Letter to Minneapolis

I lived in Minneapolis from 1999 until I moved to Sydney in 2017. In the last few days, the Minneapolis Police Department is again making the local news in Australia (following on the case of Justine Diamond) with the murder of George Floyd. Thanks to the internet (thanks internet !?) we can now livestream Minneapolis WCCO-TV here, along with the dumpster fire that is Twitter.

When I first took the job, and before moving, the University of Minnesota connected me to a real estate agent (from Edina Real Estate) who showed us around some neighbourhoods he thought we would like (Uptown, Edina). I asked about crime rates. He wouldn’t tell me (I think he implied it was illegal, which it may have been) and said I would need to look that up separately. I asked about some other neighbourhoods, like North Minneapolis, and he, in his Minnesota way, discouraged it. After moving there, I figured out why.

Open street on Minehaha Avenue in happier times. The center of some of the rioting.

We ultimately moved to Prospect Park in Southeast Minneapolis. We would shop and eat out at restaurants in the area around Lake and Hiawatha that was recently torched. We would regularly shop at the Targets on University in St. Paul and Snelling in Roseville that were looted. [Their logo is a target, obviously they were asking for it. And just sitting there, loitering in bad neighborhoods at all times of day and night, imagine what would happen to a person who did that.] [I am assuming looters are not reading this, if they are: looting is bad and does not directly address the problem, and probably undermines the general cause.]

Obviously much of this is crime of opportunity, which can be understood in game theory terms, following on the signalling of collective action among potential rioters, along with the distraction of police. But the core is not looters, the core is a protest against the police, and societal dysfunctions more generally. If society does not treat you with basic respect for your life, liberty, and property, the courtesy should be extended in reverse.

American society is broken. While irrational optimism is important to see our way through the present dilemmas, I believe it is important to recognise the degree of brokenness to do what is necessary. While this might bring us through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief from denial through acceptance, it is only with acceptance and recognition of reality that appropriate change can occur.

By all means vote for the right people, it may be necessary, but do not believe for a moment that it is sufficient. Elected officials, even when the “right people” are in a majority, do not control the Minneapolis Police, or many of the other institutions that are the root of America’s failures.

America, more than perhaps any other country, has become first-rate at admiring readily-solved problems problems [e.g., but this is not a complete list: police violence, gun violence, traffic violence, pollution, disenfranchisement and election malpractice, health insurance, congestion, pandemics, inability to build]. The most basic indicator of social success, life expectancy, is low for a country of its wealth, and falling. This is infuriating.

I say they are readily-solved as developed nations (a list we must sadly now exclude the United States from) have solved them, at least better than the US, and resources are hardly scarce in a country where the average size of a new home is on the order of 3000 square feet and there is a car for every driver, and a military which outspends the next 10 countries combined. This is not to say it is politically easy, otherwise one assumes they would have already been dealt with. But there are no technological barriers, nor lack of good ideas, just an unwillingness to make a hard decision. Politicians should be willing to take votes that will cost them their jobs. They will inevitably find work with the revolving door in industry anyway. There remain other problems (like endemic racism) which are more difficult, which also remain unsolved. America would collectively rather not go through any short run disruption to address even solvable problems with a huge long-run payoff. It suffers from failure of delayed gratification.

I have always thought Minnesota was one of the better governed US states, with a longer time-horizon than most. Minneapolis is very good (for the US, not on a global scale) at building bike lanes and of course it attracts hipsters (and wannabe hipsters) with coffee shops and microbreweries, and the city’s population has risen significantly over the past decade, but it also leads in segregation. All of the progress in bringing people back to the city is for nought when they cannot walk unafraid from violence perpetrated by the police.

This is not new. In recent memory, most notable was the well-known case of Philando Castile, nominally a traffic stop in a local suburb with a trigger happy cop, which inspired numerous peaceful protests closing freeways to temporary inconvenience. There was also Jamar Clark. But before that St. Paul tasered and arrested someone for sitting in the Skyway waiting to pick up his child.

The earth will continue to spin on its axis. Life will find a way. Civilization on the other hand is not nearly so robust. Nominally civilized Europe fell into how many wars last century? It’s not beyond repair, but every moment it remains unrepaired it gets harder. When in a hole the first step is to stop digging. Whether it gets fixed or not is a collective decision and I wouldn’t bet money on it.

“Look for the helpers.” Mr. Rogers said. The helpers are supposed to be the government, which includes the police. That’s what they teach in elementary school. They are not. No amount of policy change will should ever convince us they should be trusted. Their very position, arrogating to themselves a monopoly on the use of violence is perhaps necessary for the avoidance of anarchy, but not without questioning. Of course one must deal subserviently with any organization like the police that has more weaponry than you do. But that doesn’t mean you trust them.

There is an institutional problem that multiple weak mayors have been unable or unwilling to solve. Institutions only work with the consent of the governed. Removing and replacing a police force, especially one the size of Minneapolis is difficult, but not impossible. However with both the murder of residents they are charged with serving and their failure to maintain order in the aftermath of their own misdeeds, they have demonstrated unfitness for purpose. This is not a few bad apples, it is systematic. Fewer than 10% of officers live in the city. It would be easy enough to insist it be 100% and shed many officers voluntarily.

In contrast, while police in many other countries are overly militarized, they retain the confidence of their citizens. Our encounters with the local (New South Wales) police here have been professional as they investigated 1 break-in and theft (and recovered a laptop) and 1 attempted, including taking fingerprints, something Minneapolis could never be bothered to do when we had break-ins there. Notably the police are state rather than locally run. None of this is to say there are no problems: police brutality exists in Australia.

Disband the Minneapolis Police. Bring in temporary outside security forces with clear directives if necessary. Start over. That is what the protests are telling you. Listen to your residents, you govern with their consent.

Although this is not the general point, a modern banking system may have averted the whole problem, which reportedly started with questions about the legitimacy of George Floyd’s cash payment, resulting in the police being called (4 cops for a fake $20 seems excessive in normal circumstances), rather than the use of readily verified electronic debit transaction. It was startling returning to the US in January on the lack of universality of debit payments and the use of signatures in so many places.

Transportist: June 2020

Welcome to the latest issue of The Transportist, especially to our new readers. As always you can follow along at the  transportist.org or on Twitter. The next issue of the Transportist will be August, as July will be reserved for the TransportLab newsletter.

Urban riots in response to police murders [tears for my old hometown Minneapolis, the riots were a few miles from our house, and we sometimes went to those shops] moves into the top spot of the armageddon-of-the-month rankings, as Covid-19 fades from attention, because people got bored.

When will Tesla Full Self Drive be functional?

  • End of 2020 0%
  • End of 2021 3.9%
  • End of 2025 20.9%
  • Never 75.2%

I interpret this to be when will Tesla Autopilot be “Level 4” autonomous on a large share of roads, with drivers not needing to touch the wheel or pedals for most trips. This poll comes with a sample size of 153 Twitter people, most of whom have some transport knowledge. The respondents are very skeptical of Elon Musk. Now much of this is probably deserved with Hyperloop and the Boring Company and his general antics, but on the other hand, Tesla Autopilot already exists and works reasonably well on freeways (death rates are probably lower than humans, though this is debated) and they have been testing on arterials for over 4 years, and it’s not like he is the programmer. 

I did a similar poll of GM’s Ultracruise (Supercruise for freeways plus new autonomous/driver assist features for city streets, similar tech to Tesla FSD without the hype), though with a smaller and non-identical sample. People trust GM more than Tesla, but remain skeptical. 

GM Ultracruise will be functional in at least one model by: 

  • End of 2020 3.4%
  • End of 2021 7.2%
  • End of 2025 20.7%
  • Never 58.6%

I’m at 2021 on both of these.

Recall Notice: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The Huanan Seafood Market would like to recall “Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”. It has severe side-effects and should not be consumed. A replacement virus is available with exchange at site of purchase.

Universities, which are financially strapped at the moment, could save money by canceling subscriptions to expensive journals. We can get that knowledge in other ways now. 

In contrast, their current plans are highly uncertain.


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A Review of Game Theory Models of Lane Changing

Recently published:

Driver lane-changing behaviours have a significant impact on the safety and the capacity of the vehicle-based traffic system. Therefore, modeling lane-changing ma- neuvers has become an essential component of driving behaviour analysis. Among microscopic LC models, game theory-based lane-changing models highlight the inter- action of drivers, which reveal a more realistic image of driving behaviours compared to other classic models. However, the potential of game theory to describe the hu- man driver’s lane-changing strategies is currently under-estimated. This paper aims to review the recent development of game-theoretic models that are classified ac- cording to their different methodologies and features. They are designed for both human-driven and autonomous vehicles, and we hope they can find applications in future AV industries.


Virus loading as a queue

Science could use more interdisciplinarity. Models from disparate disciplines can be transferred and may give insights, at least by analogy, if not direct mathematical application.

Queueing models are common in transport. A queue forms when the inputs exceed the outputs. For instance think of cars at a bottleneck. Imagine cars arrive at 1 per second, but can be served (move through the bottleneck) at 2 per second, in this case there is no queue. Instead imagine cars arrive at 4 per second, but can be served at 2 per second, here the queue grows in length by 2 cars per second. At the end of an hour, the queue is 7200 cars in length.

This same logic could be applied to viruses, though the math is a bit more complicated since viruses and antibodies have doubling rates rather than arrival and server capacity or departure rates. Your body is exposed to a single copy of a virus, it doubles at some rate and causes damage as discussed below. If all is going well, your body produces antibodies [and cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs)] in response, which serve (kill) the virus and its production system.

Lev Osherovich, biologist friend of mine, notes:

Covid-19 virus. Source wikipedia
Covid-19 virus. Source wikipedia

There’s a lot more to a successful immune response against SARS-CoV-2 than just antibody production — for example, there is a strong component of cellular (cytotoxic) immunity that goes after infected cells before they can churn out more virus. However, it’s a matter of time and chance for the immune system to figure out how to make the right combination of antibodies and cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) that can quell the virus — in some patients that happens quickly, before the virus penetrates deep into the lungs to cause acute respiratory distress syndrome, but in many patients (particularlly elderly and immunocompromised) the virus gets there first. In general, once an effective immune response is launched, the immune system can rapidly scale up production of the right plasma cells (antibody factories) and CTLs — the bottleneck is in finding a winning combination through random chance. We hope (but are not certain) that once an effective immune response occurs, it will rapidly clear the virus and will prevent re-infection — at its best, anti-viral immunity is an all-or-nothing process.


Antibody and CTL production varies by individual, older individuals and those who are immune-compromised may produce less effectively than young adults.

For someone newly exposed, the virus has a head start, so the antibody and CTL doubling rate has to be shorter (it doubles more quickly) to catch up. If the virus lead is too great, your body is overwhelmed not just by viremia (high viral titres) but cytokine release syndrome (CRS) — “when large numbers of white blood cells are activated and release inflammatory cytokines, which in turn activate yet more white blood cells.” There is a maximum queue length (number of un-dealt with viruses and cytokenes ) in the body, at which point you die. As you approach this maximum, you get sicker.

Lev writes:

The typical cause of death is not viremia (high viral titres) but cytokine release syndrome (CRS), an inflammatory over-reaction triggered by too much virus in the lung but exacerbated by pre-exisiting conditions and susceptibilitiies. There are evidently many patients who experience high viral titre (and are very ill) but do not progress to CRS, ARDS and death, and likewise there are some patients who progress rapidly to CRS and death without high viral titres. In the context of your queuing model, in the some cases the virus (or the immune system) jumps the queue and kills the patient. While presumably having high viral titre increases the odds of such an event, there seems to be some element of bad luck as well as predisposition.


In the figure below, viruses start doubling at time 1 (first exposure), while antibodies (and CTLs) don’t start until time 16, but they double twice as fast. By time period 28, they start to noticeably slow the growth of viruses, and due to the power of compound interest, effectively destroy them by time period 30. Assuming the patient can survive a load of 10 million viruses in their body, everything is fine. But there is a threshold, and if the antibodies aren’t fast enough (start too late, double too slowly), the patient won’t make it.

Virus input (demand or arrival rate) varies by location, e.g. cruise ships or nursing homes with recirculated air and exposure to many other infected people increases loading, so it is not a single virus that infects the subject, but many, thereby giving the virus an even longer head start, and making the job of eradication that much more difficult.

Antibody production (capacity) can be stimulated with vaccines or with previous exposure.


While obviously the body is more complex than a queueing model, so is traffic. The aim of a model is to give us a way of thinking, which might suggest solutions (reducing viral intake (defense), speeding response (offense), and so on).

Beautiful Access

What is beauty? A dictionary tells us:

n.      The quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality.

— From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition. 

The internet’s best website, the Online Etymology Dictionary says the word comes from Latin bellus “pretty, handsome, charming”

Beauty creates happiness, joy, or pleasure Though obviously these words are often used synonymously, they are not always synonyms. Pleasure is the opposite of pain, and is momentary, intense, but fleeting. Happiness, though more sustained than pleasure, remains a more transient sensation than joy. Children bring you joy, but less so happiness.

timelessSo what business does an engineer have in even examining the idea of beauty with something as abstract and technical as the notion of access. Beauty is not just for the traditional artsy-fartsy aesthetes — scientists, mathematicians, and engineers have their own notions of beauty and elegance.

Math and the physical sciences can have beauty.  Beauty has a mathematical sense of nice (a nice result vs. an elegant result).

In physics: 

[B]eauty is a guide .. symmetry, simplicity and something called naturalness are often sought. — Steve Crandall

In math:

`[E]legant’ = “that proof is a lot more efficient than I would’ve thought”  while `beautiful’ = “that method of proof is genuinely enlightening and makes things possible I wouldn’t have thought were doable.” — Haggai Elitzur

In short, in theories, beauty and efficiency are complements. Things that are inefficient are far from beautiful. Is the same true in our perceptions of the physical world? Most of us agree on the many environments that bring us happiness, and others that bring us the opposite.

There are clues. One has to do with how human senses evolved to absorb information. Not too much sensory input, nor too little, but the amount the human mind has adapted to. This of course varies per person. For instance, autism may be a result of too much sensory sensitivity, an over-wired brain.

This perhaps explains why much of nature is often thought beautiful, humans evolved in a natural environment, and have acclimatised to environments with certain levels of complexity. Yet we have repulsion at certain types of bugs and snakes and so on, which might have been considered predators. We adapted to prefer certain environments rather than others. The built environment, which we have lived with for a much shorter period of time, is far more contentious. It is a product of creationism, rather than evolution, and the parts of the built environment which we adjudge the least beautiful are often the most recent (yesterday’s mistakes are often destroyed, but perhaps yesterday also made fewer mistakes).

The mythological figure Adonis was a beautiful male, his beauty gave him pick of the Greek Goddesses. So, in theory, the beauty to him conferred a biological advantage, increased reproduction with fitter females, though he is only reported to have had two offspring (Golgos and Beroe). But even more than private benefits, Adonis beauty may have also given pleasure to those he chose not to bed himself, who could imagine him while loving those not quite as attractive. Beauty produces benefits for others that cannot be fully capitalized by the beautiful, in an economic sense, beauty creates positive externalities.

In selecting a mate, beauty remains an important factor, the ‘beautiful people’ congregate amongst themselves, and assortative mating indicates that a ’10’ will more likely marry a ‘9’ or a ’10’ than a ‘7’ or an ‘8’, much less a ‘1’ or ‘2’ (where we rate people by decile, so a 10 is among those who would be in the top 10th percentile of attractiveness as ranked by people from their culture, and a 9 is in the top 20th percentile, and so on, so that a 1 is among the least attractive 10 percent.) Now beauty isn’t everything, and a beautiful person may choose to trade beauty in a partner for smarts or bravery or strength, none of which correlate perfectly, with the hope that beautiful but not so smart plus smart but not quite as beautiful couple produces children who are both beautiful and smart, rather than not so smart and not quite beautiful. In a simplistic Mendelian breeding strategy, this might happen 1 in 4 times, but in practice there may be other selection processes going on giving the favourable outcome a better than 1 in 4 shot.

We are all familiar with the concept of beauty when applied to other humans, whether we like it or not, and can see daily the media and marketers selling us on a culturally if not biologically preferred definition of idealized appearance.

We have similar ideas when it comes to place. The wealthiest people use their resources to live in some of the most beautiful environments, because they can, subject to other constraints like accessibility (and inaccessibility). There is sorting among the well-to-do and housing. (If there weren’t what would be the point of being rich?) But since beauty and efficiency are complements, there is no reason why we cannot all have beautiful environments, we just need to organise our resources somewhat better.

Some environments bring us happiness and joy, they are places we want to spend our time, and other environments bring us down.

In Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth, architect Christopher Alexander makes a case for hand-made and human-scale rather than automated and massive buildings and places. That sounds an expensive approach. Is there any fundamental reason why the development system of today cannot produce beauty and efficient, durable construction that scales for the masses? The terrace houses  of Australia are lovely in the aggregate, and also relatively mass produced in the day.

We might alternatively pose this problem as one of `Form vs. function’, for which the architects have had a famous dialog. Louis Sullivan, to whom Frank Lloyd Wright apprenticed, wrote:

Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling. — Louis Sullivan

This harkens back to Keats:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know — John Keats (1820) Ode on a Grecian Urn

and `truth and beauty’, as a building where the form is pre-eminent over the function is in a sense fakery, it is untrue to its purpose.

Which argues that needless adornments are indeed needless. But then what is needless? Sexual selection has produced peacock’s tail, widely perceived as beautiful by humans, and which is locally optimal for the individual peacock (helping him strut his stuff before the peahens), but likely dysfunctional in the longer term group struggle of peacocks against other species seeking to occupy their niche. This is a social dilemma for peacock society, so much resource is spent on adornment, that the species loses out as a whole. 

But is the opposite of needless adornment, minimalism, beautiful? This is not a universally accepted notion. Consider the classic debate:

Less is More — Mies van der Rohe


Less is a Bore — Robert Venturi

Having high quality designs that people actually want to be around is something we as a society are perfectly capable of doing, if we actually valued it. These designs are neither simple ornament nor stripped bare minimal cost structures. They need not be constrained to a particular style from a particular era, though they should be compatible with the climate and complement neighbouring structures.

Consider infrastructure. Normally not considered at all, but if so, it would generally be thought to be purely functional. Yet London’s Underground is nothing if not stylish. As the first Underground rail system, it was at the forefront of transport technology from its grand opening in 1863. From 1908 forward, it has pushed forward the state of the art in transit system design. The head of the London Transit, Frank Pick, had a keen design sense, and hired Edward Johnston to give London the consistent, and by most accounts excellent, iconic look and feel it has today.

The logo of the London Underground, the bar-and-circle symbol officially called a `Roundel’, evolved over time to its familiar form, by the 1920s. It was so successful that it has been adopted by other rail systems, notably older urban stations in the Sydney Trains system. It has also been adapted by for my book the  30-Minute City, where an early version of this blog post was considered as a chapter.

The London Underground has not only given us a logo, it also presents Maps, Posters, Fonts, Stations, and Vehicles that have thoughtfully considered aesthetics as well as efficiency in their physical expression. While more expensive in the short run to create, standards and design require some investment, they are also more effective in communicating the aims and intent of the organisation.

Kevin Lynch gave us the `View from the Road’, and our perception via windshield inspection differs from that on foot. We should also consider the view from the bus, the view from the train, the view at the train station, and the view from the bike.

Beauty changes both how much time you perceive, but also the quality of that time, and how much you would pay to experience or avoid it. I may pay to avoid an ugly route, I may pay to traverse a beautiful one. We know from route choice experiments, people say they prefer the more attractive route, even if slower. In short, the journey is at least part of the reward.

Access has focused on objectively represented time, though we have talked about perceived or reported time, from time-to-time. We have yet to fully address quality of time, or willingness to endure particular environments.

We can easily treat this mathematically. The more difficult question is actually assessing those environments, translating them into something quantifiable, like we do for money or time, so that aesthetic judgments can be rendered objectively, rather than arbitrarily. We know people prefer trees at bus stops, for instance.

Do we want access to beauty, or beautiful access — the latter referring to beauty permeating our lives? Obviously both, but the beautiful access is much more significant, because we experience it so much more often. Museums are largely inaccessible storehouses of beauty. While being able to visit a scenic vista or museum is better than the alternative of not being able to do so, having beauty around us on our ways about our neighbourhood and community, and not merely a few selected beautiful objects, but a pleasing amalgam of all of the natural and built environment, will, I argue, make us collectively happier. If we can make travel paths more beautiful, people will enjoy them more, and 30 minutes will feel like 20.

Thus, beauty, which should complement efficiency rather than compete with it, must have value in the public sphere, just as it does in the private. Beautiful neighbourhoods are more expensive, and thus pay more taxes — people pay to enjoy the beauty provided by the community, that is their neighbours private goods: their homes and yards. And we can have it for the low, low price of some thought and consideration — at a minimum, requiring any visible changes to the built environment make it more beautiful, not less — but setting a bar higher than that, say it must also be better than, say, two-thirds of existing structures in the community.

We can actually quantify this.

Would you be willing to endure 1 minute of ugly for 5 minutes of beauty every day, for the rest of your life. How about 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes? That’s hard to assess.

Instead,  for instance, imagine a rule whereby the project regulator conducts a preference survey among a reasonable large jury drawn from the community,  when shown two sets of renderings, the proposal embedded in the surrounding buildings and environment and a series of random similarly-sized structures serving a similar function (houses vs. houses, apartment building vs. apartment building, store vs. store, warehouse vs. warehouse, office vs. office, street vs. street, station vs. station,  drawn from the same community rendered in that same location, the proposed structure must be preferred (supported by more than half the respondents) over more than two-thirds of the structures. Obviously neighbours with a vested interest would be in a separate sample from the general community. These surveys are relatively inexpensive to conduct compared with the costs of large projects.

There is always the risk that the community has terrible taste, but we are not asking them to design the structure, just identify whether it improves or worsens the community. I think the public is capable of doing that, and the bias towards aesthetic conservatism is wise. Perhaps it risks the unusual being downvoted, missing some successful starchitecture like the Sydney Opera House, but it also perhaps filters the high-concept, overly expensive misbegotten architecture which jars with the local neighbourhood. Any system risks being gamed or corrupted, but would it be worse than what we have now? It’s worth testing.

While no particular measure of beauty is complete, and at least some beauty is in the eye of the beholder,  having no measure or standard at all implicitly values beauty at nothing.


Estimating the Social Gap with a Game Theory Model of Lane Changing

Recent paper:

Changing lanes is a commonly-used technique for drivers to either overtake slow-moving cars or enter/exit highway ramps. Optional lane changes may save drivers travel time but increase the risk of collision with others. Drivers make such decisions based on experience and emotion rather than analysis, and thus may fail to select the best solution while in a dynamic state of flux. Unlike human drivers, autonomous vehicles can systematically analyze their surroundings and make real-time decisions accordingly. This paper develops a game theory-based lane-changing model by comparing two types of optimization methods. To realize our expectations, we need to first investigate the payoff function of drivers in discretionary lane-changing maneuvers and then quantify it in an equation of costs that trades-off safety and time-saving. After the evaluation for each alternative strategy combination, the results show that there exists a social gap in the discretionary lane-changing game. To deal with that problem, we provide some suggestions for future policy as well as autonomous vehicle controller designs, offering solutions to reduce the impact of disturbances and crashes caused by inappropriate lane changes, and also, inspire further research about more complex cases.



Your daily commute won’t ever be the same | National Geographic

Emily Sohn at National Geographic wrote: Your daily commute won’t ever be the same.

The title is a bit overwrought [for most Americans, things will be largely indistinguishable, since most Americans drive in the suburbs], but the content identifies areas where things might differ from today. Lots of us were interviewed, my contributions below:

An empty platform with a monitor indicating with the green train icon that a largely empty train is coming

Facial sensors like ones that have been deployed on public transportation in China may also measure your temperature, rejecting entry to a bus or subway station if you have a fever. Once antibody testing is accurate and easily available, you might even show an immunity card before you can board, though there will be a fine line between safety and hassle, adds David Levinson, a transport engineer at the University of Sydney, Australia.

“All of those invasions of privacy are things that are not going to make people happy, and are going to make them more likely to use other modes than public transit,” he says. “People will find alternatives if they can.”

For some people, the future of commuting might be no commute at all. About half of adults with jobs in the U.S. are working from home during the pandemic, according to a report published by the Brookings Institution in April. That’s more than double the percentage who did some telecommuting two years ago. Close to 20 percent of chief financial officers surveyed by Brookings said they planned to permanently retain remote work for at least 20 percent of their workers.

This kind of societal shift could further reduce crowding and the spread of disease on mass transit, Levinson says, especially if people go into offices only occasionally, if they bike when they can, and if they get better about staying home when sick.

How public transport will change as lockdowns are eased

Josh Dutton at Yahoo News (which is a relatively bigger deal in Australia than the US due to a tie-up with one of the TV networks (7)) wrote: ‘Think outside the box’: How public transport will change as lockdowns are eased‘. I was quoted:

These shops in Waterloo are a bit of ghost town (2010-04-25)
These shops in Waterloo are a bit of ghost town (2020-04-25)

University of Sydney transport analyst Professor David Levinson also believes people will walk or cycle to work.

“This means more space needs to be available for footpaths, and more protected and dedicated cycle lanes need to be deployed rapidly,” he said.

“This can be taken from the excessive space given over to cars, especially parked cars, now.”

As for catching taxis and rideshares to work, Professor Levinson believes this only alleviates issues for people who don’t already own cars “and that gets expensive pretty quickly”
Issues might arise from parking, particularly in Sydney’s CBD, Professor Levinson said as there is “only a small and finite” number of spaces.

“If everyone were to go back to work at the same rates as pre-COVID, they could not all possibly drive. However, if work-at-home remains in place, say for half the workforce, then twice as many people could drive [to] the CBD,” he said.

Professor Levinson added congestion “tends to be self-limiting”

“As traffic increases, travel times rise, and as travel time rises demand (traffic) drops, so it finds a level,” he said.

“The equilibrium might be more congested than before the virus for a period if people are going back to work in high numbers but still transit averse, especially on bad weather days.

“But if the virus were effectively extinguished, I suspect transit ridership would go back to near normal levels, rather than stay at ghost town levels.”

He added he believes people will be working from home “at much higher levels post-COVID than pre-COVID” leading to “a lot less” travel.


A Days of Distancing Holiday

Spatial separation has  salutary effects. When the current situation ends, we should consider having an annual two-week

Flu shots administered with spatial distancing
Flu shots administered with spatial distancing. This is much sounder than the previous year, when they asked us to stand up, move to the next chair, and sit down again, as the next person was called.

A “Days of Distancing” holiday during peak flu season, say the first two weeks of February in the Northern Hemisphere. People would stay home and avoid large gatherings. They could still go outside in the fresh air, just avoid human contact with non-household members. They could work from home if their job allowed it, just not physically contact other people except under limited circumstances and with protective equipment.

The intent would not be to celebrate (or mourn), but to effectively do a few things:

  • Kill-off random viruses — Flu was down in 2020.
  • Reduce other deaths.
  • Reduce traffic.
  • Clean the air.
  • Bind families together in ways that are not stressful and with a known time of exit.
  • Require everyone to prepare for longer term isolations in a non-panicked way.
  • Give many retail and service workers a holiday, which they didn’t get during the Saturnalia festivities at the end of the previous year.

I am sure we could think of other benefits without too much difficulty.