Late Democracy

We hear the term “late capitalism” a lot, but not “late democracy“. Why? Capitalism (the relevant feature of which is markets populated by profit-seeking agents accumulating capital) is much more organic and consistent with the competitive state of nature than democracy, defined by one-person, one-vote.

Late capitalism, recognizing different authors mean different things, implies that, since this is a late-stage of the capitalist economic system, our capitalistic-ish economy will eventually give way to a socialist system of some form, due to capitalism’s internal contradictions. Time will tell.

Late democracy, in contrast, does not warrant a Wikipedia article, yet. The rise of authoritarianism, nationalism, xenophobia, and the like, seem consistent with a rollback of democracy, the end state of which is no real voting system (aside from sham elections) for a majority of adults.

It appears today that the early modern democratic states, like the US and the UK, are doing democracy especially poorly, at least in large part to their early (US) or unwritten (UK) constitutions. While there was a large uptick in democracy following the end of the Cold War, the global situation is now worsening according to Freedom House. The world is still better than it was in 1987, and 1997, but not where it was in 2007.


Late democracy implies that the political system will eventually revert to authoritarian dictatorships (strong-man or monarchical) covering various territories. Democracy has numerous internal contradictions, not the least of which is that a minority of the population can elect leaders in a first-past-the-post system and electoral districts (as per the US Congress and Presidency).

The general problem is the majority of those elected (not a majority of the population) can enshrine their temporary majority by changing the rules in a way to the detriment of freedom. These methods include gerrymandering and disenfranchisement, leaving aside blatant corruption and vote-fixing. While some rules (Constitutions) might require supermajorities, others do not. And as power simply flows from those who others believe hold power, even those supermajoritarian changes can be affected should enough people simply assent to those with power.

Some problems emerging with democracy include

  • Dishonest leadership
  • Poor leadership
  • Rise of  demagogues leading to tyranny
  • Weaponizing loyalty tests (Australia’s Section 44, e.g.)
  • Influence of money (bribery, revolving doors, advertising)
  • Corruption / emoluments
  • Vote stealing
  • Foreign influence/social media

These problems have long been with us, but appear to be getting worse. The mechanisms to fight these dysfunctions are not being deployed effectively.

The figure below shows that at least one rating agency (Freedom House again) believes the US is slipping in its Democratic Standards. While there has been a large downturn with the current administration, the slippage began earlier.

FitW9_820px_United_States_Trajectory-croppedThere are numerous reforms to democratic systems like that in the US to make it more resilient, for instance, Elizabeth Warren’s “plan to strengthen our democracy” is a good start, but I have little expectation those will be implemented, even after she is elected, in the absence of a Democratic supermajority in Congress (despite her goal to eliminate Filibuster), and the last time that happened, (2009) these issues were not seriously raised or addressed (despite the fiasco of the 2000 election, and for that matter, the Al Franken long count in Minnesota). There are reforms to  US-style democracy that could be implemented by establishing federal standards for federal elections with federal funding, without difficult Constitutional reforms:

  • Mandatory voting. Where in-person voting is either a holiday or a weekend, and easy to do before election day, and where everyone is automatically enrolled, rather than having a cumbersome registration process.
  • Compact political districts to avoid gerrymandering.
  • Multi-seat districts to provide more representation for minority opinions, or just elect parties directly.
  • Ranked-choice voting. Maine just adopted it for the Presidential election
  • Publicly-funded elections (though denying people the right to endorse the candidate of their choice seems to me (and the US Supreme Court) to violate free speech), but lack of funding doesn’t seem a problem for the major parties these days. Immediate transparency on paid political speech (tv, radio, social-media ads), even if by third parties. While speech can be anonymous to protect individuals at risk, paid speech by large well-funded organizations should not be.
  • Secure voting machines with a paper trail for auditing.
  • Consistent poll opening and closing times nationally, so announcements of vote tallies don’t affect outcomes.

Reforms that benefit democracy as a whole would have principled support from all those who care about the system producing fair and stable outcomes, more than their particular ranking in it, as well as at least potentially cynical support from the currently-out groups that would benefit from the change. But most politicians care more about their relative position than the fairness or stability of the democratic system.

There are other reforms that do require some Constitutional Amendment:

  • No electoral colleges. The existing system is  imperfect, obviously, with the two Senate seats added to the pool necessary to convince the small states to adopt the new Constitution, but its existence as such is not  the core of the problem, rather it is an implementation wherein the states are all-or-nothing, rather than apportioned by (non-gerrymandered) Congressional District in their electors. I personally would go farther, and make the US more Parliamentary by having the newly-elected House of Representatives constitute the Electoral College (so for at least the first 2 years of the Presidency, the President and House are from the same Party or Coalition, and the Party would have a stronger say in electing the leader), but that is a more radical change.

I don’t believe the downturn in the US is independent of the downturn globally. The inward turn of the US and UK cannot help democrats outside the US. A stronger, more democratic United States whose political leadership cared about Democracy as a value in and of itself, rather than a means to power, would lead to a more democratic world.



Sydney could go Dutch |Cityhub

When it comes to cycle-friendly cities, Sydney could learn from the Dutch. Photo: Alfredo Borba/Wikimedia Commons
When it comes to cycle-friendly cities, Sydney could learn from the Dutch. Photo: Alfredo Borba/Wikimedia Commons

Joan Henson at CityHub Sydney interviewed me for the article Sydney could go Dutch. Excerpt immediately below. Full interview below that.

University of Sydney transport analyst, Professor David Levinson says that while “Sydney is slowly moving in the direction of Utrecht, in that more road space is being dedicated for bike lanes… the movement is too slow to achieve significant progress.”
He says that the City of Sydney’s 2030 target, that 10 per of all city trips be made by bike is not supported by the proposed network. While the target covers three to four times as many cyclists as today, the network “is not three to four times as large or more protected.”

BIKESydney president, David Borella, says road space needs to be reallocated to walking and cycling, as unprotected cyclists are “frightened to cycle in, and even walk near big traffic flows.. Important though they are, separated cycleways alone will not get us there”.
“You can’t ‘be Utrecht’ if you don’t first build off-road cycling trunk routes,” he says. These could include: incorporating cycling paths around the airport in projects like WestConnex, and building a City West Cycle Link, through the Rozelle rail yard, “which would be gamechangers for cycling.”

Professor Levinson says cyclists cannot travel between Green Square and other neighbourhoods via separated and protected bike lanes. Though it is “possibly the best precinct in Sydney for biking, the point is not simply what you can do in a neighbourhood.”
Green Square, which in May won the Green Building Council of Australia’s highest rating, incorporates low speed streets, pedestrian-only zones and separated cycleways.

Planning visionaries needed
Mr Borella thinks ‘going Dutch’ can happen when politicians and community members realise that it is not impossible to shift “heavily car-centric cities”. He says changes in planning laws can promote developments with better walking and cycling infrastructure, while a new street design guide (as in Auckland) can enable engineers “to create a connected network of walking and riding streets, particularly as we are now building a second road network underground”.
Professor Levinson gives a Dutch mindset to Sydney topography, suggesting that narrower streets, less suited to cars, can prohibit them for most uses.
Similarly main streets, with on-street parking, should have space for separated cycling lanes as, “what is more important, storing cars 23 hours a day or moving people?”
He says there are strategies yet to be envisaged to plan the transition: including promoting and regulating e-bikes, planning protected bike lanes from station entrances, and school cycling strategies.

The full interview below.

Questions in blockquote. [abridged]

Answers in plaintext.

1.Although Dutch cycling has become somewhat of a fantasy on social media, is there any hope for Sydney cycling aficionados having an Utrecht-styled Sydney (are we moving in that direction– why/why not – specific egs)?

Sydney will not achieve Utrecht-like conditions anytime soon. But Sydney is slowly moving in the direction of Utrecht, in that more roadspace is being dedicated for bike lanes. But the movement is too slow to achieve significant progress. I am pleased to see Sydney hopes to be a more bicycle friendly place. However the City’s plan as laid out is insufficiently ambitious. So much more can and should be done. Given the climate and topology and density, Sydney should be one of the world leaders in bicycling, but it remains a laggard, stuck in the mid-20th century. A 10% target in 2030 (3-4x as many bicyclists as today) is good (better than today’s baseline), but the network that is proposed doesn’t support that, it is not 3-4x as large or more protected.

2. Does Green Square provide a close-ish example to Utrecht? How? Are there better Sydney examples that come close?

Green Square is possibly the best precinct in Sydney for biking, but the point is not simply what you can do in a neighbourhood, but where you can get to, and it remains difficult to travel from Green Square to other places on bikes on separated and protected bike lanes. This includes obvious destinations like the University of Sydney. Certainly people can get there, but not easily or conveniently.

3. What are the Dutch approaches that fit Sydney, and what approaches would be dismissed as unsuitable for Sydney (described by one social media user as ‘Dutch cycle-‘splaining’)/ challenges? Design problems or stakeholders that provide a challenge? How could these be met?
• Rob Stokes said shape of road network an issue
• Narrow streets compared to Melbourne

Western Sydney is a huge opportunity, the streets and rights-of-way are wide and could easily accommodate bike lanes. In the crowded parts of older Sydney, it is obviously more difficult, but it’s not like Sydney is some medieval city, like say Utrecht or Amsterdam, lots of space is given over to on-street parking that could easily be reclaimed for movement. The more narrow the streets, the less suited they are for cars, the more that cars should be prohibited on them. In areas built before the automobile, it would be relatively straight-forward to prohibit private cars for most uses, (still allowing trucks for deliveries, emergency access vehicles, and access for the disabled e.g.), and require people to use public transport, walking, and biking to get around. No one is entitled to drive a car inside an office building, shopping mall, or a campus, why should high density urban centers be any different?

To start, think about the network: Every major street (say a street that warrants a traffic signals) which also has on-street parking has demonstrated space for separated bike lanes. What is more important, storing cars 23 hours a day or moving people? The value of the network increases non-linearly with its connectivity. Even most streets without on-street parking have space for bike lanes.

Similarly, every block that has on-street parking should dedicate at least one parking space to bicycle parking, particularly for shared bikes. Bike parking is cheap to install and signals priorities (i.e. bikes are valued, and the space for them should come from car parking spaces rather than the footpath), and should lead rather than follow.

4. Some of the rationale behind the cycling infrastructure, culture, etc of Utrecht is already part of City of Sydney planning ideas or have been actioned. What influence have places like Amsterdam and Utrecht had on Sydney planning policy? What about non-Dutch places, like Copenhagen?

The firm of Jan Gehl, a famous urban designer from Copenhagen, has worked in Sydney and for the University of Sydney, and written reports. I cannot answer what influence he has had.

• Approaches that seem to crossover: e.g. bringing cycling routes closer to businesses (City of Sydney Cycling Strategy and Action Plan and Utrecht merchants’ sales off the pedestrianised zones viewed as better); City of Sydney advocating lower speeds to state government and low-speed streets at Green Square which received 6 Green Star rating
5. What international research or cycling ideas seem to have influenced the City of Sydney’s cycling rationale/goals, proposals, and actioned items? Home-grown ideas taking flight overseas?

Unfortunately, there is still a “it can’t work here” mentality for things that work everywhere else. I have not seen any local ideas adopted in the more advanced cycling countries.

7. Why do you think Dutch cycling culture, infrastructure, thinking is so admired by cycling groups, environmentalists, and others? [even City of Sydney:

Because it is better than here (and elsewhere). Bicycling is a normal mode of transport. You can see the evidence in their much higher rates of bicycling.

8. Which specific Sydney routes could be improved by a different outlook on cycling, and how? Or how could City of Sydney approach be improved?

Among these which I am familiar with should be included in a protected bike lane network are Regent St/Gibbons St/Wyndham St and Abercrombie/Wattle, but there are undoubtedly more. Generally, the separated bike lane network should be as dense and complete as the arterial street network. It is nowhere near that. The networks appear to be performative, signaling that ‘we like bikes’ to the non-bicycling community, while not being serious about what it takes to provide an environment where nearly everyone can safely and comfortably bike some of the time.

9. In your cycling expertise is there a perspective to this that I have missed? Or statistic/expert/cycling-challenged Sydney location/cycling-blessed location/approach to cycling infrastructure that I should know (or something I have misunderstood)?

Regulation is still hostile to bicyclists, including heavy fines and futile helmet laws. Helmets are indicator of danger. Biking should be normalised as in Europe, where helmets are not required. Every time someone puts on a special uniform to bike, they are “othered” from the general population, and their life is devalued. (There is research on this)

A strategy for promoting and regulating eBikes would be good. Also promoting and regulating scooters, skateboards, and other wheeled vehicles (micro-mobility).

A strategy for promoting bike to train and metro and express bus stations would be good. This includes more bike parking at stations, and protected bike lanes radiating out from station entrances.

A strategy for promoting biking to school (and Uni) would be good. This includes protected bike lanes radiating out from schools in all directions.

Bikes should be counted continuously at intersections (not just 2 times a year), just as cars are. There are technologies to do this, and TfNSW can be called on to do it. Electronic signs displaying bike counts on key routes is also a good marketing tool, and is used in other countries.

World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research 2020 Conference

The submission website for the World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research (WSTLUR) to be held in Portland, Oregon USA from 13- 16 July 2020 is now open.

For details about the call for papers please visit the following link

Submission deadline is November 15th, 2019 for full-length original papers (not published and not presented at previous conferences or journals) in the field of land use and transport, we are also looking for short conceptual or methodological original pieces. Please visit the above link for detailed information regarding symposium theme sessions as well as the general call for papers.

Selected papers will be published as part of a special issue in the Journal of Transport and Land Use (JTLU).

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact conference chairs or theme leaders chairs.

I am leading a theme

Networks and land use

Land use and transport networks co-evolve. How does the growth (or decline) in transport networks influence land use patterns and vice versa? How do network structure and land use patterns affect accessibility? How can future design consider transport networks and land use patterns together as technology changes?

For more information or questions please contact:

The full Call for Papers is below:

Call for Papers

We are pleased to announce that the 2020 World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research (WSTLUR) will be held in Portland, Oregon, USA, July 13-16, 2020. We seek original, full-length submissions on all the themes described below. Theme leaders will be in charge of the paper review and selection process. Questions about the specific themes should be directed to the theme leaders identified below. Papers must be submitted by November 15, 2019. WSTLUR membership is not required to submit a paper.

Each conference registrant may be a co-author on multiple papers, but there is a limit of one presentation per registrant. Sessions will be developed from high-quality papers received and authors of a select number of papers will be invited, based upon their conference paper reviews, to resubmit their papers for a second round of reviews for publication in the Journal of Transport and Land Use.

Submissions are open now. Submit your paper. Submission deadline is November 15, 2019.

Discounted registration rates at the symposium will be available for registrations from developing countries as well for students. WSTLUR will be offering a limited number of scholarships to students. WSTLUR is seeking submission from diverse disciplines and will be welcoming case studies especially from developing countries.

Paper Themes

Affordable housing and transport

How can transport system design, planning, or policy improve, address, or interrupt existing issues experienced by residents of affordable housing? What is the relationship between location efficiency and gentrification? How do the travel behavior and social mobility of low-income subsidized housing residents vary from those of naturally-occurring affordable housing residents? How can planning address the needs of low-income residents to improve their ability to live, function, and move around? This interdisciplinary track seeks papers under the broad umbrella of transport and low-income residents and/or affordable housing. All disciplines are encouraged to submit with topics including, but not limited to: economics; travel behavior; housing; policy analysis or development; gentrification; design; environmental; engineering; transit; location efficiency; transformative technologies; transport demand management strategies; informatics and communication; and equity.

For more information or questions please contact: Kristina Currans, University of Arizona,; Andrew Guthrie, University of Memphis,

Networks and land use

Land use and transport networks co-evolve. How does the growth (or decline) in transport networks influence land use patterns, and vice versa? How do network structure and land use patterns affect accessibility? How can future design consider transport networks and land use patterns together as technology changes?

For more information or questions please contact: David Levinson, University of Sydney,; Jie Huang, Chinese Academy of Sciences,

Integrated land use-transport models

This theme calls for papers that integrate land use models with transport models. All levels of integration from loosely coupled to tightly integrated are welcome, as long as information from one model is used in the other model. We are looking in particular for novel model designs, new ideas for model integration and models that use innovative data sources.

For more information or questions please contact: Rolf Moeckel, Technical University of Munich,

New mobilities

How do newly emerging disruptive technologies shape or change transport and land use systems? How can we integrate technological and land use strategies to achieve long term planning goals such as equity? What is the role of land use in smart cities? Specific topics include the connection between land use and transport systems with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and new ICT-enabled products and services such as automated vehicles, new energy technologies, big data applications, ridesharing systems, real-time traveler information, and smart cities in general.

For more information or questions please contact: John MacArthur, Portland State University,; Gonçalo Correia, TU Delft,

Freight issues

Freight demand is becoming more diverse with e-commerce derived flows adding to the more traditional freight movements. These flows, destined for both residential and office locations, and including a new range of commodities (e.g., groceries and fast food) are creating both challenges and opportunities for shippers, carriers and retailers. New logistical processes are being introduced to address changes in freight demand, for example, parcel lockers, mobile distribution centers, and new modes of freight transport such as autonomous freight delivery. City planners need to keep up with the dynamic freight environment and ensure that land use policy and infrastructure are deployed based on a solid understanding of trends in freight demand and new logistical processes being introduced to meet consumer demands. This call for papers targets research that addresses topics such as, but not limited to:

  • Interactions between land use, freight transport and e-commerce
  • Freight parking demand and supply requirements (e.g., curb space demand management)
  • Incorporating freight transport into “complete streets” design
  • Zoning and development planning considering freight
  • E-commerce impacts on land value
  • Freight corridor planning and deployment
  • Trends in logistics sprawl
  • Freight data collection that allows characterization of spatial patterns of freight intensity
  • Analysis of freight villages, industrial parks, and other forms of “logistics land”
  • Relationships between freight, socio-economics and labour trends
  • Land use implications of freight automation
  • Land use requirements for a diversity of freight modes (cargo bikes, delivery vans, freight crowdsourcing)

For more information or questions please contact: Andre Romano Alho, SMART MIT ; Matthew Roorda, University of Toronto

Latin America

As the Global South region with the highest rates of urbanization and very high levels of income inequalities, Latin America can provide leading examples and cautionary tales regarding land development and urban transport. Diverse papers on Latin America are welcome, although we are interested in contributions that examine:

  • Land development impacts of transport sector policy reform,
  • Transport and travel behavior impacts of land and land use policies,
  • Health effects of transport investments and their interaction with the built environment,
  • Specific cases of transport and land use integration, around mass transit and other modes, and
  • Evaluation of national and regional incentives (financial or otherwise) aimed at encouraging increased transport and land development integration

For more information or questions please contact: Erick Guerra, University of Pennsylvania,; Daniel Rodriguez, University of California Berkeley,

Accessibility and quality of life (NECTAR Special Session)

Accessibility, the ease of reaching destinations, is a comprehensive performance measure to monitor the land use and transport systems performance in any region around the world. Transport planners across the globe often advocate transport investments to increase accessibility and promote (local or regional) economic development. A more comprehensive approach would be to promote quality of life. The goal of this session will be to explore the relationship between accessibility and quality of life and how planning for accessibility can improve the quality of life for individuals in a region.

Potential topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Accessibility impacts on travel behavior including mode choices, travel time, and activity space.
  • Accessibility impacts on urban development and changes in demographics in a region.
  • Accessibility and its link to job informality in the developing world.
  • Planning for accessibility and equity.
  • Access to transport services versus accessibility through transport.
  • Accessibility to traditional and non-traditional destinations such as fresh food, healthcare services, and recreation and entertainment facilities.
  • Comparable analysis of accessibility across different cities and its impacts on quality of life of individuals.

For more information or questions please contact: Karst Geurs, University of Twente,; Ahmed El-Geneidy, McGill University,, Geneviève Boisjoly, Polytechnique Montreal,

Public transport

The increasing demand and range of urban mobility make public transport systems a critical solution in accelerating the transition to sustainable urban development. Governments all over the world are investing more and more in improving the infrastructure of public transport systems. With the development of new tools, technology, ubiquitous data, and new transit modes (e.g., paratransit, shared mobility, and micro-mobility), the planning and operation of next generation public transport systems becomes an emerging question for researchers, planners, operators, and decision makers. The key is to better integrated different modes and networks of public transport systems to solve the accessibility, efficiency, sustainability, equity, and resilience issues. The focus of this call is to share innovative and novel ideas about the next generation public transport systems. Potential topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Ubiquitous data for public transport demand analysis and prediction
  • Big data applications in public transport planning and operation
  • Advanced traveller information systems in urban public transport systems
  • Designing and planning of multimodal urban public transport networks
  • Resilience in public transport systems
  • First- and last-mile problems in urban public transport systems
  • Intelligent mobility solutions/policies for better urban environment
  • Short- and long-term travel behavior analysis and prediction of public transport impacts on behaviour of marginalized groups
  • Crowdsourcing and “human as sensors” in public transport design and operation

For more information or questions please contact: Ehab Diab, University of Saskatchewan, ; Lijun Sun, McGill University,

Emerging data & technologies

The ever-evolving emerging data and technologies such as Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs), Electric Vehicles (EVs) and shared mobility have offered both opportunities and challenges for the transport profession. This “emerging data and technologies” theme calls for bold and a variety of papers that touch upon a wide variety of topics relating to emerging data and technologies, including but not limited to: data related issues and methodologies to address those issues; case studies that use the emerging data to address behavior and policy questions; studies that model emerging modes of transport (CAVs, EVs, and shared mobility etc.) and investigate their implications on behaviors, land use and policies; social and equity issues arising from the use of emerging data and technologies; and development of tools and packages that enable the use of emerging data more accessible.

For more information or questions please contact: Cynthia Chen, University of Washington,; Brian Lee, Puget Sound Regional Council,

Access for all

Designing inclusive communities and public spaces provides both health and economic benefits for all of society. This requires that land use-transport systems and public spaces are designed such that everyone can access facilities and participate in social and economic activities. However, such access is at risk for vulnerable groups, such as people with disabilities, those who are aging, people with chronic conditions, and people on the lowest incomes. We welcome papers addressing limitations in access to transport systems and public spaces for the above groups, and policies and interventions to improve access. Papers may apply both quantitative and qualitative approaches, including participatory processes, interdisciplinary efforts, and innovative approaches for measuring the benefits and challenges of implementing inclusive designs that build greater access for all.

For more information or questions please contact: Dick Ettema, Utrecht University,; Amy Parker, Portland State University,


This theme calls for papers that explore empirical, technical, conceptual, and theoretical topics related to megaregions, mega-city regions, super-city regions, and city-cluster regions. Particular emphasis will be given to the relationship between emerging megaregional form and interregional transportation investments, such as high-speed rail and air transportation networks. We also welcome studies related to both megaregion and emerging transportation modes such as Shared Mobility, AV, and SAV.

For more information or questions please contact: Junfeng Jiao, University of Texas, Austin,; Ming Zhang, University of Texas, Austin,

PhD Dissertation Theme

If you have developed your dissertation and defended it between July 2017 and April 2020 and your dissertation is on transport and land use, WSTLUR will be hosting a special session for you to present your dissertation. You will need to submit a two-page abstract through the online system.

For more information or questions please contact: Raktim Mitra, Ryerson University,, Manish Shirgaokar, University of Colorado, Denver,

Other topics

All other papers on transport and land use issues that do not fit into the categories described above.

More information

For more information or questions please contact: Kelly Clifton, Portland State University,; Yingling Fan, University of Minnesota,

Looking forward to seeing you in Portland.

Gradial: Or the Unreasonable Network

The reasonable network adapts itself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to itself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable network.1

The physical location of network infrastructure is one of the most permanent decisions cities make. The Cardo Maximus in the old city of Jerusalem is still a main north-south shopping street, constructed when Emporer Hadrian rebuilt the city in the 130s CE.

A street right-of-way, once created is seldom destroyed. A segment of that infrastructure is designed to be optimal at a moment of time, with a particular land use (either the realized development of today or an imagined place of tomorrow), enmeshed within a particular network context of all the other nodes and links, compatible with a particular technology. That it functions at all when land use, networks, and technologies change radically, as they do over centuries, is testament to the general flexibility inherent in networks. But the implication is that if it is optimal for the world in which it was designed, it is unlikely to be optimal as that world changes.

Some adaptations do occur. Streets designed for horses were adapted for streetcars (trams) and bicycles and cars and buses and pedestrians.

Still, it may be the best that can be done. Embedded infrastructure, the dictionary example of sunk costs,2 cannot adapt much to the world around them. Instead we expect the world to adapt to the infrastructure.

Following Shaw, we might say such infrastructures are `unreasonable’, in that they cannot be reasoned with.

Many, if not most, planned cities have been laid out with a network of streets “with the sombre sadness of right-angles,” as Jules Verne, quoting Victor Hugo, described the American grid in Salt Lake City, of streets at 90-degree angles to each other, in his classic road trip story: Around the World in 80 Days. Street grids don’t plan themselves, so while all street grids were planned, not all plans result in street grids.

Organically developed3 cities are often more naturalistic, radial cities, with streets feeding the city from the hinterlands, allowing more than 4-directions of entry. All roads lead to Rome, as the saying goes. The Romans themselves were a bit adverse to this organic radial system once they got their own growth machine going, laying out encampments and new settlements on the grid system. The radial system leading to and from the town would bend once it reached the town gates. But as cities themselves were generally not conceived of as whole, but rather themselves emerged, often as conurbations of smaller settlements, towns, and villages, there are often radial webs centered on town A overlapping radial webs centered on town B. Rome was famously built on seven hills, which can be read as meaning Rome is a conurbation of seven earlier villages. (See Elements of Access, Chapter 3.3)

Each of these networks typologies has its advantages and disadvantages.

Washington DC Metro. The center is a space, not a point. A `triangle’ is formed by L’Enfant Plaza (Yellow/Green with Orange/Blue/Silver), Metro Center (Red with Orange/Blue/Silver), and Gallery Place (Red with Yellow/Green)


We observe that radial networks are optimal to maximize access for many-to-one types of movements (suburbs to central city). So rail transit networks, which serve the high loads demanded by, and making possible, high density city centers tend toward being radial. But when they are large they are usually not so radial that all the branches meet at one junction. From a network design perspective, intersecting more than two lines at a station can lead to other types of conflicts, and many systems are designed with triangular center to avoid overloading a single transfer station. Washington DC’s largely radial Metrorail system, shown in  the first figure, illustrates this design. Cities are spaces, not points.

In contrast, the 90-degree grid is reasonably well-suited to maximize access for scattered trips, what network analysts would call a many-to-many pattern. We see this especially in dispersed point-to-point (suburb to suburb, within city to within city) flows that are enabled by and reinforce the grid. This is the network for the automobile. The Los Angeles freeway grid, the famous Milton Keynes arterial grid, and numerous other  late twentieth century cities have been designed in a grid-like way (though not so orthogonal that Victor Hugo would object). Even though the topology is not as efficient from a distance perspective as say a 60-degree mesh, by remaining out of the city core it can keep speeds higher.

But in response to the landscape that emerged with the automobile, transit planners like Jarrett Walker (2012) have called for more grid-like transit networks, so people can move, via public transport, from suburb to suburb without going through the city centre. This is relatively easy to reconfigure for buses, the very definition of  mobile capital, while very difficult for the more capital intensive rail networks with their physically embedded infrastructure.

Still, core radial lines will always be the backbone of transit systems so long as at least one important center justifies a disproportionate amount of service.

So how can we grid the radial, or square the circle, so to speak?

A better network topology might be the 60-degree, hexagonal pattern. (Ben Joseph 2000) But remaking street grids for existing cities is tough-going, as property rights are well established, and requires efforts like those of Haussmann in 19th century Paris. (Willms 1997).

Possible system layouts: (a) hub-and-spoke; (b) grid; (c) hybrid. Source: Figure 1 in Daganzo (2010)

Instead, we have overlapping network topologies, ideally which are grade-separated in some fashion, so trains are radial and don’t intersect streets or motorways, and bus services can be more grid-like, and rapid or express bus networks serve the market niche in-between.

Thus the original street level networks are still topologically grids, but the services running on that grid, while still largely parallel and perpendicular, are compressed near the center, so the bus lines, for instance, bend towards the center, as illustrated in the second figure. The regulatory layer of through streets for automobiles may be constructed to defer to the orientation of bus services.

There are no optimal network configurations independent of the enveloping land use pattern or the technological regime. Similarly there are no optimal land use allocations independent of the network pattern or technology. Finally, there is no optimal mode independent of the land use or network. All three of these systems are interlocking. Moving one requires adapting the others.

The unreasonable network forces the land use pattern to adapt to it, such that relocating network elements is more costly than keeping them in place. Similarly, in many ways the network, designed for a given technology, is very hard to adapt to a different technology. That doesn’t stop people and cities from trying, the misfit we see with the automobile in the urban core is the product of failing to acknowledge this unreasonableness. But as the number of European cities restricting cars in the city center are showing, the unreasonable network wins out over technology too.

The Grid/Radial Gradial network is also Gradual. These systems seldom change all-at-once, instead they gradually evolve over decades, centuries, and millenia.


1. This is an adaptation of a famous George Bernard Shaw quote.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the  unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

2. The economist’s adage that “sunk costs are sunk” means that once something has been built, and that money spent, it no longer factors into benefit-cost analysis about how prospective decisions should be made, except to the extent it changes the costs of various options. Logically, you shouldn’t go to a concert just because you bought tickets if you don’t want to go, though if you are considering going to a concert or a bookstore after you bought the tickets, you don’t need to account for paying for the tickets again. You might also consider the `opportunity cost’ of going as the loss from not scalping the tickets. You shouldn’t throw good money after bad. But the sunk infrastructure cannot be unbuilt.

3. Organic development is often largely systematically unplanned, though obviously some degree of planning often goes into laying out a street, even if it is disjoint from any other decisions. When we think of `planning,’ we are generally referring to longer-term more strategic type spatial plans, that consider interactions between prospective decisions, rather than short-term tactical plans that optimize a single decision alone decontextualized from the rest of the city.

Multiple academic opportunities with the School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney

IMG_4303Multiple academic opportunities with the School of Civil Engineering

  • Join a growing Faculty and be part of a University that places amongst the world’s best teaching and research institutions.
  • Located in the heart of Sydney’s bustling inner west quarter, close to beaches, parks, public transport and shopping districts
  • Seeking outstanding academics to provide leadership and help create a world-class, internationally recognised Faculty for research and education excellence


About the opportunity
The School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney is searching for faculty members at all ranks and in all areas of Civil Engineering. The School seeks to increase the diversity of its faculty, and encourages women to apply.


Details here.

Transportist: September 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.

Transportist (the blog)


Transport Findings



Papers by Us


Research by Others


Designing and Evolving the 30-Minute City at the National Roads and Traffic Expo in Melbourne

I am presenting at the National Roads and Traffic Expo in Melbourne on September 18 at 15:30 about Designing and Evolving the 30-Minute City. It’s free to attend (registration required). If you’re in Melbourne, and want to meet up, let me know.

Comments on the National Cities Performance Framework Dashboard

Hao Wu and I wrote the following for Foreground: New infrastructure performance measures for Australian cities questioned:

The federal government has updated the National Cities Performance Framework Dashboard. The infrastructure performance indicators seek to measure infrastructure and investment needs but how helpful are they? What do the new measures mean for our understanding of urban transport and happiness?

The only reason to move anywhere is to be near something, far from something, or possess something. Location is about proximity. People make location decisions all the time, from whether to move from North America to Australia, to whether to go to the mall by car or bus, to whether to stand near this or that person at a reception, or even whether to sit on the chair or the couch. Businesses do likewise, from deciding where to build a factory and where to locate a store, to which shelf to put the Pepsi to maximize profits.

The underlying logic of all these decisions is the same, despite the difference in scale, timeframe, motivation, and mode of travel. People and organizations will pay a premium to be in locations with higher accessibility to the things (people, opportunities) they care about, to save time (spend less cost in travel), and to be more productive (earn more), all else being equal.

The number of jobs reachable within 30 minutes is perhaps the most widely used proxy for urban accessibility. This number is a measure for cities for several reasons. First, the `number of jobs’ is a surrogate for `urban opportunities’. People work at their jobs, and job locations are places of interaction that provide service either directly or indirectly to customers. Next, being `reachable’ is a function of land use (i.e. how close and dense things are), as well as how fast people can move using different modes of transport. Finally, `30 minutes’ is a typical one-way travel time budget, and the national average for commuters in Australia is 33 minutes.

The Australian Government should be applauded for their efforts in benchmarking cities in terms of transport performance in the recent National Cities Performance Framework. While we are delighted to see the government include this 30-minute access to jobs benchmark  for the first time, we have significant concerns about how the framework applies it.


First we have trouble with the actual numbers within the framework, as they differ widely from what we and others have computed. The morning peak car access measurement appears dubious. The city-level access is measured by first sub-dividing the city into zones, then averaging the access to jobs from each zone to produce the city-level averages. If the car access measurements from the Australian government framework were correct, then Sydney and Melbourne would have become perhaps the world’s most accessible automobile cities for their sizes, based on our assessment of eight Australian cities. The framework uses data from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) that calculates average automobile access to jobs in Sydney at more than twice the number of our own calculation, and higher than even the most accessible suburbs based on a report prepared for the Committee for Sydney.


Second, we have trouble with some of the metrics the report uses. Interpreting access as valuable, measured purely by the `proportion of jobs accessible’ within 30 minutes is misleading. Obviously small cities will find all residents can reach their small number of jobs, but in large cities they can’t. This means little. The nominal value of jobs accessible explains land value, commute duration, mode choice, and many other socio-economic variables. A higher percentage of local jobs reachable doesn’t translate these cities into economically more attractive places. The use of `proportion of jobs’ penalizes cities that are larger, but with more jobs present. As we can see from the report, larger cities have an inversely smaller proportion of jobs reachable; this makes the `proportion of jobs accessible’ an uninformative indicator. The reason people are in large cities is not to reach a percentage of jobs, but to reach actual jobs.

Third, a fully fledged access measure would include the number of jobs accessible by walking, biking, and public transport, as well as by car. While the framework measures the proportion of journeys made to work by public and active transport, there are no measures of the number of jobs that are actually accessible by these modes. For example, our study finds that Melbourne has better car access to jobs than Sydney, but Sydney has better transit access. This information cannot be found within the BITRE framework, which distorts the accessibility picture. Active modes of transport are a vital part of urbanity. Measuring pedestrian access sheds light on the convenience of city centres, and bike access outperforms public transport in many cases, which supports arguments for infrastructure such as protected bike lanes to improve biking safety and rider comfort. It is disappointing that only access by automobile is included in this report, despite the high public transport mode share in major Australian cities.

The initiative by the Australian government to include accessibility measures is very much appreciated. In fact, very few governments in the world have computed access to jobs measured nationally. We look forward to BITRE updating their numbers with input from experienced analysts as Australia progresses toward better performance measures of the land use and transport infrastructure of our cities.

Access Across Australia Interview

I was interviewed about our Access Across Australia report by Jane Slack-Smith. It was a really good interview and got into the connections between access and real estate prices. The interview is posted to Facebook, for those of you who use the platform: