Elements of Access — Now with Video

We are pleased to report that Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners by David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen is now on YouTube.

About the Book

Nothing in cities makes sense except in the light of accessibility. 

Transport cannot be understood without reference to the location of activities (land use), and vice versa. To understand one requires understanding the other. However, for a variety of historical reasons, transport and land use are quite divorced in practice. Typical transport engineers only touch land use planning courses once at most, and only then if they attend graduate school. Land use planners understand transport the way everyone does, from the perspective of the traveler, not of the system, and are seldom exposed to transport aside from, at best, a lone course in graduate school. This text aims to bridge the chasm, helping engineers understand the elements of access that are associated not only with traffic, but also with human behavior and activity location, and helping planners understand the technology underlying transport engineering, the processes, equations, and logic that make up the transport half of the accessibility measure. It aims to help both communicate accessibility to the public.

We now have an audio/video book version of Elements of Access, organised by chapter, linked to below at [Video] links.

Video of Chapter 1 of Elements of Access.




1.1  Isochrone
1.2  Rings of Opportunity
1.3  Metropolitan Average Accessibility


2.1  Stages, Trips, Journeys, and Tours
2.2  The Daily Schedule
2.3  Coordination
2.4  Diurnal Curve
2.5  Travel Time
2.6  Travel Time Distribution
2.7  Social Interactions
2.8  Activity Space
2.9  Space-time Prism
2.10  Choice
2.11  Principle of Least Effort
2.12  Capability
2.13  Observation Paradox
2.14  Capacity is Relative
2.15  Time Perception
2.16  Time, Space, & Happiness
2.17  Risk Compensation


3.1  Residential Density
3.2  Urban Population Densities
3.3  Pedestrian City
3.4  Neighborhood Unit
3.5  Bicycle City
3.6  Bicycle Networks
3.7  Transit City
3.8  Walkshed
3.9  Automobile City

4.1  Serendipity and Interaction
4.2  The Value of Interaction
4.3  Firm-Firm Interactions
4.4  Labor Markets and Labor Networks
4.5  Wasteful Commute
4.6  Job/Worker Balance
4.7  Spatial Mismatch


5.1  Deterministic Queues
5.2  Stochastic Queues
5.3  Platooning
5.4  Incidents
5.5  Just-in-time

6.1  Flow
6.2  Flow Maps
6.3  Flux
6.4  Traffic Density
6.5  Level of Service
6.6  Speed
6.7  Shockwaves
6.8  Ramp Metering
6.9  Highway Capacity
6.10  High-Occupancy
6.11  Snow Business
6.12  Macroscopic Fundamental Diagram
6.13  Metropolitan Fundamental Diagram

7.1  Highways
7.2  Boulevards
7.3  Street Furniture
7.4  Signs, Signals, and Markings
7.5  Junctions
7.6  Conflicts
7.7  Conflict Points
7.8  Roundabouts
7.9  Complete Streets
7.10  Dedicated Spaces
7.11  Shared Space
7.12  Spontaneous Priority
7.13  Directionality
7.14  Lanes
7.15  Vertical Separations
7.16  Parking Capacity
8.1  Mode Shares
8.2  First and Last Mile
8.3  Park-and-Ride
8.4  Line-haul
8.5  Timetables
8.6  Bus Bunching
8.7  Fares
8.8  Transit Capacity
8.9  Modal Magnitudes

9.1  Conservation
9.2  Equilibrium
9.3  Reliability
9.4  Price of Anarchy
9.5  The Braess Paradox
9.6  Rationing
9.7  Pricing

10.1  Graph
10.2  Hierarchy
10.3  Degree
10.4  Betweenness
10.5  Clustering
10.6  Meshedness
10.7  Treeness
10.8  Resilience
10.9  Circuity

11.1  Grid
11.2  Block Sizes
11.3  Hex
11.4  Ring-Radia


12.1  Induced Demand
12.2  Induced Supply & Value Capture
12.3  Cost Perception
12.4  Externalities
12.5  Lifecycle Costing
12.6  Affordability

13.1  Economies of Scale
13.2  Containerization
13.3  Economies of Scope
13.4  Network Economies
13.5  Intertechnology Effects
13.6  Economies of Agglomeration
13.7  Economies of Amenity


14.1  Technology Substitutes for Proximity
14.2  Conurbation
14.3  Megaregions
14.4  Path Dependence
14.5  Urban Scaffolding
14.6  Modularity
14.7  Network Origami
14.8  Volatility Begets Stability


Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.
Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.

Now available: Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen. 336 pages, 164 color images. Published by the Network Design Lab.

About the Book

Nothing in cities makes sense except in the light of accessibility. 

Transport cannot be understood without reference to the location of activities (land use), and vice versa. To understand one requires understanding the other. However, for a variety of historical reasons, transport and land use are quite divorced in practice. Typical transport engineers only touch land use planning courses once at most, and only then if they attend graduate school. Land use planners understand transport the way everyone does, from the perspective of the traveler, not of the system, and are seldom exposed to transport aside from, at best, a lone course in graduate school. This text aims to bridge the chasm, helping engineers understand the elements of access that are associated not only with traffic, but also with human behavior and activity location, and helping planners understand the technology underlying transport engineering, the processes, equations, and logic that make up the transport half of the accessibility measure. It aims to help both communicate accessibility to the public.

Features & Details

  • Size 8×10 in, 21×26 cm.  340 Pages
  • Images 164 Images (most in color)
  • ISBN
    • Softcover: 9781389067617
    • Hardcover: 9781389067402
  • Publish Date Dec 31, 2017
  • Language English



  • Jarrett Walker:  Elements of Access is really a tour of the whole field of transport planning, and its goal is to strike a balance between academic precision and readability.  In this, it’s a great success.  I’ve never taken more pleasure from reading academic writing about transport.  The writing is mostly clear and easy to read, and deftly combines technical ideas with references to everyday life.
  • Elisabetta Vitale Brovarone Dealing with the 5 Ps of access. Review of Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for PlannersJournal of Transport Geography 72 p. 274.
    • “There is an indissoluble link between land use and transport. It might sound hair-rising to those who theorised the positive utility of travel, but basically, most of the time we spend travelling is to reach places where we can carry out activities. Since the pioneering studies of Robert Mitchell and Chester Rapkin in the ‘50s, several scholars have studied the link between land use and transport and tried to foster a constructive dialogue between these two domains. Nevertheless, they are still deeply separate, in terms of disciplines, professions and planning domains.The book is clearly aimed at bridging this gap, and more. It fosters an informed dialogue between transport engineers and spatial planners, grounded on mutual (more than reciprocal) knowledge. Furthermore, it tries to help both to communicate accessibility and its various facets to the public. …”

The Thirty-Minute City on ABC Sydney Afternoons

I had the pleasure of being on James Valentine’s

Afternoons on ABC Radio on Friday (June 18, 2021)

We discussed the thirty-minute city and related topics for about 15 minutes.

An automated transcript is below:

James Valentine 0:11
You’ve been hearing for a while now that we’re going to have sort of three cities in Sydney. We’re going to have the city city, the river city of Parramatta and now the new Bradfield city, the Western Sydney parklands city, the Aerotropolis, it seems to be a city, it’s got at least three names at the moment, that Western one and there’s going to be three hubs, we’re going to be a 30 minute city, we’re gonna be able to get around this city, you’ll be able to live, you know, Jason, the paramedic, everything will be there, your job will be there, the school will be there to help services will be there and everything. So you’ll never need to leave that area, necessarily. The you may have also heard that the IBC announced a little earlier in the week that 300 or so staff will be moving to Paramount or will be based in Parramatta in a few years time that we’re in the process of looking for the right accommodation and figuring out what what would be best in that in that part of the world. So these are interesting things. And I wondered whether it was a good time to have a conversation about how successful is this going to do things like this work? When when, when an industry when something like our says yeah, when a government department or the ABC or an industry says, Okay, we’ll base ourselves here. What is it? What do we need to make that work? Do we have the infrastructure to make it work? And what effect does it have on the area? Is that a good thing? Does it you know, usually mean? Yep, this is great. The play starts to boom. And it works. I mean, there’s a big broad questions, but let’s see if we can crunch them down a little Professor David Levinson joins us. He’s from the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney. He’s a very successful career looking at transport and urban infrastructure in lots of ways. He’s the author of something that’s got a dissertation that’s called probably my favorite title, “on whom the toll falls”. Yeah, a brilliant title about road road charging. Really a title of people good road charging and the like. But it’s great to have you been here for a for a conversation. Professor David Levinson. Good afternoon. Thank you for having me. I mean, you’re we’ve been sitting about four years or so now from from Minnesota. Is that right? Yes. And so do you look, I would look at the City of Sydney go. It’s pretty congested, messy, haphazard, thing, but you know that that’s grown like, like Topsy over over a couple of centuries. Now. How do you see it?

David Levinson 3:35
Well, I mean, it’s certainly grown fast. But all cities are messy. All cities are congested. A city that’s not congested, is probably dying. And so congestion is one of the prices for urbanity. Right? We can’t expect our infrastructure to grow as fast as our population and places that tried to invest excessively in infrastructure before the people are there are going to have a lot of white elephants, a lot of projects that aren’t aren’t well used.

James Valentine 4:02
Right? So. So the notion that you might think, let’s, let’s build all the metro and the schools and the parks and hope people come, that doesn’t quite work.

David Levinson 4:11
We don’t have the resources to do that, unless you want to not address the existing problems that are already there. You know, if, if planning were 100% accurate, and we could forecast these things perfectly sure. But that’s not the case. that’s never been the case. And, you know, you, you can’t expect the populations that were here before 1788 to have built in advance of the settlers. It just doesn’t, you know, so we have to think about what are we trying to do and try to establish some sort of concurrency between the development of land and the development of infrastructure. And once you’ve solved all the problems for your existing residents, then if you have some excess resources and want to sort of plan for our future residents We might be moving into currently greenfields undeveloped areas. That might make sense. But we clearly haven’t solved the problems for all of our existing residents. And yet we’re starting to build some infrastructure for people who don’t live here yet.

James Valentine 5:12
Right. So is your sense of most cities is that the it’s enough for them to play catch up.

David Levinson 5:19
I think most cities need to play catch up with their existing demand. Certainly a fast growing city is always going to be playing catch up. When the growth slows, you might be able to have caught up at at some point. But at that point, your city’s not really growing anymore. And I think of cities in the American Midwest. You’re Detroit’s in Cleveland, well, they probably have enough infrastructure for the population that’s there. Now, they did catch up. And then things change, because that’s what happens, things change, we can’t accurately foresee how the technology is going to change how preferences are going to change how economics are going to change. And we really need to be thinking I mean, a 40 year time horizons fine for a vision. So if you think about the plans currently out there 2056 plans they were started in 2016. That’s fine for vision, but we have to also constantly be updating and and checking those and make the next investment decision aligned with the plan. But we can’t expect to build out a 40 year plan today and just wait for those roads and train lines

James Valentine 6:22
fell out. Yeah. And we can’t control that within a city like Sydney, will say things like, there’ll be another million people here in 10 years old and that sort of stuff. And people will say, Well, does that have to happen? Is this also somewhat uncontrollable cities have a great gravitational pull?

David Levinson 6:37
Well, I mean, a city is part of a country and the national government will decide immigration levels. And obviously, unexpectedly last year, immigration levels fell. And we see cities in Australia, especially Sydney, are losing population in the past year to regional areas as there’s more out migration and then migration. Now, maybe immigration will reopen. But that’s a policy choice. And assuming that that policy choices made, may be probably those people will come to cities, because that’s where most of the economic activity still is. But there’s no guarantee of that. I mean, we could have much better telecommunications technologies in 10 or 20 years, in which case, the advantages of the city are lower than they are today. Because today, it’s still better to be in person for doing things than to do them virtually.

James Valentine 7:30
Yeah, that’s right. And we’ve seen that, you know, 10 years ago, if people said, Yeah, I could probably work from home and use the computer system where you couldn’t really it didn’t really work. But it wasn’t robust enough, it couldn’t carry enough.

David Levinson 7:41
Yeah, and I think that the shift has been, I mean, there’s been a push, obviously a force factor, which has required people to work from home more than they otherwise would. But there’s also been the enabling of technology, which is better that we had video conferencing. 15 years ago, I lived in London for a year and supervise my students from in who were in Minneapolis via Skype calls. And it worked beautifully. We had a 24 hour work schedule, and it’s like I would, you know, it’d be late at night there and early in the morning in London, and I have meetings with them. And then you know, they would do things in and they would go to sleep, but I would wake up and I would see what they done. And it was probably more efficient than us being on the same timezone. Because the response was, was taking place during their off time. So we need to think about this dynamic of telecommunications is changing, not just work for for people who work in offices, I mean, it’s also changed how we shop significantly and our social patterns. And you know, how many people do you know on the internet that you’ve never actually met in person? I mean, this is a growing phenomenon. We’ve seen from travel data that people are making fewer social trips than they used to. And our hypothesis is they’re substituting online communications. Yeah, social social media for that guy is that even pre COVID COVID. work at home was rising as well. And virtual shopping was rising as well, but obviously is a huge spike in the in the last little over a year.

James Valentine 9:08
At this point. He listened to what Professor David Levinson. He’s from school of civil engineer at the University of Sydney and we just joined the fat a little on some of the planning issues around Sydney and some of the ways in which we’re moving around and some of what what what was coming so this notion of the 30 minutes city is that more than a slogan is that is that a reality?

David Levinson 9:26
Well, it depends on what you mean by the 30 minutes city right so the the Greater Sydney Commission has a few definitions in their report, which are not all the same, but that you can reach the the destinations that you need for your daily life within a 30 minute trip by public transport or active transport, walking and biking. But that’s not guaranteed that you will have a job within 30 minutes or in your local region of Sydney. And we see today of course there’s huge tidal flows of people who come from the western parts of Sydney towards the eastern parts of Sydney because There’s more housing in the West and more jobs in the east. And until all of these areas are balanced with terms of jobs and housing, a workers and housing in each of those places are roughly equal. We’re going to continue to have those kinds of tidal flows. And so it won’t be a 30 minute city, if you live in the West and work in the next city over or if you run if you’re if you’re in Bradfield and Western Sydney or near retropolis. And you work in the City of Sydney, that’s going to be well, more than a 30 minute commute by any mode of transport at this point. Yeah. And so

James Valentine 10:32
is that answered by you know, we’re making a gesture of moving 300 people to to paramedic, so then those people there, if that’s their job, is there, that’s good? Could the same thing? What is the answer also, then, for other industries and ourselves to move to campbelltown, to move to the hills district,

David Levinson 10:50
I think some of this will happen anyway. Because as telecommunications gets better than need to pay the high rents to be in the center, go down, or you see that you own a building in the center, and you can sell it and if you don’t actually need to be there. So there’s some industries for which the technical term economies of agglomeration are really high the benefits of being near other firms within walking distance of other firms. And typically, that’s things like finance and media and advertising. And arguably government. And there’s other industries, manufacturing, for which there’s no real benefit to being adjacent to the shelter. You know, you need the space. And once upon a time, it might have been appropriate when you physically move the goods by hand or horse from one building to another. But now, since it’s by truck, you just need to be nearby. You don’t need to be adjacent to. And so we’ve seen this kind of decentralization for decades. I mean, we’ve essentially been decentralization since 1788, right? I mean, we’ve people landed at a point and then they’ve spread out. employment in the Sydney CBD is about 15% of regional employment, which, you know, is probably not as high as people imagined it is. So what was the percentage of the 15% of total workers in the Greater Sydney region work in the CBD, right? And if you count the neighborhoods adjacent to the CBD, like ultimo or piermont, or Surry Hills, it gets up to about 20%. Right? Yeah.

James Valentine 12:21
But when we think of it as the CBD, so there’s all these workers come in. And that’s a fairly low percentage, it’s a low percentage. I

David Levinson 12:26
mean, it’s bigger than any other business district. And Paramount is on the order of 2%. Right now, and Western Sydney is going to be pretty close to 0% right now. And this will change over time. But this percentage has also been declining, historically. And so in 1789, it would have been close to 100% of all jobs were in the CBD. Now, it’s it’s much fewer. So this is a long term dynamic and the shock to the system of enabling office workers to work from home full time, but you know, maybe they’ll go back two days a week or three days a week? we don’t we don’t know yet. I mean, it’s still, I mean, we’re a year and a half into this. And public transit, which is basically a measure of how many people are going into the central business district is still below 70% of its pre COVID levels, indicates that it’s probably some kind of permanent effect. And yeah, and I think that’s going to be you know, an issue for people who own real estate and CBD who own businesses in the CBD and so on that, that it’s going to be harder for them in the future to generate as much money as they used

James Valentine 13:32
to So will it just happen all the deliberate moves and deliberate infrastructures have to put in nothing if something like the metro out to the to the northwest and that you know, huge industrial park and and business park out there, which major firms have their head office set up? Now? That’s a it’s made to be some, you know, some planners sitting down guy, put the trail on there, build that thing there, you know, that’ll boom, that area, it’s the same source, is that what they never aerotropolis look like? Yeah, I

David Levinson 13:56
mean, there has to be there. There are 1000s of deliberate decisions I think is the way you need to think about it and and ABC moving offices from ultimo to Parramatta is, is one of many of these kinds of decisions that will take place over next decades. That will help adjust the regional balance of jobs and and workers and ultimately reduce commute times overall. giving people more freedom. But you know, the question I mean, you physically are working in a building, I physically work in a building, but how often do you actually have to be here? It’s better if we’re in the building, perhaps but is I

James Valentine 14:34
very much have to be here between 1230 and 330. In the audition, sure, but I mean, at

David Levinson 14:38
the peak of COVID lots of reporters and working at home and makeshift studios and sound quality wasn’t quite as good. And, you know, obviously there were other issues associated with that. It’s better to be interviewed in person than it is to be interviewed over the phone. So these kinds of what actually needs to be done in person versus what can be done remotely is going to be needed. Oceana is going to be steadily changing as telecommunications technology gets better as more deals are built

James Valentine 15:04
as more software is made, once your report card on how Sydney’s handling all this in the moment,

David Levinson 15:09
Sydney is doing pretty well, overall, I mean, compared to say, how Europe, the United States did over the last, you know, your year and a half? I think we’re being a little bit, perhaps overcautious on some things.

James Valentine 15:25
Also, this is with the with COVID. You’ve been with Calvin sort of in general is our is that is that getting that road? that balance? Right, between the long term planning and the short term investment, for example, is that sort of, we’re getting it I think,

David Levinson 15:37
I think we make transport decisions based on assuming the land use is fixed. And we make land use decisions based on assuming the transport is fixed. And we’re not really taking these decisions together in the way that we could, I mean, we, we should be planning for access and trying to see, you know, the city is measured by how many things you can reach. And we know that a function of where things are located as well as how fast you can move on a network to get there. We want to be able to we should be planning for that directly. And right now, the planning is is somewhat fractured for that. And we also are there’s sort of a mismatch between who gets the benefits from infrastructure decisions and who’s paying for the infrastructure. If you build a train station, and somebody owns land adjacent to it, they get a huge uplift in value, but they didn’t really pay for the full costs of the benefits they’re receiving. Yeah.

James Valentine 16:29
David Levinson great to get some time with you. Thanks so much for coming in. All right. Fight faces. Great. So nice to meet you, Professor David Levinson from the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney. We’ll talk about employment and wage growth with with David Taylor in a moment or two ABC business reporter. I asked him if there was a song he wanted to sort of intro and he said I am in this one I want to groove into Michelle Pfeiffer that white. This was a masterpiece. Living in the city got Chuck was saying we got a kiss. So pretty. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Don’t give it to you. Believe images

“Offshored taxpayer projects costing Australians billions, research shows” | The New Daily

Matthew Elmas at The New Daily reports “Offshored taxpayer projects costing Australians billions, research shows“:

The article is about a study “Build It Here” from the McKell Institute. My money quote:

David Levinson, a professor of transport at University of Sydney, said the McKell report asks “good questions” about government contracts.

But he told The New Daily that there’s a big debate about what “wider economic benefits” actually means.

“For instance the inclusion of tax revenue from workers is not standard practice,” he said.

“What would those workers have been doing instead? Presumably most of them would have had jobs, which would have paid almost as much, which they now have to defer.”

Dr Levinson said there’s also factors that are harder to monetise.

“There may nevertheless be strategic value in having domestic production, even at a higher price, so that there is a skilled workforce able to do other related tasks as well,” he explained.

Some additional comments:

There is debate in the transport community about how to consider “Wider Economic Benefits”. For instance the inclusion of tax revenue from workers is not standard practice. We should ask what would those workers have been doing instead? Presumably most of them would have had jobs, which would have paid almost as much, which they now have to defer. The tax revenue from labour markets that is considered is typically based on the wider economic activities that the completed project enables (compared to its absence), not to employment costs incurred to construct the project.

Second, the report assumes that domestic costs are 25% higher than international costs. But this 25% in the report is compared to the original estimate, and not the final cost. It’s not at all obvious that domestically built projects would not also have had cost blowouts of some kind or another. (Consider public works built locally, like the Stadium in Moore Park, for an illustration).

One of the observations of the US, which has a lot of “Buy America” rules, is that costs are higher as a consequence.

How does the commute to work in Australia compare to overseas? | ABC Radio Perth

I was interviewed by ABC Radio Perth On Breakfast with Russell Woolf about “How does the commute to work in Australia compare to overseas?” on June 10.

When choosing a place to live one of the first things you consider is proximity to work. The less time you spend sitting on public transport or in traffic the more time you have to do other things.

New research by the University of Sydney has compared the commute to work in more than a hundred cities worldwide, including 8 from Australia, by measuring the number of jobs that can be reached within 30 minutes.

So how do Australian cities stack up?

  • David Levinson is a Professor of Transport at the University of Sydney and is speaking with Russell Woolf.

Duration: 3min 52sec
Broadcast: Thu 10 Jun 2021, 7:00am


Reviving our city centres | ABC RadioNational Life Matters

I was on ABC RadioNational Life Matters on June 10 talking about the topic “Reviving our city centres“, hosted by Hilary Harper

Our Prime Minister has urged workers to head back to the office, in a bid to increase economic activity in CBDs. But it’s become less common for us to go to our city centres for work and pleasure, and that might be an ongoing trend.

So what works best in your life – ‘CBD centric’ or more decentralised, ‘polycentric’ cities? And what will all this mean for city businesses?


Dr Marcus Spiller, Principal & Partner SGS Economics and Planning and past president of Planning Institute of Australia

David Levinson, Professor of Transport, University of Sydney

Duration: 21min 2sec
Broadcast: Thu 10 Jun 2021, 9:06am

MP3 File

New housing supply, population growth and access to social infrastructure

We are pleased to publish the following new AHURI report today.



Report Title

New housing supply, population growth and access to social infrastructure

AHURI Final Report No.356





Somwrita Sarkar, The University of Sydney
Emily Moylan, The University of Sydney
Hao Wu, The University of Sydney
Rashi Shrivastava, The University of Sydney
Nicole Gurran, The University of Sydney
David Levinson, The University of Sydney
What this research is about?



This study focusses on the potential to better inform the planning, scheduling, delivery, maintenance, and coordination of social infrastructure in the rapidly growing greenfield areas of major Australian cities through the use of big data sources and techniques. The research focusses on greenfield areas of Sydney, Brisbane and Perth greater metropolitan regions to demonstrate data sources and methods that can be replicated in other locations.

This study used several novel data sources to develop a monitoring and coordination tool that enables mapping of fine spatial scale accessibility for various social infrastructure dimensions. The tool is used to demonstrate accessibility to schools and hospitals, including their hierarchical distributions. The authors also conducted a panel discussion and workshop with several local and state government officials, along with private industry consultants and practitioners, to reveal how the tool could be beneficial in different policy and planning contexts.
Findings indicated that social and community infrastructure is critical to the effective functioning of rapidly growing urban regions, but lag times between population growth and new infrastructure delivery are pervasive in new greenfield development areas. The research also found timely fine-grained spatial data is critical to informing and measuring performance in spatial planning and infrastructure delivery processes, but existing datasets are limited.
This study breaks new ground, as it extends the idea of accessibility to social infrastructure as a critical facility to support daily life.



Towards the 30-minute city — how Australians’ commutes compare with cities overseas

Reprinted from The Conversation by Hao Wu and David Levinson

The ease of reaching urban amenities underpins city life. We led a global research team that compared access to jobs in 117 cities across the globe, including eight capital cities in Australia, and examined strategies that might improve transport in our cities. The newly published research finds access to jobs increases with population and that our two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, compare favourably with similarly sized cities overseas.

Transport infrastructure and land use patterns form the backbone of a city. It’s the reason so many people choose to live and work with other people in cities – despite the noise, congestion and negatives of city life – because they can easily reach a variety of destinations. Towards this objective, many planning agencies set themselves a “30-minute city” goal, which is behind many planning decisions.

heat map showing number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes across Greater Sydney

Heat map showing access to jobs across Greater Sydney. Red denotes more jobs and green fewer jobs within 30 minutes’ travel time. Author provided

Read more: Access across Australia: mapping 30-minute cities, how do our capitals compare?

What did the study find?

The ease of reaching destinations can be measured by the number of jobs reachable within 30 minutes. Job locations offer both employment opportunities and amenities; restaurants, schools, hospitals, shopping centres and so on are also job clusters.

The research measured how many jobs were accessible within 30 minutes (travelling one way) for four different modes of transport – cars, public transport, cycling and walking. The 117 cities studied are in 16 countries on six continents. The research finds cities really differ in the convenience of transport, but also finds significant similarities between cities from the same country.

Australian and Canadian cities have poorer car access than US, European and Chinese cities. They have better public transport, walking and cycling access than US cities, but access via these modes is generally not as good as in Europe and China.

Cities in the United States have reasonable car access, but lag behind globally in public transport, walking and cycling access.

Chart showing numbers of jobs accessible within 30 minutes' cycling plotted against population for global cities.

Number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes’ cycling plotted against population for global cities. Urban Access Across the Globe 2021Author provided

In Chinese and European cities, compact development combined with an intensive network produces the highest access globally across all modes of transport.

Chart showing number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes’ walking plotted against population for global cities.

Number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes’ walking plotted against population for global cities. Urban Access Across the Globe 2021Author provided

One surprising finding is the middling car access in US cities. Despite the reputation of US cities being built around the car, urban sprawl has made it difficult to reach destinations even by car.

Chart showing numbers of jobs accessible within 30 minutes' drive by car plotted against population for global cities.

Number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes by car plotted against population for global cities. Urban Access Across the Globe 2021Author provided

This sprawl also exposes the Achilles heel in mass transit and non-motorised modes. Immense spatial separation makes for worse access by public transport and active modes of transport such as cycling and walking. US cities have the largest disparity between public transport and car travel.

Chart showing number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes by public transport plotted against population for global cities.

Number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes by public transport plotted against population for global cities. Urban Access Across the Globe 2021Author provided

This research also finds access to jobs increases with city population, so reaching a greater number of desired destinations would be easier for people in larger cities than in smaller cities. So, despite traffic congestion, larger cities are still more efficient in connecting people with places they want to go.

However, this benefit has diminishing returns. Doubling the metropolitan population results in less than a doubling of access to jobs.

What are the lessons for Australian cities?

The moral of the story is that we don’t need to choose between the US-style sprawling development and European-style compact cities. We can and should have the benefits of both development patterns. We need both density and a well-developed transport network for better access.

Massive road building alone can improve access by car to only a limited extent. The problem is that investments in road infrastructure are often accompanied by lower-density development. That makes it harder for people who walk, bike or use public transport to reach increasingly separated places.

In cities that do have compact land-use patterns, access to jobs remain high across all modes of transport, including cars. So, despite congestion, it is still easier to reach desired destinations in these compact cities. Roads are not race tracks, and high-speed roadways connecting nobody with nowhere are not better than lower-speed paths connecting people and places.

The Australian government is investing A$110 billion over the next ten years in transport infrastructure. This will have significant implications for the future of our cities. If we want our cities to continue to be vibrant, liveable and accessible by all modes of transport, we will need to keep our cities compact and invest more in public transport, walking and biking.

Urban Findings

by Somwrita Sarkar, Editor Urban Findings

We announce the launch of a new section of Findings: Urban Findings, following the Findings model of short, to-the-point research findings in the broad field of urbanism. The Editorial Board is here, along with an inaugural set of papers here.

At the start of the process, we sent out a call for papers, through our Editorial Board members. We thank them for generously putting in their own time and effort towards these papers, reaching out to their networks and students for contributions, and generously helping out with the review process. This is more so because this process unfolded in a time that was extremely busy for every academic round the globe, as we grappled with the new shifted reality of combining online and face-to-face teaching, and the new reality of virtual conferences.

The papers focus on a diverse set of issues around Urbanism. The application and novel use of new sources of data, and the development of models and methods in quantitative urbanism is growing by leaps and bounds, as these papers demonstrate. A topical theme was COVID-19, to which we all have been witnesses this past year, and which has understandably, and will in the future continue to, change the way in which we think of cities. The papers span broad application and method areas, from model based creation and evaluation of synthetic cities, to empirical research on people, cities, and housing, across Australia, the US, and Canada, large scale survey design and application, and even meta-analyses such as tracking the presence of Urbanism on social media, and the interaction of climate change and housing. Also observed in the papers is the recurring theme of the close interaction between transport and locational behaviours, and the resulting areas of land use and transport interactions – we truly cannot think of cities without thinking of location (urban) and movement (transport) as an integrated whole. This brings us full circle to the reason why we thought Urban Findings should sit under a common umbrella with Transport Findings.

So, along with the launch, this is a call out for regular submissions to Urban Findings (and Transport Findings), for short, to-the-point research focussed on cities. We look forward to some excellent work!

Transportist: June 2021


  • Hao Wu, Paolo Avner, Genevieve Boisjoly, Carlos K. V. Braga, Ahmed El-Geneidy, Jie Huang, Tamara Kerzhner, Brendan Murphy, Michał A. Niedzielski, Rafael H. M. Pereira, John P. Pritchard, Anson Stewart, Jiaoe Wang, and David Levinson (2021) Urban access across the globe: an international comparison of different transport modes. NPJ Urban SustainabilityVol. 1, Article 16 [doi]

Access (the ease of reaching valued destinations) is underpinned by land use and transport infrastructure. The importance of access in transport, sustainability, and urban economics is increasingly recognized. In particular, access provides a universal unit of measurement to examine cities for the efficiency of transport and land use systems. This paper examines the relationship between population-weighted access and metropolitan population in global metropolitan areas (cities) using 30-minute cumulative access to jobs for 4 different modes of transport; 117 cities from 16 countries and 6 continents are included. Sprawling development with intensive road network in American cities produces modest automobile access relative to their sizes, but American cities lag behind globally in transit and walking access; Australian and Canadian cities have lower automobile access, but better transit access than American cities; combining compact development with an intensive network produces the highest access in Chinese and European cities for their sizes. Hence density and mobility co-produce better access. This paper finds access to jobs increases with populations sublinearly, so doubling metropolitan population results in a less than double access to jobs. The relationship between population and access characterizes regions, countries and cities, and significant similarities exist between cities from the same country.

Transportist Posts

We often talk about networks providing connection. The World Wide Web is a network that connects people with websites across the world. But interesting word “web”, it is appropriated from a spider’s “web“, which has lots of strands that connect internally and to external supports, and enable the spider to move quickly over space. But the spider “web’s” primary purpose is to tangle up the wayward insect that crosses its path and prevent it from traveling further. That meaning of the word comes from a further word describing woven fabrics, weaving, and tapestry. Weaving of clothes is of course aimed at preventing cold air from reaching the body and provides insulation.

We could look at the word “net”, it is appropriated from a fisherman’s net. “Open textile fabric tied or woven with a mesh for catching fish, birds, or wild animals alive; network; spider web,” also figuratively, “moral or mental snare or trap.” So it too has the connotation of restricting movement rather than facilitating it.

Ther term “grid” comes from griddle, a device for keeping things from falling into the fire (while spreading heat along its elements).

Building frames are types of networks to transmit force between the structure and the earth to provide support. But these supports are rigid and generally prevent going through them, requiring people to go around. Normally this isn’t a big deal in a steel frame building, where the supports take a minimum of space, but in masonry or wood structures, the supports are pretty coterminous with walls, and individuals must find doors for passage. The walls and ceilings themselves, like woven clothing, protect the occupant from the vagaries of the environment. 

Modern transport networks have much the same features as a spider’s web. Roadways are designed to facilitate movement for cars while trapping pedestrians who want to cross the street. Cars don’t literally eat pedestrians, but this environment certainly reduces the number of pedestrians, as people who would otherwise walk give up and join the motoring majority. We might say automobility eats walk mode share.

Wired power networks impose their own constraints. High voltage power lines are not to be touched, for instance. But they occupy little space. They do require the clearance of trees, disconnecting the dense bush in places, for the benefit of users of long-distance electricity. Power boxes often interrupt footpaths (needlessly).

Wired communications networks don’t have the same voltages, but still have physical constraints. Boxes for communications need to be accessed, leading to works in the transport network.

The disconnection wrought by communications may be more intangible. For every minute someone is engaged with distant people online (or even colleagues two desks away), they are not engaged with anyone who may be directly in front of them. In person contact has dropped as online has risen. For those not online, their available world is shrinking. I don’t know if this is a problem of the modern world, but it is a feature. Just as automobility enabled further suburbanisation and increasing distances between buildings, worsening the environment for those without a car, the always online world increases the effective physical distance between people, reducing the opportunities for those not on-board with the new technology. 

We don’t weep too many tears for those stuck on AOL or Friendster or Orkut or Myspace or Google Plus or the Blogosphere, in a few years this will be Facebook (I hope) and Twitter, and eventually Insta et al., as the Cool Cycle continues its relentless march. The cool kids can’t be caught dead on the same network (wearing the same clothes) with the less cool kids (or their grandparents), and will migrate elsewhere. Being on different networks helps people differentiate their status, but that differentiation is a disconnection, slowing the flow of real ideas and information for the sake of social standing and relative positioning.

Once we have achieved communications saturation, for every increasing network online, producing network externalities for its members, it a world with a fixed time budget, some other physical or virtual social network is shrinking in either membership, attention, or both. Whether we have reached communications saturation is an empirical question, and perhaps brain to brain links will demonstrate how much further we have to go to create a truly social species, but it is feeling pretty saturated to me.

I was interviewed by Michael Condon at ABC Country hour on the Blue Mountains tunnels. A bit of it shows up in the article Blue Mountains tunnel plan …, my quotes are excerpted below:


David Levinson, author and Professor of Transport at the University of Sydney, is not a fan of the project.

He said while it would benefit people who lived in the mountains, as well as tourists and farmers, it would not save much travel time.

“It takes about 13 minutes to drive and if they get that down to seven or eight minutes … that’s an improvement, but it’s not earth-shaking.”

He also wondered about the the likelihood of costs rising, or the project being sold off to private companies.

“Most tunnelled motorways in the Sydney region have been sold off as toll roads … and what happens in 10 years isn’t necessarily what people are projecting today.”

Until there is a publicly-reviewable (and peer-reviewed) business case, it’s inappropriate to spend $10 billion on any infrastructure project. It’s not that I support or don’t support the project, it’s that the proposed tunnel benefits a very specific group of people and is subsidised by everyone, so requires strong evidence that it is worthwhile.

Another issue is that this is a bottleneck during peak times, but if this bottleneck is relieved, the next downstream bottleneck will just be activated. This is hardly the only bottleneck in the Blue Mountains. That argues for tunnelling essentially the entire mountain range (at an enormous amount of money). But peak times are also relatively rare, holiday periods particularly, and perhaps more manageable in a world where more and more people work from home and have flexible schedules.

As my friend and faithful reader Alex W. notes:

The real issue is how to improve the road alignment between Mt Victoria and Hartley.  It is steep and twisty and has ever been thus since the first road was laid out by the colonial Surveyor-General in the 1830s.  Incidentally, the alternative Bells Line of Road between Clarence and Lithgow is scarcely better because of the need to lose 100 metres in altitude in a short distance.

The originally announced tunnel between Mt Victoria and Hartley would probably have solved the combined gradient and curvature problem by building a longer, but underground, route to address the issue that both the road and the railway occupy a narrow ridge from Emu Plains to Mt Victoria.

Somehow, this project has morphed into a mega project with no sense of being staged to deliver early benefits addressing the real problem, not occasional holiday congestion.



Urban Findings is launching soon. We are plotting Energy Findings now. If you are interested, let me know. The journal continues to solicit articles of under 1000 words that have clear research questions, methods, and findings.

  • Karner, Alex, and Dana Rowangould. 2021. “Access to Secure Ballot Drop-off Locations in Texas.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.24080.
  • Chauhan, Rishabh Singh, Denise Capasso da Silva, Deborah Salon, Ali Shamshiripour, Ehsan Rahimi, Uttara Sutradhar, Sara Khoeini, Abolfazl (Kouros) Mohammadian, Sybil Derrible, and Ram Pendyala. 2021. “COVID-19 Related Attitudes and Risk Perceptions across Urban, Rural, and Suburban Areas in the United States.” Findings, June. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.23714.
  • Paez, Antonio, and Christopher D. Higgins. 2021. “The Accessibility Implications of a Pilot COVID-19 Vaccination Program in Hamilton, Ontario.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.24082.
  • Allen, Jeff, and Steven Farber. 2021. “Changes in Transit Accessibility to Food Banks in Toronto during COVID-19.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.24072.
  • Goodman, Anna, Anthony A. Laverty, Asa Thomas, and Rachel Aldred. 2021. “The Impact of 2020 Low Traffic Neighbourhoods on Fire Service Emergency Response Times, in London, UK.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.23568.
  • Goodman, Anna, Anthony A. Laverty, and Rachel Aldred. 2021. “Short-Term Association between the Introduction of 2020 Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and Street Crime, in London, UK.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.23623.
  • Cochran, Abigail L., Jueyu Wang, Lauren Prunkl, Lindsay Oluyede, Mary Wolfe, and Noreen McDonald. 2021. “Access to the COVID-19 Vaccine in Centralized and Dispersed Distribution Scenarios.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.23555.
  • Jiao, Junfeng, and Amin Azimian. 2021. “Socio-Economic Factors and Telework Status in the US during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.23573.
  • Firth, Caislin L., Michael Branion-Calles, Meghan Winters, and M. Anne Harris. 2021. “Who Bikes? An Assessment of Leisure and Commuting Bicycling from the Canadian Community Health Survey.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.22163.
  • Manley, Ed, Stuart Ross, and Mengdie Zhuang. 2021. “Changing Demand for New York Yellow Cabs during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.22158.

Research by Others

Follow-up: Hypothesis of the Month

Corinne Mulley writes: Just a quick note about agglomeration economies.  In an attempt to see how public transport contributed, we surveyed some firms’ employeesabout how often they saw someone on PT that reminded them they should contact them.  It was remarkably frequent.  

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