Observations of Arncliffe

View of Sydney in the distance
View of Sydney in the distance

After three and a half years in Australia, and having received permanent residency, we decided to buy a piece of the continent. The decision to buy was pretty straight-forward given the below 2% interest rates, significantly below the price of rent. When I first arrived in Sydney, interest rates were higher than rent, and so renting seemed the obvious answer (as well as the huge penalty for buying existing homes socked to non-permanent residents).

The buying process in Australia differs from the US in several key ways.

Auctions are dominant here, not just what happens at foreclosures. In our first attempt, we bid at an auction, significantly above the price guidance. It however went significantly above that. That was much higher than the Hedonic Model my research group has estimated, so I passed. In our second attempt, the house we ultimately bought in Arncliffe, had passed under at auction. The owners bid in the auction at a price higher than any participants would match, and so it ‘passed under’. It was then listed the normal way with open house and accepting offers. We made an offer, and then a counter, and got an agreement on the house.

We hired a solicitor for the contract review (which would typically be done by the buyer in the US). The solicitor also arranges house inspections (although sometimes those are arranged by the selling agent, there is a literal principal/agent problem there). I’ve seen much more thorough inspections in the US. Normally settlement takes up to 42 days, but we got it done in 3 weeks.

This also required financing, which we did with an Australian Credit Union. Australia has gone through a severe demutualization process in a few sectors (notably property insurance, I couldn’t find a mutual insurer left), but a few credit unions remain, as well as a few health insurers.

Arncliffe Steam Tram - Bexley Line

Arncliffe Steam Tram – Bexley Line. It’s a bit more built up now.

So we have now relocated to Arncliffe, a suburb (i.e. a neighbourhood) of Sydney about 10 km south of the CBD. I believe COVID (and the prospects for working-from-home vs. the ghost town we call the University) made me more willing to move farther out than I would have previously preferred, but the main issue was just the price of real estate per square meter.

Arncliffe is near the Sydney airport, but not under the flight paths, so the flight noise is minimal (and especially minimal now with COVID restrictions, but in general you can’t really hear the planes). Our house is literally on top of the M5 Motorway (or rather the Motorway is under the house, since the house was there first). So on top of it that Google Streetview thinks I live on the Motorway, and shows a picture of the tunnel instead of my house (they have been apprised of this fact and refuse to correct it). We cannot see, hear, feel, or smell the road. There is an fresh air intake location down the block, but since it is intake rather than output, it seems fine.

From a walking perspective we get a 68/68 from WalkScore, which somehow beats my old address in Alexandria that had a 22/72. I can only conclude WalkScore is not the most reliable accessibility measure.

Walking is fine, two train stations (Arncliffe and Turrella) on the T4 and T8 lines respectively are each ~12 minutes away (uphill in both directions). The lines have 10-minute frequency service during peak hours (but 30 minute service on weekends, not so good). There are a number of restaurants and shops within a 5 minute walk, and more near Arncliffe station. The shops are aligned along a former Tram line (from Arncliffe to Bexley along Wollongong Road), in two clusters, presumably the two stops. The clusters are not contiguously served by retail, as I guess the demand c. 1900-1929 when the Trams ran, was not high enough, and the tram was never electrified.

These retail clusters on Wollongong Road are not exactly contiguous with the larger cluster of shops adjacent to the Arncliffe train station, though it’s only a block away from one of them. (Turrella has very little retail activity). There are multiple butchers and bakers, a fishmonger, a fruiterer and poulterer and one IGA supermarket, all within walking distance. There are no major grocery stores in convenient walking distance. Wolli Creek, the next station to the north on both lines has two supermarkets, and of course many Asian stores, but is a 25 minute walk, a bit too far for the daily shop. [A comprehensive retail analysis is below, from my family’s list of stores one finds on shopping streets in Australia]. I have a personal preference for urban forms that arose during the tram (streetcar) era, and find suburban neighbourhoods from that era the most walkable and most pleasant. 

The retail on Wollongong Road straddles Arncliffe Park, which is a large open space with a soccer field and a cenotaph memorialising World War I dead. It also features a flock of Ibises and Cockatoos and a small cafe.  There is a gorgeous arcade of Gum trees along the diagonal path through the park.

Overall pedestrian conditions are pretty good for this kind of suburb, though there are missing footpaths on some sides of some street sections. On my street I think it has to do with the steepness of the cliffs, (we are near the top of a hill, garnering the view at the top of this post out the front door, and a glimpse of Botany Bay out the back windows), but on others there is no such excuse, and it is just assume pedestrians will cross the street twice to get where they are going. There are a few raised pedestrian crossings (Wombats), but there are a few missing. Similarly the kerb cuts for disability access are haphazard, and don’t face curb cuts on the opposite side of the street where one might think they belong.

Trash Pickup is organised by the local Council (local municipality), which has few other functions in Australia. Trash is collected weekly, recycling fortnightly. That is unfortunate, and still reflects poor practices of the past. There is no garden waste or food waste pickup, as we had in the City of Sydney. Also no obvious way to deal with electronics, batteries, light bulbs, or hazardous chemicals without driving somewhere.  Strangely, the Council has a quarterly large item and miscellaneous pickup, so the streets are lined with stuff you might otherwise see in yard sale or headed for the tip (dump), but it’s multi-day (the pickup is announced for say Monday, stuff goes out the Friday before, and isn’t necessarily actually collected Monday, just that week). So people walk and drive around looking for free loot. A free-cycle-like free-for-all. Society accumulates lots of junk. The City of Sydney would pick up your large items when you contacted them, on demand. I don’t know which is better for the environment, but the City is obviously more crowded and doesn’t have space to let broken appliances accumulate, while the suburbs do.

Trash pickup
Trash pickup



The following activities can be found within walking distance of our house

  • Train Station 
  • Thai restaurant 
  • Schools / Primary, High, TAFE 
  • RSL
  • Poulterer / Chicken
  • Places of Worship / Church, Mosque, Synagogue 
  • Pizza place/Pide (Turkish)
  • Pharmacist
  • Pastry shop
  • Park
  • Newsagent/Lottery
  • Nail shop
  • Mixed Business
  • Massage
  • Locksmith 
  • Library 
  • Laundry 
  • Italian / Greek deli
  • Indian Restaurant
  • Hot bread (Bun Mi)
  • Grocer
  • Fruiterer
  • Fishmonger/chippie
  • Employment Agent
  • Dry cleaner 
  • Doctors office/Clinic/Surgery/GP
  • Dentist 
  • Day care/ Crèche / Nursery / Preschool 
  • Convenience 
  • Club
  • Chiropractor osteopathic 
  • Charbroiled chicken 
  • Cafe
  • Butcher 
  • Burger
  • Beauty salon
  • Barber
  • Baker 
  • AUS Post
  • Anzac Memorial
  • Alcohol wine cellars /Bottle shop/Liquor 

But the following cannot be found (apologies if I missed something, this is mostly from memory):

  • Accountant Tax
  • Adult store
  • Antiques lifestyle chachki 
  • Appliance/TV Repair
  • Art Supply 
  • Asian grocer
  • Bags/Luggage 
  • Bank
  • Betting 
  • Bike shop/skateboard/surf
  • Bistro
  • Books new and used
  • Books religious 
  • Bowling alley
  • Brothel
  • Candy shop / Nuts / Confection 
  • Car Hire
  • Car repair
  • Card store/stationery 
  • Cheesemonger 
  • Children’s clothing 
  • Cinema
  • Christening clothes
  • Clothes
  • Cobbler
  • Comic books
  • Copy shop 
  • Crafts shop
  • Dim sim 
  • Discount Department Store
  • Dispensary/ pot shop
  • Dollar Store
  • Draper
  • Electronics
  • Exchange 
  • Fire Station/ Ambo
  • Florist
  • Function Hall /Meet Rooms
  • Funeral home
  • Furniture store
  • Games
  • Guns hunting outdoors army surplus
  • Gym
  • Haberdashery/male formal wear/rental
  • Hardware store
  • Headshop 
  • Herbalist
  • Hobby shop 
  • Home goods
  • Hotel / pub / bar / brewpub/ microbrewery 
  • Hotel / Hostel / Inn
  • Immigration agent
  • Insurance 
  • Jewelry / watch
  • Karate/Kung fu/tae kwan do/judo/assassin skill set training 
  • Kitchen equipment 
  • Knife sharpener 
  • Lawyer/Solicitor 
  • Lingerie/Underwear 
  • Medical Labs
  • Medicare Centrelink
  • Men’s clothing
  • Milk bar
  • Millenary
  • Mini golf
  • Money Lender
  • Music instruments 
  • Natural Food Store
  • Op shop
  • Optician
  • Party 
  • Pawn shop
  • Perfume 
  • Pet store/groomer/vet
  • Phone store/technical (radio shack)
  • Pasta (Italian)
  • Podiatrist 
  • Pool hall, Billiards
  • Print Shop
  • Providore 
  • Razors
  • Realtor 
  • Record Store
  • Sandwich shop
  • Schlock pop culture 
  • Seamstress mending/tailor
  • Servo (Petroleum)
  • Shared Workspace
  • Spice shop
  • Spiritualist/Astrologer/Tarot
  • Sporting goods/Golf/Tennis
  • Sushi joint
  • Swimming recreation 
  • Tattoo
  • Tobacconist 
  • Town Hall with Clock Tower
  • Toy store
  • Travel agent
  • Tutoring 
  • Uniforms (School/Work)
  • Upholstery 
  • Used
  • Vacuum 
  • Video game arcade
  • Video sales/rental
  • Video conversion 
  • VIP lounges
  • Wedding /Bridal 
  • White goods
  • Women’s clothing 
  • Video game sales



Access as a performance indicator in a work-from-home world

David Zipper writes Post-Covid, Transit Agencies Must Look Beyond Ridership  for Bloomberg CityLab.


In the article, Zipper talks about using transit access as a performance measure. My graf below:

The idea of transit access isn’t new, but our ability to put a useful number on it is. David Levinson, a professor at the University of Sydney who has written numerous books about transportation access, says that quantitative breakthroughs now allow planners to make far more precise calculations than before. “We’ve got better data now through the General Transit Feed Specification and GPS, as well as from Census Bureau datasets. For each person, the data tells which block they live in and which block they work in. This didn’t exist at that detailed a level until the mid-2000s.”

Obviously I like access, which measures how many valued destinations people can reach in a given amount of time. But in the end, ridership is the raison d’être for transit shops. For all the access in the world, if a bus doesn’t actually serve any actual people, it has failed.

When the ridership is unknown (e.g. for planning a change in service or new construction, where at best we can make an informed guess about a future number of riders, a guess buried in a lot of modeling obscurantism), then access has to date been an excellent performance metric because access is correlated with ridership. The more places people can reach by public transport, the more places they will go.

Ridership fluctuates for many reasons, pandemic among them. Access will be more stable as an indicator. In the absence of other information, I would argue that increases in person-weighted access most per dollar spent will be the most useful for society. When we find that post-pandemic demand for offices (especially CBD offices) falls, jobs that are nominally at a site, but not really (because of 2, 3, 4, or 5-day per week work from home, or work elsewhere, e.g.) will imply more access than they really create. It will be years before the data properly accounts for this. In a perhaps idealised world in which decisions are made based on analysis, the use of access without controlling for this problem will distort our conclusions about where transit services should run. We will favour serving offices where people don’t actually work 5-days a week over sites like schools and hospitals and factories where they do. 

Where is a job, which was a crystal clear number (not really, but we imagined it was) in the days when people worked 9-5 jobs in offices and factories, no longer has the same kind of meaning, and our accessibility metrics will somehow need to account for this. We may need to fractionalize jobs in our access calculations.

The resulting designs for transit systems will have to catch up with these changes in work patterns.


Transportist: February 2021

So in personal news, my family and I were awarded Permanent Residency status in Australia (this is like the Green Card for US immigrants). So now we can buy real estate without penalty, and get some other benefits, the most important of which is the sword of Damocles is now no longer poised above our heads.

Transportist Posts



  • Aoustin, Louise, and David M Levinson. 2021. “Longing to Travel: Commute Appreciation during COVID-19.” Findings, January. [doi].




  • Wang, Haoyun, and Robert Noland. 2021. “Changes in the Pattern of Bikeshare Usage Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Findings, January. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18728.
  • Aharoni, Jordan, Ron Buliung, and Raktim Mitra. 2021. “University and College Travel for Students with Mobility Impairment(s) in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, Canada.” Findings, January. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18630.
  • Laverty, Anthony A, Rachel Aldred, and Anna Goodman. 2021. “The Impact of Introducing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods on Road Traffic Injuries.” Findings, January. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18330.
  • Aoustin, Louise, and David M Levinson. 2021. “Longing to Travel: Commute Appreciation during COVID-19.” Findings, January. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18523.
  • Rauws, Robin, and Dea van Lierop. 2020. “Returning to Public Transit after an Epidemic.” Findings, December. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18328.
  • Shi, Xiao, Anne Vernez Moudon, Brian H. Y. Lee, Qing Shen, and Xuegang (Jeff) Ban. 2020. “Factors Influencing Teleworking Productivity – a Natural Experiment during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Findings, December. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18195.
  • Goodman, Anna, Anthony A Laverty, and Rachel Aldred. 2020. “The Impact of Introducing a Low Traffic Neighbourhood on Fire Service Emergency Response Times, in Waltham Forest London.” Findings, December. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18198.
  • Krall, Verena, Max F. Burg, Malte Schröder, and Marc Timme. 2020. “Number Fluctuations Induce Persistent Congestion.” Findings, December. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18154.
  • Adams, Thomas, and Rachel Aldred. 2020. “Cycling Injury Risk in London: Impacts of Road Characteristics and Infrastructure.” Findings, December. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18226.
  • Ravensbergen, Lea, and Bruce Newbold. 2020. “‘I Wouldn’t Want to Get on the Bus’: Older Adult Public Transit Use and Challenges during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Findings, December. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18202.
  • Zhang, Yixue, Matthew Palm, Jonathan Scheff, Steven Farber, and Michael Widener. 2020. “Travel Survey Recruitment Through Facebook and Transit App: Lessons from COVID-19.” Findings, December. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18066.
  • Goodman, Anna, Scott Urban, and Rachel Aldred. 2020. “The Impact of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and Other Active Travel Interventions on Vehicle Ownership: Findings from the Outer London Mini-Holland Programme.” Findings, December. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.18200.

Other Research by Others

News & Opinion

  • Elon Musk announces a $100M prize for “best carbon capture technology”. This seems useful compared to many things he does.
    • My view: The obvious answer is trees. But that is not marketable to Elon, so I suggest we re-brand trees as ArborLoop.(TM)

Road traffic almost back to pre-COVID levels as commuters shun public transport | Sydney Morning Herald

Andrew Taylor wrote a comprehensive review of the data on Traffic and Transit use in Sydney for the Sydney Morning Herald in Road traffic almost back to pre-COVID levels as commuters shun public transport. My quotes below:

Professor of transport engineering at the University of Sydney David Levinson said the nature of public transport usage meant it was affected by lockdown more than other modes.

“There is a lot less travel to work for office workers – especially CBD-based office workers – which hits trains pretty hard, since the rail network radiates from the Sydney CBD,” he said. …

The lack of tourists and students had also reduced travel compared to previous years, Professor Levinson said. “I don’t think congestion will go all the way back to normal as restrictions ease, the rise in working from home and deliveries in lieu of shopping and eating out will be at least somewhat irreversible.” ….

Professor Levinson said the COVID-19 crisis would have long-term effects on peak-hour traffic as well as public transport usage.

He also said road and rail projects not already under construction should be reconsidered: “The extent to which travel demand changes (like working from home) are permanent should change where the most important investments are.”

Professor Levinson said a shift towards working from home would encourage more people to live further from the inner-city “and probably favour the auto over public transport, as autos provide greater flexibility, and can reach places that frequent public transport cannot”.

Commuters continue to shun public transport, with Opal data showing patronage down more than 40 per cent on pre-COVID levels. CREDIT:SAM MOOY [Sydney Morning Herald]