The Transportist – November 2017

Welcome to the November 2017 issue of The Transportist. As always you can follow along at the blog or on Twitter.

 Transportist Posts

Sydney

Transport News

Walking

Transit

Intercity Buses

Roads/Cars

AVs

CVs

EVs / Energy / Environment

HGVs

HPVs / Bikes

SVs / Taxis

Land Use

Equity / Justice

Safety

Retail / Delivery

UAVs, Aviation and Space

Science

Culture

Visualisation

Research

Should Alexandria get a Metro Station?

Alexandria is a neighbourhood (and once an independent municipality) south of Sydney on the new City and Southwest Metro Line, which is slated to open in 2024. There are stations at Sydenham to the west and at Waterloo on the east but nothing in-between for Alexandria. The area has a population density of 1540/km^2, which is plausible for public transport, and is going up with new construction. This is the second longest stretch on the under construction Metro line without a station (only Epping to Cherrybrook is longer).

Map of Alexandria, NSW. Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Map of Alexandria, NSW. Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Should Alexandria get a stop? On the one hand, more stops increases running time for all on-board passengers. On the other, it lowers access costs for those locally who otherwise would need to walk a longer distance or take a bus.

Let’s consider a hypothetical: If we say an extra 1 minute for the stop, it is adding the number of passengers traveling  through the station each day (~30,000)  x 1 minute each. (It is hard to quickly track down current ridership numbers, I have seen estimates of about 40,000 per day on the T3 line, but not all of them will go past this point .. the Metro will increase capacity, and may increase ridership, and development will drive in that direction anyway.) So if it were to Board 3000 people who saved 5 minutes each way (boarding and alighting) in travel cost compared to their next best alternative, the total amount of time lost  would be equivalent to the time saved. (It’s of course more complicated than this, as existing riders may switch stations as well, and changing mode has implications at both ends of trips.)  I am pulling these number out of thin air to illustrate the logic, an actual demand analysis could estimate their actual values (recognizing the inaccuracies of demand forecasting). It is not obvious that it would pencil out from a time-savings perspective, i.e. adding 3000 boardings and 3000 alightings to the station per day is a significant amount, even with the new development. This analysis does not even consider the cost of the additional stop, which is far from free.  Nevertheless, sometimes the need of the one outweigh the needs of the many.

If it gets a stop where would it be?

Map with indicative Alexandria Metro Station
Map with indicative Alexandria Metro Station

Given the map and assuming the line’s location does not move, I would say at the southern edge of Alexandria, somewhere along Sydney Park, probably at Mitchell Road so it can be near the huge new Park Sydney development (technically in Erskineville). It might make sense to be connected to the St. Peter’s Station for ease of transfers.

It is also worth noting that Alexandria is going to feel the brunt of the WestConnex exit to Euston Road / McEvoy at the St. Peters Interchange.

The local neighbourhood group, ARAG,  is lobbying for a station, as they should. The reluctance to an Alexandria Station they have heard from government agencies is the lack of redevelopable land in Alexandria to justify a station. That is, new stations are built to serve undeveloped sites rather than to serve proven demand. The same reasoning was given to route the line to Waterloo rather than University of Sydney in the first place.  This seems strange on both accounts. The University of Sydney is growing like gangbusters, and even if existing homes were off-limits, there is plenty of redevelopable industrial land in Alexandria, mostly to the east of the circle on the map I drew. But in any case, the test should be in providing accessibility, and existing land use has as much right to that as greenfield (or brownfield) development. If the tax structure and regulatory system were rational (for instance, used a land value tax), it should not matter whether the new riders were from existing or new developments.

Deleting a road in Green Square

Green Square is developing rapidly
Green Square is developing rapidly

In New York City it was found that traffic flowed better after the diagonal Broadway was closed to traffic in a few places, including Times Square. Sometimes there are street segments that might have once made sense in an earlier era, but have hung around far longer than needed.

This suggested example is around the Green Square rail station and redevelopment site, (map) involving these same two roads I talked about in a previous post at a different location. While it is no Times Square, there is a massive amount of development going in.

Green Square is a major redevelopment site just to the east of the image. The Green Square rail station is the south Central area. The pedestrian environment in this area is deplorable.

Today the Pink Box is bisected by the end of O’Riordan Street (the pink line segment), which otherwise more-or-less continues to Wyndham Street on the West. Botany Road is the main north-south road on the East side. Bourke Road here is East-West through the image (though it is mostly a north-south road). As can be seen in the image, most traffic follows O’Riordan to Wyndham anyway, to the regret of local residents. That would not change.

In this proposal, the Pink Box would be an enlarged Pedestrian Plaza.

ORiordanBourkeBotanyWyndham
Green Square and O’Riordan Street.

The required change is simple: Close O’Riordan Street in front of Green Square Station.

(While we are at it, the Wyndham Street/Bourke Road intersection doesn’t need to flare out like that either).

The other streets are all two-lanes in each direction, but this diagonal makes signalling more difficult, and increases lost time, for very little gain (traffic from O’Riordan (NB) wanting to switch to Botany (NB) or Bourke (EB/NB) and vice versa).

All of these roads start near each other (all three: O’Riordan, Botany, and Bourke end at the airport in the south; O’Riordan (i.e. Wyndham/Gibbons) and Botany (i.e. Botany/Regent) come together in the North, and run into Circular Quay, while Elizabeth, which splits from Bourke terminates there as well. Bourke itself winds up about 10 blocks east. People who want to switch paths can use an East-West link (like Bourke here, and others up and down the corridor) as needed.

By simplifying the intersection, and retiming the signals I posit that both traffic flow and the pedestrian environment would improve. An appropriate set of pedestrian crosswalks at each leg of each intersection could be provided, and each crossing given a reasonable amount of green time. A pedestrian going from the northwest side of Wyndham to the Green Square station would only take two rather than 4 street crossings.

There is already planned a “Green Square to Ashmore Connector”, (south of this location) but the analysis of that assumes this leg stays in place. The additional capacity there is one more way for traffic to move east-west or to change north-south routes.

Panorama - Second Street from the right is the pink line segment on the map.
Panorama – Second street from the right is the pink line segment on the map.

 

Decoupling – Two-way Conversions of One-way Pairs: The Case of Botany and Gibbons in Redfern.

I discussed the two-lane principle in a previous post.

Botany Road should be a lovely high street.
Botany Road should be a lovely High Street.

Consider the one-way pair of Regent Street/Botany Road with Regent/ Gibbons/ Wyndham Street through Redfern (map). Regent Street/Botany Road is a shopping street. Certainly not the most upscale shopping street in the city, but a street lined with shops none-the-less, including the best bakery in town. It is also slated to host (at its southern edge) the Sydney Metro Waterloo station at some point in the future (for which demolition is underway).

It is however a one-way street (Southbound), so pedestrians need to cross 2 to 4 lanes of high-speed traffic to take advantage of shops on both sides of the road. (Note: Speed limits were recently lowered.)

Streets types matrix from Transport for London looking at tradeoff of Movement and Place. http://content.tfl.gov.uk/street-types-matrix.pdf
Streets types matrix from Transport for London looking at tradeoff of Movement and Place. http://content.tfl.gov.uk/street-types-matrix.pdf

Now if the purpose of the street were simply moving cars, this one-way pair might be a good idea. But the purpose of an urban street is far more than moving cars. I will recall the Hierarchy of Roads again, and the TfL Movement and Places graphic. This one falls right in the middle: High Street.

It is paralleled by a street that is 4 lanes (northbound), with almost nothing abutting it on the west for a long stretch from the very short Boundary Street just north of Henderson to Regent Street except for Redfern Station, (which about 11,000 pedestrians cross per day) and building service on the east. I don’t know the exact year this configuration occurred, I suspect it had to do with the construction of the underground train line, which follows the road.

RegentBotanyGibbons
Reconfiguring Botany Road and Gibbons Street as two-way.

So there is a conundrum here.  In this stretch, Botany Road should not have through traffic, and Gibbons should. However south of this stretch, Gibbons becomes Wyndham, which is far more residential (lower left corner of the TfL Diagram), while Botany becomes more industrial (upper left corner of the TfL diagram). Both are two-way south of Henderson. I would argue that both should remain two-way. The difficulty becomes the northern end. How to terminate these roads, or bring them together as two-way streets? I have sketched a concept. I am sure there are others.

The idea I suggest here is that both streets are two way. Regent would have dominant flow onto Gibbons (rather than on Botany to the east (which is called Regent here because streets change names at random places in Sydney)). There would be very short one-way section so vehicles going Southbound on Regent could proceed onto Botany and avoid a traffic light. There is very little pedestrian traffic crossing here, and until and unless the Central to Eveleigh project happens including air rights development above the rail tracks, that is likely to remain the case.

Gibbons Street is wider with less street-facing activity.
Gibbons Street is wider with less street-facing activity.

I imagine Gibbons would be 2 lanes in each direction the entire way from Henderson to Cleveland. Botany Road would be 1 lane in each direction, with bus lanes, bike lanes, and turn lanes as appropriate.

Would this particular change slow down cars? Possibly, but not by much. Gibbons will move reasonably well with the dominant flow, and the demand should not exceed the capacity of 2 lanes in each direction, now it is only functionally 2 lanes Northbound in any case with on-street parking and bus stops. The section of Regent just south of Cleveland already gets congested, but this configuration should not make it any worse than now.

Certainly some on-street parking would be lost on Gibbons, but it would be recovered on Botany Road.

The road network is reconfigurable. Not every past change is irreversible. And the objective of moving traffic is not always incompatible with place-making, though it sometimes is.

Streets Wide Shut – A Principle for Urban Streets

I propose as an urban design principle: No street should carry more than four lanes of private vehicle traffic in a city. No more than two of those lanes should go in the same direction. Most streets should be three, two, or one lane wide.

If a street carries more than three lanes of traffic in one direction, or more than four lanes total, it is not a street, it tends toward being a stroad, in the useful coining of Charles Marohn, and does not belong at surface in the city. It’s existence defeats cross-street pedestrian flows and sucks the vitality from adjacent areas.

Pacific Highway in St. Leonard's is six lanes wide. Parking is permitted during the off-peak.
Pacific Highway in St. Leonard’s is six lanes wide. Parking is permitted during the off-peak.

Sydney has its share of excellent walking streets, mostly in neighbourhoods. But there are some ‘streets’ that have long, if not always, been too wide, or have widened too much over time. I speak, for instance of Pacific HighwayGibbons/Regent StreetCity Road, and Parramatta Road/Broadway among others (although in the last case, the name “Broad” “Way” gives it away, and word “road” rather than “street” is often an indicator of its early origins and cross-purposes).

Other streets have an appropriate number of lanes, but are just too fast (Hume Highway through Ashfield), as their uses have changed over time, and city streets became designated part of a national intercity highway.

Hume Highway in Ashfield has a fence down the middle to discourage mid block pedestrian crossings.
Hume Highway in Ashfield has a fence down the middle to discourage mid block pedestrian crossings.

Often the problem is width itself, rather than the number of moving lanes, as a lane is used for parking. Assuming there is desire to retain on-street parking (an assumption which should at least be questioned), there are still solutions. In those cases, curb bump outs and bulbs can be used to tie the two sides of the street closer together for the pedestrian. The parking can be diagonalised rather than parallel in order to reduce the feeling of width.

In a city like Sydney, with its topographically-driven radial street network, traffic tends to be funnelled onto major streets like Pacific Highway with few alternatives. Obviously residents don’t want cut through traffic, so neighbourhood streets have been restricted to local traffic through physical traffic calming as well as regulatory signs. This funnelling exacerbates the problem. While grade separated and pedestrian-free motorways can divert long distance traffic from what should be city streets, induced demand indicate they will always be congested in the peak, and  the Downs Thomson paradox states that in peak times cars will move at the speed of grade separated transit (if it were slower, people would take transit, if it were faster, traffic would expand to fill the space allotted).

A more local street, like McEvoy Street carries an excess amount of traffic in the peak on its four lanes, two of which are often for parking or bus stops.  This is likely to worsen as WestConnex disgorges thousands of additional vehicles per day onto the newly reconfigured  “Alexandria-Moore Park Connector

Even with only 4 lanes, cars on McEvoy go too fast when they get the opportunity, so much that officials had to put a variable message sign out to remind traffic.

The problem is not just width, it is also signal timings and street right-of-way rules that tame the pedestrian into only crossing with a pedestrian signal.

The city and, since many of these are state roads, the state, need to prioritise movement the kind of travel they say they want: pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, over the movement of cars. This begins with street design.

Accessibility Analysis of Risk Severity

Recently published:

Accessibility loss by time threshold when highlighted link is removed.
Accessibility loss by time threshold when highlighted link is removed.

Abstract:

Risk severity in transportation network analysis is defined as the effects of a link or network failure on the whole system. Change accessibility (reduction in the number of jobs which can be reached) is used as an integrated indicator to reflect the severity of a link outage. The changes of accessibility before-and-after the removing of a freeway segment from the network represent its risk severity. The analysis in the Minneapolis – St. Paul (Twin Cities) region show that links near downtown Minneapolis have relative higher risk severity than those in rural area. The geographical distribution of links with the highest risk severity displays the property that these links tend to be near or at the intersection of freeways. Risk severity of these links based on the accessibility to jobs and to workers at different time thresholds and during different dayparts are also analyzed in the paper. The research finds that network structure measures: betweenness, straightness and closeness, help explain the severity of loss due to network outage.

Keywords: Accessibility, Vulnerability, Network structure, Betweenness 

On ‘Misery Loves Company’

‘Misery Loves Company’ is a very misunderstood expression. I think most people use it to mean that miserable people want other people around to cheer them up, to commiserate.

For instance, wiktionary says:

misery loves company

  1. Misery is easier to bear when one is not the only one miserable. quotations ▼

Translations[edit]

The Cambridge Dictionary implies similarly:

misery loves company

saying people who are unhappy like to share their troubles with others:

We’d both just broken up with our boyfriends, so we decided to go see a movie together – misery loves company.

In my view,  the misery is a contagion, and so miserable people make other people unhappy. It is the misery itself which ‘loves’ company, not the unhappy person seeking to be less unhappy.   This is alluded to on the wikipedia page with an obscure link to “emotional contagion“.

This more cynical view is consistent with the the origin of the expression. which is apparently Marlowe in Dr. Faustus. Positively Parkinson’s writes:

A curious phrase, “misery loves company”.  It originated from Dr. Faustus, a play from the 16th century about a man who was prepared to give up all hope by signing a pact with the devil in exchange for 24 years of living with his desires being fulfilled. The quote is from the lips of Mephistophilis, the devil’s agent, in answer to the question about why Satan seeks to enlarge his kingdom. The phrase appears to mean that those who are unhappy seek to make others unhappy too. Is that true? It does seem that the older we get the more we seek to share our maladies, aches and pains; the pills we are taking, the operations undergone, the alternative medicine remedies we have tried. Are we commiserating? Are we truly seeking to drag others into a miserable hell like the clever demon attempted with Dr. Faustus?

For the full text of Faustus, see Note: 2 on this page. The expression is not in English in the original, and I think the translation is metaphorical rather than literal.

The aphorism has been extended in a number of ways that exhibit this misunderstanding.

I know descriptivists will say the expression means what the people say it means. But as a retrograde prescriptivist standing upon the Dictionary and yelling “Stop!”, I say enough is enough; miserable people don’t really want company, and if you choose to accompany them, you asked for it.

 

On the ‘Three City’ Plan of Sydney

I have been hearing and reading a lot about the Greater Sydney Commission’s  (GSC) Our Greater Sydney 2056: A metropolis of three cities – connecting people Plan for Sydney.

As the title says, the core idea trifurcates Greater Sydney into three “cities” *

Three city plan from Greater Sydney Commission. Source: https://www.greater.sydney/map-room
Three city plan from Greater Sydney Commission. Source: https://www.greater.sydney/map-room
  • Eastern City/ Sydney/Harbour City,
  • Central City/Parramatta/River City,
  • Western City/Aerotropolis/Parkland City.

In one very important sense, these are all Greater Metropolitan Sydney. In another legal sense, the “City of Sydney” is a legally-defined ‘local government area’ including the most famous bits and surrounding areas. There are many legally-defined cities (local government areas) in greater Sydney,   and these get periodically redefined by the state government to which they genuflect.

Now I am sure in part the use of the word “City” is a rhetorical device, to find some way to combine the vast area of the West into a coherent thing.  But absconding with the word “City” to mean neither the integrated metropolitan Sydney nor the local government areas does violence to the language and creates confusion where clarity is desired. The word “region” is overused and indeterminate, but surely there is another word here. I like “Quarter” but that implies 4 parts, at least to the purists, or “Borough”, but someone can figure this out. New York and London have ‘boroughs,’ perhaps that is what makes a world-class city.

The idea of three “cities” (or even “boroughs”) may seem innocuous, but if not carefully unpacked and dismembered, it risks becoming like the lines on the map of transport plans decades ago which inevitably get realised, and eventually find itself as yet one more layer of government, or a replacement for existing local government areas and increasing the remoteness of the ever less-local local government.

While there are maps showing these regions, it is unclear what actually differentiates them along the continuum of urban development. Arguably, a park-belt separates the West from the Center, and that would seem an almost natural boundary, but if you look closely at the map, it splits the western city from itself.   The only thing that differentiates the East and the Center is orientation to a primary node of activity (Parramatta or Sydney), and that is so overlapping as to be not very meaningful. Nor is orientation systematically defined, and even if it were, it is subject to change with the economic fortunes of each core. Moreover, there are many activity centers located throughout each of the “cities”.

Activity Centers in Sydney from Greater Sydney Committee
Activity Centers in Sydney from Greater Sydney Committee

While the eastern and central cities of Sydney and Parramatta have core central cities, in addition to numerous local activity clusters,  the West is a core-less cluster of cities.

Aerotropolis

Planners imply the void will be filled in the west will by the planned Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek (on which a lot seems to hang), and the surrounding Aerotropolis of rental car vendors, cheap hotels, sex shops, establishments serving quickly prepared food, and warehouses. An airport is a decidedly non-urban land use, even if the terminal is city-like in perverse ways. The airport is shown looming large on the map, larger than the existing Sydney Airport, which in all but area it will be smaller and less important than for decades to come.

The West, with an airport smack dab in the middle  seems a network or cluster of activity centers more than a single coherent thing deserving the label “city”.

30-Minutes

The definitional argument is intimately related to the idea of the “30-minute city” wherein a majority of people (say 70%) have commutes less than 30 minutes. Ensuring people can reach more things in less time is the correct planning goal of accessibility. And today, most people in Sydney have a 30 minute or less one way commute (be careful of means vs. medians here, there is a long tail), but as the city grows, this becomes harder and harder to achieve as people seek out better matching opportunities farther away, and there is more growth away from the center. All else equal, entropy dictates commutes will on average get longer not shorter as metropolitan areas grow. People will adjust their homes and jobs.

For Sydney to remain a 30-minute city, and more importantly, for Western Sydney to achieve this, many more jobs must relocate westward, or be created in the western region. (Or people just stop commuting as much, or transport connections become much faster.) This is one of the points of the plan. If the plan is successful, and jobs do materialise in the west, most Western Sydney residents would not need to commute east for jobs.

Identity: West vs. East

Planning doyenne and the Chief Commissioner of the GSC, Lucy Hughes Turnbull,  said Wednesday November 15 at an Industry Briefing: Planning the future of transport and land use in Greater Sydney and Regional NSW, that  the  Western city comprises “Campbelltown, Liverpool, Penrith, et cetera”.

I would be unsurprised to find those who live in the town of “Et Cetera” view it differently.

To my outsider eyes, the West really seems to me to be a collection of disparate areas that might eventually conurbate into a continuum of suburbia with traditional existing centers as nodes of activity. But is the “West” really the identity people will have? Won’t they say I am from Blacktown, or I am from Sydney instead of I am from Western Sydney (Western City/Aerotropolis/Parkland City) or whatever name wins out? I suspect they will go for local (Blacktown) or global (Sydney) recognition rather than I am from Aerotropolis, or the Western City, or the Parkland City or any other sub-metropolitan, supra-municipal objectifier.

For instance, in American Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Angels/California Angels/Anaheim Angels eventually became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Not the Orange County Angels, nor the Eastern LA Angels. (And Los Angeles c. 1955 is probably the best American analogy to Sydney, the populations and geographies are similar, with San Francisco c. 1980 next best.) The “Greater Western Sydney” Giants, an Australian-Rules sportsball team, plays in Spotless Stadium at the Olympic Park, which is East of Parramatta. Will they eventually be renamed the Parramatta Giants, or the Sydney Giants of Greater Parramatta/Olympic Park?

Plebiscite
Results of Gay Marriage Postal Survey.

Identity matters. As can be seen from the results of the Gay Marriage Plebiscite, people of Western Sydney have, on average, different political opinions and social values from the East, or most of Australia. But these political preferences don’t align cleanly with the Western/Central/Eastern City.

Other Matters: West vs. East

Addressing local needs matters. Housing is less expensive out west, but travel costs are higher since commutes are longer.

Building connectivity matters. The west is much more auto-reliant than the east, and will remain so largely independent of public policy. That’s what the land use dictates. The land use won’t change much, as that’s what the transport system enables. This is largely locked in through a decades long process of mutual co-evolution. Even as they rise with population growth, the densities of the west will remain lower than the east.

The first figure shows three transport hubs (presumably transit hubs, though out west this might not be the case in an important way), that are anchors of an interlocking hub-and-spoke system. These three hubs are identified as the centers of the cities. Well Central Station, is not, despite it’s name, Central to Sydney CBD, it is at the edge. This may evolve over time as the CBD marches south. Parramatta station similarly is at the southern end of the local business district. And I can’t imagine too many people walking around Aerotropolis after exiting the station there. It’s early days at Badgerys Creek, but this is little better than a crayon drawing, and building transit to serve the vast wasteland of an unbuilt airport is likely to be a hard sell when there remain so many existing real needs and areas of much higher transit potential in the eastern parts of Sydney.

Encouraging economic development out west, at the expense of losing some economies of agglomeration in the east, is important for spatial equity and transport, if not efficiency, reasons.

E Pluribus Unum

Arbitrarily dividing Sydney into three (or more) cities doesn’t seem especially helpful, even as a framing device, and results from the kind of remote thinking to persuade distant decision-makers rather than an organic expression of how people self-associate. It’s how marketing and economic development officials think.

 

Instead the job of a Greater Sydney Commission is not to exacerbate the already existing divisions, and keep the westerners out of the east, but to unify, to forge One City, One Sydney.


* What is a City?

We can start with the etymology. Wiktionary writes:

From Middle English cite, from Old French cité, from Latin cīvitās (citizenry; community; a city with its hinterland), from civis (native; townsman; citizen), from Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European *ḱey- (to lie down, settle; home, family; love; beloved).  …

So a ‘city’ is a community, a place where people settle. It is also larger than a town. The actual dictionary definitions are vague, as are the way people use the words. In the US, a city generally is a legally-defined municipality which is large and has more legal authority than the surrounding unincorporated area, and more than smaller towns or townships. So the more appropriate term might be ‘urban’ area. `Urbs’ is just a Latin word for city:

From Middle French urbain, from Latin urbanus, from urbs (city).

The US Census, which needs to operationalize these things says:

The Census Bureau first defined urban places in reports following the 1880 and 1890 censuses. At that time, the Census Bureau identified as urban any incorporated place that had a minimum population of either 4,000 or 8,000, depending on the report. The Census Bureau adopted the current minimum population threshold of 2,500 for the 1910 Census; any incorporated place that contained at least 2,500 people within its boundaries was considered urban. All territory outside urban places, regardless of population density, was considered rural.

The Census Bureau began identifying densely populated urbanized areas of 50,000 or more population with the 1950 Census, taking into account the increased presence of densely settled suburban development in the vicinity of large cities. Outside urbanized areas, the Census Bureau continued to identify as urban any incorporated place or census designated place of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people.

Urbanized areas and urban clusters form the urban cores of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, respectively. Each metropolitan statistical area will contain at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more people; each micropolitan statistical area will contain at least one urban cluster of at least 10,000 and less than 50,000 people. Metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas represent the county-based functional regions associated with urban centers (hence, the generic term “core based statistical areas”).

Other statistical agencies undoubtedly have similar definitions.

On Greater Sydney’s 40-Year Plan

On a Sunday (yes a Sunday, now that is odd) the Greater Sydney Commission and Transport for NSW both released draft 40 year plans:

Since I am under contract to neither organization, I am free to give a review of the documents. I have comments prepared on the idea of the Three-City plan (dislike) and have something in the hopper on the 30-minute city (like), but am not clear whether it realisable.

The Draft Greater Sydney Region Plan is a gorgeous document, it is well-laid out, and pleasing to read. The Transport for NSW plan is much draftier, and appears to have been rushed. On the assumption that this is not staff’s fault, but rather that it was grabbed from their reluctant hands by political higher-ups who wanted a joint release, and who correctly assume that no one (i.e. only internationally-originating transport planning professors) actually reads plans, I will not pick on them for their unreadiness. The Sunday release is perhaps a tell in this regard.

My first blush comments about some remaining aspects of the Greater Sydney Region 40-year Plan are below (with the caveats that I have read the document once, have not read the previous documents, and am new to the country).

It is great to see the coordination between the agencies, and at least the idea that the transport and land use planning should be in sync.

The plan writes “Importantly, infrastructure will be sequenced to support growth and delivered concurrently with new homes and jobs.” This is good planning practice, and it is important that timing as well as end-state is considered.  Whether this is well-executed remains another matter. As they say, time will tell.

In general, most of the GSC plans seems reasonable and hard to disagree with, if somewhat vague in many cases. For instance. “Strategy 8.1 consider cultural diversity in strategic planning and engagement.” OK, I’ve considered it, now what should I do with it?

It is a 40-year plan (Well a “40-year vision and 20-year plan”). Infrastructure lasts a long time, we want to make sure we take sound, long-term decisions. Now I like the future and all, and even think visioning is a good idea, as is preserving options, but 40 years is a long time, even in something as slow moving as transport networks.

The Chronologically-Aware might note that it is already 2017, not 2016, and it is a 40 year plan for 2056. Let us not be bound by petty calendars, this is planning time. Also since it is already 2017, and it won’t be adopted for at least some time, it might wind up being a 38-year plan.

Think back to 1976, it was before the internet or mobile telephony (or even wireless phones), before widespread Cable TV or the VCR, before Personal Computers even (it was the year Apple was founded). How much of a 1976 plan’s prediction of life today would be correct?

I’d suggest very little of the difference between 1976 and the present would have been accurately estimated by most people, or even most planners, or futurists, in 1976. Certainly we imagine that road projects that were funded in 1976 were realised soon thereafter. And much hasn’t changed.

To borrow from Sting (1983, i.e. 34 years ago): People still face a

rush hour hell

packed like lemmings in shiny metal boxes,

contestants in a suicidal race,

‘… shouting above the din of  their Rice Krispies,’ living their lives of quiet desperation. Other aspects are far different. Far fewer factories ‘belch filth into the sky’ as least in the developed countries. Far fewer workplaces are ‘hindered by  picket lines,’ as the power of labour has withered. Far fewer businessmen have their own secretaries. We don’t have flying cars. We do have 280 characters.

Still, plans (or visions) can shape growth patterns, even if the forecasts of life are terribly inaccurate. Plans I am most familiar with, the New Town Plan of Columbia, Maryland (where I grew up) and the Wedges and Corridors plan of Montgomery County (where I worked for 5 years) both gave form to, and continue to shape their communities. Columbia was expected to be completed (built out with 100,000 residents) within 15 years (in fact, it was closer to 35 years, and the Town Center area still is not finished, 50 years on).

The Interstate Highway System of course was an important shaper of development patterns across the US, and enabled the rise of just-in-time production, among other things. It was expected to be done in 16 years (1972, from 1956), but wasn’t really essentially done until 1982, and officially done a decade later.

Laying a street network, like the Manhattan Grid,  is a largely irreversible process, as evidenced by the lack of change in the street grid even after catastrophic events like the London fire or San Francisco Earthquake.

The expectation of the plan is that Greater Sydney grows to 8 million over 40 years. Demographics are among the easiest things to forecast for long time periods, as people age and migrate slowly. At current rates, I don’t doubt the estimate of 8 million. This however depends on an open immigration policy, which I am not sure traditional Australia will continue to support.

I don’t see any discussion of an intercity High-Speed Rail or Very Fast Train. Yet clearly the transport agencies are considering this and making provision for it. Certainly the notion of HSR remains vague, and the details missing, but this is a 40-year plan.

Aspects of funding made me happy to read, even if they were hedged:

  1. “explore and, where appropriate, trial opportunities to share value created by the planning process and infrastructure investment (such as rail) to assist funding infrastructure” … Land Value Capture ! p. 31
  2. “investigate the potential of further user charging to support infrastructure delivery” … Road Pricing ! (though “charging” users  only shows up on 3 pages) p.31
Movement and Places Framework. Source: TfNSW and GSC
Movement and Places Framework. Source: TfNSW and GSC

The technological tsunami about to hit surface transport is acknowledged, but not dealt with. The word “autonomous” (as in Autonomous vehicles) shows up on 5 pages. Not enough thought is given to this, given the timeframe.

The Movement and Place framework (p. 39) is good, and highly reminiscent of the Hierarchy of Roads. I like the more detailed and nuanced design from Transport for London better, (TfL’s 9 cells vs.  GSC/TfNSW’s 4), but there is an argument for simplicity.

On education, the document says: “The NSW Government will spend $4.2 billion over the next four years on school buildings, which it estimates will create 32,000 more

Streets types matrix from Transport for London looking at tradeoff of Movement and Place. http://content.tfl.gov.uk/street-types-matrix.pdf
Streets types matrix from Transport for London looking at tradeoff of Movement and Place. http://content.tfl.gov.uk/street-types-matrix.pdf

student places and 1,500 new classrooms.”

This is $131,250 per student! This is $2.8M per classroom. This seems a lot, even for Sydney. (p. 40) I sure hope some of this maintenance, not just capacity expansion.

The term “Accessibility” shows up on 14 pages. This is good, and the word seems to be used correctly. This is consistent with the idea of the 30-minute city.

Under “Directions for Sustainability” (p. 122) It is great they are using metrics. I take issue with some of them …

“An efficient city
Metric: Number of precincts with low carbon initiatives

A resilient city
Metric: Number of local government areas undertaking resilience planning”

Honestly, these specific ones are terrible metrics. Particularly the first one. Just measure (or estimate) the carbon emissions, not the number of “initiatives”.  Compare with the tree canopy “Metric: Proportional increase in Greater Sydney covered by urban tree canopy”, which looks at the actual amount of tree coverage. Resilience is admittedly trickier to assess.

 

Constructing a plan is hard (in a political sense of finding something that enough people will agree to that is more than pablum, writing down a coherent set of strong ideas is actually not that difficult at this stage in history, with so many go ideas to draw from). I applaud the effort, and think it is better than the alternative. But it could be better still, and that is the reason for discussion and comment.