Transportist: May 2020

Welcome to the latest issue of The Transportist, especially to our new readers. As always you can follow along at the  transportist.org or on Twitter Covid-19 retains its top spot in the armageddon-of-the-month rankings for three months running, after surpassing fires, and overtaking Middle East war.

Open Access Access Redux

  • We are pleased to announce that you can now download a PDF version of A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions from the University of Sydney eScholarship Repository. (Free)

    A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions

    A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. KingWhy should you read another book about transport and land use? This book differs in that we won’t focus on empirical arguments – we present political arguments. We argue the political aspects of transport policy shouldn’t be assumed away or treated as a nuisance. Political choices are the core reasons our cities look and function the way they do. There is no original sin that we can undo that will lead to utopian visions of urban life. The book begins by introducing and expanding on the idea of Accessibility. Then we proceed through several major parts: Infrastructure Preservation, Network Expansion, Cities, and Institutions. Infrastructure preservation concerns the relatively short-run issues of how to maintain and operate the existing surface transport system (roads and transit). Network expansion in contrast is a long-run problem, how to enlarge the network, or rather, why enlarging the network is now so difficult. Cities examines how we organize, regulate, and expand our cities to address the failures of transport policy, and falls into the time-frame of the very long-run, as property rights and land uses are often stickier than the concrete of the network is durable. In the part on Institutions we consider things that might at first blush appear to be short-run and malleable, are in fact very long-run. Institutions seem to outlast the infrastructure they manage. Many of the transport and land use problems we want to solve already have technical solutions. What these problems don’t have, and what we hope to contribute, are political solutions. We expect the audience for this book to be practitioners, planners, engineers, advocates, urbanists, students of transport, and fellow academics.

    URI

    https://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/21629

    [That’s right, we made A Political Economy of Access a free download. Get your copy now. Read it. Make your students and friends and colleagues read it. No excuses. You have the time.]

Conferences

  • Bridging Transport Research – will be (and always has been) run entirely online. While original aimed at researchers from countries who could not travel for economic or political reasons to the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, that is now a much broader category of people, and will be held in August 2020. Papers are due May 15.

In happier matters, I am thinking about a Reviewers Guild to help break academics from their subservience to the for-profit journal publishing hegemony. An editable Google Doc is available to read at the link. Let me know if you are interested in participating.

Transportist Blog

Transport Findings

WalkSydney

News & Opinion

Interesting Research (by others)

Books

A Political Economy of Access – Open Access

We are pleased to announce that you can now download a PDF version of A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions from the University of Sydney eScholarship Repository. (Free)

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A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

book (PDF, 79.23MB)
Date
2019-03

Author

  • Levinson, David M.
  • King, David A.

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Why should you read another book about transport and land use? This book differs in that we won’t focus on empirical arguments – we present political arguments. We argue the political aspects of transport policy shouldn’t be assumed away or treated as a nuisance. Political choices are the core reasons our cities look and function the way they do. There is no original sin that we can undo that will lead to utopian visions of urban life. The book begins by introducing and expanding on the idea of Accessibility. Then we proceed through several major parts: Infrastructure Preservation, Network Expansion, Cities, and Institutions. Infrastructure preservation concerns the relatively short-run issues of how to maintain and operate the existing surface transport system (roads and transit). Network expansion in contrast is a long-run problem, how to enlarge the network, or rather, why enlarging the network is now so difficult. Cities examines how we organize, regulate, and expand our cities to address the failures of transport policy, and falls into the time-frame of the very long-run, as property rights and land uses are often stickier than the concrete of the network is durable. In the part on Institutions we consider things that might at first blush appear to be short-run and malleable, are in fact very long-run. Institutions seem to outlast the infrastructure they manage. Many of the transport and land use problems we want to solve already have technical solutions. What these problems don’t have, and what we hope to contribute, are political solutions. We expect the audience for this book to be practitioners, planners, engineers, advocates, urbanists, students of transport, and fellow academics.

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The 30-Minute City: A Review

Tom van Vuren reviewed my recent book, the The 30-Minute City in Transport Reviews. I abstract some of it here.

cropped-30-minute-city-cover-r1-front.jpg
The 30-Minute City: Designing for Access

The author describes the book as a fast read. He is right – it is written in a very straight-forward style, avoids jargon and as such, I think it would be enjoyed by practitioners, first-degree students and even those with just a general interest in transport planning and accessibility. This is the fifth book published by Network Design Lab in David Levinson’s Access series.

Much of the book describes ways in which a 30-minute city may be created; and as Levinson says, “we do not require autonomous vehicles, hyperloops, drones, trackless trams, micromobility, or multi-copters, even if we eventually see such things widely deployed”. After the introductory chapters, chapters 3 to 10 provide practical examples of how accessibility has been eroded and conversely, how it can be improved by interventions that can be copied from elsewhere.

I was particularly taken by Chapter 3 on Traffic Signals. Through a simple example, Levinson illustrates that in a typical urban environment pedestrians lose 25%–30% of their effective speed because of traffic signals that are coordinated for cars, reducing their accessibility to jobs and other opportunities in a 30-minute walk space by almost half. He also offers solutions that can be implemented immediately. Essential reading for all practising signal engineers!

Another excellent illustration is given in Chapter 8 on Interfaces. The design of a station can have a big impact on accessibility. Through another Sydney example, he explains how saving just 75 seconds entering and leaving a train station can improve accessibility by 8%, for example by increasing the number or relocation of entries and exits, or changing the interfacing with buses.

In his last Chapter Levinson makes a plea for a new profession, Urban Operations – people engaged in improving today’s city, not just planning for tomorrow, but optimising for the system as a whole, using resources on-hand. As he says: “we have enough problems today. We also have solutions available to us today and we don’t implement them”.

Levinson’s arguments around urban restoration and retrofitting deserve a space in all transport planning courses. He makes a strong case to always consider the era during which an urban area evolved when developing solutions to address currently experienced traffic problems. Levinson advocates to restore what worked at that time (such as trams in historic centres of the early twentieth century), but not to try and impose such solutions in locations that were built for the motorcar in the fifties and sixties. The latter can only be retrofitted, at a cost and not necessarily effectively. In terms of retrofitting, Levinson provides a telling example of the temporary land-banking in urban at grade parking lots and concludes wistfully that unfortunately, temporary is often indefinite.

I enjoyed this book for two reasons: As a dyed-in-the-wool, it challenged me to think differently about what transport planning and traffic engineering should really achieve. Secondly, Levinson peppers his text with memorable one-liners and inventive terms: who had heard of gradial before? Two noticeable examples that I might use myself:

  • Gradial, or the unreasonable network – Embedded infrastructure cannot adapt much to the world around it. But if it were optimal for the world in which it was designed, it is unlikely to be optimal as that world changes. The network, designed for a given technology, is very hard to adapt to a different technology. Instead, we expect the world to adapt to the infrastructure. And
  • There are many techniques for making the most popular mode, the automobile, greener. We need to think more about making the greenest modes much more popular.

As would be expected, the book finishes with an extensive and useful bibliography.

Foggy Bottom top D.C. neighborhood for walking accessibility, UMD report finds

Lia DeGroot at the GWU student newspaper wrote Foggy Bottom top D.C. neighborhood for walking accessibility, UMD report finds. The report  was authored by D.W. Rowlands. (This same analysis of course is in the Access Across America reports, without the local focus.)

DC-LenfantTransportation experts said high walkability ratings can encourage residents to walk to nearby locations, which is a healthier and more sustainable alternative to driving cars.

David Levinson, a professor of transport engineering in the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney, said walking accessibility matters when people are choosing where to live. He said the more places that a person can reach in a short period of time, the higher the real estate market is in the area.

“People pay a premium (higher rents and land value) to live in places with high access by walking and public transport to jobs, shops, good schools and other amenities,” Levinson said in an email. “They pay a smaller premium for places with high accessibility by automobile.”

A report released late last year found that home sale prices in Foggy Bottom and the West End had increased by more than 40 percent in 2019.

Levinson added that city officials can time crosswalks to reduce pedestrian wait times and permit “high density developments” to increase walking accessibility in the city.

“Cities with dense street networks help, but the traffic signals also need to be timed so pedestrians don’t have to wait too long to cross the street,” he said. “If it takes two minutes to cross the street, that’s 20 percent of a 10-minute walk, and accessibility is reduced significantly.”

My full response: We prefer to talk about “accessibility”, [than density] how many destinations someone can reach in a given amount of time. So for instance, how many restaurants are within a 10 minute walk, or can you buy a pint-of-milk within 10 minutes of your home. This matters because time is limited, and the more things you can reach in less time, the more options you have, which people usually value (2 supermarkets is better than one both because of more choices and more competition driving down prices). People pay a premium (higher rents and land value) to live in places with high access by walking and public transport to jobs, shops, good schools, and other amenities. They pay a smaller premium for places with high accessibility by automobile. High is relative, so more access is better than less (all else equal). Cities with dense street networks help, but the traffic signals also need to be timed so pedestrians don’t have to wait too long to cross the street, (if it takes 2 minutes to cross the street, that’s 20% of a 10 minute walk, and accessibility is reduced significantly). Government can permit high density development so that there are more opportunities available, and it can improve walking conditions.

Elements of Access – Open Access

We are pleased to announce that you can now download a PDF version of Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners  from the University of Sydney eScholarship Repository. (Free)

Date

2017

Author
Levinson, David M.
Marshall, Wesley
Axhausen, Kay
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.

To get our cities moving again, we need a new kind of urban professional

In this extract from my new book The 30-Minute City,  I argue that in designing our cites, we need ‘Urban Operations’ experts who can straddle the realms of both strategy and tactics. Reprinted from Foreground

Access is the driving force behind how cities were built – which is to say, cities developed with the goal of making it as easy as possible for people to reach the opportunities and activities contained within them. In the contemporary city, though, the professionals tasked with designing and developing our cities for access can often seem to be working at cross-purposes.

Our engineers are trained in engineering school to ‘do it right.’ They are trained intensively in calculations to make sure the math works out. This is very important: structural engineers do not want to misplace a negative sign or they would build the bridge upside down. In contrast, our planners retort to the engineers ‘do the right thing.’ What are the right values? And that’s really important, too. Meanwhile, our public citizens say: ‘do the right thing right’, synthesising this apparent conflict.

30-minute-city
The 30-minute City: Designing for Access, David Levinson

In designing and managing our cities for access, we need to think about both strategy and tactics. We need to think about ideas and implementation. For instance, at train stations with entrances on only one end of the platform, the objective of enabling people to leave the station is supported, but not the broader objective of enabling them to reach their destinations in the least amount of time. Traffic signals presently are timed to minimise delay for vehicles, but not for people, and fail to count vehicle occupancy (buses wait in the same traffic as cars) or pedestrians.

“Traffic signals presently are timed to minimise delay for vehicles, but not for people” – David Levinson @trnsprtst

 

A Nihilistic Theory

I’m going to introduce a ‘nihilistic’ theory of transport and land use: everything is ‘pointless.’

Transit facilities are pointless. A station is not a point, it is a place.

Junctions are pointless. A junction, or intersection, is not a point, it’s a space. It has conflict points, which are also spaces, but it takes time to traverse, and those traversing it take up space.

Cities, too, are pointless, and yet planners often abstract away important details – as in the Greater Sydney Commission’s Metropolis of Three Cities plan, which, like so many regional plans, has dots on maps to represent whole communities.

Everyone working in the urban sphere should recognise this ‘pointlessness.’

Just as small spatial relations matters, so too does time. Do small amounts of time savings matter? Yes! Absolutely!

A traffic engineer proposes a change that will save somebody five seconds, and someone inevitably retorts that nobody cares about five seconds. But we can never get to larger time savings (or accessibility gains) when we’re always talking about how unimportant the small changes are. There is no way to save 15 seconds if you don’t save five seconds. There is no way to save 30 seconds unless you save 15, or one minute unless you save 30 seconds, or five minutes unless you save one minute.

Trips comprise many time elements, and use many bits of the transport network, and we are not going to save time all at the same place or with the same project or process. So the better practice is to take the gains that are possible, as they will accumulate over time. Saving time, or increasing speed, increases the area that can be covered in the same amount of time, and since accessible area increases with the square of the radius, time savings have disproportional effects on accessibility.

This argument applies to all modes. The traffic signal engineers use it to justify their signal timings for automobiles. The potential flaw here is not in saving time, but in doing so at the expense of pedestrians and the neighbourhood at large.

There is the argument that time, unlike money, cannot be ‘saved’, as there is no way to store it. And of course there is an element of truth there. But I would argue that time can be used for things that are valued more highly than standing at an intersection waiting to cross – which is to say, anything else. The time not spent waiting at the intersection might be spent in a more pleasant environment, or walking or riding farther to a slightly better or higher paying job, or a shop with somewhat better goods, or from a slightly better or less expensive home. These are the trade-offs people make all the time, and by increasing the area that can be traversed in a given amount of time, we increase opportunity and choice.

A profession that is interdisciplinary in real time – or, doing the right thing right

To do the right thing right, we want to forge a new profession that is interdisciplinary in real time. Planners create long-term plans covering large areas – they, at least in theory, aim to optimise for all of society. Analysts develop policies over large areas, which have a shorter-term time horizon, and also should at least consider all of society. But the local-looking professions – engineers, architects, urban designers, and technicians of various kinds – whether they are involved in building for the long-term or managing and operating the system in the short-term, by definition optimise locally, for the site, rather than the city. How the site interacts with the city is neglected.

We need a profession not of more urban planners, nor of more transport engineers, but urban operators – people engaged in today’s city, not tomorrow’s, but who can optimise for the system as a whole (that is, by thinking about accessibility) and not just their small piece of it.

The world is changing ever-faster. Yet strangely, today’s professionals undertake and celebrate very long-term plans where they acknowledge the existence of a problem (i.e. congestion), and technology (i.e. autonomous vehicles), but don’t acknowledge that anything changes.

Instead, we should forge new urban operators as a strong alloy of planning, engineering, economics, and design. Urban operators take ideas in real time and solve today’s problems with resources on-hand, rather than solving imagined problems that bring distant dangers near. We have enough problems today. We also have solutions available to us today, and we don’t implement them. And yet people are employed to work on 40-year plans.

“We need a profession not of more urban planners, nor of more transport engineers, but urban operators – people engaged in today’s city, not tomorrow’s, but who can optimise for the city as a whole” – David Levinson @trnsprtst

Today’s disciplines are excellent for admiring and nurturing today’s problems, but not nearly so adept at solving them. Engineers and planners are so focused on the long term, their jobs effectively require them to build it and then abandon it. Operating and maintaining the system is someone else’s responsibility. Once they have made their design they hand it over to a contractor for construction, who then hands it over to the client.

And then we have people who are making microscopic decisions without thinking about the big picture. Where do you put the bus stop relative to the train station? This affects accessibility, but the decision is made based on what is convenient for the bus operator rather than passengers, or worse, to minimise delay for cars.

As Bill Garrison argued, we want people who can bridge the hard and the soft – the hardware engineering of infrastructure and vehicles and the software of management, control, and financial systems.

Bridging or merging the soft and the hard would vastly improve policy and policy-making processes. We should be able to simultaneously think of engineering and policy, not be restricted to engineering or policy. Those of us in the transport field should identify as transportists – not transport engineers or transport planners or transport economists. The problem must come before the mechanism of solution.

We want people who can bridge the site and the city. People who think about the position of a train platform in the greater context of the metropolitan area, so that people living on the south side of the platform can easily reach it, rather than semi-circumnavigating the train station to its only entrance on the north.

We want a fusion of planners and engineers who would focus on the ends not on the means, who can think in multiple scales and multiple time horizons.

The goal of the 30-minute city aligns with travel time budgets and human behaviour. We know that, historically, land developers and the railway builders were keen on the idea of a feasible commute, and they were keen on this idea when they deployed tram and train networks and concomitantly subdivided large tracts into lots and built homes that were within a 30-minute commute of the central city.

Lower case ‘d’ design

Architects are famous for BIG design ideas. But cities are not amenable to big designs any more. They grow (and should grow) incrementally, not comprehensively. So instead let’s talk about what I will call “lower case ‘d’ design,” the humble design decisions about where to put bus stops relative to station entrances, and how to time traffic signals. These are small urban design decisions that don’t get sufficient attention.

There are many things that we can do that involve rethinking the details – like adding train station gates to both ends of platforms to expand catchment areas, and thus patronage. Details like stop spacing and location, practices like all-door boarding, payment before boarding, optimising timetables and frequency, may just squeeze a few seconds per stop or minutes per route out of the existing configuration, but collectively they greatly expand people’s accessibility.

More strategically, this requires thinking about transport and land use balance. Offsetting today’s imbalance can give us growth without additional travel or commuting-related congestion. To achieve a 30-minute city, cities need to put new jobs in housing-rich areas and new housing in job-rich areas systematically as a way of growing. This contrasts with local government’s desire to focus employment in the central city, and developers who will tend to put more housing in the outer suburbs where there are many fewer jobs.

And we need to design for the cities we want, not ‘predict and provide’ for the city we forecast. Our future cities cannot be delivered by the same disciplinary thinking that created the cities we have.

This is an abridged extract taken from David Levinson’s book The 30-Minute City: Designing for Access, available here in PDF format and here in print.

Levinson joined the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney in 2017 as Foundation Professor in Transport Engineering. He conducts research on accessibility, transport economics, transport network evolution, and transport and land use interaction.

Moving Forward Framework (take 2)

The previous version of this post was eaten by WordPress.

Moving Forward Framework: For the People
Moving Forward Framework: For the People

A reader writes: “The U.S. House [Transportation and Infrastructure Committee] came out with its pre-election transportation policy: The Moving Forward Framework, and access measures made it into what is otherwise a high-level policy document (with no hint about how they plan to pay for their wishlists.)”

On Access to Jobs:

It’s infrastructure investment that is smarter, safer, and made to last – with a framework that:

  • Ensures a transportation system that is green, affordable, reliable, efficient and provides access to jobs

and

Modernizes Project Planning – Requires States and MPOs to prioritize transportation access and to consider during the planning process all system users, job access, connections to housing, and creation of transportation options in underserved communities.

On Fix-It-First

Revamps Existing Formula Programs

Amends core highway formula programs to prioritize investments and improve program implementation:

Fix it First – Prioritizes maintaining and improving existing infrastructure and bringing it up to a state of good repair, including roads, bridges, tunnels, and ferry systems.

On Road Pricing

Tackles Congestion Equitably – Institutes tighter standards around tolling and congestion pricing.

Tests the Viability of New Transportation User Fees

Transforms revenue collection and distribution by authorizing a multi-year national pilot program to test revenue collection to ensure the future viability and equity of surface transportation user fees, including a vehicle-miles travelled fee.

 

It’s almost as if it were written by a reader of this blog.

The 30-Minute City: Designing for Access

The 30-Minute City by David M. Levinson
The 30-Minute City by David M. Levinson

Now available for purchase: The 30-Minute City: Designing for Access.

The book reads fast, with just over 20,000 words, and contains 50 images and 6 tables.

About

This book describes how to implement The 30-Minute City.  The first part of the book explains accessibility. We next consider access through history (chapter 2). Access is the driving force behind how cities were built. Its use today is described when looking at access and the Greater Sydney Commission’s plan for Sydney.

We then examine short-run fixes: things that can be done instantaneously, or nearly so, at low budget to restore access for people, which include retiming traffic signals (chapter 3) and deploying bike sharing (chapter 5) supported by protected bike lane networks (chapter 4), as well public transport timetables (chapter 6).

We explore medium-run fixes that include implementing rapid bus networks (chapter 7) and configuring how people get to train stations by foot and on bus (chapter 8).

We turn to longer-run fixes. These are as much policy changes as large investments, and include job/worker balance (chapter 10) and network restructuring (chapter 9) as well as urban restoration (chapter 11), suburban retrofit (chapter 12), and greenfield development (chapter 13).

We conclude with thoughts about the ‘pointlessness’ of cities and how to restructure practice (chapter 14).

The appendices provide detail on access measurement (Appendix A), the idea of accessibility loss (B), valuation (C), the rationale for the 30-minute threshold (D), and reliability (E). It concludes with what should we research (F).

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • 1  Introduction 15
  • 2  The 30-Minute City: Then and Now 19
  • 3  Traffic Signals 25
  • 4  On the Four Paths 29
  • 5  Bikesharing 35
  • 6  Timetable 37
  • 7  Rapid Bus 39
  • 8  Interface 45
  • 9  Gradial: Or the Unreasonable Network 51
  • 10  Job-Worker Balance 55
  • 11  Urban Restoration 59
  • 12  Retrofit 69
  • 13  Greenfields and Brownfields 75
  • 14  A New Profession: Urban Operations 81

Appendices

  • A  Theory 89
  • B  Accessibility Loss 93
  • C  Access Explains Everything 95
  • D  Why 30 Minutes? 97
  • E  Reliability 99
  • F  Research Agenda 101

FEATURES

  • 114 pages.
  • 50 Mostly Color Images.
  • ISBN: 9781714193660 (Blurb Paperback)
  • ISBN: 9781714193486 (Ingram Trade Paperback)
  • ISBN: 9781714193561 (Ingram Hardcover)
  • ISBN-10:  (Amazon)
  • ISBN-13:  (Amazon)
  • Publisher: Network Design Lab

PURCHASE

Commute Mode Share and Access to Jobs across US Metropolitan Areas

Recently published:

How much of the variation in transit mode share is attributable to accessibility is not well understood, despite its significant policy implications. It is hypothesized that better transit accessibility leads to higher transit mode share. This paper explains block-group level transit mode share using transit accessibility in a logistic model for 48 major US metropolitan areas. Transit accessibility alone explains much of the variation in transit mode share for all 48 regions despite their geographical differences (adjusted R2 0.61, potential accessibility); models for individual cities have stable and interpretable parameters for transit accessibility. The models better explain mode share in cities with higher person weighted transit accessibility and larger populations; an adjusted R2 of 0.76 is achieved for New York City with transit accessibility as the only explanatory variable. Additional automobile accessibility and income variables modestly improve model fit. Time-decay functions fitted to accessibility measures better explain mode choice than the isochrone accessibility, and suggest the catchment area affecting transit mode choice to be within 35 minutes. This work contributes to the understanding of transit mode share by solidifying its link with accessibility, which is determined by the structure of the transport network and land development.

Boston30