What if it’s only once a week?

I attended a real full-on meeting in person yesterday for only the third time in the last year. It was at the CBD offices of a large organization. Aside from us and reception, no one was there. I assume everyone was working offsite.

This has devastating consequences for commercial real estate and public transport. Though there is some elasticity (if some firms retrench on space, others might relocate, if some passengers don’t travel to work, other trips that are no longer squeezed out might come back) obviously it’s going to hurt. Also commute travel will be less peaked. This has follow on consequences for residential preferences and will lower relative house prices near the CBD.

At the meeting we talked about the what the after COVID period looks like. For CBD office workers, the consensus expectation was people going back to the office about 3 days per week. (Recognizing about half the workforce isn’t office workers and that most office workers are not CBD based in most cities).

But it occurs to me that we may only see people coming in once a week for the group meeting, or client / vendor meetings. While in person coordination won’t drop to zero, and people are social, they may not need to be that social with those people. As digital tools get better, we will face less and less need to coordinate work in person. And while today’s software and networks were sufficient for most organizations to muddle through the pandemic, these tools are only getting better over time.

I’ve described the Futurist Fallacy before. In the future everyone will live and behave as the futurist does now. (Btw, for the record I still go into work except when I am in mandated annual leave) This fallacy is a form of projection. So we need to be careful.

But the pandemic is the largest shock to the social and economic system of most developed countries since World War II. What comes out on the other side of this will be different. Preexisting arrangements about requiring in person supervision to achieve productivity have been falsified.

So, suppose we do only have office workers meeting weekly instead of daily or 3 days a week?

For those markets (more than half of CBD oriented transit). Transit demand may be off more than 80% since now parking is easy, and there isn’t enough demand from non work trips to compensate.

Office demand collapses. Maybe some suburban firms relocate to the city to get a taste of those local agglomeration economies, but those will largely disappear … because … there will be no spontaneous in person interaction or serendipity anymore. Everything will have been scheduled.

People will regain 4 or more hours per week. I say “4” because the average commute is an hour round trip, now one day instead of 5, I say “or more” because congestion will dissolve with so many fewer commuters, and that’s another third or so of travel time depending on where you are. Commuters may use some of that on relocating regionally or to the exurbs, increasing distances.

Investment strategies have yet to acknowledge this possibility, and everything is being built as if the before times will be restored. That’s certainly possible, but it’s also possible we are far off on the wrong track with new infrastructure construction and real estate development.

Thanks to technology (rail, elevators, air conditioning, etc) we now can support cities that would have been unthinkably large two centuries ago. But thanks to other technology (broadband internet, wireless, computers, software) we don’t have to.

The deployment phase of this transition from the twentieth century city to twenty-first century new spatial pattern will take decades to achieve, and in the meantime new technologies will emerge (vehicle automation, drones, aerial vehicles, things we don’t yet take seriously) which will have either centralizing or decentralizing effect (I’d bet the latter, but not all my money). The office based CBD has peaked in significance. The consequences will be felt for the rest of our careers.

Longing to Travel: Commute Appreciation during COVID-19

Recently published:

  • Aoustin, Louise, and David M Levinson. 2021. “Longing to Travel: Commute Appreciation during COVID-19.” Findings, January. [doi].

Abstract

Based on a survey of 197 Sydneysiders undertaken during the COVID-19 Lockdown, this study shows time spent in transport was missed the most by public transport users, followed by push bike users, e-bike users, pedestrians, and finally drivers. Men missed time spent in transport more than women. It also finds that for public transport users, the more transfers, the less they miss time spent commuting.

You might also be interested in this recent article in The Washington Post about a similar question.

TRANSPORTLAB NEWS: JANUARY 2021

Transport Engineering and Planning at the University of Sydney

Emily MoylanJan 8

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

We’re looking forward to meeting people face-to-face again, but in the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Events

The TransportLab Seminar started up again in the second half of 2020. In addition to student presentations, the virtual format allowed us to host several academic and industry speakers, including:

  • Meead Saberi (UNSW) on Strategic Modelling for Walking Infrastructure
  • Jonathan Busch (SCT Consulting) on a practitioner’s perspective on transport innovation
  • Emilie Gunaratnam and Matthew Jones (TfNSW) on Cost-Benefit Analysis at TfNSW
  • Sue McNeil (University of Delaware) on using real-time time data to provide situational awareness to first responders in emergencies. 
  • Gabriel Metcalfe (Committee for Sydney) on Advocacy for Change in Mobility Systems

TransportLab participated in the annual Transport Research Association for NSW (TraNSW) Symposium on 17-19 November. Six TransportLab students presented their work, and Linji Chen (fourth from left) received an award for Best Research Demonstration.

Together with the UC Berkeley Institute for Data Science, University of Sydney organised a virtual symposium on Big Data and Neighborhood Change. Somwrita Sarkar was a project lead on the event. 

People

Teck Kean Chin has started his PhD on Smart City Applications in Land Use and Transport

Yang Gao will start a PhD in early 2021.

Mengyuan (Derek) Zhu has started his MPhil on Optimising Space-time Matching in Ridesharing through Predictive Modelling

Former post-doc Mengying Cui started as an Associate Professor at Chang-An University

Jing Chen and Louise Aoustin finished as a visiting scholars with TransportLab at Sydney. 

  • Louise graduated from EPFL and is currently working at Keolis Downer in Sydney. 
  • Jing Chen will finish her PhD at Southeast University in Nanjing, China

Awards, Accolades and Memberships

Jennifer Kent’s book “Planning Australia’s Healthy Built Environments” was awarded a Commendation Award for Planning Excellence in the category of Cutting Edge Research and Teaching by the Planning Institute of Australia, NSW.

The University of Sydney has the most influential academics of any university in Australia. This includes David Levinson who is in the top 2% of citations. 

Emily Moylan received the 2020 Dean’s (Faculty) Award for Teaching Innovation in 2019 for her work incorporating informatics into the transport curriculum.

Mohsen Ramezani was promoted to Senior Lecturer.

Mohsen Ramezani has received an ARC DECRA on Market Design of Next Generation of Shared and Automated Transport Services

PhD student Linji Chen won the Best Research Demonstration Award at the TraNSW 2020 Symposium for his presentation on Decentralised Cooperative Cruising of Autonomous Fleet.

Honours student April Alcock is the 2020 University of Sydney winner of the ITE-ANZ Trafficworks Student Award.

Articles, books and chapters

Davis, Blake, Ji, Ang,  Liu, Bichen, and Levinson, D. (2020) Moving Array Traffic ProbesFrontiers in Future Transportation. doi: 10.3389/ffutr.2020.602356 [doi]

Ji, Ang and Levinson, D. (2020) Injury severity prediction from two-vehicle crash mechanisms with machine learning and ensemble models. IEEE Open Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems. [doi]

Ji, Ang and Levinson, D. (2020) An energy loss-based vehicular injury severity model. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 146 October 2020, 105730. [doi]

Kamal, M. A. S., Ramezani, M., Wu, G., Roncoli, C., Rios-Torres, J., & Orfila, O. (2020). Partially Connected and Automated Traffic Operations in Road Transportation. Journal of Advanced Transportation. [doi]

Kent, J.L. (2020). The role of car-sharing in sustainable transport. In Curtis, C. (Ed.) Handbook for Sustainable Transport. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham

Kent, J.L. and Thompson, S. (2020) Healthy Cities. In Rogers, D., Keane, A., Nelson, J. and Alizadeh, T. (Eds.) Introduction to Urbanism: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Palgrave McMillan, Camden

Kent, J.L. (2020) Transport, access and health. In Mulley, C. (Ed.) Urban Form and Accessibility. Elsevier, London

Levinson, D. (2020) Logistic Curve Models of CO2 Accumulation. Transport Findings. [doi]

Levinson, D. (2020) A Timeline of Future Transport in Sydney as Revealed in Tablet Form. In Derrible, S. & Chester, M. (Ed.) Urban Infrastructure: Reflections For 2100: An Edited Volume Imagining Infrastructure Transitions And Goals At End-Of-Century. Independently published.

Paine, G., Thompson, S., Prior, J., Connon, I., & Kent, J. L. (2020). Bringing History Forward: Learning from Historical Context when Translating Contemporary Health Evidence into Planning Practice. Journal of Planning History. [doi]

Sarkar S., Farid R. (2020) Data, Science and Cities. In: Rogers D., Keane A., Alizadeh T., Nelson J. (eds) Understanding Urbanism. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. [doi]

Reports and Projects

Liverpool Sustainable Urban Mobility Study. iMOVE CRC/Liverpool City Council

The Transport Access Manual was published by the Committee for the Transport Access Manual, chaired by David Levinson 

Opportunities to build capability in traffic management for Austroads. Dissemination webinar is on the 21st January

New housing supply, population growth, and access to social infrastructurefor Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI)

Journals

Transport Findings has been renamed Findings, and a new section Urban Findings, will launch in 2021

Mohsen Ramezani is editing a special issue of Transportmetrica B: Transport Dynamics on Advanced Modeling and Control for AI-enabled Multimodal and Automated Transport Systems.

Mohsen Ramezani is editing a special issue of Frontiers in Future Transportation on Integration of Real-Time Information in Transport Planning and Operations.

Appearances

Jennifer Kent presented at the Sydney Environment Institute’s Critical Companion Series on Sustainable Urban Mobility

David Levinson keynoted at IARAI  Traffic4cast 2020 Special Session: The End of Traffic and Future of Access

David Levinson guest lectured at UBC: The New, New Normal

David Levinson presented at Australia Build Week: 30-Minute City

David Levinson presented at Festival of Urbanism: The New New Normal: Mobility and Activity in the After Times. The article was originally published in The Fifth Estate, November 2, 2020.

David Levinson was a panelist at Transport Australia Society webinar: The Role of Walking in the Movement and Place Framework

David Levinson was quoted by the Daily Telegraph: Outer Sydney Orbital: M9 to be Built Next to Airport Metro, Freight Line

David Levinson was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald: “Sydney’s bike network stuck in the slow lane“.

Emily Moylan was an invited speaker at the CSIRO Symposium Future of Meetings

Emily Moylan spoke at the Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference about civil engineering students coding to learn.

Mohsen Ramezani was invited to be a speaker in the full-day online workshop “Emerging Control of Vehicular Traffic for Improving Sustainability and Energy Efficiency” for SICE Annual Conference 2020

Traffic Management Training


Austroads has commissioned eight online learning units from ARRB and the University of Sydney that cover the fundamentals of traffic management. (I created Units 5 and 7). The units cover 22 modules, each includes a video with in-session exercises. Some modules include additional tutorials. Paul Bannett of ARRB will be presenting the dissemination webinar on the 21st January. If you wish to tune in, you can register here: https://austroads.com.au/webinars-and-events 

Unit 1: Introduction to Traffic Management
1-1 Introduction to the Learning Modules and Objectives and Principles of Traffic Management

Unit 2: Traffic Behaviour and Traffic Theory Fundamentals
2-1 The Stochastic Nature of Traffic Behaviour
2-2 Fundamental Speed-flow-density Relationships
2-3 Fundamental Microscopic Relationships

Unit 3: Transport Study, Traffic Data and Analysis Methods
3-1 Transport and Traffic Data
3-2 Traffic Analysis Concepts
3-3 Capacity Analysis

Unit 4: Transport Operations Control Strategies and Systems
4-1 Objectives and Principles of Transport Operations
4-2 Signalised Intersections – Operations and Control Strategies
4-3 Unsignalised Intersections – Stop, Give Way and Roundabouts
4-4 Overview of Traffic Management Centres

Unit 5: Network Operations Planning
5-1 Network Operations Planning Accessibility
5-2 Network Operations Planning Process
5-3 Road Space Allocation and Road Use Priority
5-4 Movement and Place

Unit 6: Network Performance Monitoring and Management
6-1 Network Performance
6-2 Traffic Congestion and Management
6-3 Traffic Incident and Event Management
6-4 Traffic Modelling

Unit 7: Safe System Approach to Traffic Management
7-1 The Safe System Approach

Unit 8: Intelligent Transport Systems
8-1 Intelligent Transport Systems for Traffic Control
8-2 Managed Motorways – Operational Principles, Managed Motorway Toolkit
Give way to Pedestrians

Traffic4cast 2020 Special Session

IARAI is organising Traffic4cast 2020 Special Session on FridayDecember 11, 2020. This is a virtual-only event to be held on Zoom. It includes 2 sessions:

  • Session 1: 9:00-13:00 CET (0:00-4:00 PST)
  • Session 2: 17:00-21:00 CET (8:00-12:00 PST)

Traffic4cast Special Session features an in-depth discussion of the Traffic4cast 2020 core competition results. The goal of the competition is to predict traffic in multiple big cities of different culture and economy based on industrial-scale real-world traffic data.

Traffic4cast has been again selected this year for the prestigious Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS), the leading event in machine learning. The summary of the competition is presented at the NeurIPS competition track on Friday, December 11.

Traffic4cast Special Session will be opened by an introduction by our very own Sepp Hochreiter and two keynote lectures by David Levinson [I will be talking about The End of Traffic and the Future of Access] from  University of Sydney, Australia and Razvan Pascanu from Deep Mind, United Kingdom. Three top-ranked teams in the core competition leaderboard and four contributions selected by the Traffic4cast Scientific Committee will present their work for discussion.

Video of the full Special Session. My presentation starts at 14:57

Australia Build Week

I will be taking part at the Transport Stage at #Australiabuild Week Online, taking place between Dec 7-11th.  I am speaking on Thursday, December 10, at 14:40 AEDT on “The Thirty-Minute City”.

You can register your complimentary tickets at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2502927580084027919

And check out other presentations that will be taking place throughout the week at https://www.australiabuild.com/agenda

Transport Access Manual: A Guide for Measuring Connection between People and Places

Transport Access Manual cover

Now available: Transport Access Manual: A Guide for Measuring Connection between People and Places by The Committee of the Transport Access Manual.   (Download PDF) (Paper)

ABOUT THE BOOK

Transport Access Manual cover
Transport Access Manual (Download PDF) (Paper)

This Manual is a guide for quantifying and evaluating access for anybody interested in truly understanding how to measure the performance of transport and land use configurations. It contains enough to help transport and planning professionals achieve a more comprehensive look at their city or region than traditional transport analysis allows. It provides a point of entry for interested members of the public as well as practitioners by being organized in a logical and straightforward way.


TABLE OF CONTENTS 

1. CONCEPTS

  1. Access and Mobility: Clearing Up the Confusion
  2. Fundamental Model of Access
  3. Access, Movement, and Place
  4. Access and Equity
  5. Strategies for Access
  6. Roadmap for Using this Manual

2. USES

  1. Baseline Trend Analysis
  2. Performance Monitoring
  3. Performance Standards
  4. Goals
  5. Transport Project Evaluation
  6. Land Use Change Evaluation
  7. Metrics for Disadvantaged Populations
  8. Transport Equity Analysis
  9. Financial Costs of Access
  10. Predictor of Travel Behavior

3. MEASURES

  1. Primal Measures: Opportunity-Denominated Access
  2. Dual Measures: Time-Denominated Access

4. CALCULATIONS

  1. Identify Objectives
  2. Stratify Analysis
  3. Determine Travel Costs
  4. Determine Opportunities at Destinations
  5. Accumulate Opportunities Reachable from Origins
  6. Assess Competitive Access
  7. Calculate Dual Access
  8. Summarize Measures
  9. Visualize Results

5. BIASES

  1. Edge Effects
  2. Modifiable Areal Unit Problem (MAUP)
  3. Modifiable Temporal Unit Problem (MTUP)
  4. Starting Point Effects
  5. Starting Time Effects

6. DATA

  1. People
  2. Places
  3. Movement
  4. Time
  5. Financial

7. FUTURES

  1. New and Emerging Travel Modes
  2. Equity of Future Technologies
  3. Conclusions

APPENDICES

A. CONSEQUENCES

  1. TransportModeling
  2. EconomicGeographyModeling
  3. Location of Activities and Investments
  4. Real Estate Prices
  5. Spatial Mechanisms
  6. Productivity: the Agglomeration Effect
  7. Wages
  8. Employment Rates
  9. Effects on Gross Domestic Product

B. PLANNING

  1. Benefits of Access Planning
  2. Audience for Access Metrics
  3. Reflective of Planning Goals
  4. Improving the Adoption of Access Tools

C. SELECTION

  1. Components
  2. Classification and Assessment
  3. Selection of Measures

D. TOOLS

  1. Tools to Quantify and Visualize Access
  2. Access-Focused Scenario Planning Software

E. SAMPLE R SCRIPT FOR DUAL ACCESS CALCULATION

F. MANAGING

  1. Project Team and Stakeholders
  2. Budget and Resources
  3. Software Installations and Subscriptions

G. SAMPLE RFP FOR ACCESSIBILITY PLATFORM

H. FURTHER READING

BIBLIOGRAPHY


FEATURES

  • 230 pages.
  • Color Images.
  • ISBN: 9781715886431
  • Publisher: Network Design Lab

PURCHASE

Transportist: November 2020

Transportist Posts

Research

  • Davis, Blake, Ji, Ang,  Liu, Bichen, and Levinson, D. (2020) Moving Array Traffic ProbesFrontiers in Future Transportation. doi: 10.3389/ffutr.2020.602356 [doi]
  • Ji, Ang and Levinson, D. (2020) Injury severity prediction from two-vehicle crash mechanisms with machine learning and ensemble models. IEEE Open Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems. [doi]

Book Chapters

Findings

You may have noticed that Transport Findings has become Findings. We believe the core idea of open access, peer-reviewed, short form research articles that is central to Findings has applications well beyond the transport domain, and we don’t want to limit ourselves (or you). We could have started a lot of small journals, but it is more cost effective, and probably also more beneficial, to keep everything under one journal name, with multiple sections and editors.

So everything we have published to date is in the section Transport Findings, as will undoubtedly be many future papers. But we are pleased to announce that we have opened up a new section Urban Findings, edited by Somwrita Sarkar, which will be launching soon. Urban Findings welcomes submissions following the Findings model of short, to-the-point research findings in the broad field of urbanism. You can see the Editorial Board here.

So at this time we are about Findings in the domains of Transport and Urbanism, because those are the practical limits of our current expertise, but we see no reason in principle that there should not be other sections.

If you have ideas about a topic area that you would both like to see articles for, and are willing to edit, please let us know. Editors of the new section would have to help recruit an editorial board, solicit articles, find reviewers, and, of course, make editorial decisions.

Unfortunately, we can only pay you in social capital, but those rewards are enormous, you will be helping assemble the knowledge of humanity, brick-by-brick, finding-by-finding.

Findings

  • Praharaj, Sarbeswar, David King, Christopher Pettit, and Elizabeth Wentz. 2020. “Using Aggregated Mobility Data to Measure the Effect of COVID-19 Polices on Mobility Changes in Sydney, London, Phoenix, and Pune.” Findings, October. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.17590.
  • Toulouse, Catherine, Saeid Amiri, Marie-Soleil Cloutier, and Nicolas Saunier. 2020. “Speed Limit Changes and Driver Behaviour: A Spatial Lag Model.” Findings, October. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.17408.
  • Adediji, Yemi, and Robert Noland. 2020. “How Data Imputation Affects Crash Modeling Results.” Findings, October. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.17386.

Talks 

  • The University of Sydney’s First Roderick Distinguished International Webinar is scheduled on Thursday, 19 November 2020, from 6-7pm (AEST) via Zoom. Prof. Jennifer Whyte from Imperial College London will talk on Infrastructure projects and digital delivery.  CLICK HERE to register. 
  • I will be speaking at the Festival of Urbanism on November 18. Mobility and Housing Futures: Lessons from COVID-19 and the 2019-20 bushfires. I will be talking about the “New New Normal: Mobility and Activity in the ‘After Times’”
  • I talked to the University of British Columbia on November 4 (their time) about “The New New Normal”.

Conferences

Research by Others

News & Opinion

Solutions

My solution for increasing Sydney real estate prices: A giant helium inflatable mirror ball tethered to a ferry and floating over Sydney Harbour so everyone has a view of the water.

Books

Slightly Less F*cked

I had held this issue until after the November election, since there wasn’t much hope to get through the noise before the election.

posted to Twitter:

There are two choices on the ballot. If one of them wins, we will be collectively f*cked. What remains of democracy will be in tatters, along with all of the other problems society has. If the other wins, we will be slightly less f*cked. It’s highly unlikely they will solve most of the problems we have, but we will be slightly less bad off, democracy will get at least one more election cycle to restore itself, a semblance of an attempt to solve social and environmental problems will be made. It’s unlikely they will succeed, but they will at least defer the point of failure, slowing the rate of decline. Vote for slightly less f*cked.

Assuming Biden won, my general view is that the US, democracy, and the world are slightly less screwed than before the election, but there remain a huge set of long-term hurdles in front of us, none of which have been solved, all of which are solvable, all which on my happier days I hope we can solve, and most of which I expect won’t be solved, hence my general pessimism. 

We are taught that story-telling requires a triangle of victimvillain, and hero surrounding the problem. The technical problems are all laid out below. The meta-problem is that the victims, villains, and heroes are often an overlapping set of people. All of us in transport understand this as a social dilemma, when individual incentives don’t align with society’s. We see this with congestion, the marginal cost of delay a traveler imposes on others exceeds the cost of delay the traveler herself experiences.

In no particular order, and certainly not a complete list: 

  • Electoral reform is a particularly American problem, due to its historically early and constitution that is too difficult to amend. Some combination of compact districts (no gerrymandering), each district getting electoral votes (as per Maine and Nebraska), and ranked choice voting would be a huge, and easily implemented first step solution not requiring an Amendment (the states would need to consent, but federal $ are usually good for that). But there is far more to do to get this right. (Victim=democracy, representativeness; Villain=constitution, politicians through the ages who never fixed this, US Senate, residents of low population states) 
  • To this we can add:
    • judicial reform, 
    • voting reform, 
    • restoring voting rights for those returning to society, and numerous other related reforms. Somehow these things are not a problem in Australia, where everyone can (and indeed must) vote, there aren’t unnecessary lines, voter suppression isn’t a thing, prisoners are not prohibited from voting, they are required to vote, votes are counted quickly, you can vote for whomever you want without wasting your vote because of ranked choice voting, and people accept the outcome of the election, even if they are disappointed, because the process was perceived fair. The PM will not have a majority of votes nationally, because that’s not how it’s decided, he is elected by the majority party or coalition in Parliament and will only have won his/her own seat. The winning party may not have a majority of votes nationally either, it’s ranked choice voting, but they have won some number (usually a plurality) of seats, and can form a coalition. The system isn’t perfect, it still has a monarch – the Queen of Australia is on the money – it doesn’t really get the idea of consultation is to actually consider public input before making decisions not merely collect it and tick a box, it’s been described as electing a dictatorship that must go back to the people every 3 years for re-election, and has few checks on its power in the interim but for that election.
  • Civil rights and policing may be improving, but as we become more aware of the issue due to ubiquitous cameras it seems to be getting worse. But whether it is improving or not, the state of policing is bad, and the police violence in the US exceeds other countries. (Victim=those oppressed by police and in fear of police, Villain=police) None of this every was acceptable.
  • Gun violence in the US is almost completely solvable in a technical sense, examples of countries with much better records include Australia and New Zealand, but is not solved. (Victim=those killed, Villain=people with guns shooting people)
  • The virus, for which eventually we will get ‘herd immunity’ because everyone who has survived has had it, or an efficacious vaccine eventually arrives. In the mean time this of course has resulted in lockdowns, devastated industries including tourism, aviation, public transport, retail, restaurants, and entertainment. (Victim=everyone, Villain=virus)
  • The financial system, which has a of course huge amounts of inefficiency, fueled by debt, leading to bubbles in asset prices and stocks (the 5-year change in the S&P 500 is 64%, even considering the virus, does that sound like a reasonable increase in the expectations of future profits? … sure if interest rates go to zero, than NPV goes to infinity, but that doesn’t seem likely to me given all the other dynamics … at some point people lose confidence in the ability of governments to repay their ever-rising debts), as well as huge amounts of inequity, growing steadily worse over time. The Rise of Carry is an excellent if difficult book explaining some of the bubble dynamics. I have become something of a perma-bear, but that’s because I am highly suspicious of the Adderall-fueled frat boys running up the prices of stocks, not because I doubt capitalism and markets can do great things if properly regulated. (Victim= investors, people who participate in the economy; Villain=algorithms, people who write algorithms, Adderall, traders)
  • Pollution/decarbonisation, America’s response to COVID-19 portends poorly for any hope of an impactful ‘behavioural fix‘ for climate change. It’s ‘tech fix‘ or nothing. Behaviour and investment (in things like vehicle electrification and adoption of renewable power and phase out of fossil fuels) can of course be incentivised with prices, but while this has been known to be the correct policy for decades, it has hardly been implemented. Hopefully the prices of solar, wind, and batteries keep falling, so change will happen despite political recalcitrance. But there is no guarantee this tech fix is fast enough or complete enough to meaningfully minimise the continually increasing negative outcomes of climate change. At which point removing carbon from the atmosphere seems an increasingly likely solution (which would have been unnecessary had the carbon not been put there in the first place.) We still have problems with deforestation and loss of biodiversity that are also critical, getting back to the problem that no one owns the environment or is economically motivated to protect it. (Victim=environment, people who breathe, people who live near the ocean; Villain=polluters, people who use non-renewable electricity and fossil fuels)
  • Traffic safety, the US is killing pedestrians at an increasing rate (as described by Angie Schmitt), for reasons that are well known, and solvable (since many countries are improving on this metric) but for which society is unwilling to do anything. (Victim=people hit by cars, their family, friends, medical system; Villain=people who drive, people who make cars, people who make roads).
  • Congestion, which isn’t really as much of a problem these days, but we still refuse to solve it and insist on building 20th century infrastructure in response. (Victim=people who travel, people who subsidise roads; Villain=people who drive)
  • Critical Thinking Skills. Have we added lead back into the air? I ask this because people sure seem to be getting stupider and more vulnerable to conspiracy theories than before. Science, is a largely self-correcting system, but its influence on important issues has become needless politicised, especially, but not only, in the US (see: vaccines, pollution). Now this isn’t worse than some points in the past, Galileo had some issues I hear, but surely now that we live in the future, we should be more accepting of the scientific consensus. We have failed to educate non-scientists and non-engineers (both those with and without university educations) enough about how to think clearly, so all we get is muddle and conspiracy.
  • Government transparency. Compared to the US, this is particularly an Australian, and perhaps New South Wales, problem, but documents that should be public (e.g. business cases for massive public infrastructure projects) are held as “cabinet-in-confidence” for ages. Other data, like travel surveys, are not even made available to researchers under confidentiality agreements. What is being covered up? Surely not the thing I am requesting, but they can’t hold only the thing being covered up “in confidence”, otherwise we could figure out what it is. (Victim=citizens, good government; Villain=politicians and government staff)
  • Crony capitalism … as described in The Game of Mates by Cameron Murray and Paul Frijters … is a pervasive problem in government, along with the revolving door guaranteeing that politicians who do favours are rewarded in the “after life”. (Victim=taxpayers; Villain=politicians and crony capitalists)