2018 Rail Trends: Falling Behind or on Track to Revitalize the Industry | Trapeze

Marcelo Bravo writes “2018 Rail Trends: Falling Behind or on Track to Revitalize the Industry” for Trapeze, a transit software company. My quote below. There are other good quotes at the link.

“The U.S. will continue to fall behind the rest of the world in investments in transit and ridership. London is set to open Crossrail (The Elizabeth Line), metros continue to pop up across China, even Australia is making large new investments in rail transit, and all these countries are seeing gains in ridership follow. In contrast, public transit continues to lose riders in most of the U.S. with low gas prices, and even the simplest investments are huge political battles.

The most interesting new trend is the rise of stationless bike-sharing in cities, making bicycling more convenient. Again, this follows from international experience especially China. Whether this works in the North American market is an important question to watch. E-bikes are also gaining popularity and falling in cost. Both challenge public transport for ridership for shorter trips.”

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

Autonomous Vehicles: Deployment and Consequences

Recently I did an interview with Adam Branson  for MODUS, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ magazine. [I am not sure when or if this gets published.]
Google/Waymo car, soon to be retired
Google/Waymo car, soon to be retired
  • Adam Branson questions with bullets.
My answer in block quote.
  • A lot of the claims made for the driverless cars seem to assume a 100% switch in major cities. Is that realistic?

Eventually. Over the next 25 years (say), there will be a transition from 0% to 100%. But eventually, just as there are essentially no horses in the cities (aside from a few police horses), there will be no human driven vehicles.

  • To what degree do you think that city government will have to intervene to maximise the benefits?
 City governments will need to manage when and where  and how cars can be used, as they do today. They will not be able to regulate the nature and form of the automobile itself, as that will be done at the national level to simplify life for manufacturers. Deciding which roads are for movement, and which are for local access, will remain an important function, and this will involve setting speed restrictions and the like. With AVs one hopes these will be adhered to by design.
  • Do you think the proponents of driverless cars have sufficiently considered the general public’s addiction to regular cars?
The new paradigm emerges when the proponents of the old paradigm die off. Over the next 25 years well more than 25% of the population will be new residents to a city. While some people like to drive, eventually the safety consequences of that will be recognized as unacceptable when there are safer cars available. The use of the car itself is likely to remain.
  • What do you think the impacts will be for investment in conventional public transport?
Infrequent service with few passengers is likely to get replaced with more taxi-like services. High flow services in large cities cannot be easily replaced, as AVs, as efficient as they are and might become, will still consume more space per person than a crowded train. To the extent that taxi-like services (automated, shared vehicles) become popular in cities, cities might grow even larger, suggesting more transit. To the extent that instead people choose to live more remotely now that AVs make driving long distances more acceptable, transit will get weaker.
  • Could the advent of driverless cars free up a significant amount of land for housing-hungry cities such as New York and London?
The space reduction of AVs will occur on land that is otherwise used for moving and storing cars. In terms of parking lots and structures, there should be some significant gains in cities. In terms of on-road space, this is not generally useful for development, and if some is freed up due to AVs and vehicle sharing. It might more productively be allocated to bike lanes, transit lanes, or even landscaped linear parks.

Observations of Auckland, New Zealand

In November 2017, I visited Auckland, New Zealand (map) for the first time (I had changed planes at the airport once before, but that doesn’t count). I attended the ATRF, the Australasian Transport Research Forum, the much smaller antipodean counterpoint to the Transportation Research Board conference.

Auckland Town Hall
Auckland Town Hall

Auckland is a metro area of 1.5M people, making it the largest city of NZ. It has the feel of many British colonial capitals (and their equivalents) (Toronto, Sydney) with trains serving the CBD, stopping near the Harbour (in this case at Britomart, which is, to my relief, not named for a discount store selling cheap imports from the UK, but rather after a Point, named after one of HMS, named for the Greek hunting goddess Britomartis).

The Harbour should be the most valuable piece of real estate, with fabulous views. It is still a working port, and so the best views are had by recently imported Toyota pick-up trucks. Yup, the docks are used for offloading and storing cars. Money is sitting on the table. $20 bills are on the ground.

I walked around the downtown area – a still vibrant area with lots of people on the street in daytime, Ponsonby Road – the main upper middle class shopping street, and took the ferry over to Devonport – an almost resort like suburb. The University is embedded in the city, but the area around the University was not nearly as active as it ought to be.

That week the local Tongan population was celebrating a loss to England in rugby, and making a lot of noise near the city center.

I noted that the pedestrian signals are sometimes dark instead of “don’t walk” or “walk”. This means it is up to the pedestrian’s judgment as to whether to proceed. Pedestrians can push the button if they want for guidance (for instance for a visually impaired person). This is an interesting strategy, I wonder if there is safety evaluation (Google Scholar did not turn up anything obvious).

If Auckland were not so remote, or perhaps if New Zealand wanted to encourage it, the city could be many times larger, as many prospective immigrants would be happy to live in such a place. A friend from California once approvingly said Minneapolis had all the necessary hipster infrastructure. Auckland has all the necessary middle class infrastructure, and then some.

Photo gallery here:

Fixing the Intersection of Broadway and City Road

Satellite Image of Improvement of Broadway - City Road Intersection
Satellite Image of Improvement of Broadway – City Road Intersection

In the second half of 2017, I supervised a first year undergraduate student Tingsen Xian on an independent student project to redesign the intersection of Broadway and City Road in Sydney.

At one corner of this intersection is Victoria Park (lower left) and the University of Sydney (just off site), at another is the Broadway Shopping Center. This intersection has a high pedestrian count, high bus count, reasonably high car count, is very wide (befitting the name “Broadway”), and has long delays, especially for pedestrians. The proposed alternative removes the free left turn and porkchop island on the southwest corner,  gives more space to pedestrians, buses (red), and bicyclists (green), and less space to cars, and the signal retiming reduces total person delay by 1.5% (a lot for pedestrians, while increasing it somewhat for car users), and sends the right incentives. The revised layout is shown in the image.

You can download the full report with more graphics, tables, and yes equations here: broadway-city-road.

[Obviously there are simplifying assumptions in any engineering analysis, and limited measurements and time to conduct the study, but I think the results are better than official results which don’t consider pedestrian delay when timing intersections. It suggests professionals should be able to do a lot better than they have done here.]

Connected Lightning

Toyota Levin - Connected Lightning
Toyota Levin – Connected Lightning

So I was looking at a photo of a Toyota Levin, a model I had never seen before. For some reason the name intrigued me. The Wikipedia page notes that “Levin in Old English means lightning.”

Babynames tells me the name Levin is derived from Levi. In Hebrew Levi means “connected”. And in Genesis, Levi founded the tribe named for him.


21 Most Popular Transportist Posts of 2017 Spectacular.


Every year for four years now, I have done a top posts article:

These are the most popular posts for 2017. Those published in earlier years marked with an *.

  1. 21 Strategies to Solve Congestion *
  2. On Why Bike Lanes Might Appear Underutilized *
  3. What Do We Know About the “First Mile/Last Mile” Problem for Transit? * (by David King)
  4. On Elon Musk
  5. Congratulations America, Achievement Unlocked (more or less by Ahmed El-Geneidy’s Group at McGill)
  6. On the Differences between Autonomous, Automated, Self-Driving and Driverless Cars
  7. On the I-85 Bridge Collapse in Atlanta
  8. On the Predictability of the Decline of Transit Ridership in the US
  9. Why is the Walking Man White?*
  10. Rules for Researchers
  11. Post-Doc Wanted
  12. Streets Wide Shut – A Principle for Urban Streets
  13. On `Smart Cities’ and `Smart Growth’ *
  14. Elements of Access: Induced Demand* (by Wes Marshall)
  15. On Resistance
  16. Minnesota planners begin to envision driverless future | Star Tribune
  17. On a new Infrastructure Bill
  18. Recruiting Students
  19. Forgetting Faster Than We Learn* (by David King)
  20. More on Declining Transit Ridership
  21. Transit Riders’ Perception of Waiting Time and Stops’ Surrounding Environments.


#1 was a numbered list with paragraphs. The number of hits on #1 was 60 times more widely read than #21 (even more winner-takes-all virality than usual). This was the largest year by far, in most part because of the viral popularity of #1 and #2 (Otherwise it would be the largest by a small amount). Only 1 scientific piece (#21) made the list this year.

Twitter, Facebook, Reddit (Bike Lanes), Tinyletter (my newsletter), LinkedIn, Streetsblog, and Curbed (the I-85 piece) are the largest sources of traffic.

Goals For next year.

  1. Write more numbered lists.




Docks Off: U.S. cities are being invaded by dock-less bike share.

Henry Grabar at Slate writes: Docks Off: U.S. cities are being invaded by dock-less bike share. It’s going to be messy—and worth it.

I was interviewed, but the email quote was used:

`Of course, it is easier to take a photo of 1,000 discarded bicycles than 60 million rides a day. I asked David Levinson, a professor of transportation [sic, he meant `transport’] at the University of Sydney, whether dock-less bike share was a VC-funded bubble or the future of short-distance transportation.

“Yes,” he wrote back. “It’s like the internet in 1999.”’

A good overview of the issue. I think cities will need to develop bike drop off areas on each blockface, somewhere in verge (boulevard, grassy strip). Bikeshare companies will need to geofence more accurately to ensure bikes are dropped there. This will resolve much of the problem.

Also see: Peter Simek in D Magazine (2017-12-19) Is This the Future of Dallas’ Bike Share Experiment. That article quotes the above quote.

The Transportist: December 2017

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

Car vs. Stroller. I did not stage this. Apparently Sergei Eisenstein was here.
Car vs. Stroller. I did not stage this. Apparently Sergei Eisenstein was here.

 Transportist Posts


Transport News




EVs / Energy / Environment

HPVs / Bikes

SVs / Taxis

Land Use

Fantasy (i.e. Commentary on Elon Musk’s schemes)

[Context: Elon Musk criticized transit for serial callers and subsequently called Jarrett Walker an idiot in a tweet (corrected to sanctimonious idiot). The internet reacted]

Retail / Delivery

Water, Canals




By Others

QUBE and Autonomous Vehicles

In my youth I was a fan of cable television. Not so much the programs, but the systems. I would religiously watch C-SPAN’s broadcasts of cable TV industry meetings. My dream was to build and own the fiber optic utility (which still is not fully deployed).  One of the fascinating things about the era was the hope about what the future of Cable TV could bring. 500 channels of course, but also education, information, democracy. One of the grandest experiments was QUBE.

As wikipedia writes:

QUBE was an experimental two-way, multi-programmed cable television system that played a significant role in the history of American interactive television. It was launched in Columbus, Ohio, on December 1, 1977. Highly publicized as a revolutionary advancement, the QUBE experiment introduced viewers to several concepts that became central to the future development of TV technology: pay-per-view programs, special-interest cable television networks, and interactive services.

QUBE launched prototypes of CableTV stalwarts Nickelodeon and MTV.

This was ironically, I suppose, a Warner Communications (i.e. Time-Warner) endeavor, given TW’s recent attempt to sell itself out to AT&T.

Qube Remote Control
QUBE Remote Control

While many of the hopes of the era came to pass, two-way TV never really caught on. We comment on programs in real time now on the Internet, not through the television. Sure we have one-way TV, and can request different one-way TV (pay-per-view), but the data flows are extremely asymmetric. People are still not broadcasting their own “CableTV” shows from their living rooms, community access is in a studio, while YouTube and similar services have in fact filled that dream of everyone a broadcaster – with things no one would have imagined at the time.

The Internet achieved most of CableTV system aims, while the CableTV systems, the traditional version of which are now past their peak and in decline in the US, became internet carriers. With 5G coming down the pike, that decline might accelerate.

Today we pin many of our hopes about the future on Autonomous Vehicles. I have a book on it.

They can remake cities, remove the number of cars by enabling people to effectively time-share vehicles, make better use of the roads by taking drivers out-of-the-loop, and improve safety. From the vantage point of 40 years, we can see what became of CableTV, how long it took to get widespread deployment from the ideas prototyped in Columbus, and which hopes were dashed.

Can that inform us about AVs?

  1. Not everything will pan out.
  2. Many of the goals will be achieved by other means.
  3. The changes resulting from achieving those goals are not what we imagine.
  4. New players will emerge, which are not even in existence now.
  5. Some/many/most existing players will disappear through M&A or failure.

Perhaps QUBE is a better analogy to the Automated Highway Systems proposals of the 1990s, and the Internet is the analog of the Shared Autonomous Vehicle of the 2020s. Or perhaps there are no analogies, and knowledge is not transferable.

They key is that there will be many experiments, many competing visions of the future, and failures along the way. That is part of learning. We need not predict the future accurately now, which is in any case impossible. Instead, we need to be able to adapt to changes as they come.