Transport in the Urban System | Engineers Australia, Newcastle

I will bring ‘flow’ to Newcastle on Wednesday for an Engineering Australia event: Transport in the Urban System. Registration required.

Transport in the Urban System
Transport in Towns – some factors of the Transport System and their interaction within the whole Urban System.

The panel of three eminent academics [David Levinson, John Nelson, Michelle Zeibots] will give an appreciation of how transport functions as part of a city’s complex system. It will assist the broad engineering community to guide decision makers by contributing to well-informed local strategic thinking and intellectual interchange.

Please Note time:  5.00pm for networking for 5.30pm start

16 / 10 / 2019 – 05:00 pm to 07:30 pm (AEST)


Registration Closes
16 / 10 / 2019 05:00 pm
Engineers Australia Newcastle
Suite 3 Tonella Commercial Centre
125 Bull Street
(entry via Dick Street)
Newcastle West – Webinar available,

Physical Location

  • EA Member Rate: $0.00 ($0.00 excl. GST)
  • Society Member Rate: $30.00 ($27.27 excl. GST)
  • Student Member Rate: $0.00 ($0.00 excl. GST)
  • Non-Member Rate: $30.00 ($27.27 excl. GST)


  • EA Member Rate: $0.00 ($0.00 excl. GST)
  • Society Member Rate: $30.00 ($27.27 excl. GST)
  • Student Member Rate: $0.00 ($0.00 excl. GST)
  • Non-Member Rate: $30.00 ($27.27 excl. GST)
Event Contact
  • Contact: Engineers Australia Member Services
  • Phone: 1300 653 113
  • Email:

Data show American commuting is changing, but probably not for the better | Quartz

Dan Kopf at Quartz wrote: Data show American commuting is changing, but probably not for the better. I got quoted:

The effects of suburbanization show up in the data in several ways, including the decrease in bus riders and the spike in subway and rail commuters. Buses are typically used for shorter commutes, while subways and trains are often better options for people who are farther from the city center. Transportation professor David Levinson told Quartz that the use of the bus may also be falling due to the strong economy. More people use cheaper forms of public transport during recessions, but are more likely to drive when they are feeling flush with cash. In addition, Levinson notes that a number of US cities have introduced light rail this decade that are intended to replace buses. This caused a spike in train use.


One other important change to commuting in the US is that fewer people are doing it. The share of people who reported working from home went up from 4.5% in 2010 to 5.6% in 2018; it was only 3.3% in 2000.


Related points:

  1.  2010 was in the recession, 2018 is nearer a peak. During recession, more people switch from car to public transit, walking, biking. As incomes become more reliable in expansion, people switch back to the car. (This applies to work and non-work trips, your table is work only, but work trips are less than 1/4 of all travel).
  2. There has been a cut back in bus service in recent years.
  3. Taxi’s increase is obviously related to the flood of discounted (venture capital subsidized) rides associated with Uber.
  4. There have been added LRT facilities (and some heavy rail) that replaced bus service.
    Wikipedia lists systems by year opened, but also by year last expanded. Many have been opened or expanded since 2010. Many of those riders previously took bus (some are new to transit entirely of course).

Travel Cost and Dropout from Secondary Schools in Nepal

Recently published


Fig. 3. Distribution of Travel Time of Children Enrolled versus Dropped out*. ∗ The plot is a kernel density estimate which has been generated through ggplot2 function in R Studio using bandwidth adjustment factor of 10.

The study relates the association between travel time to the lower secondary and secondary public schools of Nepal and the dropout grade before leaving secondary school. Using an ordered logit model we find that as the travel time to the school increases, students are more likely to dropout from the school system in earlier grades. The results from this study will be useful to policymakers, especially from developing countries, as it places transport in the context of education. 

On the State of Science

“Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.” — (Wikipedia).

To be clear, science is a process, not a set of facts or findings. It produces facts and findings, and refutes them from time to time. Much of the scientific enterprise now occurs at research universities, which are strange, chimerical beasts charged with both advancing human knowledge and entertaining 18-22 year olds.

To be clear, I think science has been extraordinarily successful as an enterprise, moving from a fringe program pursued by a few mostly wealthy individuals with excess leisure to one with millions of practitioners, responsible for most of the world around us.

However, the enterprise is also far from perfect.  As with any social system, status games matter.

The first problem is Pseudo-Science vs Science. While science generally wins these battles, that it keeps fighting them is a drain on more productive activities. Carl Sagan spent a surprisingly large time in the original Cosmos series complaining about astrology. Stephen Jay Gould famously devoted much ink against creationism. They were famous, media-savvy scientists, not like most practitioners, who could proceed day-to-day conducting normal science. But they also captured attention fighting, since the media and the public like nothing better than conflict.  Today, the anti-vaxxers may get millions killed from preventable diseases, and simultaneously chill discussion of real risks associated with vaccines, as any risk is exaggerated and inflated. More attention is given to these ideas than they are worth.

Examples of trending pseudo-science:

  1. Biblical Literalism / Creationism / Intelligent Design / Young Earth
  2. Climate Deniers
  3. Anti-Vaxxers
  4. Astrology
  5. Flat Earth
  6. Alchemy

But like perpetual motion and phlogiston before them, wrong, refutable ideas are pushed to the fringe. As long as we hold fast to the process of conjectures and refutations, and ensure testable hypotheses are presented, science triumphs.

The second problem is Publish or Perish, and its reaction. Publication is essential to science, it is how knowledge is communicated. The US Promotion and Tenure (P&T) system requires academics to go up for tenure, usually after  6 years, at which point they get promoted or are relieved of duty. Other countries have less existential systems. Promotion at good schools requires evidence of journal publication, and sometimes requires that some number of these publications are in journals of a certain tier or have a certain impact factor (which is completely backward, and frankly embarrassing that the logic skills of those checking on impact factor is so poor). (Notably, it is rare that promotion committees check the actual citations of the works themselves or other measures of impact, the excuse given that the publications are too new to have garnered many citations).

While peer review predates journals, modern peer review is a relatively recent invention that acts as a random throttle on the release of knowledge.

As we learn from statistics there are Type I and Type II errors: False positives and false negatives. False positives are results that are published, but are wrong, meaningless, or trivial. False negatives are results that are rejected, but were not wrong, meaningless, or trivial. Peer review aims to reduce false positives, at the cost of false negatives.

Some evaluating agencies even complain that there is too much science being produced (they frame it as too many publications, but publications just document science). They are whining the knowledge is too hard to process, that authors salami-slice results to maximize the number of publications. But what is the right size of a result? The more words to convey the same information, the fewer the readers I suspect, all else equal.

There is bad science being produced, as the incentive is to produce publications, not science, and peer review is a highly random filter.

These problems include Lack of Reproducibility and Transparency and P-hacking, among others.  I have seen a few academics engage in Dual Publication (publishing the same paper, or essentially the same paper) in more than one outlet in parallel, and try to take credit for both. To be charitable, this is especially a risk with multiple authors who are not communicating well, or with conferences that publish, or semi-publish, proceedings. It is also done intentionally.

But there is also good science being produced, and authors spend too much time satisfying reviewers to jump through the peer review hoop to publish in “legitimate” journals so that their research will be accepted by the community of cited authors and itself accumulate citations. These hoops include reviewers and editors requiring additional citations and long introductions, literature reviews, and policy discussions that are largely irrelevant to the knowledge actually produced. Transport Findings aims to remedy this problem of too much verbose bullshit contaminating science.

Good science rejected often winds up in desk drawers, and is needlessly replicated by those who don’t know the work was already done, since it was never published. Good science that is not in the excessively standardized form of a 6000-word paper is hard to publish.

man sitting on the chair while observing outside during daytime
A photograph, because articles with photos are more likely to be read, and take up more screen space on Twitter. Photo by Flickr on

I think we worry too much about false positives and not enough about false negatives, Science is self-correcting, and a wrong result will eventually be discovered, and the paper either retracted or come-to-be-recognized as wrong. Academics with a reputation for many errors will eventually be discovered. Mistakes happen, and not all are due to evil intent.

Publish or perish is a function of the current state, and to its credit helps ensure academics overcome their fear of the imperfect and lack of performance for anything but externally imposed deadlines and ensures papers get out. Failing to make it through this system is not a comment on you personally, and there are many ex-academics leading perfectly productive lives.

Third, the Publications Crisis sees the cost of reading science (legally) getting higher and higher. Scientists are good at routing around problems, and most papers can be acquired conveniently from sci-hub for no charge (and it is easier to use than your local University library, what does that tell you?)

These for-profit, closed-access journals have their own incentives to jack their “impact factor” so that more authors will send their papers there, and more subscribers will read the journal at higher and higher prices. Journals play games like “online first” to garner citations before the date of publication to increase the impact factor.

These journals also engage in `Positive results bias’, being more likely to publish articles that have positive findings (A significantly affects B) instead of null findings (A and B are unrelated). While in a complex world, most things are unrelated, if someone hypothesized that they were, and we find they are not, that is still a valuable contribution to knowledge.

The science journalism community is complicity with this hype cycle, since ‘news’ requires everything to be framed as a breakthrough rather than normal science, as if (a) most ‘breakthroughs’ are real, and (b) progress comes through ‘breakthroughs’ rather than plodding. I’m all in favor of working smart rather than working hard, but actually collecting data and promulgating theory go hand in hand.  Most of us cannot be Newton, Darwin, or Einstein, and we cannot be continuously overthrowing Kuhnian paradigms. There is a bias toward Ravenclaw over Hufflepuff, but most work is Hufflepuff.

There are open access journals that fight this, like Transport Findings and Journal of Transport and Land Use, among others. Unfortunately, there are also fake and low-quality journals that are simply pay-to-play, taking advantage of naive and noob researchers, and those stuck in a Publish or Perish situation with weak oversight based simply on numerics rather than quality, which have become easier and easier to start in the age of the modern internet.  The community can sort this over time.

Fourth, the Academic Ponzi Scheme occurs because each academic at a top school is expected to produce Ph.D. students who themselves become academics at top schools, repeat. Many more PhDs are awarded than faculty positions exist. Most go to lower-ranked schools or industry, and lead happy, healthy lives (alternatively, maybe they retain anger and resentment forever, which is the impression I get from reading the Chronicle.) Some hang around and become adjuncts, working on temporary contracts, teaching more (and researching less), with a job that could disappear at any moment when the economics of the university program change.

Fifth, there is a lot of discussion of self-censorship due to Political Correctness. I don’t see it much in my own world, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Of course, everyone self-censors, one cannot, for instance, expect anyone to say bad things publicly about colleagues they have to work with in the future, or funding organizations that pay them now or are expected to in the future. But that is common sense.  Most of us with tenure or the equivalent have academic freedom to say what we want as long as we do so politely, without slandering or libeling people, etc. There are exceptions, the case of Paul Mees comes to mind, but that is more an issue of academic freedom than political correctness.

Finally, I want to discuss Problem Invention,  bringing distant dangers near. All the low-hanging fruit has been picked, so too much attention is paid to minor issues. I don’t believe it is my place to pass judgment on the importance of work as a reviewer or editor, history can judge. But I sure wish y’all would work on better problems. Much of transport research is about mathematical and statistical games with little practical application. Transport is only important because it is a practical problem.

The problems within science, unlike so many other sets of problems, are largely self-correcting.

21 Solutions to Road Deaths

So your civilization kills 1.35 million people per year in automobile-related crashes. This is a tragedy, but it is no “accident“. Road deaths are largely preventable, and the evidence is that some countries (the United States, Australia) have much higher rates of road death than others (Sweden). The strategies to reduce the carnage go under different names in different places, from Vision Zero to the Safe Systems Approach, but they are not really that distinct substantively.

Most crashes have multiple points of failure in the chain of causation. If only party A was paying more attention, it wouldn’t matter what party B was doing, and vice versa. If the road were designed differently, party A would have behaved differently.

Consider a vehicle-on-vehicle collision. There are at least six actors here: The driver, the other driver, the vehicle, the other vehicle, the road, the environment. Other vehicles (and their drivers) may also have a role to play, even if they are not directly involved in the crash.

The penalty for distraction or misjudgment should not be death. No one deserves to die for a momentary lapse of awareness. Driving is a hard skill, people are fallible, and in addition to the road deaths noted at the beginning of this post, there are hundreds of millions of severe crashes each year globally, many of which are injurious and life-changing, even if not life-ending.

The general approach is two-fold:

  • Prevent crashes.
  • Mitigate crash consequences: prevent death and reduce injury.

The good news is that the same things that prevent crashes often reduce the severity of crashes should they occur. Going slower gives drivers more time to react, but even if they fail to reach in time, (braking too late, or not at all), they still are less likely to be killed or injured, or kill or injure others, at a slow speed than a fast one.

The problem is that drivers often do not want to go slower, and the feeling is that the behaviour which is safer is also less efficient. This is true assuming no crash. Of course, being involved in a crash, or stuck in the congestion behind someone else’s is not efficient either.

The safety advocacy field has long used the 3 Es of Engineering, Enforcement, and Education to describe their strategies. This has been extended with other Es, including variously Emergency Services, Evaluation, Environment, Encouragement, and Everyone Else. Toole Design: has recently proposed a new set of 3Es: Equity, Ethics, Empathy. The Es are a useful mnemonic, but we need to dig deeper. This post includes 21 strategies that improve safety.  You might think of others. There is no one magic bullet for this complex problem, though some strategies are more effective than others depending on context.

Engineer for Safety

Design the system to be safer.

Foremost, this means design for slow speed. Wherever a pedestrian may come into conflict with a vehicle, the speed should be as low as possible, but start with 30 km/h (18 mph) as at that speed pedestrians are more likely to survive being hit by a car than die, while at higher speeds the reverse is true. If vehicles must go faster, the separation of pedestrians, bicyclists, and cars should be considered. There are numerous strategies to achieve low speeds on streets, including regulations (discussed below), enforcement of those regulations, and better, designing roads so that drivers only feel comfortable driving at low speeds.  There are numerous techniques to reduce the design speed of streets and roads, including traffic calming devices and shared space approaches.  Traffic calming aims to use street designs to reduce speed, by making it difficult or uncomfortable to travel faster. Solutions include narrowing the street, chicanes to alter direction of vehicles, and speed tables and wombats (raised pedestrian crossings, at intersections or midblock) to remind drivers they are in pedestrian areas. Shared spaces allow persons in and out of vehicles to use the same area and visually negotiate conflicts rather than requiring on an excess of signs, signals, and markings regulating behaviour. The Netherlands has probably done the most to improve the streetscape for the benefit of safety following the “stop the child murders” (Stop de kindermoord) campaign of the 1970s.

Stop the child murders. Dutch National Archive
Stop child murders. Dutch National Archive

Use of roundabouts rather than traffic signals takes up more space, and increases the distance pedestrians have to walk, but by lowering speed at the intersection and deflecting cars, generally results in an overall safer situation than a signal or stop-controlled intersection. In addition to being safer, lower speeds also make driving less advantageous compared to other modes, and reduces demand for cars, which likely improves safety as well.

But it also means that designs for high-speed roads should be safer through better geometric design. Geometric design is usually about the design of horizontal and vertical curves, and the visibility at those curves determines the appropriate speed (or the design speed determines the curvature), which depends on driver perception and reaction times.  But there are other aspects as well.  Civil Engineers are responsible for designing roads and the traffic controls (signs, signals, and markings) that govern them. As an undergraduate student at Georgia Tech, my Transportation Engineering Professor, Paul Wright, was very much concerned with traffic safety. One of the problems he identified was that cars ran off the road at high speed and hit fixed objects, like light poles, or trees, which killed the driver or passenger, while the pole or tree remained standing. So he advocated ensuring the side of state highways were clear of fixed objects within 30 feet (~8 m) of the road edge. Light poles and signs would be redesigned to be breakaway, instead of being designed to outlast a car crash. Trees would be cut down. Bridges would have protected guardrails so that cars would be deflected back into the stream of traffic rather than crashing into a concrete pillar (as bridge pillars should not be breakaway for obvious reasons).  This apparently reduced deaths, though was unfortunately also applied in urban areas, encouraging higher rates of speed. Other similar strategies include cables in the medians of highways to reduce cross-over crashes (which are far worse as the speed of impact of a head-on crash is so high).

Different types of roads require different treatments. Limited access motorways (freeways) are generally safer at high speeds than city streets, and when faster (e.g. with higher freeway speed limits, to a point), attract traffic away from city streets and rural roads, which reduces overall statewide fatalities, though increases them on the relevant freeways, and probably induces increased demand overall.

Design road surfaces to reduce slip and increase friction. Pavement engineers consider not only the strength of pavements, but their surface condition.

Maintain Roads to improve traffic safety as well. This includes the general road condition, as well as snow and ice clearance. Toshihiro Yokoo, Mihai Marasteanu, and I found that good pavement quality is associated with lower crash rates in several conditions:

  • Snow – for fatal crashes,
  • Asphalt over concrete and sags for injury and property damage crashes,
  • Wet roads for injury crashes, and
  • Crests, and spring load restrictions for property damage crashes.

It should also be noted that very bad pavement quality also performs as a type of traffic calming, as people are uncomfortable traveling at higher speeds on bumpy roads.

Educate, Enforce, and Regulate Drivers

Regulate driver behavior by adopting severe rules about drunk driving (drink driving, driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated) and rules about maximum hours to ensure drivers are as alert (sober) as possible when making decisions. In a sense much of this is pre-crime, we regulate this behavior even if the driver has not actually driven badly or caused a crash because they are in a state where they might at a moment’s notice. But unlike walking, driving is a privilege, not a right. Other rules include things like prohibiting the use of mobile phones while driving, as distracted driving, unlike distracted walking, is a real problem. Some rules are downright counterproductive, like assuming pedestrians should only cross at marked crosswalks. The US is terribly inconsistent about which crosswalks are marked, leading to confusion and danger.

Enforce the adopted rules and laws like the speed limit and other traffic laws that improve actual safety (that is, punish bad behavior). This is traditionally the responsibility of the police. Much of this can be automated with various types of `photocop‘ technologies, such as red-light running cameras and photo-radar speed enforcement. These generally improve safety. In contrast, ad hoc human-based enforcement often has racial bias, and has traditionally been used as a pretext to harass minorities. Still, if people believed there were serious consequences for violating road rules and killing or injuring other people with automobiles, they would probably be more careful.

Encourage and reinforce good behavior. While encouragement is not widely used, it is certainly possible to imagine earning points for good behavior, that might result in lower insurance premiums, or removing points from your driver’s license. However encouragement has its downsides:  imagine being pulled over by police, even if in the end they give you a citation of good behavior, the stress of the event, depending on your circumstances, especially if you had a record or points, may have taken several hours or days off your life)

Educate and License drivers, both new and continuing, on the state of the road rules, and their knowledge thereof. Driver education (and examination and licensure) is intended to produce better drivers. The US driver education system is not especially rigorous given the damage that can be caused, and there is no effective “continuing education” for drivers, requiring them to demonstrate continued improvement in driving skills, aside from occasional public service announcements and variable message signs. Practice improves skill, but experience creates relaxation and may induce over-confidence on the job (of driving). Licensure has been getting more rigorous in the US, and this has improved safety. Still, the only rigorous test are for the first time the license  is earned, and changes in road rules are never tested, much less memory of the existing road rules.


Equip vehicles with technologies that reduce injury to vehicle occupants in a crash, and equipment that reduces the likelihood of a crash in the first place.

Mechanical engineers have done better at the first of these, vehicle occupants are much less likely to die due to better-designed automobiles that now feature things like:

  • Seatbelts
  • Crash cages
  • Crumple zones
  • Shatterproof Glass
  • Airbags
  • Child safety seats (car seats)

Software and electrical engineers have helped develop systems such as

  • Rear cameras, for backing up,
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Automatic emergency braking systems
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Auto-pilot, Supercruise, other advanced driver assistance systems

which improve safety, the latter ones especially on highways.

However, the increase in SUVs increases the severity of crash consequences for those outside the vehicle (in other cars, or on foot or on bike) both due to the mass of the vehicle, and the height, which collides with the soft body of the pedestrian nearer the vital organs than a lower sedan.

Materials engineers and mechanical engineers are involved in the design of tires, which is an important element in safety.

Equip humans with safety gear. If we can redesign vehicles, can we also redesign our unprotected road users, pedestrians and bicyclists?  Safety promotors have essentially proposed this. Some equipment that helps pedestrians and bicyclists be seen is that which increases visibility, including bicycle lights and increased reflectivity of the bicycle or the high-visibility clothes worn by road users. Or worse, asking pedestrians to carry flags to cross the street. By increasing visibility, the argument goes, the driver will be able to react and apply the brakes sooner, and either stop, or at least be slower, at the time of impact. The empirical evidence for safety is non-existent either way on reflective gear, though one imagines it helps, as it improves visibility in tests.

Vehicle equipment designs that reduce the impact of vehicles on bikes and people on foot should also be considered. The increasing height and mass of SUVs (and their increasing number) has been credited with the fast-rising number of pedestrian deaths in the US in recent years. The height makes it harder for drivers to see people (especially children and others who don’t play basketball professionally) just in front of the vehicle. The height also means the collision will occur on the upper rather than lower half of the body, where people keep most of their vital organs.

Bicyclists are often asked or required to wear helmets in countries like Australia with a weak biking culture. Yet the safest countries for bicyclists, like the Netherlands, don’t require this. It is clear from the medical literature that if you are dropped on your head, a helmet helps. But that is not the whole story. The question is one of incidence, whether a helmet increases the likelihood of being dropped on your head, either because of more aggressive cars around helmeted, uniformed, and armored bicyclists or because of the false confidence that helmets provide bicyclists. By the same logic, vehicle passengers and drivers should wear helmets and goggles, which will reduce injury and death. We might want them wearing giant inflatable bags as well. This seems ridiculous, but we essentially ask this of bicyclists. The entire conception of bicycling as a race requiring special gear ensures we have othered (dehumanized) the bicyclist, which reduces driver empathy. Delbosc et al. have found that dehumanization is correlated with aggression.

Ergonomics, or Human Factors Engineering,  considers road user interaction with the vehicle and with the road environment. Out-of-vehicle, human factors engineers are responsible for standardising traffic signs, signals, and markings, and interfaces, which appear to be getting better, if too numerous. In-vehicle, human factors engineers interfaces like the dashboard, which appears to be getting worse, increasing the distractability of drivers.

Emergency Response

Emergency response saves lives if there is a crash, and this has been getting better, both in terms of reduced response time, due to almost instant notification of an incident from vehicle-based systems or from mobile phones, as well as faster dispatching of emergency response, as well as improvement in medical care technologies over the past century. Improvements in response time and medicine are responsible for about one-third of the reduction in fatality rates from crashes in the UK.


Fewer automobiles will result in fewer automobile-related deaths. No cars eliminate the risk entirely, but also is beyond the pale to consider, apparently.

Pedestrianisation, or reducing the number of roads where cars are permitted, naturally reduces car crashes on the pedestrianised sections. Similarly, better pedestrian networks and pedestrian priority will both increase pedestrian safety and reduce the number of drivers. A key example of this is the trip to and from school, which children used to do on their own

Improve public transport, walking, and bicycle networks, to reduce the number of people who feel the need to drive.

Change land use patterns to reduce driving. Reorganizing the location of activities so that origins and destinations are nearer means more trips can be by walking, biking, or public transport. Denser areas are generally safer on a per capita basis (that is the more people, the more collisions, but the rate of serious collisions per pedestrian or per vehicle drops), as there are safety-in-number effects, which we have corroborated for pedestrians and bicyclists. The relationships are complex.

Grid the street network. Marshall found that “Denser street networks with higher intersection counts per area are associated with fewer crashes across all severity levels.”

Economy is a factor, the better the economy, the more people driving, both to work and to non-work destinations. Our research has shown that as the gas prices rise (and one expects, as the economy deteriorates), the drivers who give up the road are typically worse than average, often younger, less responsible, and less able to hold down a job, while younger potential drivers defer licensure. It might be socially counter-productive to want high gas prices or a bad economy solely to reduce road deaths, and a bad economy may very well increase other deaths, though high gas prices may have additional beneficial effects from reduced pollution. Nevertheless, the correlation remains.

Emerging Technologies

Vehicle automation will certainly help in the long run, as computers are less likely to be vulnerable to the same imperfections that humans suffer when attempting to maintain concentration, and are programmable to behave in a more risk-averse way, as well as having faster reaction times and being more predictable and more likely to obey road rules. But we are at least two decades away from full automation, and many of the strategies here will help even with automated vehicles.


Like congestion and global warming, the road death toll can be significantly reduced, but there is little evidence that the United States, in particular, is collectively interested in solving it. While there are obviously advocates, they do not have the upper hand, otherwise deaths would not be rising in recent years off its 2014 lows.

Ezra Hauer argues convincingly that practice needs to engage better with research, and be more evidence-based. There are other strategies as well would result in safer systems that kill and injure fewer people each year.  Despite the high road toll, the issue seldom received the attention it deserves, overshadowed by more newsworthy types of death. This post also doesn’t cover the deaths due to air pollution, which is of a similar magnitude, and suggests another set of solutions.









The Transportist: October 2019

Welcome to the latest issue of The Transportist, especially to our new readers.  As always you can follow along at the or on Twitter.


Master of Transport

Transportist (the blog)


Transport Findings


News & Opinion

Research by Others


Master of Transport – Masterclass

Study Australia’s first interdisciplinary degree focusing on the engineering, urban planning, and business management of the ever-growing global transport sector.

Masterclass for the Master of Transport
Register for a Masterclass for the Master of Transport , October 8, 2019

Click for more information about the Masterclass or the Master of Transport in general.

Our masterclasses program is your opportunity to taste test our curriculum.
Delivered from a class that may form your future course, so you can explore which postgraduate option is right for you.
Understanding How Technology Shapes Cities

This class will look at the history and future of transport, and how it has and may change where and how we live. By exploring the evolution of systems such as the London Underground, Sydney’s Trams, and US Highways, we can learn about the processes that effect the landscape as electric, autonomous, and shared vehicles become widespread.
Presented by Prof David Levinson..

This class is delivered as part of CIVL 5703, a unit of study offered through the Master of Transport.

Considering other courses? Find all our masterclass options as part of our event series Postgraduate Studies Week.

If you have any accessibility requirements for this event please contact

The Precarity of Our Situation

Society, and the stock markets that price future risk, are underestimating the precarity of our collective situation.  We are staring at the precipice of environmental disaster, economic collapse, and an end to democratic governance. Any of this may or may not come to pass, but that it “might” is seemingly ignored, and anyone who mentions it is disparaged as a Cassandra, as if she didn’t speak the truth.

Environment: The environmental disaster awaiting us is getting more obvious. The earth is large but finite, and there are only so many emissions it can absorb in a given time. The capacity of this system is being saturated by the quantity of pollutants being emitted. Unfortunately for public policy, this is a slow-moving crisis and it does not respect national borders.

Sure there are some good trends for society overall, criteria air pollutants are largely down over the past few decades in most developed countries, but CO2 emissions keep rising, deforestation is chopping apace, birds are dying, ice is melting, and sea levels are rising.

Solutions like the deployment of renewable energy sources and electrification of the industrial and transport sectors are necessary steps. These steps will occur if the apocalypse does not arrive first, but are not likely fast enough to mitigate many of the impacts, which are baked in, so to speak. Reforestation and afforestation and the like may actually capture carbon. But these are long-term downstream solutions to a problem that is occurring now.


Economy: While I do not know if the market will crash tomorrow or next year, people’s collective beliefs are this will not happen at all. There are many downside risks. First, the people actually managing money supply and fiscal policy and so on are not quite the smartest people in the room. The US and many other governments have collectively decided that revenues and expenditures can be completely unhinged, even during an economic expansion. Money was always a fiction, but it becomes more fantastic every day.

To be clear, some risks are so terrible they are not worth pricing. For instance, let’s suppose there were a 10% chance of a large meteorite hitting the earth next year, killing human life on earth. In this case, stocks are worthless.  That scenario also implies a 90% chance that life continues, in which case stocks are worth $1M. The expected value (EV) would logically be $900k. However that’s not the right way to price this risk:  if stocks are worth zero, you won’t be around to not cash in, and if you short the market, you can never collect your winnings. Instead, we bet contingent on existence: P(EV|Existence).

However, there are also many non-existential, but still pretty bad, risks that people do not seem to be fully factoring in. Among them

  • war
  • environmental catastrophe short of annihilation
  • fast-spreading epidemic
  • trade war
  • depression/loss of confidence/recognition of bubble
  • technological catastrophe
  • fuel price rises/shortages before society is adapted to electrification


Democracy: There are a number of problems whose growth is exponential rather than linear or logarithmic. Economists look at the totals and say, while it is not good, it is also minor. A linguist says violence is declining over the long run. But consider mass shootings in the United States. While obviously a terrible thing, they are still (fortunately?) a very small share (less than 1%) of overall homicides (19,880) and deaths. But as this graphic from the Economist shows, they are growing at a roughly exponential rate. The increasing concern is probably due to the public’s ability to perceive change, compounded by an increasingly real-time, pervasive media that brings distant dangers near, rather than absolute levels.

The media that exaggerates the risk also compounds it, as the idea of committing mass shootings also spreads.  It is doubly-frustrating because this is an eminently solvable problem, as it is much less common in nearly every other country. Yet the US political system remains unable to resolve this, despite the horror.




Democracy is also in decline globally, as I noted in the previous post, according to Freedom House: (also note the axis is not zero, so it’s worse than it looks).



In the Balance: I have put together an informal catalog of well over 100 global problems, some of which I will discuss in future posts. This is far from a complete list, and focuses in more depth on the things I pay attention to, but it’s a start.

The good news is that most of these are resolvable. Some things are getting better, over the long run.

The bad news is that while they are resolvable, there is no evidence our political system will actually resolve them in a timely manner. And while some things may be getting better, many are hardly in good shape now. As I like to tell my class, things that are not sustainable do not sustain.  But how that unsustainable behavior resolves remains open.




Observations of Melbourne

I just spent 2.5 days in Melbourne last week, a 400% increase over my previous time in Melbourne, so now I am an expert. The first trivia fact about everyone should know: Melbourne is a city founded by Batman, but which names its stadium for Marvel.

I was in town for the National Roads and Traffic Expo, but I got a chance to take a `free’ walking tour (tips are expected), which was excellent except for the Drop Bears reference. Seriously, there are enough things in Australia that can kill you, including Magpies, that they don’t need to make them up for the tourists.

The simplest model to compare the two cities is to recognise that Melbourne is Sydney’s kid brother. Melbourne compares itself to Sydney, Sydney says ‘who?’.

They are distinguished in a tyranny of small differences sense. Melbourne is home to the AFL, Sydney to the NRL. Melbourne was laid out more or less as a logical Cartesian grid, much like most of North America; Sydney retains the pre-Cartesian romantic street network.


Heritage Tram in front of Flinders Street Station



Melbourne is still less populous than Sydney, but growing faster. It expects to more than double to 10 million people by 2066 according to at least one projection. While I didn’t count, the number of cranes in the city center area appears larger than Sydney’s (though data say otherwise).

By and large, the cities are similar. You can randomly replace a block in one city with a block in the other and they would generally not be out-of-place. I’d venture they are perhaps the two most similar large cities I have seen, though obviously Minneapolis and St. Paul or Oakland and San Francisco are highly coupled, San Francisco is more different from Seattle or Los Angeles, and Minneapolis is more different from Chicago or St. Louis or Kansas City.

The general reputation is that Sydney has better weather, Melbourne has better culture (arts, food, etc.).

There are some key differences, elements of Melbourne that are now missing from Sydney.


Queen Victoria Market
Queen Victoria Market

First is the Queen Victoria Market, a large consumer-oriented fresh food market with many different sellers. Why doesn’t Sydney have this? Paddy’s Market and the Sydney Fish Market are not the same thing. Paddy’s may have once been more similar, but not anymore.


Flagstaff Tram Stop
A narrow middle-of-the-road Tram Stop

Second are the Trams (map). For nearly a century, both cities were among the world leaders in tram network deployment. While Sydney disassembled its trams by 1961 (though has put back a few light rail lines), Melbourne retained theirs.

Trams in Melbourne’s city center serve a people-mover function analogous to a horizontal elevator. Several of the major streets in the city centre have been largely pedestrianised, avoiding auto-tram conflicts, and allowing plenty of space for stops.

Outside the CBD, the situation is different, and the boarding and alighting situation is little different than it was more than a century ago, and worse in that there are more automobiles.

The trams are center-running, and this doesn’t leave much (or any) space for people to board and alight without conflicting with traffic. There are a few locations with the street raised in the lane adjacent to the tram tracks, so that passengers have something more akin to level boarding. Driving rules are such that cars are supposed to stop behind the tram so that the passengers can safely move from the footpath to the tram, across the traffic lane. Melbourne also has the Melbourne hook, so drivers have better sight of trams that might be behind them when making a right turn across traffic (which is to be done from the left lane)

Yarra Trams Driver switching tracks manually

Some of the tram lines are so unimproved that the driver gets out of the tram, and activates the switch by hand, before returning to the trams (Google maps).

The virtue of this system is it makes economic use of existing capital infrastructure, lowering costs compared with no construction built to modern standards. This leaves more resources available for other things. The downside is the safety cost. The Age reports “According to Transport Safety Victoria there were 51 reported incidents of trams colliding with people last year [2018], up from 35 in 2014.” Two of those pedestrians died.

I rode the trams several times. My perception of the system that it is well-used throughout the day, tending toward crowded. Even the City Circle (heritage) line was crowded, mostly with non-tourists.

The main problem with any crowded public transport is being with other people. On one of the trips, I was sitting next to a young male who was quietly spitting/drooling onto the window sill of the tram car, seemingly out of boredom rather than disability. Eventually, he had the decency to ask for a tissue from others standing around, though no one supplied it. He then left, drool still there. I assume it either was cleaned at the end of the day or evaporated into the air. In any case, it was sort of gross.

The Melbourne Train system (line length 405 km, track length 998 km) does not carry as many passengers (240.9 million (2017-18)) as Sydney’s  (track length 813 km (359.2 million (2017–2018))), though it appears to carry more passengers per km. While it has an extensive network, judging from the map,  headways are not as good, the trains are shorter (6 (car length 24m) vs. 8 cars (car length 20 m)), and single-deck, so the total passenger load is significantly lower, though I am sure these numbers are not strictly comparable. Like Sydney, Melbourne has a City Loop, though apparently it is operated poorly, with long layovers at Flinders Street Station. Melbourne’s loop was completed in 1981 (compared to 1956 for Sydney), and the non-historic stations would not look out of place on BART.

Overall, people in Sydney use public transport more (26% for work trips) than Melbourne (18% for work trips).

Melbourne is also proud of its graffiti and wall murals, and has more of those than Sydney, especially in laneways (alleys) which have been in many cases transformed from purely logistics functions into public spaces for consumption of alcohol and caffeine to a much greater extent than Sydney.

The waterfront (along the Yarra River) is reclaimed industrial lands, much like Barangaroo, though somewhat more space has been given over to the pedestrian realm, and the route is well-traveled by bicyclists. There is an arts district, including the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). The usual rap on most less-than-famous museums is that they exhibit first-rate work by second-tier artists and second-rate work by first-tier artists. Still, the museum was better than I expected, and free. I am not a huge fan of arts precincts, I am not clear on the synergy of concentrating these facilities together, rather than dispersing them throughout the city, but it wasn’t as bad as say the Kennedy Center or Lincoln Center.

I had a chance to visit some more suburban neighborhoods: Brunswick and Footscray.

To get to Brunswick, I took the tram up Nicholson Street and walked over to the famous Sydney Road (there is not a famous Melbourne Road in Sydney). This area is probably most similar to King Street in Newtown, Sydney, and they are controversially considering upgrading to protected bike lanes in this narrow tram corridor.

Sydney Road, Brunswick


Nicholson Street, Brunswick,

There is a parallel separated bike path along the rail corridor about two blocks west. I took the train over to Footscray.





I was only vaguely familiar with Footscray from the movie Romper, Stomper, which highlighted the conflict between the neo-nazi skinheads and the Vietnamese community. Since then, Footscray has evolved into a neighborhood with a heavily African immigrant community. It has a lovely shopping district, and some pedestrianised streets.


I flew into Melbourne airport, which is farther from the City Centre than Sydney’s, and not yet connected by rail (though there is a tram that comes close). It is connected by an excellent Skybus service, which more people should use.  I rode Skybus back. Before doing so I checked out of my hotel, but I did not want to carry my backpack all day, so we stopped by Southern Cross station to store my stuff.  However, using the lockers at Southern Cross station was not a reliable experience. First, most of the lockers were out-of-order. When I came to collect my stuff, I was ‘locked out’ of my locker, my PIN did not work (the same PIN as always), so I found a security officer, who unlocked my locker, which contained someone else’s stuff. He called the baggage checking people, who fortunately did have my stuff. Apparently, my locker did not lock properly and someone turned it in for safe-keeping. So good on the patrons and/or staff of Southern Cross for their honesty, but bad on the locker management company in the first place. It could have been user error, except I did pay them money, and I did close the locker, so if there is some confirmation button I did not press, it’s more a User Interface problem than a User problem.

I took too many Photos.