Mutual Co-Colonisation

Australia was famously colonized by the British, who in the beginning sent colonists, including transported prisoners to Sydney in 1788. It had previously been settled by an indigenous (aboriginal) population.

A typical characteristic of colonies is that they send raw materials back to the home country in exchange for finished goods. When I arrived in 2017, notably Pre-Covid, Australia’s top exports, with China on the receiving end of the largest share of all three, were coal, iron ore, and education. Australia of course imports many manufactured goods from the rest of the world.

If one were to look solely at the coal and iron ore, China would be seen as the colonizer despite Australia’s higher standard of living. And if one were looking at some metrics of urbanisation and development, like the deployment of high-speed rail, China is also more ‘developed’.

The twist is education. Far more Chinese come to Australia for education than vice versa, and there is no more finished or prestige good than a student graduated from university. (Historically this was true at the high school level, hence the term “finishing schools”.) In historical terms, well-to-do Australians (Americans, Canadians, etc.) would send their children to the home country (England) for education at once-elite places like Oxford and Cambridge, and they would return to the colonies acting among the local elite (but never so elite as someone with a posh-UK accent and titles). Today developing countries send their children to places like Australia and Canada (and prior to recent events, the US and UK) for university, children who return and serve among the elites.

Is Australia the developed country or the developing resource-based economy? Who was colonizing whom?

Since Covid, and the souring of relations between China and Australia, and the rise of the fearsome AUKUS, these relationships are being unwound. We are seeing a precipitous drop in Chinese students at Australian universities, and they are importing fewer resources. So perhaps it is Mutual De-Co-Colonisation


China’s High Speed Rail Network
Australia’s High Speed Rail Network


How to value transport projects

Instead of measuring and monetising the fairy dust of `travel time savings’, a transport facility should be assessed on how much access it produces per unit of investmentAccess is the ease of reaching destinations. E.g. you might measure how many jobs (or restaurants or hospitals, etc.) can be reached in 30 minutes and/or $5 (or the dual of this measure, such as how many prospective patients an ambulance can reach in 12 minutes). A transport facility that increases access to destinations for a cost effectively is good. 

So the question is: does a streetcar or road or bike path enable people to reach more activities in less cost (time, money, aggravation, risk, negative externalities, etc.) than before, at a reasonable expenditure? (This cost includes the social and financial costs of building and providing the infrastructure). In short, are the upfront capital costsand ongoing maintenance and operations costs of the facility justified by the lower variable costs of its users? 

Sometimes (which is to say, often) transport projects are promoted for real estate. Real estate prices monetise the transport benefits (above what the user bears in time, money, and effort) in land value (time savings are not actually money, they become money through land value). We can build models that estimate the real estate value provided by additional accessibility.

So a better way of assessing the transport benefits is through real estate price uplift, as the market captures how people value the transport benefit. (We cannot simply add land prices to travel time and travel cost reductions, as that would be double counting). Places with higher access, and where access is more valuable, are more expensive and more productive and pay higher wages. We don’t really need to understand the detailed market mechanisms, nor attribute costs to detailed categories, the land market tells us how much access is worth, and transport models tell us how much access is created by a change to the network – from those two facts we can estimate the value created.

Because many projects are promoted by real estate interests, who presumably believe they will get the monetized benefits of those projects through higher land values, the public has a reasonable expectation that those interests pay for the costs of the project (that is, the tax incidence falls on the land owner). There are a variety of approaches, generally lumped as value sharing or value capture. The most general of these, a land value tax, originally promoted by Henry George, captures all of the uplift caused by all the access created by both transport investments and changes in the distribution of human activities.

From a project assessment point-of-view, land value uplift has often been part of the ‘wider economic benefits‘, which are optionally added after the value of travel time savings, which is considered the main benefit. ATAP for instance writes:

WEBs are improvements in economic welfare associated with changes in accessibility or land use that are not captured in traditional cost–benefit analysis (CBA). They arise from market imperfections, that is, prices of goods and services differing from costs to society as a whole. Reasons include economies of scale and scope, positive externalities, taxation and imperfect competition.

The international literature to date has concentrated on four types of WEBs that arise from major transport initiatives.

– WB1: Agglomeration economies — productivity gains from clustering by firms

– WB2: Labour market and tax impacts — productivity gains accruing to governments via the taxation system

– WB3: Output changes in imperfectly competitive markets — profit increases for firms

– WB4: Change in competition — gains to consumers and more efficient production.

ATAP goes on to write: 

“WEBs are only likely to be significant, and so worth estimating, for sizeable transport initiatives located in or improving access to large urban areas”

This logic is backwards. Because of induced demand, road projects rarely actually ‘save time’. Transit is often slower than car, so creating a project that induces someone from car to transit also doesn’t save time, but must nevertheless be preferred if people voluntarily switch.

Yet despite not ‘saving time’, these projects do create economic value. From a consumer perspective for instance, people can find a better fit for housing in the same travel effort (and may prefer to ride passively than to drive), or can engage in shopping activities that better match their desires in the same time window. From a producers perspective, WB1-WB4 from above are all embedded in land value. 

In reality, WEBs are the benefits of transport. If there were no productivity gains from clustering, we would not have cities and instead choose to be maximally spread out, and not need to be proximate in any sense. If there were no gains to consumers from competition, everyone would pay monopoly prices for everything, etc.

And these WEBs do not show up in ‘travel time savings’ but consistently show up in land value (CBDs are more expensive than suburbs are more expensive than rural areas). The WEBs are implicit in the land value uplift which occurs as a result the increased access. ‘Wider economic benefit’, properly measured as land value gains due to increased access, can and should be considered the primary benefit of new investment, not a speculative add-on aimed at juicing the numbers.

The consequence of properly and completely valuing benefits and full costs systematically may very well be a higher benefits estimate than a travel time savings-dominated metric would produce, which, if decision-making were rational, would justify more construction of public and active transport than would otherwise take place. A tax system that captured the land value that was thus created could relax whatever financing constraints currently limit that investment.



  • Wu, Hao, and Levinson, D. (2021) The Ensemble Approach to Forecasting: A Review and Synthesis. Transportation Research part C. Volume 132, 103357 [doi
      • Review and synthesize methods of ensemble forecasting with a unifying framework.
      • As decision support tools, ensemble models systematically account for uncertainties.
      • Ensemble methods can include combining models, data, and ensemble of ensembles.
      • Transport ensemble models have the potential for improving accuracy and reliability.
      ABSTRACT: Ensemble forecasting is a modeling approach that combines data sources, models of different types, with alternative assumptions, using distinct pattern recognition methods. The aim is to use all available information in predictions, without the limiting and arbitrary choices and dependencies resulting from a single statistical or machine learning approach or a single functional form, or results from a limited data source. Uncertainties are systematically accounted for. Outputs of ensemble models can be presented as a range of possibilities, to indicate the amount of uncertainty in modeling. We review methods and applications of ensemble models both within and outside of transport research. The review finds that ensemble forecasting generally improves forecast accuracy, robustness in many fields, particularly in weather forecasting where the method originated. We note that ensemble methods are highly siloed across different disciplines, and both the knowledge and application of ensemble forecasting are lacking in transport. In this paper we review and synthesize methods of ensemble forecasting with a unifying framework, categorizing ensemble methods into two broad and not mutually exclusive categories, namely combining models, and combining data; this framework further extends to ensembles of ensembles. We apply ensemble forecasting to transport related cases, which shows the potential of ensemble models in improving forecast accuracy and reliability. This paper sheds light on the apparatus of ensemble forecasting, which we hope contributes to the better understanding and wider adoption of ensemble models.
    • This paper is the first dissertation paper from Dr. Hao Wu’s Dissertation: Theory of Ensemble Forecasting – with Applications in Transport Modeling. Hao successfully defended last month. It’s hugely important for changing how modeling is done, instead of relying on the one best model, an ensemble of models is more accurate and more reliable. Transport modeling has spent decades developing advanced (and Nobel prize-winning) methods, but has fetishised a single model approach rather than embracing uncertainty and humility. This needs to change. [Hao is also, as far as I know, the first Transport Engineering PhD from the University of Sydney since JJC Bradfield, who designed the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Trains network] “In 1924, Bradfield was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science (for a thesis titled “The city and suburban electric railways and the Sydney Harbour Bridge”, the first doctorate in engineering awarded by the University of Sydney.”
  • Allen, Jeff, Farber, Steven, Greaves, Stephen, Clifton, Geoffrey, Wu, Hao, Sarkar, Hao, and Levinson, D. (2021) Immigrant Settlement Patterns, Transit Accessibility, and Transit Use. Journal of Transport Geography. 96, 103187 [doi]
    • ABSTRACT: Public transit is immensely important among recent immigrants for enabling daily travel and activity participation. The objectives of this study are to examine whether immigrants settle in areas of high or low transit accessibility and how this affects transit mode share. This is analyzed via a novel comparison of two gateway cities: Sydney, Australia and Toronto, Canada. We find that in both cities, recent immigrants have greater levels of public transit accessibility to jobs, on average, than the overall population, but the geography of immigrant settlement is more suburbanized and less clustered around commuter rail in Toronto than in Sydney. Using logistic regression models with spatial filters, we find significant positive relationships between immigrant settlement patterns and transit mode share for commuting trips, after controlling for transit accessibility and other socio-economic factors, indicating an increased reliance on public transit by recent immigrants. Importantly, via a sensitivity analysis, we find that these effects are greatest in peripheral suburbs and rural areas, indicating that recent immigrants in these areas have more risks of transport-related social exclusion due to reliance on insufficient transit service.
  • El-Geneidy, Ahmed and Levinson, D. (2021) Making Accessibility Work in Practice Transport Reviews (online first) [doi]
    • ABSTRACT: Accessibility, the ease of reaching destination, is the most comprehensive land use and transport systems performance measure (Levinson & Wu, 2020; Wachs & Kumagai, 1973; Wu & Levinson, 2020). Accessibility has been applied in planning research since the 1950s (Hansen, 1959), and still today, we find major barriers to adopting it in practice (Handy, 2020). Advances in computing and software have enabled researchers to generate complex measures of accessibility with higher spatial and temporal resolutions moving accessibility research at a fast pace, while the implementation of accessibility, in practice, lags (Boisjoly & El-Geneidy, 2017). Even simple measures, such as the cumulative opportunities measures of accessibility, confront challenges in adoption.


Research by Others


  1. How long must someone be dead before we should stop referring to them as “the late so and so”? (reading newspaper article describing the “late Erik Erikson”, dead 27 years.) Or should we say the late Isaac Newton?
    • <1 year 18.6%
    • 1-4 years 34.3%
    • 5-9 years 11.4%
    • >10 years 35.7%
    The median is just under 5 years, so I will go with that. 

News & Opinion

“Offshored taxpayer projects costing Australians billions, research shows” | The New Daily

Matthew Elmas at The New Daily reports “Offshored taxpayer projects costing Australians billions, research shows“:

The article is about a study “Build It Here” from the McKell Institute. My money quote:

David Levinson, a professor of transport at University of Sydney, said the McKell report asks “good questions” about government contracts.

But he told The New Daily that there’s a big debate about what “wider economic benefits” actually means.

“For instance the inclusion of tax revenue from workers is not standard practice,” he said.

“What would those workers have been doing instead? Presumably most of them would have had jobs, which would have paid almost as much, which they now have to defer.”

Dr Levinson said there’s also factors that are harder to monetise.

“There may nevertheless be strategic value in having domestic production, even at a higher price, so that there is a skilled workforce able to do other related tasks as well,” he explained.

Some additional comments:

There is debate in the transport community about how to consider “Wider Economic Benefits”. For instance the inclusion of tax revenue from workers is not standard practice. We should ask what would those workers have been doing instead? Presumably most of them would have had jobs, which would have paid almost as much, which they now have to defer. The tax revenue from labour markets that is considered is typically based on the wider economic activities that the completed project enables (compared to its absence), not to employment costs incurred to construct the project.

Second, the report assumes that domestic costs are 25% higher than international costs. But this 25% in the report is compared to the original estimate, and not the final cost. It’s not at all obvious that domestically built projects would not also have had cost blowouts of some kind or another. (Consider public works built locally, like the Stadium in Moore Park, for an illustration).

One of the observations of the US, which has a lot of “Buy America” rules, is that costs are higher as a consequence.

On ideas

There are two kinds of ideas.* There are ideas that other people should do and there are ideas you do yourself.

Everyone has lots of ideas for other people. Advice is nearly free; it’s easy to spend other people’s time and money. It’s even easier to spend the public’s.

Ideas for yourself have a more rigorous filter. What can I do? Well, I can easily write a blog post. But as they say, talk is cheap.

I might think the US should explore Mars, but unless I am a multi-billionaire,** there is not a lot I can do on my own to push that forward. Even if I were, or donated to the Mars Society, I am still not the astronaut or engineer or mechanic or factory worker who makes it all possible.

But idea generation should not be all “put up or shut up”. I still might have a useful idea for you (I am convinced I do, as a professor of ideas and doctor of philosophy, when asked what I do, I say “I profess”), that is better than the idea you have for yourself.

I do have a useful idea for you,  you should definitely discount other people’s ideas about how to spend your time and efforts, only you can prioritize for yourself.


* There are two kinds of people, those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.

** Or as Howard Schultz would say, person with multiple billions of dollars.

On Hypo- and Hyper-connectivity in Transport

Connectivity is good. Is more connectivity better?

During the early stages of a useful technology like roads or transit, adding links generally adds more benefits than costs. However there are limits. A four way intersection is good does not mean a five way intersection (or six or seven) is necessarily better. The more complex intersection adds to the friction of travel and cost of construction over its simpler alternatives.

Muller's Hexagonal Network
Muller’s Hexagonal Network

A grid network, with streets at 90-degree angles to each other might not be as good as a network with streets at 60-degree angles, which reduces travel costs and increases directness (reduces circuity), but it is most assuredly better than a fine mesh with streets at 10-degrees or 1-degree, where almost all is pavement and little is actually buildable land. While 1-degree network would reduce surface travel distance, it does so at many other costs, including a reduction in accessibility because of fewer development opportunities.

Consider the circuity additions based on network angle. If all places are connected via a 90-degree square grid, the circuity at worst is SQRT(2), but on average 1.21.  So travel distance increases by 21% over a straight-line path. With a 60-degree grid, the circuity is lower, at worst 1.22, on average nearer 1.11. (Bus transit networks, which tend not to follow the shortest path, have much worse circuity.)

The optimal level of connectivity depends on what you are trying to optimize.

Hypo and Hyper are antonyms. Wiktionary says:

I would maintain that most developed countries are pretty close to optimal in terms of road connectivity, that there are few missing links whose costs outweigh their benefits. If subsidies for modes were to be eliminated, some large cities might be under-developed in terms of transit connectivity because of a bias towards coverage (and circuity) aims rather than frequency.

Let’s think of this in the context of induced demand. More connectivity in one sense means a faster network, which users exploit by traveling longer distances in the same amount of time. They gain utility by being in a house they prefer. However they use up the capacity gains of the network. But more connectivity increases the friction of connections (junctions, interchanges, transfers) which slows down the network. Induced demand due to connectivity is thus self-limiting.

Braess Paradox is the most famous supply side example of hyper-connectivity. In this situation, removing a link improves travel for road users at large because the additional network link induces travelers to use a link with a lower average cost but higher social marginal cost.

A key point is that whether a network is over or under-connected depends on the technology of travel, as well as the amount. A network which is overconnected for cars may be underconnected for pedestrians who don’t congest so easily. A network which is overconnected for 2000 cars may be underconnected for 1000. This is the challenge in building cities. Networks last for seemingly forever, but technologies that use them change more frequently. How can you design a permanent infrastructure flexible enough to serve future technology?


On the merits of copying

In academia, plagiarism is a “crime”, as it should be. The rewards in academia (tenure, promotion, the opportunity to peer review, and the privilege of deciding who else gets to be a full professor and the opportunity to decide who else gets to decide who gets to be a full professor …) go to the creator of cited ideas, and if anyone can poach it without credit, the incentives for creation diminish. Most ideas are not patentable, and copyright is weak sauce.  Citation is essential for the creator to be incentivized. Further the creator of the idea seldom gets any direct personal benefit, the ideas are too abstract.

Hotel Hotel - Not where we stayed. A Green Building, but no shade.
Hotel Hotel – Not where we stayed in Canberra. A building not necessarily to be copied. Nothing about it says Canberra, everything says 2000s.

In contrast with academia, in life, copying can be good. The original is rarely credited.  Emulation is how we learn far faster than trial and error. We can learn from the successes and mistakes of others. The whole idea of the cookbook is to encourage replication, it distills many attempts at achieving a high-quality dish into a recipe that should be emulated before it is varied. My eating high quality food doesn’t diminish the quality of your food, but may lower your social status, as more people can consume what previously was yours exclusively.

Cities copy each other. One city gets a feature, others want it. This is true for convention centers, sports teams, stadia, streetcars, skyscrapers, and so on. Yet, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in the transport sector.

The United States has ‘not invented here’ syndrome in spades. It would do better to copy more. There are many things done better elsewhere in the world, the following is a short list of things I have paid attention to. Undoubtedly there are more.

  • Urban Public Transport … Everywhere in the world does public transit better than almost anywhere in the US. We can blame the rise of the automobile for part of this, and culture, and racism, and any number of other things, but in the end, there are better ways of operating. Even when a US city does it reasonably well (e.g. Minnesota’s  A Line), that same metro area cannot replicate more than 1 line every three years.
  • Intercity Passenger Trains … as above, almost everywhere in the world is better than the US. This is in part due to the widespread adoption of the automobile, and in part due to the success of intercity freight rail, (and passenger aviation) which the US does well, but the US has forgotten how to operate passenger rail safely or efficiently.
  • Traffic Safety … Lots of places are safer to travel than the US
  • Road Pricing … Most places don’t do this well, but Singapore is a good example to emulate.
  • Bicycling and Transport and Land Use Planning … The Netherlands leads here.

Certainly there are other things outside of transport the US could improve

  • Gun Laws and Policing … Look to Australia or the UK, which are far from perfect, but have far fewer gun homicides per capita
  • Imprisonment
  • Parliament and Governance and Elections

The point is that while we all wish our cities were unique and distinct, they have in fact grown up adopting similar forms (street grids), technologies (cars, elevators, air conditioning), supply chains (chain stores and franchised restaurants embody this), embedded in the same culture, and so cannot be that different after all. This allows us to understand cities as a class. And while what history remains, and interesting artistic and architectural artefacts should be considered for preservation, most of the city could have been emerged elsewhere and no one would be the wiser. So copying itself is an historical feature of the process of city and transport development, which should be preserved and promoted in the future, it would be ahistorical to avoid emulation.

Sport in Australia: A Primer for Americans

Sport is a big deal in Australia (and it is usually Sport, not Sports)*. In schools, there is both a PE class and a Sport class.*

In this country of 25 million people, there are many sport leagues and franchises, maybe more per capita than minor league sports in the US, and thus more similar to college or even high school sports.

This weekend alone are the world championships for the AFL (The Australian Football League Grand Final) and the NRL (National Rugby League  [Telephone Company sponsored] Premiership Grand Final).*

AFL is popular in Melbourne and the western parts of Australia, NRL in New South Wales and Queensland. The maps of professional teams are shown below, and are visible examples of the process of spatial diffusion of competing ideas (in this case, competing footy codes).

AFL Teams (via Wikipedia)
AFL Teams (via Wikipedia)

NRL Teams (via Wikipedia)
NRL Teams (via Wikipedia)

The rules are too complex to explain here, but feel confident that they have a family resemblance to American-rules football, but all have evolved from the proto-ball sport in different directions. AFL is more soccer like (but players can touch the ball and punch it, but kicking remains important, serving the role of the forward pass and punt) and played on a cricket oval.

In contrast NRL is more like American football without a forward pass, and played on a rectangle. NRL has downs, but no such things a first down, the team scores or turns over the ball. AFL players are leaner and taller, NRL players are stockier. Neither use helmets. AFL is probably safer. I believe the expression is: the NRL is a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen, the AFL is a gentlemen’s game played by ruffians.*[update in the footnote]  The balls themselves are similar.

In the NRL, the most important event during the season is the State of Origin series, which is an all-star like event where the best players from Queensland play against the best players from New South Wales. This is a 3-game series. AFL once had a similar event.

The AFL Championship (broadcast on the Seven network) this year is the Collingwood Magpies vs. the West Coast Eagles, played at the southern hemisphere’s largest stadium, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), where the championship has been played almost every year since 1902.

Where the hell is Collingwood? It’s a neighbourhood of Melbourne. Where is the West Coast? Somewhere on the Indian Ocean I suppose. Why does a Melbourne neighborhood get a team in the national championship, while an entire coast of the only known inhabited planet’s third largest ocean get another? Something looks gerrymandered. The AFL used to be (in living memory) the Victoria Football League (VFL) and it grew out of club sport serving highly localized fanbases, much like Baseball (the Brooklyn Dodgers), Basketball (the Fort Wayne Pistons), and Football (the Camden Bulldogs) in the US. The NFL still has a team in Green Bay, recalling its roots. The whole system is more reminiscent of Premier League with its many teams in London.

Collingwood’s uniform resembles that of a US referee, or prisoners in old-timey striped outfits. Much worse than the Yankees pinstripes. The Eagles are much more modern, with the distraction of a Hungry Jack logo in the corner.*  In the event the Eagles won this year 79 – 74 in an exciting match that saw them come-from-behind in the last few minutes.

The key thing about Australians is that they love the idea of being in love with sport more than they actually love sport. This is not to say there are not Australian sport fans, there obviously are, and ABC Radio reports more on sport than America’s NPR, but the reality of sport fandom is not so different than/from/to the US.

Sport faces the same pressures as in the US, the coverage, the TV shows about the wives of ballers, the advertising, the concern about the player whose sister who loved playing herself died tragically two weeks earlier, it’s the same but relabeled.

I have heard some promote the terrible idea that Australian unis should have college sport the way US schools do to promote something (school loyalty, alumni donations, more corruption). While US college sports does promote those things (relative to Australia’s relative indifference), it’s an historical anachronism due to their arrival before professional sport. Australia is nothing if not oversaturated in sport. So even if such clubs could be established, I am not clear they would get anything resembling American college fanbases. However today, sport at the uni level is basically at the intramural level, and on the level of Middle School sport in the US.

So these championship games don’t necessarily sell out the arena in which they are paid. Regular season games seldom sell out. Part of this is hurt by teams playing in large metropolitan stadia. NRL teams in Sydney often play in Sydney’s large Olympic Stadium named after a financial company with the letters A and N and Z in its name, or a different stadium in Moore Park named after a different financial company with  A and N and Z in its name. Nevertheless there are plans to remodel the first and replace the second stadium. This is of course unnecessary.

These final games are nevertheless Superbowl-like spectacles; the Black Eyed Peas (sans Fergie) were one of the opening acts for the AFL game, they have previously done a SuperBowl (in 2011).

The NRL Premiership (on the Nine Network’s Wide World of Sports) is the following day (Sunday). There is also a women’s game, and a junior game, earlier in the day, but the stands are mostly empty for these matches.

In 2018 it’s the long awaited match between The Sydney Roosters vs. The Melbourne Storm. As you can tell, the Roosters, by their nickname, are an old club, and the Storm are much newer, when abstract nicknames gained popularity. The Storm are appearing in their third consecutive Grand Final.

The pre-game show has much guitar and fireworks and smoke, but its mostly cleared by game time. The athletes are standing for Advance Australia Fair, but of course Australian police officers don’t kill nearly as many Australians as US officers. Sport is probably the most racially integrated sector of Australia, now struggling with appropriate recognition of First Australians, well behind Canada and New Zealand in this regard, but arguably ahead of the US at this point.

The Roosters are sponsored by Steggles — which due to the cursive font at first I thought was Steagles, like the World War II mashup of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers. Steggles sells frozen chicken. So it’s a bit auto-phagic or cannibalistic to be sponsored by a company that will eat you and your kind. The Storm are sponsored by Crown Casino. The Refs are sponsored by Youi, which is an insurance company.

Most NRL teams were historically in greater Sydney, and the Roosters were based in the wealthy Eastern Suburbs (think Bondi), but the league has expanded to have teams in other Oceania cities (including one in New Zealand and 3 in Queensland (costing Sydney some franchises, but in this 16 team league there remain 9 Sydney area teams.

A quick guide for Americans. NRL is basically like American-rules football except: Scoring in NRL: Field Goal = drop goal = 1 point, a touchdown = a try = 4 points.  The extra point conversion kick is worth 2 points, and is kicked from the edge of the field, and there are no blockers. This is also a 2 point penalty kick. When you score the other team kicks off to you. There is one set of 5 downs. There are a lot of punts on the 5th down, though teams seem more likely to go for it, and turn the ball over if they don’t score a try, sometimes they just go for a 2 point kick (but there are no special teams for this, this is in continuous play, unlike the 2 point conversion and penalty kicks). Punts are a combination of punt and forward pass (in that a team can recover its own punt, but there is no actual forward pass, all passes are lateral and backwards (like the end-of-game play the American-rules football team behind sometimes does). The offensive and defensive players are the same. There is no quarterback or other specialist players, though some players are of course more significant than others. There are no helmets, but there are similar concussion issues. There are no huddles or timeouts (except official timeouts and instant replay reviews). There are nevertheless fumbles and interceptions and other kinds of turnovers. It’s a continuous flow game, and lasts 80 minutes of actual activity. The players wear shorts and short sleeve shirts. There are scrums when control of the ball is disputed somehow. The penalty box is called the Sin Bin.

In short, it’s a superior game that could become popular in the US, except for the lack of the forward pass, but I don’t know how it could be elegantly incorporated.

In the event the Sydney Roosters defeated the Melbourne Storm 21-6, a game the Roosters dominated from the beginning.

After this weekend’s sportgasm, Monday is a holiday, Labour Day in NSW, ACT (Canberra), and South Australia, but Queens Birthday in Queensland*, and the beginning of the two week Spring Break for schools in NSW. Holidays are not standardised across Australia, the states are much more nation-like.

This survey would be incomplete without mentioning that there is also Cricket (in a few distinct formats as people are less keen on 5 day matches than they once were), basketball (the NBL), netball, A-League soccer (which is growing, but not yet dominant), and the ponies.


  • While it is “Sport” not “Sports”, note that it is “Maths”, not “Math”. Why? Because.
  •  In addition to  Sport and PE, public primary schools also have  two lunch/recess periods, and an opt-out religion indoctrination course, so the curriculum is perhaps not as academically rigorous as it might be.
  • Rugby League is not to be confused with Rugby Union.
  • I have been informed by an Australian that “In fact it applies to the difference between Rugby Union and Rugby League, the latter being a break way from Rugby Union which occurred in the north of England in 1895. The differentiation was that Rugby teams in the north comprised more working class men – coalminers etc – whereas in the south it was played by amateurs who had probably gone to one of the rugby football playing Public (read private) Schools. That tradition continues in Sydney with the so called Great Public Schools being strictly rugby union playing and historically Rugby league being played more by, for example the poorer Catholic schools. Certainly League is still more associated with the so called working classes if there is such a class any more.In fact the first rugby union club to be established in Australia was Sydney University’s in 1864 and the first match was in 1869 against my other alma mater Newington College.

    So in fact it is Rugby Union that is the ruffians game played by gentlemen – and that fact was certainly undeniable –  and Rugby league is, well, a ruffian’s game played by, well, ruffians! It was Football or Soccer that was termed a Gentleman’s Game played by ruffians (or thugs).

    AFL started as winter game to keep cricket players fit and is a complete mystery to anyone who grew up north of the Murrumbidgee River! It is unclear whether it is played by ruffians or gentlemen – possibly both! Certainly it is incredibly tribal in Melbourne – if you work down there you have to have a team or face being an outcast from any water cooler conversations, maybe any conversations, from about April to October.”

  • Hungry Jacks is Australia’s Burger King, though it tastes slightly better for some reason. In general Australian burgers are adulterated with items that are not ground beef, but the chains (like Macca’s and HJ) seems to avoid that problem. It is also also worth noting that a ‘burger’ is any kind of sandwich with cooked meat (so chickenburgers (chicken fillets) and lambburgers are common.
  • The Queen’s Birthday Holiday is not actually the Queen’s Birthday, and is celebrated on different days in different states.
  • I should also note somewhere that the  Herald Sun  (in Melbourne, owned by Newscorp) where the Grand Final of the AFL is front page news, is not the same as the Sun Herald (in Sydney, owned by Fairfax) where the NRL Premiership garners headlines, if things weren’t confusing enough.

Signalling inequity – How traffic signals distribute time to favour the car and delay the pedestrian.

An edited version of this appeared on The Conversation June 11, 2018. The original is below.

Traffic signals are a source of great inequality in the urban realm, giving priority to motor vehicles over pedestrians.  Cities and states say they want to encourage walking and biking for many reasons: it is space efficient, it has less environmental impact, it is healthier, it is safer for other travelers, and, since,  it reduces the numbers of cars on the road, even motorists should be in favour of other people walking. To help achieve that, road management agencies should take the lead in reprioritising traffic signals by redistributing intersection delay from pedestrians to cars.

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


While planners tend to focus on the long-term decisions, like infrastructure and land development, it is the shortest of short-term decisions, how many seconds of green light each movement gets at an intersection, that shapes daily perception of the feasibility of walking or driving to a destination at a given time, and thus the choice of route, destination, and mode of travel. Traffic signal timing involves math, so it has been historically delegated to the engineers, but it also involves values and priorities, and so is the proper subject of public policy.

Since the early twentieth century dawn of what Peter Norton calls ‘Motordom’ in his book ‘Fighting Traffic‘, street space has steadily been regulated and enclosed, limiting the rights and privileges of pedestrians while promoting those of drivers as a class, in the name of safety and efficiency. But we should ask safety and efficiency for whom? Prior to traffic signals, pedestrians could and did cross the street whenever and wherever they wanted, before the term ‘jaywalking’ was invented and street crossing was regulated. The introduction of signals prioritised the movement of motor vehicles at the expense of pedestrians, whose effective walking speed through the city necessarily slowed. The consequences of making it easier to drive and harder to walk on people’s choice of mode is pretty straight-forward, and consistent with the rise of the automobile in the 20th century.


Pedestrians take longer to cross streets than cars because they move slower. As a result, the ‘don’t walk’ signal flashes before the light turns red for cars. But at many intersections it is worse than that. In Sydney, the traffic signal policy is set at many intersections to give less green time to pedestrians on a phase (from the time the light turns green to when it turns red, or from ‘walk’ to ‘don’t walk’)  than to automobiles, to give autos a protected left turn without having to yield pedestrians. This guarantees the average pedestrian arriving randomly at the intersection waits longer than a random car.

Cycle length

The cycle length (time from the start of the green light to the start of the next green) tends to be longer at busier intersections (and busier times of day) as a longer cycle length reduces the number of phases per hour, and thus reduces the amount of lost time associated  each phase, when the intersection is not being effectively used by any approach. Lost time can never be reclaimed, so one understands why engineers might want longer cycle lengths if the objective were moving cars.

However long cycle lengths particularly disadvantage pedestrians, who stand out in the open exposed to the elements and the tailpipe emissions of cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses. Even more significantly, people systematically misperceive travel delay, so waiting at a traffic light feels even longer than it actually is.


First introduced in 1922 in New York City, traffic signal coordination aims to ensure vehicles arrive at the traffic signal when it is green, so they don’t have to stop. By correctly timing traffic signals in sequence, platoons of vehicles move together through a ‘green wave’. So let’s say the wave is set for a speed of 40 km/h. Then as long as a car accelerates from the first signal to 40 km/h, and maintains that speed, it should then hit the following lights on their green phase as well.

Typical Signal Schedule and Traffic Flow Diagram, North-South across Market Street, San Francisco (1929). Green wave set to 10.5 MPH (about 17 km/h).

While this is relatively easy to maintain on a single road, it is more difficult on a network, especially a complex, asymmetric network. It also works against the idea of actuation, as interruptions to the pattern (extending or contracting phases) change the window in which cars can successfully hit a green light at a given speed. Of course, just because cars can make a green wave at a speed of 40 km/h doesn’t mean pedestrians will make a green wave unless they travel at exactly a divisor of 40 km/h (e.g. at exactly 5 km/h between intersections). This means that pedestrians will more likely wait at red lights at intersections timed for cars.

Actuation / Beg Buttons

While some signals are ‘fixed time’ which eases coordination at the expense of adapting to conditions, modern signals are ‘actuated’, that is, they respond by adjusting the phasing, and perhaps the cycle time, in response to the presence of vehicles. For vehicles, there is either a camera which detects their presence, or more commonly, a sensor in the road, often a magnetic loop. In either case, this is automatic for the car, and can detect cars upstream of the signal. This allows the signal to stay green longer for a phase if it detects a vehicle approaching, or turn red sooner when there are no vehicles. In contrast, for pedestrians, they are required to push a button to get a walk signal. If they arrive a second too late, they have to wait the entire cycle to get a walk signal. If there are many pedestrians, they don’t get a longer walk signal. Pushing the ‘beg button’ (so nicknamed as the pedestrian must request the signal) twice does not make it come faster or stay green longer. Ten, or a hundred, pedestrians do not make the ‘walk’ light come faster either. The beg button is often positioned out of the way, requiring the pedestrian to walk longer than would otherwise be required. A few seconds here, a few seconds there, add up.

There is a  reason that traffic engineers don’t automatically allocate pedestrian phases. Suppose the car only warrants a six second phase but a pedestrian requires 18 seconds to cross the street at a 1 meter/second walking speed. Giving an automatic pedestrian phase will delay  cars, even if the pedestrian is not there. And there is no sin worse than delaying a car.  But it also guarantees a pedestrian who arrives just after the window to push the actuator passes will wait a full cycle.

The role of signal policy

It turns out that one of the world’s most widely deployed traffic signal control systems, the Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System (SCATS), was developed here in Australia. Just as Australia led in traffic control to more smoothly move cars, it should lead in pedestrian-oriented traffic control. There are a number of steps that those concerned about pedestrians should insist on. To start:

  • Pedestrians, like vehicles, should be counted automatically at controlled intersections.
  • Pedestrian time must be considered (and prioritised) in the traffic signal timing algorithms so that their weight is equal to or higher than the weight of a passenger car.
  • Pedestrians should get the maximum feasible amount of green time on a phase, rather than the minimum, so that pedestrians arriving on the phase have a chance to take advantage of it, and slower moving pedestrians are not intimidated by cars.
  • Pedestrians should get a ‘leading interval’ so they can step into the street on a ‘walk’ signal before cars start to move on a green light, increasing their visibility to drivers.
  • Pedestrian phases should be automatic, even if no actuator is pushed. Instead, the actuator should make the pedestrian phase come sooner.
  • Many more intersections should have an all-pedestrian phase (what is referred to as a ‘Barnes Dance’) in addition to existing phases so pedestrians can make diagonal intersection crossings without having to wait twice.

There are numerous other steps as well that can improve the life of the pedestrian, and thus increase their number. Certainly we can demand more patience from drivers as well.  The advent of the autonomous vehicles over the next few decades is unlikely, by itself, to eliminate the need for traffic control in cities. There will be places where the number of cars and people are such that they cannot efficiently organize themselves, and where other traffic controls, like stop signs or roundabouts, cannot be effectively implemented. But autonomous vehicles should help get more throughput out of intersections, losing less time than human drivers, and behaving far more safely.

They’re Closing Inspiration Point

Happy Days Season 7 | Episode 13 aired 11 December 1979

The gang is stunned to find out that Howard knew about the planning commission’s decision to route one of the new expressway’s off-ramps right through make-out mecca, Inspiration Point.

They're Closing Inspiration Point
They’re Closing Inspiration Point. Source: Getty Images, as if that were not painfully obvious.

  1. Happy Days is Nearer In Time to the historical events it describes than the present
  2. The Aunt Bee the Crusader episode of The Andy Griffith Show was much better (and earlier) sitcom portrayal of the disruption presented from highway construction, though in the end, the roadbuilders win.
  3. Still, representations of the Freeway Revolts  in popular culture are rare.
  4.  By this point, Happy Days had already (1977) Jumped the Shark