On the word “Access”

Language is an evolving thing. The word “access” (and the related “accessibility”) for instance has many meanings outside the domain of transport. For instance, when we talk about “Access to voting” in the US (the only so-called democracy where this is so much of a problem) is only in part about physically traveling to the polling place, much of it is about enfranchisement and rights.

Access: Etymology Online

The Online Etymology Dictionary writes:

accessible (adj.)

c. 1400, “affording access, capable of being approached or reached,” from Middle French accessible, from Late Latin accessibilis, verbal adjective from Latin accessus “a coming near, an approach; an entrance,” from accedere “approach, go to, come near, enter upon” (see accede). Meaning “easy to reach” is from 1640s; of art or writing, “able to be readily understood,” 1961 (a word not needed before writing or art often deliberately was made not so). Related: Accessibility.
accessibility (n.)
1758, from French accessibilité (from Late Latin accessibilitas), or else a native formation from accessible + -ity.

access (n.)

early 14c., “an attack of fever,” from Old French acces “onslaught, attack; onset (of an illness)” (14c.), from Latin accessus “a coming to, an approach; way of approach, entrance,” noun use of past participle of accedere “to approach,” from assimilated form of ad “to” (see ad-) + cedere “go, move, withdraw” (from PIE root *ked- “to go, yield”). English sense of “an entrance” (c. 1600) is directly from Latin. Meaning “habit or power of getting into the presence of (someone or something)” is from late 14c.

access (v.)

1962, originally in computing, from access (n.). Related: Accessed; accessing.

The word early on (1758) had connotations well-beyond transport, including illness and sex (e.g. “her husband was away in France, and had no opportunity to engage in access, therefore he is not the father.”).

Access as a verb derives in English from 1962 apparently, in computing (as in “she accessed the database to study the relationship between jobs and housing.”). Obviously we have used it in a back-formation in the sense of “to access destinations”, harkening back to its original Latin roots. So the original Latin verb was nounified in French. The subsequent English noun from the Latin was later verbified.

But we should remember that the words themselves are entirely transport derived, and have a long and primary history associated with physical movement and ability to reach.

That means we in the transport community should not shy away from using them to mean what they meant when we first started using them, so long as we are not ambiguous about what we mean. We should not be word-shamed.


Outer Sydney Orbital, Western Sydney Freight Line: no corridors rezoned for M9 motorway | Daily Telegraph

Jake McCullum at the Daily Telegraph writes: Outer Sydney Orbital, Western Sydney Freight Line: no corridors rezoned for M9 motorway . The big news is that the freight line will be tunneled (and the trains electrified) along with the M9 motorway.

My quote:

Transport expert and University of Sydney Civil Engineering Professor David Levinson said electric locomotives for freight transport had been used in NSW previously, and was used “much more widespread in Europe”.

“There are no technical reasons freight trains can’t be electrified, and if they have renewable power — which over the next decade will be increasingly common — electrified freight would be much cleaner than diesel overall, and due to lack of emissions, better for operations in tunnels,” Prof. Levinson said.

Western Sydney orbital (M9). Source: Daily Telegraph
Western Sydney orbital (M9). Source: Daily Telegraph

Multi-Activity Access: How Activity Choice Affects Opportunity

Recently published:

It is commonly seen that accessibility is measured considering only one opportunity or activity type or purpose of interest, e.g., jobs. The value of a location, and thus the overall access, however, depends on the ability to reach many different types of opportunities. This paper clarifies the concept of multi-activity accessibility, which combines multiple types of opportunities into a single aggregated access measure, and aims to find more comprehensive answers for the questions: what is being accessed, by what extent, and how it varies by employment status and by gender. The Minneapolis – St. Paul metropolitan region is selected for the measurement of multi-activity accessibility, using both primal and dual measures of cumulative access, for auto and transit. It is hypothesized that workers and non-workers, and males and females have different accessibility profiles. This research demonstrates its practicality at the scale of a metropolitan area, and highlights the differences in access for workers and non-workers, and men and women, because of differences in their activity participation.

Multi-Activity Accessibility Framework


TransportLab Newsletter: July 2020

Welcome to the mid-year update from TransportLab at the University of Sydney.

The world has been in flux since our last newsletter, which has led to far less mobility than we would have liked (on a personal level). So while we won’t be seeing most of you this year, we hope to remain in touch online. You can follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

We hope to host a TransportCamp later in 2020, and should see many New South Welshmen there.


Before the shutdown, we were pleased to have a presentation at the TransportLab Professional Seminar from Paul Anderson of Texas A&M on bus bunching. Paul was previously an undergraduate student working for David at the University of Minnesota, and a Master’s Student at EPFL working with Mohsen.

We plan some additional seminars in second semester, which were deferred from the first, as the university and society reboot.


  • Linji Chen started in March 2020 as a PhD student. Thesis topic: Traffic state estimation and congestion control with connected and automated vehicles
  • Jaime Soza Parra is hoping to join us as a postdoc. He was supposed to start 18 May, but can’t until the travel ban is lifted.
  • Jing Chen and Louise Aoustin started as a visiting scholars

Current Projects

  • FAST Corridor Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan. iMOVE CRC/Liverpool City Council
  • University of Toronto Partnership Collaboration Awards
  • Access Across New Zealand: 2019
  • Opportunities to Build Capability in Traffic Management. Austroads
  • New housing supply, population growth, and access to social infrastructure.

Editorial Boards

  • Mohsen Ramezani was named Review Editor in Transportation Systems Modeling (specialty section of Frontiers in Future Transportation)


  • Emily Moylan joined AED20 the TRB Committee on Urban Data


  • Beauvoir, V., & Moylan, E. (2020). Unreliability of Delay Caused by Bike Unavailability in Bike Share Systems. Transportation Research Record. [doi]
  • Cui, Mengying, and Levinson, D. (2020) Shortest paths, travel costs, and traffic.Presented at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, January 2020. Environment and Planning B. (accepted and in press)
  • Cui, Mengying, and Levinson, D. (2020) The Internal and External Costs of Motor Vehicle Pollution. Transportation Research Record (accepted and in press)
  • Cui, Mengying, and Levinson, D. (2020) Multi-Activity Access: How Activity Choice Affects Opportunity. Transportation Research part D. (accepted and in press)


  • Travel Time Reliability Measurement Research Report: Establishing Empirical Evidence (Feb 2020) Moylan, Wijayaratna, Jian, Saberi, Waller. Commissioned report for TfNSW
  • Designing a Dynamic Matching Method for Ride- Sourcing Systems (2020)  Amir Hosein Valadkhani and Mohsen Ramezani.  Working Paper ITLS-WP-20-01

Outer Sydney Orbital: M9 to be built next to airport Metro, freight line | Daily Telegraph

Jake McCallum of the Daily Telegraph interviewed me for “Outer Sydney Orbital: M9 to be built next to airport Metro, freight line” [paywall]



University of Sydney School of Civil Engineering Transport Professor, David Levinson, said negative impacts on neighbouring properties would be reduced by using the same corridor for multiple transport options.“The noise from the train spills over to the highway, and is farther from homes or workplaces, and vice-versa,” he told NewsLocal.

“Some tailpipe pollution from cars on the highway is dispersed over the railroad tracks rather than where people live and work.

“Another advantage is that it might use less land overall, as the buffering between the infrastructure and buildings can be shared, perhaps lowering land acquisition costs.”

However, Prof Levinson said the proximity could result in reliability issues.

“An event on one facility could impact or close the adjacent facilities, which would not happen if they were separated,” he said. “On the other hand, the multimodal nature of the corridor provides resilience, if the rail needs to be serviced, express buses could run down the adjacent highway and travellers wouldn’t miss a beat.”

Earthmovers carve out the runway as works continue at the Badgerys Creek Construction site of the Western Sydney Airport.
The transport expert said “supercorridors” are becoming increasingly popular across the United States with “urban passenger rail corridors built in the median of highways”.

“It limits opportunities for adjacent transit-oriented development, since people prefer not to live adjacent to freeways,” he said. “If they are built simultaneously and adjacent it should make construction easier and less expensive.”

Transport Findings turns 50 (and 54)

We are pleased to report that the new journal Transport Findings, launched last year, turned 50 last month (and 54!).

Transport Findings
Transport Findings

If you are a regular follower of the blog, you know what Transport Findings is; if not, I’ll tell you. It’s an open-access, peer-reviewed journal for short-form articles (1000 words or less). The articles say what they are studying, say how they are studying it, and report the findings. That’s it. No BS. Straight to the point.

Below is a list of the first 54 articles. We encourage you to read them, and cite them if relevant. We have some new things planned for Findings in the coming year, which will be announced over the next few months. Here’s to the next 50.

  1. Lock, Oliver. 2020. “Cycling Behaviour Changes as a Result of COVID-19: A Survey of Users in Sydney, Australia.” Transport Findings, June. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.13405.
  2. DeWeese, James, Leila Hawa, Hanna Demyk, Zane Davey, Anastasia Belikow, and Ahmed El-geneidy. 2020. “A Tale of 40 Cities:  A Preliminary Analysis of Equity Impacts of COVID-19 Service Adjustments across North America.” Transport Findings, June. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.13395.
  3. Wu, Hao. 2020. “Effects of Timetable Change on Job Accessibility.” Transport Findings, June. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.13184.
  4. Natera Orozco, Luis Guillermo, Federico Battiston, Gerardo Iñiguez, and Michael Szell. 2020. “Extracting the Multimodal Fingerprint of Urban Transportation Networks.” Transport Findings, June. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.13171.
  5. Hosford, Kate, Sarah Tremblay, and Meghan Winters. 2020. “Identifying Unmarked Crosswalks at Bus Stops in Vancouver, Canada.” Transport Findings, June. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.13207.
  6. Lee, Jinhyung, Adam Porr, and Harvey Miller. 2020. “Evidence of Increased Vehicle Speeding in Ohio’s Major Cities during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Transport Findings, June. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.12988.
  7. Paez, Antonio. 2020. “Using Google Community Mobility Reports to Investigate the Incidence of COVID-19 in the United States.” Transport Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.12976.
  8. Molloy, Joseph, Christopher Tchervenkov, Beat Hintermann, and Kay W. Axhausen. 2020. “Tracing the Sars-CoV-2 Impact: The First Month in Switzerland.” Transport Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.12903.
  9. Calquin, Yerko, and Alejandro Tirachini. 2020. “Comparison of the Person Flow on Cycle Tracks vs Lanes for Motorized Vehicles.” Transport Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.12874.
  10. King, David A., Matthew Wigginton Conway, and Deborah Salon. 2020. “Do For-Hire Vehicles Provide First Mile/Last Mile Access to Transit?” Transport Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.12872.
  11. Weast, Jennifer, and Nikiforos Stamatiadis. 2020. “Improving Bicycle Infrastructure with the Use of Bicycle Share Travel Data.” Transport Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.12801.
  12. Jiang, Zhiqiu, Sicheng Wang, Andrew S. Mondschein, and Robert B. Noland. 2020. “Spatial Distributions of Attitudes and Preferences towards Autonomous Vehicles.” Transport Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.12653.
  13. Moran, Marcel. 2020. “Eyes on the Bike Lane:  Crowdsourced Traffic Violations and Bicycle Infrastructure in San Francisco, CA.” Transport Findings, April. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.12651.
  14. Graystone, Matthew, and Raktim Mitra. 2020. “What Makes the Gears Go ‘Round? Factors Influencing Bicycling to Suburban Regional Rail Stations.” Transport Findings, April. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.12557.
  15. Klumpenhouwer, Willem, and Lina Kattan. 2020. “Principles of Least Action in Urban Traffic Flow.” Transport Findings, April. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.12219.
  16. Lunke, Erik Bjørnson. 2020. “Park & Ride – Exploring the Demand Effects of Parking Charges.” Transport Findings, March. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.12127.
  17. Saunier, Nicolas, and Vincent Chabin. 2020. “Should I Bike or Should I Drive? Comparative Analysis of Travel Speeds in Montreal.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.11900.
  18. Philips, Ian, Andrew Walmsley, and Jillian Anable. 2020. “A Scoping Indicator Identifying Potential Impacts of All-Inclusive MaaS Taxis on Other Modes in Manchester.” Transport Findings, January. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.11524.
  19. Arellano, Juan Francisco (Frank), and Kevin Fang. 2019. “Sunday Drivers, or Too Fast and Too Furious?” Transport Findings, December. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.11210.
  20. Brum-Bastos, Vanessa, Colin J. Ferster, Trisalyn Nelson, and Meghan Winters. 2019. “Where to Put Bike Counters? Stratifying Bicycling Patterns in the City Using Crowdsourced Data.” Transport Findings, November. https://doi.org/10.32866/10828.
  21. Hosford, Kate, and Meghan Winters. 2019. “Quantifying the Bicycle Share Gender Gap.” Transport Findings, November. https://doi.org/10.32866/10802.
  22. Dimatulac, Terence, Hanna Maoh, and Shakil Khan. 2019. “Modeling the Purpose for Renting Passenger Vehicles.” Transport Findings, November. https://doi.org/10.32866/10937.
  23. Krizek, Kevin J., and Nancy McGuckin. 2019. “Shedding NHTS Light on the Use of ‘Little Vehicles’ in Urban Areas.” Transport Findings, November. https://doi.org/10.32866/10777.
  24. Volker, Jamey M. B., Joe Kaylor, and Amy Lee. 2019. “A New Metric in Town: A Survey of Local Planners on California’s Switch from LOS to VMT.” Transport Findings, November. https://doi.org/10.32866/10817.
  25. Haider, Murtaza. 2019. “Diminishing Returns to Density and Public Transit.” Transport Findings, October. https://doi.org/10.32866/10679.
  26. Mayaud, Jerome R, and Rohan Nuttall. 2019. “A Job, Indeed! Accessibility Equity to Advertised Employment in Cascadia.” Transport Findings, October. https://doi.org/10.32866/10791.
  27. Li, Ruohan, and Kara M Kockelman. 2019. “Predicting a Vehicle’s Distance Traveled from Short-Duration Data.” Transport Findings, September. https://doi.org/10.32866/10110.
  28. Allen, Jeff, and Steven Farber. 2019. “Benchmarking Transport Equity in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).” Transport Findings, August. https://doi.org/10.32866/9934.
  29. Cui, Boer, Emily Grisé, Anson Stewart, and Ahmed El-Geneidy. 2019. “Measuring the Added Effectiveness of Using Detailed Spatial and Temporal Data in Generating Accessibility Measures.” Transport Findings, July. https://doi.org/10.32866/9736.
  30. Fioreze, Tiago, Benjamin Groenewolt, Johan Koolwaaij, and Karst Geurs. 2019. “Perceived Versus Actual Waiting Time: A Case Study Among Cyclists in Enschede, the Netherlands.” Transport Findings, July. https://doi.org/10.32866/9636.
  31. Chiabaut, Nicolas, and Cyril Veve. 2019. “Identifying Twin Travelers Using Ridesourcing Trip Data.” Transport Findings, July. https://doi.org/10.32866/9223.
  32. Higgins, Christopher D. 2019. “Accessibility Toolbox for R and ArcGIS.” Transport Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/8416.
  33. Carrion, Carlos, and David Levinson. 2019. “Uncovering the Influence of Commuters’ Perception on the Reliability Ratio.” Transport Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/8330.
  34. Moylan, Emily, and Somwrita Sarkar. 2019. “Defining Urban Centres Using Alternative Data Sets.” Transport Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/8166.
  35. Schmid, Basil, and Kay W. Axhausen. 2019. “Predicting Response Rates of All and Recruited Respondents: A First Attempt.” Transport Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/7827.
  36. Volker, Jamey, and Susan Handy. 2019. “Projecting Reductions in Vehicle Kilometers Traveled from New Bicycle Facilities.” Transport Findings, April. https://doi.org/10.32866/7766.
  37. Noland, Robert B. 2019. “Trip Patterns and Revenue of Shared E-Scooters in Louisville, Kentucky.” Transport Findings, April. https://doi.org/10.32866/7747.
  38. Heymes, Capucine. 2019. “Stationless in Sydney: The Rise and Decline of Bikesharing in Australia.” Transport Findings, March. https://doi.org/10.32866/7615.
  39. Di, Xuan, Tayo Fabusuyi, Chris Simek, Xi Chen, and Robert C. Hampshire. 2019. “Inferred Switching Behavior in Response to Re-Entry of Uber and Lyft: A Revealed Study in Austin, TX.” Transport Findings, March. https://doi.org/10.32866/7568.
  40. Eliasson, Jonas. 2019. “Modeling Reliability Benefits.” Transport Findings, March. https://doi.org/10.32866/7542.
  41. Pritchard, John P., Diego Tomasiello, Mariana Giannotti, and Karst Geurs. 2019. “An International Comparison of Equity in Accessibility to Jobs: London, São Paulo and the Randstad.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/7412.
  42. Cui, Boer, and Ahmed El-Geneidy. 2019. “Accessibility, Equity, and Mode Share: A Comparative Analysis across 11 Canadian Metropolitan Areas.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/7400.
  43. Cloutier, Marie-Soleil, Ugo Lachapelle, and Andrew Howard. 2019. “Are More Interactions at Intersections Related to More Collisions for Pedestrians? An Empirical Example in Quebec, Canada.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/7345.
  44. Gebresselassie, Mahtot. 2019. “Planning Education in Accessible Transport for Persons with Disabilities.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/7029.
  45. Fan, Yingling, Roland Brown, Kirti Das, and Julian Wolfson. 2019. “Understanding Trip Happiness Using Smartphone-Based Data: The Effects of Trip- and Person-Level Characteristics.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/7124.
  46. Mundi Blanco, Clemente, Patricia Galilea, and Sebastian Raveau. 2019. “Universal Accessibility Survey of Transport Modes.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/6862.
  47. Almannaa, Mohammed, Mohammed Elhenawy, and Hesham Rakha. 2019. “Identifying Optimum Bike Station Initial Conditions Using Markov Chain Modeling.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/6801.
  48. Wu, Hao. 2019. “Comparing Google Maps and Uber Movement Travel Time Data.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/5115.
  49. Palm, Matthew, and Deb Niemeier. 2019. “Measuring the Effect of Private Transport Job Accessibility on Rents: The Case of San Francisco’s Tech Shuttles.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/5100.
  50. Cao, Jason, and Xinyi Wu. 2019. “Exploring the Importance of Transportation Infrastructure and Accessibility to Satisfaction with Urban and Suburban Neighborhoods: An Application of Gradient Boosting Decision Trees.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/7209.
  51. Padgham, Mark. 2019. “Dodgr: An R Package for Network Flow Aggregation.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/6945.
  52. Handy, Susan. 2019. “The Connection between Mode Beliefs and Mode Liking: Biking versus Driving.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/6800.
  53. Hensher, David. 2019. “Using the Average Wage Rate to Assess the Merit of Value of Travel Time Savings: A Concern and Clarification.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/5772.
  54. Levinson, David, Toshihiro Yokoo, and Mihai Marasteanu. 2019. “Pavement Condition and Crashes.” Transport Findings, February. https://doi.org/10.32866/5771.

On the Duration of COVID-19, Lockdowns, and Time Til Vaccine

After my pessimistic post last week on The End Game, I ran a series of Twitter polls on the duration of COVID-19, lockdowns, and time til vaccines. This is what the Hive Mind (my followers, you people, the smartest keyboardists in cyberspace) thinks:

If in retrospect there is no coronavirus vaccine, how long should the US have lockdowned for? [Link]

  1. Until virus extinction                   5.1%
  2. Until virus suppression           61.6%
  3. Until hospitals readied               21.7%
  4. Bring on herd immunity            11.6%

In your estimate, how long would lockdown for virus suppression take in the US with a relatively competent (Obama era) federal government and typical state government. [Link]

  1. < 2 months                              18.2%
  2. 2-4 months                             42.4%
  3. 4-6 months                              13.6%
  4. More than 6 months             25.8%

How long would you personally be willing to be locked down before you think it is  “too long” and the  “cure” is worse than the “disease” : [A combination of two polls, consistently answered]. [Link 1] [2]

  1. 0-1 months                                    3.3%
  2. 1-3 months                                  10.0%
  3. 3-6 months                                 43.3%
  4. 6-9 months                                   5.75%
  5. 9-12 months                                  8.6%
  6. 12-24 months                               12.9%
  7. Lock Me Down Forever             15.89%

In 2025 which of the following will be true regarding coronavirus, there is: (effective means boosters required less than annually & 50% or better avoidance, ineffective means boosters more than annually or less than 50%) [Link]

  1. An effective vaccine                62.5%
  2. (1) w/ bad side effects               12.5%
  3. An ineffective vaccine              18.8%
  4. No vaccine                                     6.3%

If there turns out to have been an effective vaccine, it was released in: [Link]

  1. 2020                                                          9.2%
  2. 2021                                                        53.9%
  3. 2022-2023                                              31.6%
  4. 2024-2025                                                5.3%

In short, you are generally more optimistic than I am regarding a vaccine (because we don’t have one for the common cold, HIV, or SARS). But the main point is that the right strategy today depends on whether an effective vaccine is actually developed or not. Suppressing the virus until a vaccine may make sense if a vaccine is indeed around the corner, but imposes ongoing costs to society that are difficult to endure over a long period if the vaccine is not. I suspect people will continue to argue this forever.

Accessibility and the Pursuit of Happiness

As I have argued elsewhere [Towards A General Theory of Access]:

The only reason to locate anywhere is to be near some people, places, and things, be far from others, and possess still others. Since being far from something is really just being near the absence of that thing, and pos-session is just the ability to have something (and legally prohibit someone else from having it), we can see that location is about proximity. People make location decisions all the time, from whether to move from North America to Australia, to traveling to the mall by car or bus, to standing near a person at a reception, or even sitting on the chair or the couch.

Cities and their networks exist to easily connect people with each other. We measure that ability in terms of accessibility. The more accessibility, the more opportunity. Opportunity gives choices, and better choices make for happiness (too many choices may paradoxically reduce happiness, but surely that is a problem we would prefer to have than too few.) In short cities and networks allow the pursuit of happiness. So accessibility is about freedom: the freedom to pursue happiness.

But this freedom is limited by at least three types of constraints (Hägerstrand, 1970). Extending an earlier discussion:

  • Capability constraints refer to biological (e.g., sleeping and eating) and physical (e.g., vehicle ownership, time availability, maximum speed of travel, ability to afford) limitations that restrict an individual from participating in activities. In our case network speed and directness affects travel times, and the spatial distribution of activities affects participation. Dependence on public transport restricts travel to the schedule of the service. The less frequent the service, the less freedom one has, as argued by Jarrett Walker in Frequency is Freedom.
  • Authority constraints represent limitations to accessing particular areas (e.g., military bases) or individuals that are classified by certain people or institutions. Legal barriers to travel, regulations on speed, rules about what vehicles can be in which spaces are all authority constraints.
  • Coupling constraints indicate limitations for two or more individuals to participate in an activity in the same location at the same time interval. There may also be social and familial obligations that limit the ability to pursue other activities.

These are not fully independent. Policies about the allocation of road space, which may give more space over to automobiles than bicycles than warranted is a combination of authority constraint and capability constraint.

So because the value of cities emerges from freedom and access, the limits to freedom and access limit value. While some of those limits are unavoidable, others, like authority constraints, can be determined by policy.

Staying in my lane, transport in cities have a number of problems. The following is a non-exclusive, unranked list. These are all problems associated with access in one form or another.

  1. Pedestrian and bicyclist conditions, particularly safety from vehicles, are worse in many ways than a century ago. My ability to move on foot (and thus access destinations) is restricted by traffic signals and the danger of moving cars.
  2. Violence, and more significantly fear of violence, especially state-sanctioned violence, discourages people subject to such violence from taking advantage of access that is already there. If there are places you cannot go without risking life and limb, you will avoid them, reducing your access and freedom.
  3. Job/housing imbalance exists and may get worse as cities get larger. Longer commute distances (and thus times) reduce access and opportunity. Many cities have regulations that limit housing in job-rich areas. The City of Sydney is no exception. This necessarily increases commute times.
  4. Failure to efficiently price parking and roads leads to overuse. Roads are congested and transport is underfunded. If only there were mechanisms to reduce overuse while raising revenue. On-street parking reduces capacity for movement (car, bike and bus lanes), reducing the speed, and thus access by those modes, while benefitting very few who need to walk a shorter distance to their final destination.
  5. Transport externalities (road hazard, noise, pollution) are underpriced, and thus overproduced. This increases the social cost of access. They are ignored in most analyses of traffic, and so spending is misallocated.
  6. Walled and fenced schools, lack of integration between schools, playgrounds, and libraries make things that should and could be accessible with a modicum of management inaccessible much of the time.
  7. Housing affordability, quality, and supply directly relate to how easily new housing can be reached. Lack of housing reduces accessibility.
  8. Poor design and aesthetics makes places unpleasant and reduces the valuation people put on those places. Effective accessibility drops.
  9. Concurrency between infrastructure and development is hard to achieve in growing areas. Lack of infrastructure increases travel costs (and reduces access) for existing residents as well as new. Access creates value but that value is not captured to fund access.
  10. Overspending on capital and underspending on maintenance means that transport facilities built a long time ago fail more quickly and become unavailable, reducing access. Existing facilities are almost always more important than new facilities, because the demand (and access) provided are certain, because they have become part of the landscape, and so decades of decisions have been made assuming their existence.

The right to pursue happiness is a fundamental value in the United States, right there in the founding document, the Declaration of Independence. It depends entirely on the ability to move in order to reach people, places, and things that might provide happiness. That is, in modern terms, access.

The problems enumerated above are all solvable, like so many other problems in modern society, and yet remain unsolved in many places. Without much technical difficulty we could expand effective access for people on foot, on bike, or on public transport, and even those in cars. Transport access problems may seem prosaic compared to the core issues of environmental disaster, economic exuberance, or the risk to democracy. But these problems relate directly. Transport produces pollution, more than it should because the pollution is unpriced. Transport spending is inefficient, stretching the economy. The problems of democracy are in many ways problems of access as well, not just access to polling places (though that is worsening), but access to the decision process, and access to information.

Queen Victoria Buidling, George Street, Sydney.
Queen Victoria Buidling, George Street, Sydney.

The End Game: International Travel in a Post-COVID-19 World.

I am here in Australia, where thus far almost no one (relatively speaking) has gotten the virus, and as of this time only 102 people have died. The border was closed soon enough that very few cases are circulating in the wild, and they are tracked pretty well so long as the borders stay closed. But can borders stay closed forever? Social distancing coupled with track and trace might extinguish the virus domestically, but it is a big world and other countries are not as well-governed. Even if borders reopen with a 2-week quarantine period, which students and long-term immigrants might take, tourists will resist, and it will kill most short-term international business travel. So how does this end? Some scenarios are below:

  1. An effective vaccine is found. Most people take it, the anti-vaxxers do not, but are in a minority. Everyone goes back to normal more or less. There is, to date, no vaccine, and many diseases never get one (common cold, HIV-AIDS e.g.), so while this is a hope, it doesn’t seem like we should hang the whole economy on this.
  2. A temporary vaccine is found. International travelers are required to take it on landing (or prove they have taken it in the last 2 weeks with a “vaccine passport”). Social distancing is relaxed. Many residents take the vaccine, but people tire of getting the monthly booster shots. It is ineffective. The virus sweeps through the population eventually. See (3 or 4).
  3. Herd immunity. Enough people get the virus, and the survivors are immune. At this point, border controls are unimportant. This of course requires many people to get the virus, with a much larger loss of life than has been seen to date in Australia. However if everyone maintains social distancing, we can never get herd immunity, and thus will be vulnerable. At this time, there is no guarantee that getting the virus prevents getting the virus again a few months later, see (see 4).
  4. The virus is just a perennial, like a cold or flu (without shots), that after the initial wave, continues to kill some people every year. Unfortunately, getting the virus does not necessarily confer immunity. Perhaps a less virulent strain evolves to be dominant, as the most virulent strains burn out, but it still kills people at a reduced rate. The level of death is tolerated.
  5. Government imposes a quick virus test at the border. (And people cannot board planes, ships without a test). People with the virus are quarantined on entry. People without get through. The test is imperfect, with both false positives and false negatives. The false negatives spread the virus through the population (see 3).
  6. Government gives up, and just reopens the borders. In this case, the virus sweeps through the country at some rate until either herd immunity is achieved (see 3), or the virus becomes perennial (see 4). People rightly question why the shut downs and borders ever took place. [I don’t think this happens until after an election, because running on having shut down the economy and borders, and then reopening doesn’t seem a political winner.]
  7. Some countries are able to reopen their borders to other Herd Immune countries, because they have acquired Herd Immunity at significant cost to their population and now have no circulating cases. Other countries are able to join New Zealand and Australia’s trans-Tasman no virus bubble because the virus was squashed, though the population remains vulnerable. These two groups can perhaps be allowed to mix carefully. This will take a long time.
  8. It doesn’t end. The borders are closed forever.

In short, there is no good end game except a quick version of scenario 1, an effective vaccine is found. This seems founded as much on hope as anything.

British Airways aircraft at Heathrow. Airplanes will remain rare in Australia for some time.
British Airways aircraft at Heathrow. Airplanes will remain rare in Australia for some time.