I was interviewed by Andrew Taylor of the Sydney Morning Herald about Parking Woes in Sydney for the article “Palm Beach driven mad by a lack of parking and traffic congestion”
How bad is Sydney’s traffic?
David Levinson, a professor of transport in the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney, said Sydney’s traffic was worse than other Australian city’s because of its population and topography, which concentrated traffic onto fewer routes.
Sydney is the 29th most congested city in the world, according to GPS provider TomTom, which listed Mexico City, Bangkok and Jakarta as suffering the worst traffic snarls. Los Angeles (12) and London (25) also had worse traffic congestion than Sydney, while roads were easier to drive in Paris (35), Auckland (40) and New York (49).
Driving conditions were also much better in Melbourne (58), Brisbane (96), Adelaide (100) and Perth (105).
“My first law of transport is that everyone complains,” Professor Levinson said. “In a small town, the complaint about the one traffic light on Main Street might seem ridiculous to someone from Sydney, but it feels valid to those who otherwise don’t stop at all.”
More public transport and increasing the cost of driving and parking were potential solutions to traffic congestion.
Professor Levinson said roads (and parking, trains and buses) had a fixed amount of capacity, but “more people try to use them than there is space for at the peak time, and people queue up, and they are much less crowded the rest of the day”.
“If we priced them properly, we could avoid the queues altogether and waste less time,” he said.
The full interview below …
His questions in blockquote
My answers in text:
– Is there a problem with parking and traffic congestion in Sydney? Is it uniform across the city or are some places worse than others? What is it caused by?
Yes. There are problems with parking and congestion, and in many places there is a scarcity of free parking, usually places of high demand (near workplaces without enough onsite parking, near recreational areas like beaches in peak times, near train stations and so on). The key word is “free”, everyone (rationally) wants something for nothing, but society (logically) cannot afford to give it to them. All transport is subsidised – both roads and public transport, and especially ‘free’ parking outside of the downtowns.
– How can you resolve conflict between residents and visitors over parking in areas such as Palm Beach and Whale Beach?
[I can’t comment on Palm or Whale Beach specifically]
Residents and visitors are often in conflict over on-street when parking is limited. It should be remembered that residents don’t own the street space in front of their house either. Some places use permit parking, so residents can purchase a permit and park, and visitors are time limited. And that works if the demand is not too great. There are other solutions that can be tried, but a really nice one is the Parking Benefit District. Parking is charged for (with meters) in places where, and times when it is scarce, for residents and non-residents alike. But the revenue goes back to the local community, instead of being swallowed up by a larger jurisdiction. It can be used for anything the neighbourhood feels is worthwhile, for instance improved sidewalks, or bike paths, or transit stops, or landscaping. Examples are found throughout the United States. The right prices ensure there is parking available when and where it is needed, but discourages people from camping out or leaving their car onstreet when it isn’t going to be used for a long time. People knowing they will pay for parking manage their demands better (e.g. carpooling, or taking transit, or traveling at less busy times, or walking or biking).
– Is the solution to traffic and parking congestion better public transport? Or multi-storey car parks?
A solution to congestion is public transport. So if prices are set right for driving and parking, fewer people will drive and park, and some of them will forego the trip, but others will take a different mode. It depends on the location as to what the right solution is. There are locations where parking structures are the answer, but I wouldn’t recommend one until the prices were set right.
– Are there other measures that councils or the government could adopt to solve parking problems?
– Or are people whingers? Is the traffic in Sydney worse than other large cities in Australia and overseas?
My first law of transport is that everyone complains. In a small town, the complaint about the one traffic light on Main Street might seem ridiculous to someone from Sydney, but it feels valid to those who otherwise don’t stop at all.
Traffic in Sydney is worse than other Australian cities (according to BITRE
(see Figure 22)) both because it is larger, and because the topography concentrates traffic onto fewer routes. But it is not as bad as other cities, it ranks 29th globally according to GPS provider TomTom
I don’t think anyone has ranked parking difficulty internationally.
Popular places are always crowded. If the stadium is full, we don’t say it’s congested, we say it is ‘Sold out!’ Some places are over-crowded because we don’t charge the right price. Stadiums have a limited number of seats, and set prices so that at peak times, say a rock concert, they are full, but not so people are hanging from the rafters. Roads (and parking, and trains, and buses) also have a fixed amount of capacity, but it is not allocated correctly, so more people try to use them than there is space for at the peak time, and people queue up, and they are much less crowded the rest of the day. If we priced them properly, we could avoid the queues altogether, and waste less time.
So I don’t think asking if there is congestion is the right question to be asking. Instead, it is better to ask about accessibility: How many places can I reach in 30 or 45 minutes? We looked at this for the entire United States (http://access.umn.edu
) and it turns out the places that are the most congested are also the ones where people can reach more jobs in less time.