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.

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.

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

Urban Engineering for Sustainability

Urban Engineering for Sustainability is a new book by my colleague and University of Illinois at Chicago professor Sybil Derrible. I reviewed a draft and wrote a blurb (below). It is fully interdisciplinary, and if you teach or are a student in the field, you should check it out.
image.png
Endorsements
“Infrastructure in cities is often handled in different silos; Sybil Derrible’s is a rare book that breaks the mold, weaving our knowledge of infrastructure into our contemporary understanding of how cities function, integrating different systems and providing a new science for their design. Urban Engineering for Sustainability is essential reading for how we should renew our cities in making them ever more sustainable.”
—Michael Batty, University College London; author of Inventing Future Cities and The New Science of Cities

“Urban Engineering for Sustainability, by one of engineering’s few truly interdisciplinary thinkers, will be the benchmark text for anyone trying to understand how cities actually work. By considering the fully integrated nature of infrastructure systems, it serves as a useful antidote to the typically reductionist engineering curriculum.”
—David Levinson, Professor of Transport in the School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney

“A timely textbook that takes a multi-infrastructure systems approach to developing sustainable and resilient cities. Key concepts are covered across multiple sectors, from basic principles to the latest advances. Civil and environmental engineers, sustainability scientists, and urban design professionals have long needed just such a textbook on integrated infrastructure engineering and design. Bravo!”
—Anu Ramaswami, Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering and Director of the M.S. Chadha Center for Global India, Princeton University; Lead PI, Sustainable Healthy Cities Network

Transport Poverty| A Political Economy of Access

We are pleased to make available Chapter 21: Transport Poverty of A Political Economy of Access. It opens:

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

When we talk about access as a value that should guide transport policy, we need to address access for whom, not just access to where by what mode. In the auto-dependent US, the mode that offers the most access in most places currently is the car. Yet cars are expensive, and many people struggle with basic access (and mobility) simply because they can’t afford it. Transport is the second largest spending category for US households, behind only housing. This is the case even as transport is heavily subsidized, regardless of mode.1 As discussed in Subsidy,2 the general approach is to spread whatever help is offered thinly across infrastructure capital investment. This does little to help those with the least.

The Magic of Streetcars, The Logic of Buses | A Political Economy of Access

We are pleased to make available Chapter 11: The Magic of Streetcars, The Logic of Buses of A Political Economy of Access. It opens:

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

Once upon a time (1888 to be precise), the United States and the world launched a huge building boom for urban streetcars. Companies like Twin City Rapid Transit laid miles of track in fast-growing cities, extending well past the built areas to serve greenfield sites for emerging suburbs waiting to be platted and built. They did this because the streetcar promoters benefited directly from the land sales. The availability of a new, fast transit system connecting to downtown made houses much more valuable. The fares from the new passengers covered the operating costs of the system.

Subsidy | A Political Economy of Access

We are pleased to make available Chapter 4: Subsidy of A Political Economy of Access. It opens:

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

Should government subsidize transport? If government subsidizes transport, should it subsidize producers or consumers? If a government gave money to consumers, they could spend it on what they want, paying for a service, which if it covers operating costs, could lead to more investment. If it gave money directly to producers, they spend it on more supply. Which leads to a better outcome?

 

The automobile as prison. The city as freedom.

The automobile has been pitched as a machine for freedom. But you travel caged inside a small metal box, strapped to your chair, while your life is being threatened randomly by high speed two-ton projectiles, forced to keep eyes focused on the road and obliged to place hands at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions on the wheel, with your foot constrained to a small area on the floor. This doesn’t sound like freedom to me.

1925 Studebaker Patrol (Paddy) Wagon. Source: Wikipedia
1925 Studebaker Patrol (Paddy) Wagon. Source: Wikipedia

If you choose to enter a freeway, you are not even permitted to leave your car til you exit the road.

On streets, your behavior is governed by inanimate traffic lights, signs, and paint, which are violated at penalty of automatically generated fine or imprisonment.

This is all self-imposed, so it is more like committing yourself to an institution, the automobility asylum, perhaps, than prison which is imposed by others.

An alternative view is that freedom is not ensconced in a machine but in a way you can interact with the world. If you can, at your whim, when you want to, do what you want, engage in the activities you want, without fearing for your life, that is closer to freedom.

Jarrett Walker argues frequency is freedom. This is closer to the truth. While on a bus or train I am still caged in a metal box, it is a larger box, I am not strapped in, and I am much safer. I am also now free to do something with my time while in motion, not constrained to monitor the road.

And where can I travel in these safe freedom machines, reaching many more opportunities? Cities.  This gives a new meaning to the expression: Urban air makes you free.

‘But I can reach more places in a car than on transit in the same amount of time, almost everywhere,’ you argue. This is true, if you ignore the costs you impose on society, if you ignore the fixed costs of that opportunity to you, and if you ignore the ability to use time in some other way, as is available when not driving.

Freedom from car ownership, freedom from the obligation of driving, and freedom from negative externalities borne by the community at large are how we should reframe transport and land use goals. What can we do to give people those freedoms?

Access Quartet

I am pleased to have now completed my Access Quartet of books. These are artisanally selected from the last decade or so of my popular writings, including for the Transportist blog and elsewhere, along with new words to enhance their completeness.

They are organized so that they can be read independently, though an astute reader will identify several themes that run through them all, most obviously the need to privilege considerations of access when considering behavior, deploying technologies, designing infrastructure and networks, and deciding what to fund.

The books are beautifully laid out in the Tufte-latex template for clear information presentation and ease of reading. All are available in hardcover, paper, and PDF.

I thank my coauthors on the books, Kevin Krizek for The End of Traffic and the Future of Access, Kay Axhausen and Wes Marshall for Elements of Access, and David King for A Political Economy of Access for their contributions and extensive editing of my own writing. Each book also had numerous reviewers, who also made the books better.

You should read them all.

 

The End of Traffic and the Future of Access: A Roadmap to the New Transport Landscape. By David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.
The End of Traffic and the Future of Access: A Roadmap to the New Transport Landscape. By David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.
Spontaneous Access: Reflexions on Designing Cities and Transport by David Levinson
Spontaneous Access: Reflexions on Designing Cities and Transport by David Levinson
Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.
Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.
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