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

MP3

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?

Guests:

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

 

 

Authors

 

 
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

Research

  • 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:

MASSIVE PROJECT, ‘SMALL-TIME’ SAVING

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.

Audio

Findings

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.  

News & Opinion

Urban access across the globe: an international comparison of different transport modes

Recently published

  • 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 Sustainability Vol. 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.

Around the corner: what will the future of transport look like? | Spectator Briefings | The Spectator

I am on the Podcast:

Around the corner: what will the future of transport look like? | Spectator Briefings | The Spectator:

What does the future of transport look like? From electric vehicles to driverless cars, a smarter way to get around the city may be just around the corner. The future of transport will be more efficient, more digital and greener – but what are the challenges that still stand in the way?
Kate Andrews talks to Rachel Maclean, the Minister for Transport, Roger Hunter, VP for Electric Mobility at Shell, and Professor David Levinson, a civil engineer at the University of Sydney.

Networks as Connectors and Disconnectors

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.