Transport Research Association of New South Wales (TRANSW) conference is held annually. The last one was, as you might expect, online, and the students prepared videos. I have been negligent in promoting them, so watch the following videos. All are under 10 minutes in length.
TransportLab student presentations from the TRANSW Symposium 17, 18 and 19 November 2020.
We may be nearing “peak city”. This shift undermines all of the place-based strategies that economic development organisations have been promoting for decades. It’s a topic David Levinson will be addressing at the Festival of Urbanism 13-26 November.This article was originally published in The Fifth Estate, November 2, 2020.
The Dot-Com boom and Y2K crisis compressed a decade of technological investment into a two-year period. As a bubble, it was naturally followed by a stock market crash, but the Internet is bigger and more important than before. Since Y2K we have seen the advent of smartphones (the Internet in our pocket), social media, Wikipedia, ride-hailing (mobility on demand in our pocket) and a major refactoring of many if not most businesses around the new information reality.
COVID-19 has initiated as profound a transformation, acculturating the population to videoconferencing and work from home and virtual conferences and webinars and distance learning and online shopping (for everything) and remote medicine and Zoom weddings and funerals and many other activities that once would have been experienced in person. This transformation did not begin from scratch, all of these changes had already begun, but they were accelerated by events. The home has at least temporarily returned to its historic pre-urban role of being the restaurant, the workplace, the schoolhouse, the theatre — making it more crowded and more intense.
Eventually, like Y2K, COVID-19 will cease to be an issue and we will enter the `After Times’. The fear of others will dissipate but not disappear. Its effects on society will linger.
Many people who previously stood all day at a hot-desked, open plan, office in the CBD have discovered they like working at home at least some of the time, so long as they also don’t need to supervise children. Couple that with finding that 37% of all jobs in the US can be done entirely at home, 39% in Australia, a greater share of those in metro areas, and a greater share still in Central Business Districts. Many more jobs can be engaged with at least part-time at home. Thus, many firms have discovered they don’t need to pay for expensive CBD real estate. Soon governments and universities will discover the same. Many shoppers and eaters like getting deliveries rather than going out, and distribution infrastructures have scaled up to enable this. Dark kitchens designing meals for delivery will ensure they are no longer mere allusions to tasty food. Many students find they like attending class from home, which may be China, and now they are able to.
It’s not that some of the people don’t miss some of the ways of the `Before Times’ — commuting at least some times provides a spatial and mental separation between home and the workplace. In a study we conducted during the Sydney lockdown (Aoustin 2020), almost everyone was traveling less, and respondents were asked how they experienced the decrease in time spent in transport. On a scale of 1 to 7, 51% said they missed this time little or not at all, 17% were indifferent, but 32% did miss it. Travel to work does not need to take place at 8:00 am five days a week, 50 weeks a year, packed into a shiny metal box.
This prospective future no doubt would come as a disappointment to Urban Triumphalists, who insist the value of cities is due to economies of agglomeration resulting from face-to-face interaction, as well as organisations like the Property Council. While historically in-person contact has driven economies of agglomeration, and why be in cities but to be near other people, the question remains: Must it always be so? Mega cities were largely non-existent in the pre-Industrial Revolution period when the economies of agglomeration were often outweighed by the diseconomies. Cities will not be abandoned quickly, transitions are long, but we may be nearing `peak city’. This shift undermines all of the place-based strategies that economic development organisations have been promoting for decades.
Face-to-face encounters will remain important for a few sectors, those with high trust issues like politics, or requiring hands-on physical interactions, it is clearly being abstracted away. The risk we as a civilisation face is that of the explore/exploit trade-off – if the urban triumphalists are correct that new ideas emerge more from in-person interaction, while we can continue to exploit existing ideas, we will generate fewer of them and the rate of progress will slow.
I am not convinced this is true, certainly not to the degree it once was. Perhaps more ideas can be generated from the vast increase of total interactions online, even if those interactions are intermediated electronically, than the serendipitous in-person encounters traditional place-based thinking privileges. This is not necessarily Zoom meetings, certainly not group meetings, but may instead be real-time (or nearly so) text-based interactions, bulletin boards, messaging, Slack, Twitter, Miro, and the like.
The implications of these changes on physical places are several.
If more is to be done at home for more of the day, the demand for more space per person at home will increase, and the demand for person space in offices will diminish. While physical distancing requirements may remain at offices, giving those in the office building more space as well, it also drives up costs of offices, further inducing firms to increase their virtuality. The demand for new office construction will be permanently reduced, and we may see buildings or sites retrofit for other purposes, perhaps residential, as they run through their lifecycle. The demand for housing in contrast will tend toward the larger, with in-home offices for every member of the household becoming standard for those who can afford it. This of course drives houses to places where land is cheaper, the edge of the metropolitan sphere, or beyond, rather than the center, as the commute to the center, which may once have been daily, is now reduced to weekly. The challenge will be to make good suburbs and desirable small towns, where people can still engage in meaningful out-of-home activity, while accommodating their demands for larger structures.
Daily travel changes are already visible: though vehicle miles traveled in the US are largely back to normal (with more rural and less urban travel), public transport levels are not. It will be a while before, if ever, public transport returns to the pre-virus normal, even in places like Sydney which were not nearly as severely hit as China, the US, and Europe. Work-from-home, fear of exposure on public transport (and not just personal fear, official fear being promulgated by governments), and just a general economic downturn and unemployment are all factors to date.
Substitutes like walking and biking (and especially the newly cost-effective e-biking) are likely to pick up some of the slack for those who continue to travel to work in the CBD, though more needs to be done to facilitate safe bicycling, in particular instituting a much larger network of separated and protected bike lanes. Even auto travel will change though, while total vehicle travel may remain stable or drop only a small amount compared with the Before Times, the nature of that travel differs so it is less peaked. This implies less demand for new road infrastructure, as the usage of roads is more balanced across the day.
The After Times are post-post industrial. The industrial districts that were fashionably converted to urban office precincts will now get reconverted, perhaps to residential, which the market will always demand – people have to live somewhere, even if they can work anywhere.
If we will indeed interact primarily intermediated by the Internet, we will have finally moved to the next stage of human development, that of spaceless places. The flip side of spaceless places are placeless spaces. We will abandon spaces we no longer need. The CBD office building is the first target. New and expensive transport links to connect to the central city, or relieve peak congestion, will also be seen as white elephants.
The University of Sydney’s First Roderick Distinguished International Webinar is scheduled on Thursday, 19 November 2020, from 6-7pm via Zoom.
In this webinar, we will hear from Prof. Jennifer Whyte from Imperial College London. The talk will focus on Infrastructure projects and digital delivery.
Please CLICK HERE to register at your earliest convenience.
Speaker Prof. Jennifer Whyte is a Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial College London, and holds the Royal Academy of Engineering and Laing O’Rourke Chair in Systems Integration. Her research is on the delivery of major infrastructure projects, and on the integration of systems, modular and digital delivery strategies. As a member of Construction Leadership Council in the UK, she has strong links to industry and policy, giving advice based on her research. She has been visiting faculty at Stanford and is Director of the Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation at Imperial College London. She is the incoming Head of the School of Project Management and Director of the John Grill Institute at the University of Sydney.
Title: Infrastructure projects and digital delivery The talk will focus on how is the delivery of major infrastructure projects transformed by pervasive use of digital technologies and digital information? This lecture will explore how the practices of delivering infrastructure are changing, arguing for the need for focus on systems integration and the realization of value from projects. It draws on research on London megaproject, Heathrow Terminals, London 2012 Olympics, Crossrail, Tideway, High Speed 2.
Join the Transport Australia society for a panel discussion on what makes places great and how they can be built to encourage a healthier and more vibrant society. (August 11, 2020 – 12:30 pm to 02:00 pm (AEST))
The Movement and Place Framework is increasingly used to guide transport planning in delivering a more integrated transport system to improve customer outcomes and support a range of user groups. This is particularly important for the liveability of places and vibrant streets, where greater numbers of pedestrians gather.
Austroads, the NSW Government Architect and others have recently published a series of guidelines to help understand and implement this framework.
The event will consist of three presentations by our esteemed partners from Walk Sydney, Victoria Walks and the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, followed by a Q&A session.
Hear from our panellists on their views on what makes great places and how these places can encourage more walking for a healthier, wealthier and more vibrant society.
Victoria Walks & International Federation of Pedestrians
Ben Rossiter is the founding Executive Officer of Victoria Walks and has led a small but enterprising team to see it become the primary Australian organisation leading the move for walkable communities. Victoria Walks is an evidence-based organisation working to get more people walking more every day. The theme of his doctoral dissertation was walking in cities and he takes great pleasure in the simple joy of walking, getting lost in urban areas and exploring new places on foot.
Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads
Robyn Davies is Program Manager (Cycling and Walking) in the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) in Queensland. She is an urbanist and transport planner with 20 years’ experience working in state and local governments in Australia and the UK, including 15 years in TMR.
She is an advocate for sustainable transport and making cities great places for people.
Walk Sydney & University of Sydney
Prof David Levinson joined the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney in 2017. He also serves as an adjunct faculty in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering at the University of Minnesota, where from 1999 to 2016, he served on the faculty. He was Managing Director of the Accessibility Observatory and directed the Networks, Economics, and Urban Systems (NEXUS) research group. He held the Richard P Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation (2006-2016). He also served on the graduate faculty of the Applied Economics and Urban and Regional Planning programs at the University of Minnesota. In the academic year 2006-2007 he was a visiting academic at Imperial College in London. He serves as an advisor to Coord.
Dick van den Dool, Director
Barros van den Dool Active Transport
After more than 30 years in the industry, Dick started his own business in late 2017. The focus is on Active Transport (AT) and Road Safety, the underlying philosophy being to create a healthy planet, people and places. Dick is well known for his extensive research into active transport and traffic calming, bringing fresh ideas from The Netherlands to the attention of the Australian traffic and road safety profession. Most recently he led the research, design and consultation for Bicycle Boulevards in WA, SA and QLD and the related initiative on Safe Street Neighbourhoods. Dick is a committee member of Transport Australia Society (NSW), Cycling Without Age Australia, WalkSydney, BIKEast, Standards Australia (car parking) and the Innovation Panel for Cycling and Walking Australia and New Zealand.
About Transport Australia
Transport Australia is a national organisation with state-based branches and membership is open to all people with an interest in transport issues. Our members deal with the movement of people and goods to, from and within Australia by land, sea and air. The focus of our activity is to improve public debate on strategic transport issues, ensuring transport professionals are at the table when Governments make decisions regarding transport policy, reform and infrastructure investment. Transport Australia is the home for transport professionals in Australia.
Every January, at the Washington, DC Convention Center, 15,000 people gather to exchange memes and viruses. I have attended most of the events held over the past 30 years. It seems like I get sick from most of those.
This year, I conducted a Twitter Poll to see if I was alone. The results below
Are you sick of TRB? A poll about the 2020 Washington DC Conference. Did you go this year, or not? And did you get cold or flu symptoms, or not, in the past six weeks?
16.9% TRB, ill
33.1% TRB, not ill
7.7% Not TRB, ill
42.3% Not TRB, not ill
142 votes · Final results
The evidence from this poll of more than 142 people (coincidentally evenly split between TRB and non-TRB goers) is that you are more than twice as likely to report having gotten sick if you attended TRB (33.8%) than otherwise (15.4%). There were 71 attendees and non-attendees each in the sample, you can decide if that is sufficiently large to draw this conclusion. Obviously correlation is not causation, and there can be other causes:
Twitter users are hypochondriacs, easily suggestable and are faking illnesses after this was raised,
TRB attendees are world travelers (compared to non-attendees) and may have gotten sick elsewhere as well (which mitigates but does not absolve the Annual Meeting, as TRB is part of world travel they engage greater than the general population)
TRB attendees got sick from air and train travel, rather than the conference itself.
Nevertheless, I tend to believe these findings, they align with my priors and have an underlying mechanism. We can validate next year and with other conferences.
If it turns out we had coronavirus all along (for months prior to being aware of it), (people who are not dropping over dead or feeling the need to be hospitalized are not being tested in most of the world, indicating the death rate given the virus is probably much lower than reported, deaths are mostly known (though perhaps some are misclassified), cases are not) this might have been a major vector of transmission.
So in addition to the other known negative externalities of attending conferences, such as the pollution generated, we can add health effects. Do these outweigh the benefits from in-person exchange of knowledge?
Our TransportLab research group will be at the Transportation Research Board Conference in Washington, DC, in January. Our papers and sessions include:
Monday 01:30 PM- 05:30 PMMarriott Marquis, Independence Salon C (M4)
Wu, Hao, El-Geneidy, Ahmed, Stewart, Anson, Murphy, Brendan, Boisjoly, Genevieve, Niedzielski, Michał , Pereira, Rafael H.M., and Levinson, D. (2020) Access Across the Globe: Towards an International Comparison of Cumulative Opportunities
TransportLab at the University of Sydney is pleased to sponsor TransportCamp Sydney.
The TransportCamp Sydney ‘unconference’ will bring together transport professionals, researchers and technologists interested in how transport and technology can help improve mobility in urban environments. TransportCamp is a global phenomenon – This event is the inaugural TransportCamp Sydney event.
Recent advances in technology—mobile apps, open source software, open data and spatial analysis—present an opportunity to improve mobility more immediately and at a lower cost than has ever been possible in the past.
TransportCamp raises awareness of this opportunity and builds connections and knowledge between the often siloed innovators in public administration, transport operations, urban planning and entrepreneurship.
It is the only event where the attendees set the agenda and collaborate to determine what are the key topics they want to hear about and discuss.
Thank you to all of our fantastic sponsors including GTA Consultants and Meld Studios.
What is an ‘unconference’?
This event is being run as an ‘unconference’, where the sessions topics and activities are programmed by the attendees. Yep! Attendees set the day’s agenda and run the sessions themselves. Visit our What is TransportCamp? web page to find out how it all works. See below for the event schedule.
On Friday 22 February 2019 at 8:30am
8.30am – 9am: Arrive and Register
9am: Introductions – ALL (yes, everyone will introduce themselves)
One of the key problems is what to value when investing in transport or regulating land development. Accessibility — the ease of reaching valued destinations — connects transport and land use, considering both how easy it is to move and where things are located. While many planners know how to measure this, many don’t, and all could benefit from standardizing application to best practice. To that end, a working group would develop such a standard, which would clarify topics like how to measure, how to compute, how to present, and what to consider in terms of accessibility.
If you are interested in participating, please email me.