Streets Wide Shut – A Principle for Urban Streets

I propose as an urban design principle: No street should carry more than four lanes of private vehicle traffic in a city. No more than two of those lanes should go in the same direction. Most streets should be three, two, or one lane wide.

If a street carries more than three lanes of traffic in one direction, or more than four lanes total, it is not a street, it tends toward being a stroad, in the useful coining of Charles Marohn, and does not belong at surface in the city. It’s existence defeats cross-street pedestrian flows and sucks the vitality from adjacent areas.

Pacific Highway in St. Leonard's is six lanes wide. Parking is permitted during the off-peak.
Pacific Highway in St. Leonard’s is six lanes wide. Parking is permitted during the off-peak.

Sydney has its share of excellent walking streets, mostly in neighbourhoods. But there are some ‘streets’ that have long, if not always, been too wide, or have widened too much over time. I speak, for instance of Pacific HighwayGibbons/Regent StreetCity Road, and Parramatta Road/Broadway among others (although in the last case, the name “Broad” “Way” gives it away, and word “road” rather than “street” is often an indicator of its early origins and cross-purposes).

Other streets have an appropriate number of lanes, but are just too fast (Hume Highway through Ashfield), as their uses have changed over time, and city streets became designated part of a national intercity highway.

Hume Highway in Ashfield has a fence down the middle to discourage mid block pedestrian crossings.
Hume Highway in Ashfield has a fence down the middle to discourage mid block pedestrian crossings.

Often the problem is width itself, rather than the number of moving lanes, as a lane is used for parking. Assuming there is desire to retain on-street parking (an assumption which should at least be questioned), there are still solutions. In those cases, curb bump outs and bulbs can be used to tie the two sides of the street closer together for the pedestrian. The parking can be diagonalised rather than parallel in order to reduce the feeling of width.

In a city like Sydney, with its topographically-driven radial street network, traffic tends to be funnelled onto major streets like Pacific Highway with few alternatives. Obviously residents don’t want cut through traffic, so neighbourhood streets have been restricted to local traffic through physical traffic calming as well as regulatory signs. This funnelling exacerbates the problem. While grade separated and pedestrian-free motorways can divert long distance traffic from what should be city streets, induced demand indicate they will always be congested in the peak, and  the Downs Thomson paradox states that in peak times cars will move at the speed of grade separated transit (if it were slower, people would take transit, if it were faster, traffic would expand to fill the space allotted).

A more local street, like McEvoy Street carries an excess amount of traffic in the peak on its four lanes, two of which are often for parking or bus stops.  This is likely to worsen as WestConnex disgorges thousands of additional vehicles per day onto the newly reconfigured  “Alexandria-Moore Park Connector

Even with only 4 lanes, cars on McEvoy go too fast when they get the opportunity, so much that officials had to put a variable message sign out to remind traffic.

The problem is not just width, it is also signal timings and street right-of-way rules that tame the pedestrian into only crossing with a pedestrian signal.

The city and, since many of these are state roads, the state, need to prioritise movement the kind of travel they say they want: pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, over the movement of cars. This begins with street design.

Accessibility Analysis of Risk Severity

Recently published:

Accessibility loss by time threshold when highlighted link is removed.
Accessibility loss by time threshold when highlighted link is removed.

Abstract:

Risk severity in transportation network analysis is defined as the effects of a link or network failure on the whole system. Change accessibility (reduction in the number of jobs which can be reached) is used as an integrated indicator to reflect the severity of a link outage. The changes of accessibility before-and-after the removing of a freeway segment from the network represent its risk severity. The analysis in the Minneapolis – St. Paul (Twin Cities) region show that links near downtown Minneapolis have relative higher risk severity than those in rural area. The geographical distribution of links with the highest risk severity displays the property that these links tend to be near or at the intersection of freeways. Risk severity of these links based on the accessibility to jobs and to workers at different time thresholds and during different dayparts are also analyzed in the paper. The research finds that network structure measures: betweenness, straightness and closeness, help explain the severity of loss due to network outage.

Keywords: Accessibility, Vulnerability, Network structure, Betweenness 

On ‘Misery Loves Company’

‘Misery Loves Company’ is a very misunderstood expression. I think most people use it to mean that miserable people want other people around to cheer them up, to commiserate.

For instance, wiktionary says:

misery loves company

  1. Misery is easier to bear when one is not the only one miserable. quotations ▼

Translations[edit]

The Cambridge Dictionary implies similarly:

misery loves company

saying people who are unhappy like to share their troubles with others:

We’d both just broken up with our boyfriends, so we decided to go see a movie together – misery loves company.

In my view,  the misery is a contagion, and so miserable people make other people unhappy. It is the misery itself which ‘loves’ company, not the unhappy person seeking to be less unhappy.   This is alluded to on the wikipedia page with an obscure link to “emotional contagion“.

This more cynical view is consistent with the the origin of the expression. which is apparently Marlowe in Dr. Faustus. Positively Parkinson’s writes:

A curious phrase, “misery loves company”.  It originated from Dr. Faustus, a play from the 16th century about a man who was prepared to give up all hope by signing a pact with the devil in exchange for 24 years of living with his desires being fulfilled. The quote is from the lips of Mephistophilis, the devil’s agent, in answer to the question about why Satan seeks to enlarge his kingdom. The phrase appears to mean that those who are unhappy seek to make others unhappy too. Is that true? It does seem that the older we get the more we seek to share our maladies, aches and pains; the pills we are taking, the operations undergone, the alternative medicine remedies we have tried. Are we commiserating? Are we truly seeking to drag others into a miserable hell like the clever demon attempted with Dr. Faustus?

For the full text of Faustus, see Note: 2 on this page. The expression is not in English in the original, and I think the translation is metaphorical rather than literal.

The aphorism has been extended in a number of ways that exhibit this misunderstanding.

I know descriptivists will say the expression means what the people say it means. But as a retrograde prescriptivist standing upon the Dictionary and yelling “Stop!”, I say enough is enough; miserable people don’t really want company, and if you choose to accompany them, you asked for it.

 

On the ‘Three City’ Plan of Sydney

I have been hearing and reading a lot about the Greater Sydney Commission’s  (GSC) Our Greater Sydney 2056: A metropolis of three cities – connecting people Plan for Sydney.

As the title says, the core idea trifurcates Greater Sydney into three “cities” *

Three city plan from Greater Sydney Commission. Source: https://www.greater.sydney/map-room
Three city plan from Greater Sydney Commission. Source: https://www.greater.sydney/map-room
  • Eastern City/ Sydney/Harbour City,
  • Central City/Parramatta/River City,
  • Western City/Aerotropolis/Parkland City.

In one very important sense, these are all Greater Metropolitan Sydney. In another legal sense, the “City of Sydney” is a legally-defined ‘local government area’ including the most famous bits and surrounding areas. There are many legally-defined cities (local government areas) in greater Sydney,   and these get periodically redefined by the state government to which they genuflect.

Now I am sure in part the use of the word “City” is a rhetorical device, to find some way to combine the vast area of the West into a coherent thing.  But absconding with the word “City” to mean neither the integrated metropolitan Sydney nor the local government areas does violence to the language and creates confusion where clarity is desired. The word “region” is overused and indeterminate, but surely there is another word here. I like “Quarter” but that implies 4 parts, at least to the purists, or “Borough”, but someone can figure this out. New York and London have ‘boroughs,’ perhaps that is what makes a world-class city.

The idea of three “cities” (or even “boroughs”) may seem innocuous, but if not carefully unpacked and dismembered, it risks becoming like the lines on the map of transport plans decades ago which inevitably get realised, and eventually find itself as yet one more layer of government, or a replacement for existing local government areas and increasing the remoteness of the ever less-local local government.

While there are maps showing these regions, it is unclear what actually differentiates them along the continuum of urban development. Arguably, a park-belt separates the West from the Center, and that would seem an almost natural boundary, but if you look closely at the map, it splits the western city from itself.   The only thing that differentiates the East and the Center is orientation to a primary node of activity (Parramatta or Sydney), and that is so overlapping as to be not very meaningful. Nor is orientation systematically defined, and even if it were, it is subject to change with the economic fortunes of each core. Moreover, there are many activity centers located throughout each of the “cities”.

Activity Centers in Sydney from Greater Sydney Committee
Activity Centers in Sydney from Greater Sydney Committee

While the eastern and central cities of Sydney and Parramatta have core central cities, in addition to numerous local activity clusters,  the West is a core-less cluster of cities.

Aerotropolis

Planners imply the void will be filled in the west will by the planned Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek (on which a lot seems to hang), and the surrounding Aerotropolis of rental car vendors, cheap hotels, sex shops, establishments serving quickly prepared food, and warehouses. An airport is a decidedly non-urban land use, even if the terminal is city-like in perverse ways. The airport is shown looming large on the map, larger than the existing Sydney Airport, which in all but area it will be smaller and less important than for decades to come.

The West, with an airport smack dab in the middle  seems a network or cluster of activity centers more than a single coherent thing deserving the label “city”.

30-Minutes

The definitional argument is intimately related to the idea of the “30-minute city” wherein a majority of people (say 70%) have commutes less than 30 minutes. Ensuring people can reach more things in less time is the correct planning goal of accessibility. And today, most people in Sydney have a 30 minute or less one way commute (be careful of means vs. medians here, there is a long tail), but as the city grows, this becomes harder and harder to achieve as people seek out better matching opportunities farther away, and there is more growth away from the center. All else equal, entropy dictates commutes will on average get longer not shorter as metropolitan areas grow. People will adjust their homes and jobs.

For Sydney to remain a 30-minute city, and more importantly, for Western Sydney to achieve this, many more jobs must relocate westward, or be created in the western region. (Or people just stop commuting as much, or transport connections become much faster.) This is one of the points of the plan. If the plan is successful, and jobs do materialise in the west, most Western Sydney residents would not need to commute east for jobs.

Identity: West vs. East

Planning doyenne and the Chief Commissioner of the GSC, Lucy Hughes Turnbull,  said Wednesday November 15 at an Industry Briefing: Planning the future of transport and land use in Greater Sydney and Regional NSW, that  the  Western city comprises “Campbelltown, Liverpool, Penrith, et cetera”.

I would be unsurprised to find those who live in the town of “Et Cetera” view it differently.

To my outsider eyes, the West really seems to me to be a collection of disparate areas that might eventually conurbate into a continuum of suburbia with traditional existing centers as nodes of activity. But is the “West” really the identity people will have? Won’t they say I am from Blacktown, or I am from Sydney instead of I am from Western Sydney (Western City/Aerotropolis/Parkland City) or whatever name wins out? I suspect they will go for local (Blacktown) or global (Sydney) recognition rather than I am from Aerotropolis, or the Western City, or the Parkland City or any other sub-metropolitan, supra-municipal objectifier.

For instance, in American Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Angels/California Angels/Anaheim Angels eventually became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Not the Orange County Angels, nor the Eastern LA Angels. (And Los Angeles c. 1955 is probably the best American analogy to Sydney, the populations and geographies are similar, with San Francisco c. 1980 next best.) The “Greater Western Sydney” Giants, an Australian-Rules sportsball team, plays in Spotless Stadium at the Olympic Park, which is East of Parramatta. Will they eventually be renamed the Parramatta Giants, or the Sydney Giants of Greater Parramatta/Olympic Park?

Plebiscite
Results of Gay Marriage Postal Survey.

Identity matters. As can be seen from the results of the Gay Marriage Plebiscite, people of Western Sydney have, on average, different political opinions and social values from the East, or most of Australia. But these political preferences don’t align cleanly with the Western/Central/Eastern City.

Other Matters: West vs. East

Addressing local needs matters. Housing is less expensive out west, but travel costs are higher since commutes are longer.

Building connectivity matters. The west is much more auto-reliant than the east, and will remain so largely independent of public policy. That’s what the land use dictates. The land use won’t change much, as that’s what the transport system enables. This is largely locked in through a decades long process of mutual co-evolution. Even as they rise with population growth, the densities of the west will remain lower than the east.

The first figure shows three transport hubs (presumably transit hubs, though out west this might not be the case in an important way), that are anchors of an interlocking hub-and-spoke system. These three hubs are identified as the centers of the cities. Well Central Station, is not, despite it’s name, Central to Sydney CBD, it is at the edge. This may evolve over time as the CBD marches south. Parramatta station similarly is at the southern end of the local business district. And I can’t imagine too many people walking around Aerotropolis after exiting the station there. It’s early days at Badgerys Creek, but this is little better than a crayon drawing, and building transit to serve the vast wasteland of an unbuilt airport is likely to be a hard sell when there remain so many existing real needs and areas of much higher transit potential in the eastern parts of Sydney.

Encouraging economic development out west, at the expense of losing some economies of agglomeration in the east, is important for spatial equity and transport, if not efficiency, reasons.

E Pluribus Unum

Arbitrarily dividing Sydney into three (or more) cities doesn’t seem especially helpful, even as a framing device, and results from the kind of remote thinking to persuade distant decision-makers rather than an organic expression of how people self-associate. It’s how marketing and economic development officials think.

 

Instead the job of a Greater Sydney Commission is not to exacerbate the already existing divisions, and keep the westerners out of the east, but to unify, to forge One City, One Sydney.


* What is a City?

We can start with the etymology. Wiktionary writes:

From Middle English cite, from Old French cité, from Latin cīvitās (citizenry; community; a city with its hinterland), from civis (native; townsman; citizen), from Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European *ḱey- (to lie down, settle; home, family; love; beloved).  …

So a ‘city’ is a community, a place where people settle. It is also larger than a town. The actual dictionary definitions are vague, as are the way people use the words. In the US, a city generally is a legally-defined municipality which is large and has more legal authority than the surrounding unincorporated area, and more than smaller towns or townships. So the more appropriate term might be ‘urban’ area. `Urbs’ is just a Latin word for city:

From Middle French urbain, from Latin urbanus, from urbs (city).

The US Census, which needs to operationalize these things says:

The Census Bureau first defined urban places in reports following the 1880 and 1890 censuses. At that time, the Census Bureau identified as urban any incorporated place that had a minimum population of either 4,000 or 8,000, depending on the report. The Census Bureau adopted the current minimum population threshold of 2,500 for the 1910 Census; any incorporated place that contained at least 2,500 people within its boundaries was considered urban. All territory outside urban places, regardless of population density, was considered rural.

The Census Bureau began identifying densely populated urbanized areas of 50,000 or more population with the 1950 Census, taking into account the increased presence of densely settled suburban development in the vicinity of large cities. Outside urbanized areas, the Census Bureau continued to identify as urban any incorporated place or census designated place of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people.

Urbanized areas and urban clusters form the urban cores of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, respectively. Each metropolitan statistical area will contain at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more people; each micropolitan statistical area will contain at least one urban cluster of at least 10,000 and less than 50,000 people. Metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas represent the county-based functional regions associated with urban centers (hence, the generic term “core based statistical areas”).

Other statistical agencies undoubtedly have similar definitions.

On Greater Sydney’s 40-Year Plan

On a Sunday (yes a Sunday, now that is odd) the Greater Sydney Commission and Transport for NSW both released draft 40 year plans:

Since I am under contract to neither organization, I am free to give a review of the documents. I have comments prepared on the idea of the Three-City plan (dislike) and have something in the hopper on the 30-minute city (like), but am not clear whether it realisable.

The Draft Greater Sydney Region Plan is a gorgeous document, it is well-laid out, and pleasing to read. The Transport for NSW plan is much draftier, and appears to have been rushed. On the assumption that this is not staff’s fault, but rather that it was grabbed from their reluctant hands by political higher-ups who wanted a joint release, and who correctly assume that no one (i.e. only internationally-originating transport planning professors) actually reads plans, I will not pick on them for their unreadiness. The Sunday release is perhaps a tell in this regard.

My first blush comments about some remaining aspects of the Greater Sydney Region 40-year Plan are below (with the caveats that I have read the document once, have not read the previous documents, and am new to the country).

It is great to see the coordination between the agencies, and at least the idea that the transport and land use planning should be in sync.

The plan writes “Importantly, infrastructure will be sequenced to support growth and delivered concurrently with new homes and jobs.” This is good planning practice, and it is important that timing as well as end-state is considered.  Whether this is well-executed remains another matter. As they say, time will tell.

In general, most of the GSC plans seems reasonable and hard to disagree with, if somewhat vague in many cases. For instance. “Strategy 8.1 consider cultural diversity in strategic planning and engagement.” OK, I’ve considered it, now what should I do with it?

It is a 40-year plan (Well a “40-year vision and 20-year plan”). Infrastructure lasts a long time, we want to make sure we take sound, long-term decisions. Now I like the future and all, and even think visioning is a good idea, as is preserving options, but 40 years is a long time, even in something as slow moving as transport networks.

The Chronologically-Aware might note that it is already 2017, not 2016, and it is a 40 year plan for 2056. Let us not be bound by petty calendars, this is planning time. Also since it is already 2017, and it won’t be adopted for at least some time, it might wind up being a 38-year plan.

Think back to 1976, it was before the internet or mobile telephony (or even wireless phones), before widespread Cable TV or the VCR, before Personal Computers even (it was the year Apple was founded). How much of a 1976 plan’s prediction of life today would be correct?

I’d suggest very little of the difference between 1976 and the present would have been accurately estimated by most people, or even most planners, or futurists, in 1976. Certainly we imagine that road projects that were funded in 1976 were realised soon thereafter. And much hasn’t changed.

To borrow from Sting (1983, i.e. 34 years ago): People still face a

rush hour hell

packed like lemmings in shiny metal boxes,

contestants in a suicidal race,

‘… shouting above the din of  their Rice Krispies,’ living their lives of quiet desperation. Other aspects are far different. Far fewer factories ‘belch filth into the sky’ as least in the developed countries. Far fewer workplaces are ‘hindered by  picket lines,’ as the power of labour has withered. Far fewer businessmen have their own secretaries. We don’t have flying cars. We do have 280 characters.

Still, plans (or visions) can shape growth patterns, even if the forecasts of life are terribly inaccurate. Plans I am most familiar with, the New Town Plan of Columbia, Maryland (where I grew up) and the Wedges and Corridors plan of Montgomery County (where I worked for 5 years) both gave form to, and continue to shape their communities. Columbia was expected to be completed (built out with 100,000 residents) within 15 years (in fact, it was closer to 35 years, and the Town Center area still is not finished, 50 years on).

The Interstate Highway System of course was an important shaper of development patterns across the US, and enabled the rise of just-in-time production, among other things. It was expected to be done in 16 years (1972, from 1956), but wasn’t really essentially done until 1982, and officially done a decade later.

Laying a street network, like the Manhattan Grid,  is a largely irreversible process, as evidenced by the lack of change in the street grid even after catastrophic events like the London fire or San Francisco Earthquake.

The expectation of the plan is that Greater Sydney grows to 8 million over 40 years. Demographics are among the easiest things to forecast for long time periods, as people age and migrate slowly. At current rates, I don’t doubt the estimate of 8 million. This however depends on an open immigration policy, which I am not sure traditional Australia will continue to support.

I don’t see any discussion of an intercity High-Speed Rail or Very Fast Train. Yet clearly the transport agencies are considering this and making provision for it. Certainly the notion of HSR remains vague, and the details missing, but this is a 40-year plan.

Aspects of funding made me happy to read, even if they were hedged:

  1. “explore and, where appropriate, trial opportunities to share value created by the planning process and infrastructure investment (such as rail) to assist funding infrastructure” … Land Value Capture ! p. 31
  2. “investigate the potential of further user charging to support infrastructure delivery” … Road Pricing ! (though “charging” users  only shows up on 3 pages) p.31
Movement and Places Framework. Source: TfNSW and GSC
Movement and Places Framework. Source: TfNSW and GSC

The technological tsunami about to hit surface transport is acknowledged, but not dealt with. The word “autonomous” (as in Autonomous vehicles) shows up on 5 pages. Not enough thought is given to this, given the timeframe.

The Movement and Place framework (p. 39) is good, and highly reminiscent of the Hierarchy of Roads. I like the more detailed and nuanced design from Transport for London better, (TfL’s 9 cells vs.  GSC/TfNSW’s 4), but there is an argument for simplicity.

On education, the document says: “The NSW Government will spend $4.2 billion over the next four years on school buildings, which it estimates will create 32,000 more

Streets types matrix from Transport for London looking at tradeoff of Movement and Place. http://content.tfl.gov.uk/street-types-matrix.pdf
Streets types matrix from Transport for London looking at tradeoff of Movement and Place. http://content.tfl.gov.uk/street-types-matrix.pdf

student places and 1,500 new classrooms.”

This is $131,250 per student! This is $2.8M per classroom. This seems a lot, even for Sydney. (p. 40) I sure hope some of this maintenance, not just capacity expansion.

The term “Accessibility” shows up on 14 pages. This is good, and the word seems to be used correctly. This is consistent with the idea of the 30-minute city.

Under “Directions for Sustainability” (p. 122) It is great they are using metrics. I take issue with some of them …

“An efficient city
Metric: Number of precincts with low carbon initiatives

A resilient city
Metric: Number of local government areas undertaking resilience planning”

Honestly, these specific ones are terrible metrics. Particularly the first one. Just measure (or estimate) the carbon emissions, not the number of “initiatives”.  Compare with the tree canopy “Metric: Proportional increase in Greater Sydney covered by urban tree canopy”, which looks at the actual amount of tree coverage. Resilience is admittedly trickier to assess.

 

Constructing a plan is hard (in a political sense of finding something that enough people will agree to that is more than pablum, writing down a coherent set of strong ideas is actually not that difficult at this stage in history, with so many go ideas to draw from). I applaud the effort, and think it is better than the alternative. But it could be better still, and that is the reason for discussion and comment.

On Transparency

I recently came across a story in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH)Central_Walk_gateline

Internal documents show makeover of Sydney’s Central Station to top $3 billion by Matt O’Sullivan

The first paragraph reads …

“The cost of transforming Sydney’s Central Station into a gateway that includes a five-star hotel, high-rise towers and a new route for the inner west light rail line is estimated in leaked documents at just over $3 billion.”

[Emphasis added]

I am not entirely clear what is the newsworthy element of the story aside from the fact they were leaked (By whom? Was this intentional policy or disgruntled staffer?), but, perhaps the shocker is that the transformation is $3B, which used to be a lot of money (about $US 2.4B at current exchange rates). Seriously though, who knows what that includes, and what is really for the benefit of travelers as opposed to real estate interests.

The details of the transformation are interesting, but nothing someone who has been paying attention wouldn’t know was already going on. There are plans for the already announced new metro train line into the station, and a Central Walk, and redevelopment of the Central to Eveleigh corridor. Some more details in the leaked document, including a hotel in the station and a possible linkage to a vaporous high-speed rail.

But the more appalling thing to my American sensibilities is that this is a “leaked document”. (According to the SMH, it was also leaked to ABC, a credible news source in Australia, but I can’t find reference to it on their website). And as the recipients of the document, shouldn’t the SMH show us, their subscribers, the document. One more thing which makes me suspicious.

Assuming the leak was intentional, it is a way of getting public input before owning the project (‘oh, it was just a staff draft, that thing everyone hated, we never agreed to that’), but is it really necessary to filter this through the media. Can’t they just announce a study, announce findings periodically, hold real workshops, have real hearings, and then make a decision.

Shouldn’t all of this be public? Isn’t transparency good. If the government is watching us, shouldn’t we watch the government?

One important value of transparency in the process is that it establishes public sense and consensus before projects are made official. Proposals are discussed BEFORE they are adopted. Information becomes available, there is feedback, the project may be modified or adapted, and then the government “of the people” makes a decision to go forward OR NOT. Elected officials are not required to take an opinion until the details have been worked through in an open process. Often they don’t, so outcomes are unknown until the actual vote.

In contrast, in Australia, it seems as if a project is discussed internally and secretly within government, and then adopted, and then justified rhetorically after the fact if the Business Case supports it. (And the business case will be iterated until it complies.) Public feedback occurs only at elections. (Which is better than dictatorship, but that is not the bar we want to compare to.)

Now, many of these projects were on earlier plans, so it is not a complete surprise that the new regime is proposing a new motorway or rail line, but often they were only vaguely specified, and the Business Case comes after the Political Decision, and also is kept secret.

Source: ABC http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-07/state-opposition-criticises-cost-of-new-south-wales-logo/7006034

The downside of course is that it is harder to do things that are controversial if the public has input before hand.

Maybe it should be. It would however undermine the official New South Wales slogan: Making **It Happen.

And to their credit, the present state government is building things everywhere, satisfying a pent-up demand that previous state administrations were unable to achieve. This is not cheap, and the government public works all taking place simultaneously are driving up costs, as they compete with each other for labor and materials.

The most famous example is the controversial WestConnex tunneled motorway. This is an $18B dollar expense, so one might think ensuring the Business Case is accurate and justifies the project before proceeding would have been important.

The Updated Strategic Business Case  document (November 2015) says:

WestConnex was a recommendation of Infrastructure NSW in October 2012, with Government adopting the concept in the 2012 State Infrastructure Strategy and the NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan.

This was followed by the development of
a business case, which was approved by Government in August 2013. An Executive Summary of that business case was publicly released.

This Updated Strategic Business Case consolidates the work undertaken in the original business case, with the significant modelling, analysis and scope enhancements completed in the past 24 months.

Look at the timeline. If I read this correctly, the business case was approved after the government adopted the concept. An executive summary was released afterwards (September 2013), but not the details until November 2015. The 2013 Business Case Executive Summary is basically a PowerPoint (landscape layout and all), and even then, the budget had already been approved before that was released.

Later the document notes that “In May 2014, the Australian Government entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with NSW to provide $1.5 billion in funding for WestConnex.”

 

The business case was released after pre-construction and some construction had already begun.* Which means the publicly available Business Case did not affect the decision to proceed (assuming no time travel). Which raises the question of why it exists at all and how decisions are actually made.

As to why it exists:

This business case has been developed with three specific sets of guidance in mind. It is intended to meet:

  • NSW Treasury requirements for Capital Business Cases, as outlined in NSW Treasury Policy Paper 08-5
  • Infrastructure NSW content expectations set out in the Infrastructure Investor Assurance Framework
  • The requirements and expectations set out in Infrastructure Australia’s ‘Better Infrastructure Decision Making’ guidelines.

In short, someone made us do it.

Now, like I said, I am not commenting on the substance of the decision, which also assumes we should take the Business Case on face value, but indicates a benefit/cost ratio well above 1. And props to Australia for actually using Benefit/Cost ratios (in principle) which is more than I can say for the United States.

However we can observe the project is controversial, particularly in the affected areas. This is largely because all transport projects create winners and losers . This is in part however because the project was perceived as being done to people, rather than done with people.

 

Two reasons are often given explaining why transparency lacks here.

The first is the commercial nature of the case. Many public endeavors here have a large private component. WestConnex, e.g., is ‘owned’ by the  Sydney Motorway Corporation, which is supposed to be sold off. So apparently business is sensitive to the terms of the profits being discussed publicly. It might be possible that lack of transparency maximizes resale value of the asset, and so benefits the public. This is hard to establish, however, since each asset is unique.

I am sure however the many bondholders of the many toll projects that have wound up bankrupt would have preferred more oversight along the way. Peer review (and public review) processes work better in an open environment. Many eyes make all bugs shallow. These infrastructure projects are not a minor contribution to science, where an individual scientist’s or journal’s reputation might be protected if wrong science is not made public, and it is in the public interest that facts be established before they are embossed with a journal’s mark . In contrast the object of review here is a very expensive public works project that needs oversight before the decision to accept/reject/modify. Oversight only achieves its aim if review happens before the decision is made. Many eyes are even more important.

The second cause for lack of transparency is Parliament, aligning the Executive and Legislature, which reduces the checks and balances I am familiar with in  American government. So the Parliamentary government can act without heeding opposition. And the unity of the party, and its majority status, help fast-track decision processes in-house.


 

* A feature concomitant with doing the business case after the decision was made in Australia is the design/build process. First a project is built, then it is designed. Ok, I exaggerate. First a sketch is drawn, then building starts, then the design is modified, and the building costs rise, and the design is modified again. Major project features are adopted midstream.

Navigation signs in Sydney

Lately a bunch of new wayfinding navigation signs have been popping up in the City of Sydney. These are not just in the downtown area either, but out in the neighborhoods. The general idea is great, and makes the city far more useful than it otherwise would be to non-locals (and signs, after all, are for people who don’t already know where things are), especially pedestrians.

Navigation sign to Redfern Station
Navigation sign to Redfern Station

I do have some question about the execution.

For instance in the Redfern Station sign shown, it tells us Redfern Station is 2 minutes to the left. (and is a transit station, and requires stairs). This is true, but less useful than saying it is 2 minute straight ahead, which would also be true, and get you to the front of the station, where you can easily access all of the platforms,  not just the back of the unused platform 10. (We will discuss it being next to a four-lane one-way street in another post).

However the second, Yellonundee Park sign lets us know where there are men’s and women’s rooms, which is extremely useful information at certain times, that might otherwise be unavailable. As far as I know, Google Maps does not surface this information.  There are of course toilet finder apps, but these are incomplete. I have not seen a GTFS-like standard, General Toilet Feed Specification.

Yellomundee Park
Yellomundee Park

Access to jobs by transit increases in many U.S. metros

From the Press Release

Bus interior

Top increases in job accessibility by transit
1. Cincinnati (+ 11.23%)
2. Charlotte (+ 11.02%)
3. Orlando (+ 10.83%)
4. Seattle (+ 10.80%)
5. Providence (+ 10.65%)
6. Phoenix (+ 7.51%)
7. Riverside (+ 6.59%)
8. Milwaukee (+ 6.53%)
9. Hartford (+ 6.44%)
10. New Orleans (+ 6.18%)

Top 10 metro areas for job accessibility by transit
1. New York
2. San Francisco
3. Chicago
4. Washington
5. Los Angeles
6. Boston
7. Philadelphia
8. Seattle
9. San Jose
10. Denver

Annually updated research from the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota ranks 49 of the 50 largest (by population) metropolitan areas in the United States for connecting workers with jobs via transit.

The new rankings, part of the Access Across America national pooled-fund study that began in 2013, focus on accessibility, a measure that examines both land use and transportation systems. Accessibility measures how many destinations, such as jobs, can be reached in a given time.

Though rankings of the top 10 metro areas for job accessibility by transit remain unchanged from the previous year, new data comparing changes within each of the 49 largest U.S. metros over one year helped researchers identify the places with the greatest increases in access to jobs by transit. Cincinnati and Charlotte improved more than 11 percent. Seattle, which ranks 8th for job accessibility by transit, improved nearly 11 percent. In all, 36 of the 49 largest metros showed increases in job accessibility by transit.

“This new data makes it possible to see the change from year to year in how well a metro area is facilitating access to jobs by transit,” said Andrew Owen, director of the Observatory. “Transit is an essential transportation service for many Americans, and we directly compare the accessibility performance of America’s largest metropolitan areas.”

This year’s report—Access Across America: Transit 2016—presents detailed accessibility values for each of the 49 metropolitan areas, as well as detailed block-level color maps that illustrate the spatial patterns of accessibility within each area.

Key factors affecting the rankings for any metro area include the number of jobs available and where they are located, the availability of transit service, and population size, density, and location. Better coordination of transit service with the location of jobs and housing will improve job accessibility by transit.

The findings have a range of uses and implications. State departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit agencies can apply the evaluations to performance goals related to congestion, reliability, and sustainability. In addition, detailed accessibility evaluation can help in selecting between project alternatives and prioritizing investments.

The research is sponsored by the National Accessibility Evaluation Pooled-Fund Study, a multi-year effort led by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and supported by partners including the Federal Highway Administration and 11 additional state DOTs.

The Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota is the nation’s leading resource for the research and application of accessibility-based transportation system evaluation. The Observatory is a program of the Center for Transportation Studies. CTS is a national leader in fostering innovation in transportation.

 

The Transit 2016 report and other Access Across America research reports for auto, walking, and soon biking, are available at access.umn.edu.

Detailed interactive color maps illustrating the jobs accessible by transit in each metro area are available on the study web page at Access Across America: Transit 2016.

Metropolitan Transport and Land Use – Planning for Place and Plexus

Now available for pre-order, with a shipping date in December if all goes well: Metropolitan Transport and Land Use.

Metropolitan Transport and Land Use: Planning for Place and Plexus, by David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.
Metropolitan Transport and Land Use: Planning for Place and Plexus, by David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.

As cities across the globe respond to rapid technological changes and political pressures, coordinated transport and land use planning is targeted as a solution and is the subject of increased interest.

Metropolitan Transport and Land Use, the second edition of Planning for Place and Plexus, provides unique and updated perspectives on metropolitan transport networks and land use planning, challenging current planning strategies, offering frameworks to understand and evaluate policy, and suggesting alternative solutions.

The book includes current and cutting edge theory, findings, and recommendations which are cleverly illustrated throughout using international examples. This revised work continues to serve as a valuable resource for students, researchers, practitioners, and policy advisors working across transport, land use, and planning.

ISBN-13: 978-1138924260

ISBN-10:1138924261

About the Author

David M. Levinson is Professor of Transport Engineering at the University of Sydney School of Civil Engineering. From 1999-2016 he taught and served as Chair of Transportation at the University of Minnesota, where this book was first crafted. He serves as the editor of the Journal of Transport and Land Use and is the author or editor of a dozen books.

Kevin J. Krizek is Professor and Director in the Program in Environmental Design at the University of Colorado Boulder. He recently served as a Visiting Professor of ‘Cycling in Changing Urban Regions’ in the Institute of Management Research at Radboud University (the Netherlands).