Designing and Evolving the 30-Minute City at the National Roads and Traffic Expo in Melbourne

I am presenting at the National Roads and Traffic Expo in Melbourne on September 18 at 15:30 about Designing and Evolving the 30-Minute City. It’s free to attend (registration required). If you’re in Melbourne, and want to meet up, let me know.

Comments on the National Cities Performance Framework Dashboard

Hao Wu and I wrote the following for Foreground: New infrastructure performance measures for Australian cities questioned:

The federal government has updated the National Cities Performance Framework Dashboard. The infrastructure performance indicators seek to measure infrastructure and investment needs but how helpful are they? What do the new measures mean for our understanding of urban transport and happiness?

The only reason to move anywhere is to be near something, far from something, or possess something. Location is about proximity. People make location decisions all the time, from whether to move from North America to Australia, to whether to go to the mall by car or bus, to whether to stand near this or that person at a reception, or even whether to sit on the chair or the couch. Businesses do likewise, from deciding where to build a factory and where to locate a store, to which shelf to put the Pepsi to maximize profits.

The underlying logic of all these decisions is the same, despite the difference in scale, timeframe, motivation, and mode of travel. People and organizations will pay a premium to be in locations with higher accessibility to the things (people, opportunities) they care about, to save time (spend less cost in travel), and to be more productive (earn more), all else being equal.

The number of jobs reachable within 30 minutes is perhaps the most widely used proxy for urban accessibility. This number is a measure for cities for several reasons. First, the `number of jobs’ is a surrogate for `urban opportunities’. People work at their jobs, and job locations are places of interaction that provide service either directly or indirectly to customers. Next, being `reachable’ is a function of land use (i.e. how close and dense things are), as well as how fast people can move using different modes of transport. Finally, `30 minutes’ is a typical one-way travel time budget, and the national average for commuters in Australia is 33 minutes.

The Australian Government should be applauded for their efforts in benchmarking cities in terms of transport performance in the recent National Cities Performance Framework. While we are delighted to see the government include this 30-minute access to jobs benchmark  for the first time, we have significant concerns about how the framework applies it.


First we have trouble with the actual numbers within the framework, as they differ widely from what we and others have computed. The morning peak car access measurement appears dubious. The city-level access is measured by first sub-dividing the city into zones, then averaging the access to jobs from each zone to produce the city-level averages. If the car access measurements from the Australian government framework were correct, then Sydney and Melbourne would have become perhaps the world’s most accessible automobile cities for their sizes, based on our assessment of eight Australian cities. The framework uses data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) that calculates average automobile access to jobs in Sydney at more than twice the number of our own calculation, and higher than even the most accessible suburbs based on a report prepared for the Committee for Sydney.


Second, we have trouble with some of the metrics the report uses. Interpreting access as valuable, measured purely by the `proportion of jobs accessible’ within 30 minutes is misleading. Obviously small cities will find all residents can reach their small number of jobs, but in large cities they can’t. This means little. The nominal value of jobs accessible explains land value, commute duration, mode choice, and many other socio-economic variables. A higher percentage of local jobs reachable doesn’t translate these cities into economically more attractive places. The use of `proportion of jobs’ penalizes cities that are larger, but with more jobs present. As we can see from the report, larger cities have an inversely smaller proportion of jobs reachable; this makes the `proportion of jobs accessible’ an uninformative indicator. The reason people are in large cities is not to reach a percentage of jobs, but to reach actual jobs.

Third, a fully fledged access measure would include the number of jobs accessible by walking, biking, and public transport, as well as by car. While the framework measures the proportion of journeys made to work by public and active transport, there are no measures of the number of jobs that are actually accessible by these modes. For example, our study finds that Melbourne has better car access to jobs than Sydney, but Sydney has better transit access. This information cannot be found within the BITRE framework, which distorts the accessibility picture. Active modes of transport are a vital part of urbanity. Measuring pedestrian access sheds light on the convenience of city centres, and bike access outperforms public transport in many cases, which supports arguments for infrastructure such as protected bike lanes to improve biking safety and rider comfort. It is disappointing that only access by automobile is included in this report, despite the high public transport mode share in major Australian cities.

The initiative by the Australian government to include accessibility measures is very much appreciated. In fact, very few governments in the world have computed access to jobs measured nationally. We look forward to BITRE updating their numbers with input from experienced analysts as Australia progresses toward better performance measures of the land use and transport infrastructure of our cities.

Access Across Australia Interview

I was interviewed about our Access Across Australia report by Jane Slack-Smith. It was a really good interview and got into the connections between access and real estate prices. The interview is posted to Facebook, for those of you who use the platform:

Measuring Full Cost Accessibility by Auto

NewFrameworkFCAPaper.pngRecently published:

Traditionally accessibility has been analyzed from the perspective of the mean or expected travel time, which fails to capture the full cost, especially the external cost, of travel. The full cost accessibility (FCA) framework, proposed by Cui and Levinson (2018b), provides a theoretical basis to fill the gap, that combines temporal, monetary, and non-monetary internal and external travel costs into accessibility evaluations, considering the time cost, crash cost, emission cost, and monetary cost. This paper extends the FCA framework and measures the full cost accessibility by auto for the Minneapolis – St. Paul Metropolitan area, demonstrating the practicality of the FCA framework on real networks.


Note: This paper is a sequel to

And extends it by developing rigorous measures for the cost components using real data.

The State of Transport Education in Australia

I presented last week at a Transport Australia Society session on “The State of Transport Education”. The talk was two parts, the first about my take on where university education in transport is, and the second about the programs at the University of Sydney that aim to remedy the problems.

The state of transport education in Australia is getting better. New and revitalised transport engineering programs at the University level in Australia where none were before (e.g. the University of Sydney, UNSW, UTS). We have seen an import of major academics internationally, because Australia can’t find home grown candidates at the professorial level. Overall there has been a transition from pavements and geometric design to a broader inter-disciplinary outlook.

I use the Japanese Ikigai framework to discuss the field.


It is my perception that most transport engineering students lack love for the field, and have difficulty ascertaining and aligning with what the world needs, but are reasonably good at what they get paid for, have figured out how to get paid. This puts them in the southwest corner of the graphic, “Profession”. Planners in contrast are more likely found in the northeast corner “Mission”, at the intersection of what the world loves and what the world needs. Business students are in the southeast “Vocation”, and advocates in the northwest, “Passion”.  What we would like are whole students, transport(ation)ists, in a state of Ikigai.

We hope our new interdisciplinary Masters program will help students find a fusion of vocation, profession, mission, and passion that will live with them through their careers.

The details of the new Masters Degree are summarised in this attached Master of Transport Flyer, (feel free to share) the specific units (units=courses in American English) are listed below:





Transport and Infrastructure Foundations

Traffic Engineering

Introduction to Urban Design

Quantitative Logistics and Transport

Transport Policy, Planning and Deployment

Land Use and Infrastructure Planning

ITLS 6102 Strategic Transport Planning

Transport Analytics







Sustainable Transport Policy

Transport Networks

Strategic Planning and Design

City and Port Logistics

Transport Informatics

Urban Data and Science of Cities

Decision Making on Mega Projects

CSYS5010: Introduction to Complex Systems

GIS Based Planning Policy and Analysis

Applied GIS and Spatial Data Analytics

CSYS5020: Interdependent Civil Systems

We also have an undergraduate “major” (major=minor to those from the US).

Transport Engineering Undergraduate Major

Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
CIVL 2700 Introduction to Transport CIVL3704 Transport Informatics CIVL5701
Transport Networks
Traffic Engineering
Transport Policy, Planning and Deployment
Transport Analytics



Transportist: August 2019

Welcome to the latest issue of The Transportist, especially to our new readers.  As always you can follow along at the or on Twitter.

Access Across Australia

  • Access Across Australia (article in The Conversation) (full report)

Transportist (the blog)


  • There are many new posts on the site, from the organisation where I now preside. You should check WalkSydneyout, and if you are in Greater Sydney, you should join.

Transport Findings



  • I attended COTA International Conference of Transport Professionalsin Nanjing (and a pre-conference in Beijing). It’s a good event, and obviously, there is a lot of action in transport in China. I presented on the End of Traffic and the Future of Access, and a General Theory of Access.

Papers by Us

  • Carrion, Carlos and David Levinson (2019) Overestimation and underestimation of travel time on commute trips: GPS vs. self- reporting. Urban Science. 3(3), 70 [doi]
  • Cui, Mengying and Levinson, D. (2019) Primal and Dual AccessGeographical Analysis.  (accepted and in press) [doi]


Research by Others


Primal and Dual Access

Recently published

Accessibility, measuring the ease of reaching potential destinations, is increasingly being considered as an effective indicator to evaluate the performance of transport and land use interactions. Primal accessibility, a generalization of the first accessibility formulation proposed by Hansen, has been widely used in many studies and demonstrated to be a reliable tool for project, program, and policy evaluation. The dual of accessibility, measuring the time required to reach a given number of opportunities, is less often considered but can be used for optimization in location covering‐type problems. This article, hence, clarifies the definitions of primal and dual access, and applies both measures to the Minneapolis—St. Paul metropolitan area for auto and transit to demonstrate their practicality as a metropolitan‐level measurement. We explore the correlations and differences between the primal and dual access to better understand the relative strengths of the measures. It is found that, as with primal accessibility, dual accessibility is an efficient approach to evaluate accessibility, which is straightforward to calculate and to explain to policy‐makers and the public.

Dual accessibility to jobs by auto (travel time in minutes).
Dual accessibility to jobs by auto (travel time in minutes).

The State of Transport Education

I will be speaking at a Transport Australia Society panel on “The State of Transport Education” to be held August 8, 18:00 – 19:30 at ACRWORLD Level 13, 6-10 O’Connell Street Sydney. Registration in advance required. Register here.

Please join the Transport Australia Society for a panel discussion on “The State of Transport Education” with Dr. Kasun Wijayaratna of UTS and Professor David Levinson of USYD and understand from their professional views how we can be prepared for the upcoming changes successfully in Australia.

As we see unprecedented growth in the transport sector currently in NSW with infrastructure projects and a rapid emergence of new transport technologies, the transport education sector is key to enabling the future vision of transport.

A crucial discussion not to be missed.

This discussion will cover the current state of education, the pace of changes in the industry and how well we are equipped to tackle the challenges of an expanding and changing transport future including the introduction of smart systems.

Light refreshments will be provided prior to the presentation.

Some Observations of China (2019)

I visited China recently to attend the COTA CICTP conference in Nanjing sponsored by Southeast University and pre-conference in Beijing, sponsored by Beijing University of Technology. The hosts were excellent, and if you get the chance to attend a Chinese conference, it’s worth doing. 

A view in Nanjing
A view in Nanjing

China is not a developing country any more than Australia or the US is. Certainly there is an unevenness in the distribution of wealth, as there are in many countries (Indian Reservation vs. San Francisco, Northern Territories vs. Sydney). As we write in The Transportation Experience, All counties are developed, all countries are developing)

Although there are gradations, it’s useful to speak of three types of nations: developed, developing, and undeveloped (following the maturity, growth, and birthing stages). From a transportation perspective all nations are developed nations. That seems to counter ordinary experience in undeveloped and developing nations where service isn’t of high quality or everywhere available. In what sense could this be true?

The Transportation Experience: Second Edition
The Transportation Experience: Second Edition

The modern transportation systems were birthed in the “developed” world environment, energized development through companion innovation processes, and were deployed as development pushed and pulled deployment. At that time, they were deployed in the undeveloped world. They were pushed and pulled by the same processes. For example, there were early railroads in Africa and South America where development opportunities called for them. The difference between the developed and the underdeveloped nations is that the undeveloped nations experienced western-style development at the fringe, so to speak. The companion innovations that bloomed as modern transportation was created and deployed fit the western situation very well. They took hold only in limited ways in other places.

The economic development programs that emphasize deployment of the systems successful in the developed nations in the undeveloped nations don’t much make sense. Wilfred Owen argues equity as a basis for subsidized deployment. It isn’t fair and just for the undeveloped nations not to have good highway and other services. That argument has merit. After all, their deployment has already been tried with limited success. What’s needed is the development of services suited to the situations in the undeveloped nations.

On the other hand, one could rightly view all nations as undeveloped in a transportation sense. That follows from observing that modern systems are not so modern. They were developed using once-modern tools to fit once-current circumstances, and they are obsolete today.

Throughout urbanized China, major streets are too wide, and too much of that space is given over for cars. This is a classic problem of elite decision making, viewing the world from the windshield of their own vehicle, rather than the needs of the majority who are not driving. On a per square meter per person logic, the allocation of space is much worse.

The Metros are too crowded. There are not enough lines. The frequency is excellent, but they just need more. While spatial coverage is good in Beijing, it could be better in Nanjing. But of course if you are adding lines, rather than services the best way to do that is to improve spatial coverage.

Despite hosting the Olympics in Beijing (and the Youth Olympics, which is a thing, in Nanjing), China is still not ready for non-Chinese speaking tourists without guides. We did it, but getting tickets for things like the Forbidden City was not at all obvious (and had to be done online, no English instructions at the site were worth anything). Similarly at other tourist sites, the instructions were poor, though the rest of the sites took Yuan at the site, with annoyance. The tickets for the high-speed train didn’t have English on them except for station names, so we could figure it out, but it was not obvious. The numbers were in Arabic, fortunately.

China is generally more technologically advanced in payment than the US (though not Australia), and is all Alipay or Wechat pay, with QR codes. This includes toll booths, the taxi driver took a photo of a screen with a QR code with his camera to pay . They were inconvenienced by cash, and don’t like western credit cards. They did not take Apple Pay.

Everyone is attached to their smartphones, even more than in Australia or the US. The opportunity for a good augmented reality glasses which display text, and use eye movement as the user interface, is amazing. So people can see what is in front of them through the text, but still connect to their social networks or whatever it is people do.

Security is everywhere, every tourist site, every transit station. Cameras are ubiquitous, taking pictures of every car’s license plate every block on major roads. You are being tracked. People seem very used to this. It is the future because of the security ratchet. Again from The Transportation Experience:

The politics of security are difficult. If you are in favor of security, you must be in favor of more spending on security, or on anything that will “keep us safe.” If politicians or bureaucrats oppose a proposed security measure, and something happens they will be blamed, … . Security ratchets up quickly. Ratcheting down can only really be by attrition.

VPN and WiFi weren’t very good (the great firewall killed most things I’d want to see). Roaming with an Australian phone carrier (Vodaphone) worked fine and gave good internet. It was worth $5AU/day for roaming (though this implies $150/month for internet service, which is on the steep side).

It's not raining, but the umbrellas are everywhere.
It’s not raining, but the umbrellas are everywhere.

Finally, what’s up with the Umbrella people? It’s summer and dry and many of the ladies (and a few of the gentlemen) are walking around with umbrellas, presumably to protect their skin from the harmful rays of the sun (Beijing is 40 degrees north, almost as far north as Minneapolis (45 degrees), where this is rare, even on the sunniest days of summer). First, humans evolved with those ‘harmful rays’, so shielding from them may be unhealthy. Second, the pollution in Beijing and Nanjing surely provides another layer of insulation. Third, as a westerner, I tend to agree with our collective norm, that at least to a point, people look better tanned than pale. (But not orange.) Fourth, the tour guides need umbrellas as identifiers, if everyone uses umbrellas, this identification role weakens. And fifth, from a social space argument, the pokes in the face from other people’s umbrellas seem not only impolite, but what should be a violation of norms.