in the absence of planners, using a new agent-based simulation model describing the actions of travelers and investment in the network, the interaction of travel behavior (travelers seeking the shortest time path) and simple feedback rules (resources being spent to improve links in proportion to traffic) will produce a hierarchy of roads very similar to what is observed in practice, even if roads start from an undifferentiated state aside from their spatial position (Yerra and Levinson 2005, Levinson and Yerra 2006). We showed that network structure (and the network growth rules) can affect network reliability (Zhang and Levinson 2008), an overly hierarchical structure had serious reliability problems, while the grid network had better efficiency performance, as well as error and attack tolerance.

The second major contribution was the establishment from empirical findings that transportation and land use co-evolve: certain transportation investments are positively and significantly related to future land development, and that land development is positively and significantly related to subsequent transportation investment. Using data compiled from the UK census and the historical development of the surface and underground railway systems in London, a 17 decade time series for 33 boroughs of London was used to rigorously test the hypotheses (Levinson 2008a), which corroborates earlier findings based on five decades of highway and land use data in the Twin Cities (Levinson and Chen 2006). This positive feedback system is convergent, and as systems mature (e.g. the transportation network is built out) its subsequent effects are steadily weaker.

The third major contribution from this research is demonstration using analytical models that governance is endogenous to the transportation technology investment process. As transportation networks get faster (either through investment using existing technologies, or through development of faster new technologies), the amount of inter-jurisdictional traffic increases, and these positive spillovers create demand for higher levels of government (state v. county, e.g.) to manage transportation funding. (Xie and Levinson 2009 “Governance Choice on a Serial Network”). This comports with the historical evidence that transportation has become increasingly dependent on higher levels of government for funding as longer distance (e.g. interstate) travel takes a large share of the total. These three contributions are detailed in the book Evolving Transportation Networks (Xie and Levinson 2011)


References for my work on network growth and evolution, and its causes and consequences.

I know, these are specialist field journals, not Nature and Science, and so get little visibility. But they should all surface in a search of Google Scholar with little difficulty. We of course were unaware of his more recent work, which was in NBER, and will be buried in the obscure economics literature (Supposedly it’s forthcoming in AER, some podunk field journal in some social science sub-discipline). There is a vast chasm between fields.

On Megaregions

Jeff Hargarten wrote: Welcome to Laurentide — the Twin Cities as a mega-region: A map created by university researchers reveals the Twin Cities to be the center of its own universe of commuters  in the StarTribune.

So Megaregions are back as a topic.

Just as there is more economic activity and commuting within cities than between cities, and within metropolitan areas than between metropolitan areas, there is more activity within megaregions than between them. So there is some advantage to thinking about megaregions as a territory over which some economic and transport decisions should be made. It should not be the dominant framework (as local travel and economic activity within a metropolitan area is much greater than the trade between such areas).

But for intercity travel, it might make sense to think of nearby metropolitan areas as interacting. And as historically transport was increasingly faster over time, the area of daily interaction steadily expanded. In the city of the 1800s, when people traveled at walking speeds, cities were much smaller than they became first with the streetcar, and then with the automobile. Even now, in the Northeast corridor, there are a reasonable number of people who regularly commute between nearby cities (Philadelphia to New York, Baltimore to Washington), and a smaller number who commute longer distances (Washington to New York), usually on a less-than-daily basis, but often enough.

While transport had gotten faster over time, though recently it seems to have stagnated. Some people view high-speed rail  (very fast trains) as the next logical step. I think the Internet is the next step, which leads to a more global community with worldwide interactions, rather than HSR. It depends very much on the context, but in most of the US, HSR doesn’t pencil out in a market where it competes with other modes at anywhere near their current costs.  Autonomous Vehicles will emerge as well, and inevitably lead to people who own such vehicles being willing to travel longer distances, as it will lower the costs of travel (since people will not need to engage in the driving task and can do other things with their time in motion).

The key planning problem I think is that land use decisions are made very locally (at the township or municipality level), while important transport decisions are made at the regional or state level. Yet land use decisions generate demand for streets and highways outside of the local jurisdiction that permitted them, while transport decisions affect local governments. Clearly local governments are not keen to let metropolitan areas make land use decisions, or even have veto powers, and similarly cannot be responsible for regional transport decisions.

The Metropolitan Council is an unusual Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) as it has some operational responsibilities in transit and water and wastewater, as well as in distribution of grants. Existing planning organizations have enough difficulties executing their existing mandate, it is hard to imagine them growing. They may become members of Megaregional Organizations. It is not clear what role a Megaregion Organization would have beyond advocacy. Would it have any responsibilities for actual infrastructure? MPOs that cross state lines are notoriously difficult.

If we properly priced things like pollution and congestion and access to public facilities, this suburbanization and exurbanization would be less of a problem, but we give away the right to travel on the roads at any time of day regardless of how many people you congest, we give away the right to pollute the air (with some regulation, but hardly enough), and we subsidize public works like water treatment, sewer, local streets, schools, and parks for new development.

It is also not clear if the Twin Cities is truly part of a Megaregion with any other large metropolitan areas (Duluth, St. Cloud, and Rochester don’t count), it is pretty far from Chicago (compared with say Milwaukee or Indianapolis). Maybe it is just a “region”. Clearly the region will continue to expand into the exurbs, particularly as the habit of “going to work” changes from something done daily to something done weekly for many people as the ability to work at home for some tasks continues to grow. Traveling an hour once or twice a week is less onerous than traveling a half-an-hour daily.  On the study that was cited in the Hargarten article, see . I have some issues with the methods and assumptions about the daily commutes of supercommuters as drawn from ACS data.

My quotes from the article:

“There really are these kinds of natural regions. I think this is the way in which the economy is working,” said Tom Fisher, a University of Minnesota professor and director of the Minnesota Design Center. “It’s also part of the conversation about how the global economy rests on cities.”

As a caveat, David Levinson, a professor of transport at the University of Sydney, points out that mega-commuters – defined by the Census as those traveling 90 or more minutes and 50 or more miles to work – and others making similarly long journeys don’t necessarily make those commutes daily, and not always from their home city.

But Levinson said there are advantages to considering mega-regions as targets for central planning around economic and transportation decisions, though it shouldn’t be the primary framework for such discussions.

Some of those challenges involve the development of physical connections between cities, by way of roads, high-speed transit and other means. Experts also cited political polarization and a lack of cohesive regional planning as particularly strong barriers standing in the way of regional development.

Levinson said that although transportation has historically sped up over time, it’s stagnated recently. To him, digital commuting via the internet may emerge as the next logical step to further tighten economic bonds across cities. Self-driving vehicles, too, could take some of the pressure off drivers and allow them to travel longer distances while also engaging in other tasks.

“The 20th century version [of regional competition] has Minneapolis competing against St. Paul. But in the 21st century the competition has to be with other regions. Otherwise we’ll be less successful globally,” Fisher said.

De-Duplicating Sydney’s City Road

City Road (A36) is a 1 km road segment in Sydney, part of the much longer “Princes Highway“, that extends King Street (the heart of the Newtown Neighborhood) to Broadway (which is renamed Parramatta Road just to the west) (map).

King Street is a lively (dare I say the “v”-word, vibrant), narrow-ish (though still wide in places) active street with retail and restaurants fronting both sides, and people traveling back and forth. As a newcomer, King Street strikes me as a combination of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley (on steroids) plus Portobello Road in London’s Notting Hill.  In contradistinction, City Road is a much wider car sewer, bi-secting the University of Sydney, which has a footbridge (pedestrian overpass) to keep the kids from playing in traffic. It once had a tram (streetcar) that continued from the City through Broadway on to King Street.

At some point (I would guess the 1950s, but perhaps as late as the 1970s) City Road was duplicated (i.e. widened with a median dividing the road). This allows traffic to go a bit faster before they are stopped at the same traffic lights that undoubtedly existed previously, and saving very little, if any travel time. (The queues at the lights might be shorter (fewer cars deep) and wider (i.e. more lanes), so there is possibly some time savings at the junctions, thus possibly reducing the likelihood of stopping, but it can’t be very much).

Screenshot 2017-04-18 09.05.03
City Road (in Blue) would be de-duplicated. New apartments (Red) would use the former right-of-way and line Victoria Park. Drawing is schematic and not-to-scale.

So my idea (this doesn’t even rise to the level of proposal) is to reduce City Road from 6-8 lanes back to 2-4 travel lanes (i.e. just use one side of the Median (I would say the southern side), plus right turn (the equivalent of left turn where people drive on the right side of the street) lanes as needed, and develop in the right-of-way on the northern side. Some right-of-way (two lanes worth) could be preserved for a future transitway (buses or trams) as well. This would slow traffic, but be more fitting for an urban road in the heart of a major university.

The opportunity to develop is particular apt at Victoria Park, just to the east of the University, where new, valuable apartments, lining the now narrowed City Road, with park views could be constructed without taking park lands or casting much shade on the park. These apartments would have very good access to the University and the Sydney CBD by walking and transit respectively, and would instead of generating traffic, likely reduce it (as if you live closer to your destination you are more likely to not have or use a car, and this would substitute for housing farther away).

I am sure there are a thousand reasons this can’t be done, and I am new here and naive. Maybe someone has already proposed this. I don’t have clue about the institutional issues.

However, bigger picture, the future with the gains from efficiency of vehicle automation is fewer lanes and narrower roads. Demographers forecast a huge expansion of the population of Sydney and the enrollment in the University set to rise. This site seems a perfect match.