New housing supply, population growth and access to social infrastructure

We are pleased to publish the following new AHURI report today.

 

 

Report Title

New housing supply, population growth and access to social infrastructure

AHURI Final Report No.356

 

 

Authors

 

 
Somwrita Sarkar, The University of Sydney
Emily Moylan, The University of Sydney
Hao Wu, The University of Sydney
Rashi Shrivastava, The University of Sydney
Nicole Gurran, The University of Sydney
David Levinson, The University of Sydney
 
What this research is about?

 

 

This study focusses on the potential to better inform the planning, scheduling, delivery, maintenance, and coordination of social infrastructure in the rapidly growing greenfield areas of major Australian cities through the use of big data sources and techniques. The research focusses on greenfield areas of Sydney, Brisbane and Perth greater metropolitan regions to demonstrate data sources and methods that can be replicated in other locations.

 
This study used several novel data sources to develop a monitoring and coordination tool that enables mapping of fine spatial scale accessibility for various social infrastructure dimensions. The tool is used to demonstrate accessibility to schools and hospitals, including their hierarchical distributions. The authors also conducted a panel discussion and workshop with several local and state government officials, along with private industry consultants and practitioners, to reveal how the tool could be beneficial in different policy and planning contexts.
 
Findings indicated that social and community infrastructure is critical to the effective functioning of rapidly growing urban regions, but lag times between population growth and new infrastructure delivery are pervasive in new greenfield development areas. The research also found timely fine-grained spatial data is critical to informing and measuring performance in spatial planning and infrastructure delivery processes, but existing datasets are limited.
 
This study breaks new ground, as it extends the idea of accessibility to social infrastructure as a critical facility to support daily life.

 

   
 

Towards the 30-minute city — how Australians’ commutes compare with cities overseas

Reprinted from The Conversation by Hao Wu and David Levinson

The ease of reaching urban amenities underpins city life. We led a global research team that compared access to jobs in 117 cities across the globe, including eight capital cities in Australia, and examined strategies that might improve transport in our cities. The newly published research finds access to jobs increases with population and that our two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, compare favourably with similarly sized cities overseas.

Transport infrastructure and land use patterns form the backbone of a city. It’s the reason so many people choose to live and work with other people in cities – despite the noise, congestion and negatives of city life – because they can easily reach a variety of destinations. Towards this objective, many planning agencies set themselves a “30-minute city” goal, which is behind many planning decisions.

heat map showing number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes across Greater Sydney

Heat map showing access to jobs across Greater Sydney. Red denotes more jobs and green fewer jobs within 30 minutes’ travel time. Author provided

Read more: Access across Australia: mapping 30-minute cities, how do our capitals compare?


What did the study find?

The ease of reaching destinations can be measured by the number of jobs reachable within 30 minutes. Job locations offer both employment opportunities and amenities; restaurants, schools, hospitals, shopping centres and so on are also job clusters.

The research measured how many jobs were accessible within 30 minutes (travelling one way) for four different modes of transport – cars, public transport, cycling and walking. The 117 cities studied are in 16 countries on six continents. The research finds cities really differ in the convenience of transport, but also finds significant similarities between cities from the same country.

Australian and Canadian cities have poorer car access than US, European and Chinese cities. They have better public transport, walking and cycling access than US cities, but access via these modes is generally not as good as in Europe and China.

Cities in the United States have reasonable car access, but lag behind globally in public transport, walking and cycling access.

Chart showing numbers of jobs accessible within 30 minutes' cycling plotted against population for global cities.

Number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes’ cycling plotted against population for global cities. Urban Access Across the Globe 2021Author provided

In Chinese and European cities, compact development combined with an intensive network produces the highest access globally across all modes of transport.

Chart showing number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes’ walking plotted against population for global cities.

Number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes’ walking plotted against population for global cities. Urban Access Across the Globe 2021Author provided

One surprising finding is the middling car access in US cities. Despite the reputation of US cities being built around the car, urban sprawl has made it difficult to reach destinations even by car.

Chart showing numbers of jobs accessible within 30 minutes' drive by car plotted against population for global cities.

Number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes by car plotted against population for global cities. Urban Access Across the Globe 2021Author provided

This sprawl also exposes the Achilles heel in mass transit and non-motorised modes. Immense spatial separation makes for worse access by public transport and active modes of transport such as cycling and walking. US cities have the largest disparity between public transport and car travel.

Chart showing number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes by public transport plotted against population for global cities.

Number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes by public transport plotted against population for global cities. Urban Access Across the Globe 2021Author provided

This research also finds access to jobs increases with city population, so reaching a greater number of desired destinations would be easier for people in larger cities than in smaller cities. So, despite traffic congestion, larger cities are still more efficient in connecting people with places they want to go.

However, this benefit has diminishing returns. Doubling the metropolitan population results in less than a doubling of access to jobs.

What are the lessons for Australian cities?

The moral of the story is that we don’t need to choose between the US-style sprawling development and European-style compact cities. We can and should have the benefits of both development patterns. We need both density and a well-developed transport network for better access.

Massive road building alone can improve access by car to only a limited extent. The problem is that investments in road infrastructure are often accompanied by lower-density development. That makes it harder for people who walk, bike or use public transport to reach increasingly separated places.

In cities that do have compact land-use patterns, access to jobs remain high across all modes of transport, including cars. So, despite congestion, it is still easier to reach desired destinations in these compact cities. Roads are not race tracks, and high-speed roadways connecting nobody with nowhere are not better than lower-speed paths connecting people and places.

The Australian government is investing A$110 billion over the next ten years in transport infrastructure. This will have significant implications for the future of our cities. If we want our cities to continue to be vibrant, liveable and accessible by all modes of transport, we will need to keep our cities compact and invest more in public transport, walking and biking.

Urban Findings

by Somwrita Sarkar, Editor Urban Findings

We announce the launch of a new section of Findings: Urban Findings, following the Findings model of short, to-the-point research findings in the broad field of urbanism. The Editorial Board is here, along with an inaugural set of papers here.

At the start of the process, we sent out a call for papers, through our Editorial Board members. We thank them for generously putting in their own time and effort towards these papers, reaching out to their networks and students for contributions, and generously helping out with the review process. This is more so because this process unfolded in a time that was extremely busy for every academic round the globe, as we grappled with the new shifted reality of combining online and face-to-face teaching, and the new reality of virtual conferences.

The papers focus on a diverse set of issues around Urbanism. The application and novel use of new sources of data, and the development of models and methods in quantitative urbanism is growing by leaps and bounds, as these papers demonstrate. A topical theme was COVID-19, to which we all have been witnesses this past year, and which has understandably, and will in the future continue to, change the way in which we think of cities. The papers span broad application and method areas, from model based creation and evaluation of synthetic cities, to empirical research on people, cities, and housing, across Australia, the US, and Canada, large scale survey design and application, and even meta-analyses such as tracking the presence of Urbanism on social media, and the interaction of climate change and housing. Also observed in the papers is the recurring theme of the close interaction between transport and locational behaviours, and the resulting areas of land use and transport interactions – we truly cannot think of cities without thinking of location (urban) and movement (transport) as an integrated whole. This brings us full circle to the reason why we thought Urban Findings should sit under a common umbrella with Transport Findings.

So, along with the launch, this is a call out for regular submissions to Urban Findings (and Transport Findings), for short, to-the-point research focussed on cities. We look forward to some excellent work!

Transportist: June 2021

Research

  • Hao Wu, Paolo Avner, Genevieve Boisjoly, Carlos K. V. Braga, Ahmed El-Geneidy, Jie Huang, Tamara Kerzhner, Brendan Murphy, Michał A. Niedzielski, Rafael H. M. Pereira, John P. Pritchard, Anson Stewart, Jiaoe Wang, and David Levinson (2021) Urban access across the globe: an international comparison of different transport modes. NPJ Urban SustainabilityVol. 1, Article 16 [doi]

Access (the ease of reaching valued destinations) is underpinned by land use and transport infrastructure. The importance of access in transport, sustainability, and urban economics is increasingly recognized. In particular, access provides a universal unit of measurement to examine cities for the efficiency of transport and land use systems. This paper examines the relationship between population-weighted access and metropolitan population in global metropolitan areas (cities) using 30-minute cumulative access to jobs for 4 different modes of transport; 117 cities from 16 countries and 6 continents are included. Sprawling development with intensive road network in American cities produces modest automobile access relative to their sizes, but American cities lag behind globally in transit and walking access; Australian and Canadian cities have lower automobile access, but better transit access than American cities; combining compact development with an intensive network produces the highest access in Chinese and European cities for their sizes. Hence density and mobility co-produce better access. This paper finds access to jobs increases with populations sublinearly, so doubling metropolitan population results in a less than double access to jobs. The relationship between population and access characterizes regions, countries and cities, and significant similarities exist between cities from the same country.

Transportist Posts

We often talk about networks providing connection. The World Wide Web is a network that connects people with websites across the world. But interesting word “web”, it is appropriated from a spider’s “web“, which has lots of strands that connect internally and to external supports, and enable the spider to move quickly over space. But the spider “web’s” primary purpose is to tangle up the wayward insect that crosses its path and prevent it from traveling further. That meaning of the word comes from a further word describing woven fabrics, weaving, and tapestry. Weaving of clothes is of course aimed at preventing cold air from reaching the body and provides insulation.

We could look at the word “net”, it is appropriated from a fisherman’s net. “Open textile fabric tied or woven with a mesh for catching fish, birds, or wild animals alive; network; spider web,” also figuratively, “moral or mental snare or trap.” So it too has the connotation of restricting movement rather than facilitating it.

Ther term “grid” comes from griddle, a device for keeping things from falling into the fire (while spreading heat along its elements).

Building frames are types of networks to transmit force between the structure and the earth to provide support. But these supports are rigid and generally prevent going through them, requiring people to go around. Normally this isn’t a big deal in a steel frame building, where the supports take a minimum of space, but in masonry or wood structures, the supports are pretty coterminous with walls, and individuals must find doors for passage. The walls and ceilings themselves, like woven clothing, protect the occupant from the vagaries of the environment. 

Modern transport networks have much the same features as a spider’s web. Roadways are designed to facilitate movement for cars while trapping pedestrians who want to cross the street. Cars don’t literally eat pedestrians, but this environment certainly reduces the number of pedestrians, as people who would otherwise walk give up and join the motoring majority. We might say automobility eats walk mode share.

Wired power networks impose their own constraints. High voltage power lines are not to be touched, for instance. But they occupy little space. They do require the clearance of trees, disconnecting the dense bush in places, for the benefit of users of long-distance electricity. Power boxes often interrupt footpaths (needlessly).

Wired communications networks don’t have the same voltages, but still have physical constraints. Boxes for communications need to be accessed, leading to works in the transport network.

The disconnection wrought by communications may be more intangible. For every minute someone is engaged with distant people online (or even colleagues two desks away), they are not engaged with anyone who may be directly in front of them. In person contact has dropped as online has risen. For those not online, their available world is shrinking. I don’t know if this is a problem of the modern world, but it is a feature. Just as automobility enabled further suburbanisation and increasing distances between buildings, worsening the environment for those without a car, the always online world increases the effective physical distance between people, reducing the opportunities for those not on-board with the new technology. 

We don’t weep too many tears for those stuck on AOL or Friendster or Orkut or Myspace or Google Plus or the Blogosphere, in a few years this will be Facebook (I hope) and Twitter, and eventually Insta et al., as the Cool Cycle continues its relentless march. The cool kids can’t be caught dead on the same network (wearing the same clothes) with the less cool kids (or their grandparents), and will migrate elsewhere. Being on different networks helps people differentiate their status, but that differentiation is a disconnection, slowing the flow of real ideas and information for the sake of social standing and relative positioning.

Once we have achieved communications saturation, for every increasing network online, producing network externalities for its members, it a world with a fixed time budget, some other physical or virtual social network is shrinking in either membership, attention, or both. Whether we have reached communications saturation is an empirical question, and perhaps brain to brain links will demonstrate how much further we have to go to create a truly social species, but it is feeling pretty saturated to me.

I was interviewed by Michael Condon at ABC Country hour on the Blue Mountains tunnels. A bit of it shows up in the article Blue Mountains tunnel plan …, my quotes are excerpted below:

MASSIVE PROJECT, ‘SMALL-TIME’ SAVING

David Levinson, author and Professor of Transport at the University of Sydney, is not a fan of the project.

He said while it would benefit people who lived in the mountains, as well as tourists and farmers, it would not save much travel time.

“It takes about 13 minutes to drive and if they get that down to seven or eight minutes … that’s an improvement, but it’s not earth-shaking.”

He also wondered about the the likelihood of costs rising, or the project being sold off to private companies.

“Most tunnelled motorways in the Sydney region have been sold off as toll roads … and what happens in 10 years isn’t necessarily what people are projecting today.”

Until there is a publicly-reviewable (and peer-reviewed) business case, it’s inappropriate to spend $10 billion on any infrastructure project. It’s not that I support or don’t support the project, it’s that the proposed tunnel benefits a very specific group of people and is subsidised by everyone, so requires strong evidence that it is worthwhile.

Another issue is that this is a bottleneck during peak times, but if this bottleneck is relieved, the next downstream bottleneck will just be activated. This is hardly the only bottleneck in the Blue Mountains. That argues for tunnelling essentially the entire mountain range (at an enormous amount of money). But peak times are also relatively rare, holiday periods particularly, and perhaps more manageable in a world where more and more people work from home and have flexible schedules.

As my friend and faithful reader Alex W. notes:

The real issue is how to improve the road alignment between Mt Victoria and Hartley.  It is steep and twisty and has ever been thus since the first road was laid out by the colonial Surveyor-General in the 1830s.  Incidentally, the alternative Bells Line of Road between Clarence and Lithgow is scarcely better because of the need to lose 100 metres in altitude in a short distance.

The originally announced tunnel between Mt Victoria and Hartley would probably have solved the combined gradient and curvature problem by building a longer, but underground, route to address the issue that both the road and the railway occupy a narrow ridge from Emu Plains to Mt Victoria.

Somehow, this project has morphed into a mega project with no sense of being staged to deliver early benefits addressing the real problem, not occasional holiday congestion.

Audio

Findings

Urban Findings is launching soon. We are plotting Energy Findings now. If you are interested, let me know. The journal continues to solicit articles of under 1000 words that have clear research questions, methods, and findings.

  • Karner, Alex, and Dana Rowangould. 2021. “Access to Secure Ballot Drop-off Locations in Texas.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.24080.
  • Chauhan, Rishabh Singh, Denise Capasso da Silva, Deborah Salon, Ali Shamshiripour, Ehsan Rahimi, Uttara Sutradhar, Sara Khoeini, Abolfazl (Kouros) Mohammadian, Sybil Derrible, and Ram Pendyala. 2021. “COVID-19 Related Attitudes and Risk Perceptions across Urban, Rural, and Suburban Areas in the United States.” Findings, June. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.23714.
  • Paez, Antonio, and Christopher D. Higgins. 2021. “The Accessibility Implications of a Pilot COVID-19 Vaccination Program in Hamilton, Ontario.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.24082.
  • Allen, Jeff, and Steven Farber. 2021. “Changes in Transit Accessibility to Food Banks in Toronto during COVID-19.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.24072.
  • Goodman, Anna, Anthony A. Laverty, Asa Thomas, and Rachel Aldred. 2021. “The Impact of 2020 Low Traffic Neighbourhoods on Fire Service Emergency Response Times, in London, UK.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.23568.
  • Goodman, Anna, Anthony A. Laverty, and Rachel Aldred. 2021. “Short-Term Association between the Introduction of 2020 Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and Street Crime, in London, UK.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.23623.
  • Cochran, Abigail L., Jueyu Wang, Lauren Prunkl, Lindsay Oluyede, Mary Wolfe, and Noreen McDonald. 2021. “Access to the COVID-19 Vaccine in Centralized and Dispersed Distribution Scenarios.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.23555.
  • Jiao, Junfeng, and Amin Azimian. 2021. “Socio-Economic Factors and Telework Status in the US during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.23573.
  • Firth, Caislin L., Michael Branion-Calles, Meghan Winters, and M. Anne Harris. 2021. “Who Bikes? An Assessment of Leisure and Commuting Bicycling from the Canadian Community Health Survey.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.22163.
  • Manley, Ed, Stuart Ross, and Mengdie Zhuang. 2021. “Changing Demand for New York Yellow Cabs during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Findings, May. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.22158.

Research by Others

Follow-up: Hypothesis of the Month

Corinne Mulley writes: Just a quick note about agglomeration economies.  In an attempt to see how public transport contributed, we surveyed some firms’ employeesabout how often they saw someone on PT that reminded them they should contact them.  It was remarkably frequent.  

News & Opinion

Urban access across the globe: an international comparison of different transport modes

Recently published

  • Hao Wu, Paolo Avner, Genevieve Boisjoly, Carlos K. V. Braga, Ahmed El-Geneidy, Jie Huang, Tamara Kerzhner, Brendan Murphy, Michał A. Niedzielski, Rafael H. M. Pereira, John P. Pritchard, Anson Stewart, Jiaoe Wang, and David Levinson (2021) Urban access across the globe: an international comparison of different transport modes. NPJ Urban Sustainability Vol. 1, Article 16 [doi]

Access (the ease of reaching valued destinations) is underpinned by land use and transport infrastructure. The importance of access in transport, sustainability, and urban economics is increasingly recognized. In particular, access provides a universal unit of measurement to examine cities for the efficiency of transport and land use systems. This paper examines the relationship between population-weighted access and metropolitan population in global metropolitan areas (cities) using 30-minute cumulative access to jobs for 4 different modes of transport; 117 cities from 16 countries and 6 continents are included. Sprawling development with intensive road network in American cities produces modest automobile access relative to their sizes, but American cities lag behind globally in transit and walking access; Australian and Canadian cities have lower automobile access, but better transit access than American cities; combining compact development with an intensive network produces the highest access in Chinese and European cities for their sizes. Hence density and mobility co-produce better access. This paper finds access to jobs increases with populations sublinearly, so doubling metropolitan population results in a less than double access to jobs. The relationship between population and access characterizes regions, countries and cities, and significant similarities exist between cities from the same country.

Around the corner: what will the future of transport look like? | Spectator Briefings | The Spectator

I am on the Podcast:

Around the corner: what will the future of transport look like? | Spectator Briefings | The Spectator:

What does the future of transport look like? From electric vehicles to driverless cars, a smarter way to get around the city may be just around the corner. The future of transport will be more efficient, more digital and greener – but what are the challenges that still stand in the way?
Kate Andrews talks to Rachel Maclean, the Minister for Transport, Roger Hunter, VP for Electric Mobility at Shell, and Professor David Levinson, a civil engineer at the University of Sydney.

Networks as Connectors and Disconnectors

We often talk about networks providing connection. The World Wide Web is a network that connects people with websites across the world. But interesting word “web”, it is appropriated from a spider’s “web“, which has lots of strands that connect internally and to external supports, and enable the spider to move quickly over space. But the spider “web’s” primary purpose is to tangle up the wayward insect that crosses its path and prevent it from traveling further. That meaning of the word comes from a further word describing woven fabrics, weaving, and tapestry. Weaving of clothes is of course aimed at preventing cold air from reaching the body and provides insulation.

We could look at the word “net”, it is appropriated from a fisherman’s net. “Open textile fabric tied or woven with a mesh for catching fish, birds, or wild animals alive; network; spider web,” also figuratively, “moral or mental snare or trap.” So it too has the connotation of restricting movement rather than facilitating it.

Ther term “grid” comes from griddle, a device for keeping things from falling into the fire (while spreading heat along its elements).

Building frames are types of networks to transmit force between the structure and the earth to provide support. But these supports are rigid and generally prevent going through them, requiring people to go around. Normally this isn’t a big deal in a steel frame building, where the supports take a minimum of space, but in masonry or wood structures, the supports are pretty coterminous with walls, and individuals must find doors for passage. The walls and ceilings themselves, like woven clothing, protect the occupant from the vagaries of the environment.

Modern transport networks have much the same features as a spider’s web. Roadways are designed to facilitate movement for cars while trapping pedestrians who want to cross the street. Cars don’t literally eat pedestrians, but this environment certainly reduces the number of pedestrians, as people who would otherwise walk give up and join the motoring majority. We might say automobility eats walk mode share.

Wired power networks impose their own constraints. High voltage power lines are not to be touched, for instance. But they occupy little space. They do require the clearance of trees, disconnecting the dense bush in places, for the benefit of users of long-distance electricity. Power boxes often interrupt footpaths (needlessly).

Wired communications networks don’t have the same voltages, but still have physical constraints. Boxes for communications need to be accessed, leading to works in the transport network.

The disconnection wrought by communications may be more intangible. For every minute someone is engaged with distant people online (or even colleagues two desks away), they are not engaged with anyone who may be directly in front of them. In person contact has dropped as online has risen. For those not online, their available world is shrinking. I don’t know if this is a problem of the modern world, but it is a feature. Just as automobility enabled further suburbanisation and increasing distances between buildings, worsening the environment for those without a car, the always online world increases the effective physical distance between people, reducing the opportunities for those not on-board with the new technology.

We don’t weep too many tears for those stuck on AOL or Friendster or Orkut or Myspace or Google Plus or the Blogosphere, in a few years this will be Facebook (I hope) and Twitter, and eventually Insta et al., as the Cool Cycle continues its relentless march. The cool kids can’t be caught dead on the same network (wearing the same clothes) with the less cool kids (or their grandparents), and will migrate elsewhere. Being on different networks helps people differentiate their status, but that differentiation is a disconnection, slowing the flow of real ideas and information for the sake of social standing and relative positioning.

Once we have achieved communications saturation, for every increasing network online, producing network externalities for its members, it a world with a fixed time budget, some other physical or virtual social network is shrinking in either membership, attention, or both. Whether we have reached communications saturation is an empirical question, and perhaps brain to brain links will demonstrate how much further we have to go to create a truly social species, but it is feeling pretty saturated to me.

Blue Mountains tunnel plans welcomed by farmers, freight industry but transport academic has reservations

I was interviewed by Michael Condon at ABC Country hour on the Blue Mountains tunnels. A bit of it shows up in the article Blue Mountains tunnel plan …, my quotes are excerpted below:

Massive project, ‘small-time’ saving

David Levinson, author and Professor of Transport at the University of Sydney, is not a fan of the project.

He said while it would benefit people who lived in the mountains, as well as tourists and farmers, it would not save much travel time.

“It takes about 13 minutes to drive and if they get that down to seven or eight minutes … that’s an improvement, but it’s not earth-shaking.”

He also wondered about the the likelihood of costs rising, or the project being sold off to private companies.

“Most tunnelled motorways in the Sydney region have been sold off as toll roads … and what happens in 10 years isn’t necessarily what people are projecting today.”


Until there is a publicly-reviewable (and peer-reviewed) business case, it’s inappropriate to spend $10 billion on any infrastructure project. It’s not that I support or don’t support the project, it’s that the proposed tunnel benefits a very specific group of people and is subsidised by everyone, so requires strong evidence that it is worthwhile.

Another issue is that this is a bottleneck during peak times, but if this bottleneck is relieved, the next downstream bottleneck will just be activated. This is hardly the only bottleneck in the Blue Mountains. That argues for tunnelling essentially the entire mountain range (at an enormous amount of money). But peak times are also relatively rare, holiday periods particularly, and perhaps more manageable in a world where more and more people work from home and have flexible schedules.

As my friend and faithful reader Alex W. notes:

The real issue is how to improve the road alignment between Mt Victoria and Hartley.  It is steep and twisty and has ever been thus since the first road was laid out by the colonial Surveyor-General in the 1830s.  Incidentally, the alternative Bells Line of Road between Clarence and Lithgow is scarcely better because of the need to lose 100 metres in altitude in a short distance.


The originally announced tunnel between Mt Victoria and Hartley would probably have solved the combined gradient and curvature problem by building a longer, but underground, route to address the issue that both the road and the railway occupy a narrow ridge from Emu Plains to Mt Victoria.


Somehow, this project has morphed into a mega project with no sense of being staged to deliver early benefits addressing the real problem, not occasional holiday congestion.

Transportist: May 2021: Our aversion to risk will kill us.

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


Hypothesis of the Month

This month’s hypothesis is that transit makes people more productive because they are time conscious.  Economies of agglomeration are often measured for cities. It is attributed to the interactions that people have and the access to other people (as well as machinery and other inputs to production). The source of this productivity has been associated with ‘ideas having sex’. Put more ideas together physically, and you will get more ideas out.

But there are other distinct aspects of places with agglomeration productivity externalties. These places differ from other types of places in that they are heavily dependent on public transport. One thing that daily public transport riders are keenly aware of is schedules. They lack the flexibility of other modes are they are time-dependent. And especially where frequencies are low (headways greater than every 5 minutes say, but certainly every 10 minutes), people time their approach to the station to arrive on-time and not be too early. This time-awareness must permeate other aspects of worklife more deeply, work has to get wrapped up or the bus or train will get missed. Procrastination faces its worst enemy, the deadline.

That said, I have not felt suddenly more productive since joining the ranks of daily transit users earlier this year. On the other hand, this newsletter has gotten longer. 

DST

Speaking of time, Daylight Savings Time has ended for the parts of Australia that abided it. No daylight was saved. The Time Zone Map of Australia is absurdism at its finest. Leaving aside niche cases, South Australia is on the half-hour. Only the southern half of the country abides DST. Australia should just adopt Queensland’s time zone and be done with it.

Transportist Posts

[I am trying a new format this month, embedding the articles in the newsletter.]

  • Virus Transmission is an Accessibility Issue: Quarantine Sites Should be as Remote as Possible
    • Urban economists like to brag about how cities are more productive than other areas because of `economies of agglomeration’ which reduce the cost of physical contact, as people are closer together. The cost of that closeness is increased sharing of the air between people, and the airborne viruses that reside in it. Viruses physically move from one person to another. Just as the likelihood of interaction between two people is inversely proportional to the distance between them, the likelihood that viruses are transmitted between two people is inversely proportional to the distance between them, as the longer the virus is exposed to colder out-of-body temperatures and sunlight, the less likely it survives AND the nearer two people are, the sooner a virus can go from one person to another. This is just accessibility.So, putting people close together in hotels to quarantine them, assuming some have the virus, is obviously going to increase the likelihood of transmission between hotel residents compared with putting them farther apart in camps. And putting these hotels in cities is obviously going to increase the likelihood that a virus from the hotel interacts with the city around it.So if the intent is public health, quarantined people should be kept far from each other and from non-quarantined people.Fortunately Australia is a big country. There are many opportunities to quarantine people away from each other and away from others. Unfortunately, people are being quarantined in the middle of cities inside of hotels.The latest outbreaks in Sydney and Perth should not be surprising. That this was the policy in April of 2020, when everything was new would be understandable. That this remains policy in April of 2021 when it is not is puzzling.If quarantine sites were remote, and the likelihood of transmission reduced further, perhaps Australia could increase its intake of stranded citizens, international immigrants, and students.
    • [A simulation of a Virus on a Network from Northwestern]
    • [More than a dozen COVID leaks in 6 months …]
  • TransportLab Student Presentations at the 2020 TRANSW Symposium
  • One Big Chinese Lesson for America’s Infrastructure Plan It’s not just about laying down tracks for superfast trains
    • David Fickling at Bloomberg writes: One Big Chinese Lesson for America’s Infrastructure Plan It’s not just about laying down tracks for superfast trains. It’s about letting the public sector benefit from increasing land values.My quotes:Measures to levy fees on the local property owners, such as the special assessment zones used to finance projects like Seattle’s South Lake Union Streetcar, could in theory have a similar effect. The problem is that the unity of purpose needed to develop larger-scale infrastructure is lacking in the modern U.S., according to David Levinson, a professor of transport engineering at the University of Sydney and former transportation planner in Maryland.“Transportation decisions are much more fractured” in the U.S., Levinson says. “Property taxes are a local government thing whereas transport infrastructure funding tends to be a state thing. Governments aren’t willing to upend the privileges of municipalities to get infrastructure built.”That fragmentation also means that spending is too reactive — for instance, repeatedly widening roads to eliminate congestion rather than developing integrated visions for how cities as a whole could function better. “The traffic engineers have more power than the planners,” Levinson says, “and the decision makers drive a car, so they have the view from their windshield.”
  • Recent Research on Video: Lane Changing, Injury Severity, and Measuring Traffic from Moving Probes
    • Ang Ji, a PhD student at TransportLab, published 5 papers last year. He has created videos of presentations of those papers for those who prefer their narrative in YouTube format. You can see them at the VIDEO links below. Then you should read the article. [Note, you might have to adjust the volume up]
      1. Ji, Ang and Levinson, D. (2020) A Review of Game Theory Models of Lane ChangingTransportmetrica A. 16(3), 1628–1647. [doi] [VIDEO]
      2. Ji, Ang and Levinson, D. (2020) Estimating the Social Gap with a Game Theory Model of Lane Changing.  IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Transactions. [doi] [VIDEO]
      3. Ji, Ang and Levinson, D. (2020) An energy loss-based vehicular injury severity model. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 146 October 2020, 105730. [doi] [VIDEO]
      4. Ji, Ang and Levinson, D. (2020) Injury severity prediction from two-vehicle crash mechanisms with machine learning and ensemble models. IEEE Open Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems. [doi] [VIDEO]
      5. Davis, Blake, Ji, Ang,  Liu, Bichen, and Levinson, D. (2020) Moving Array Traffic ProbesFrontiers in Future Transportation. doi: 10.3389/ffutr.2020.602356 [doi] [VIDEO]
  • Auto Buybacks: Cash for ICE – Accelerating the Transition to EVs (And AVs while we are at it)
    • One of the undiscussed features of transport electrification is the large number of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles that will remain on the road in the absence of prohibition. There are many stranded incumbents like service stations and their upstream suppliers who will continue to provide fuel for the remaining vehicles, and that fuel will have a lower and lower market price (sans taxes), as demand will have dropped and the supply will not, and existing producers will have huge incentives to pump fuel while it still has some market value. Consumers with older cars will be reluctant to replace their working vehicle when low fuel prices abound. Many just like their cars, and the smell of gasoline is an attractant for some.To accelerate the transition, governments will step in and buy back older cars for recycling. At first this will be voluntary, then it will be mandatory. Governments won’t simply confiscate property, that goes to far. Instead governments will refuse to register vehicles that pollute above some threshold, for instance, (a threshold that rises over time) and thereby keep those vehicles off public roads, only a few antiques will be permitted in the end, and then only for limited parades and displays. This will be the UK’s Scrappage Scheme or US’s Cash for Clunkers on steroids. Some back of the envelope math follows: There are say 300,000,000 cars in the US by the time this gets going. (There are 286 million now!). Assume all new vehicles, and 50% of extant vehicle are electric (so this is circa mid 2030s, since by 2025 most new cars will be EVs and by 2030 essentially all new cars will be EVs). There remain 150,000,000 ICE cars left. At ~$5,000 per used ICE car, that would be $750,000,000,000 ($750B). To be clear, $750B is apparently not what it used to be, and since it would probably have to be phased in over time (say 10 years), it is only $75B/year for 10 years. (Or ~$250 per US taxpayer, or less than $1/day for 10 years to pay for an accelerated all-electric fleet).I imagine this is implemented as $5,000 credit for trade-in toward an EV, but this would vary by vehicle of course, and rules would have to be in place about only registered and operational vehicles would be eligible to avoid paying for the wrecks in people’s garages or on their front lawns.Those turned in cars could be recycled, scrapped for parts, or converted if EV conversion technology becomes feasible, though I suspect recycling will be more cost-effective.This transition would have many environmental and economic stimulus benefits, since these remaining ICEs would, on average, be inside older more polluting vehicles. Whether this is economically worthwhile, or the best means to reduce carbon emissions, is another matter. However will this happen? Yes, in some form. The 2031 recession, or the 2037 recession at the latest will result in a program just like this.[Those new EVs, by the mid-2030s, will also be Level 4 AVs for all intents and purposes, so this has numerous other safety benefits].

Videos

Research

  • Wu, Hao and Levinson, D. (2021) Optimum Stop Spacing for Accessibility. European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research. 21(2) 1-18 [doi]The cumulative opportunities measure accessibility is defined as the number of opportunities reachable under a given time threshold. The spacing between transit stations is fundamental for accessibility by transit, yet the stations cannot be easily relocated in built-up areas. This paper examines the relation between transit stop spacing and person-weighted accessibility for an urban train route through an analytical model, and identifies that for each type of transit (e.g. given some combination of vehicle acceleration, deceleration, top speed, dwell time, platform type), an optimal stop spacing exists that maximizes accessibility; neither short nor excessive stop spacing are efficient in providing accessibility. Rail is used as example, though the model and findings are applicable to bus services as well. This paper brings attention to the importance of stop spacing in accessibility, and provides guidelines for transit planning for the operational improvement of transit accessibility.

Conferences

  • 42ND AUSTRALASIAN TRANSPORT RESEARCH FORUMThe ATRF Executive Committee and the ATRF 2021 Local Organising Committee are pleased to announce that the 42nd Australasian Transport Research Forum will be held at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane on 8-10 December 2021.[I am on the Scientific Committee this year]

Books 

  • Advanced Introduction to Urban Transport Planning
    • by Kevin J. Krizek and David A. King
    • Publication Date: May 2021 ISBN: 978 1 80037 408 9 Extent: 160 pp
    • Insightful and original in its approach, this Advanced Introduction to Urban Transport Planning provides a fresh look at cost-efficiency and casts the craft of transport planning in new light, allowing engineers and urban planners to understand the benefits of breaking mobility-centric systems that favour cars and prioritising multi-modal transport systems that promote access. It features in-depth analysis of traditional methods and how these are changing due to new technologies, financial constraints and evolving environmental trends.

Findings

Urban Findings is launching soon. We are plotting Energy Findings now. If you are interested, let me know. The journal continues to solicit articles of under 1000 words that have clear research questions, methods, and findings.

  • Alattar, Mohammad Anwar, Caitlin Cottrill, and Mark Beecroft. 2021. “Accounting for Spatial Heterogeneity Using Crowdsourced Data.” Findings, April. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.22495.
  • Lokesh, Kadambari, and Greg Marsden. 2021. “Estimates of the Carbon Impacts of Commute Travel Restrictions Due to COVID-19 in the UK.” Findings, April. https://doi.org/10.32866/001c.21574.

Research by Others

Obituaries

  • Martin Wachs (1941-2021) passed earlier this month. UCLA’s ITS has more details. I met Marty when he applied to join the University of California at Berkeley and I was on the student search committee. He arrived too late to serve on my committee or as a formal advisor (though now doubt had he been a year or two earlier, or I a year or two later, that would have happened). Though he was not a formal advisor, he did advise me, especially as I entered the very frustrating academic job market. Our paths have crossed numerous times, and I was honoured in 2019 to give the Marty Wachs Distinguished Lecture at UCLA. Despite our generational differences, he is in some ways an academic brother, as his advisor at Northwestern was Bill Garrison, from whom I took classes later collaborated. In addition to being a fixture in transport planning for decades, and an academic and personal advisor to many, his scientific contributions in the realm of equity, transport and the elderly, and measuring access, including developing and applying the now widely used cumulative opportunities metric of accessibility, are important. He will be sorely missed.

News & Opinion