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Optimal stop spacing and travel distance
Russell Degnan

In my previous post on stop spacing I made the point that for short trips - particularly the last mile shortening stop spacing counter-acts the benefits of shorter walks because the transport slows down. Efficiency and speed is currently under-rated - in comparison to connectivity and frequency - in transport discussions (at least in Melbourne). It shouldn't be, for two reasons: speed is the primary determiner of the route and travel method chosen; and faster transit leads to faster turn-arounds and therefore fewer trains and drivers for the same frequency. A 20% improvement in travel speed doesn't increase capacity (that remains throughput) but it would have massive implications for recurring costs.

In this post I'll discuss trips of varying lengths, in order to make a simple but important point: in a walk-transit-walk environment optimal stop spacing is a function of travel distance. A secondary point will also be made, with caveats: that for many systems, particularly in Melbourne, stop spacing is much too close. (A point made in relation to trams in Melbourne by Jarrett Walker)

Firstly a few assumptions. Adjusting them may make some small differences - and if anyone wants the spreadsheet I did this on, just ask - but less than you might think. For the sake or argument I am assuming a grid with even density, so average walking distance is equal to stop spacing at both ends of the journey: half the users will walk less than half stop spacing, half will walk more than half, with those in the centre of the grid traversing half in both a N-S and E-W direction. The transport in question has a 1m/s2 acceleration and deceleration time, with intersections ignored (ie. light-rail, either grade separated or gated), a 40 second stop penalty, 5 minute waiting average, and a walking speed of 5km/h. Graphs will reflect averages; walking, transport and waiting time will vary, obviously.

But to emphasise, again, adjusting these numbers makes very little difference to optimal stop spacing: waiting time is a constant, and only matters if someone can walk the distance faster - ie. for very short trips. Otherwise walking and transport speed are minimised at the point where transit speed is not compromised by frequent stops: the major factor in determining optimal stop spacing is the distance being travelled on transit (given a particular walking speed)[1].

Optimal stop spacing in a walking only environment

Below is the journey speed for a 4km trip, given the assumptions above. There are two things worth noting. Firstly, that optimal stop spacing is 850m, which is outside the generally accepted range for short-ish trips of this kind. Secondly, that the cost of sub-optimal spacing is much higher on the short side. A 400m stop spacing is of a piece with a 1700m stop spacing, and the cost of reducing it further much higher.

There is an important, and unresolved tension then, between two conceptions of walking to transit: is the commuter rational, and therefore willing to walk whatever distance affords them the fastest trip, where speed is all that matters; or are they unwilling or unable (speaking here of the general population, not the mobility impaired - and of a decent walking environment, as that can be fixed) to walk further, even if it meant faster transit? This graph from VISTA data (courtesy Alan Davies), would indicate that people are willing to walk reasonable distances for trains (which on average have longer travel distances), but may merely indicate that many train stations are further apart. Similarly, while there is a significant clustering effect around train lines in Melbourne, that is in part because the stop spacing is short, and therefore geared for short walks.

The graph below shows the optimal stop spacing for various trip lengths. The levelling out at 2km is a function of the maximum travel speed of the transit, but shows that except for very short trips the optimal stop spacing is in excess of 1km, and growing. Keeping in mind the previous point that longer is better than shorter, a large percentage of commuters in Melbourne are suffering excessively long travel times.

Optimal stop spacing with a connecting transport

While Melbourne has an high percentage of walking only access to trains, this is probably a reflection of both poor local connections, and the short stop spacing that allows extensive walk-up access at the expense of travel speed. I'll cover the relative speed of Melbourne public transport in a future post. In large cities, with long commutes, feeder systems allow for a slightly different stop spacing arrangement, because they can cover for shorter trips, and allow the train system to focus on longer trips at higher speed.

In the following graphs, a feeder system, travelling at an average speed of 30k/h[2] with a 400m stop spacing takes passengers between stops with a 5min wait for a connecting service. The difference this makes to a 20km trip can be seen below:

Again two points are worth taking from this graph. The first is that a significantly longer stop spacing is optimal when there is a connecting service. The second is that the margin of error for the stop spacing on the long distance service is much higher. Anything from a 3km to 8km stop spacing gives a broadly similar transit speed because the service is mostly running at full speed. This is important, because transit must, of necessity, serve trips of different lengths. If the speed is broadly similar regardless of the stop spacing then (provided the basic minimum stop spacing is achieved) transit agencies can place stations in major centres to maximise connectivity.

The graph for optimal stopping distance across all commute lengths shows how much further out the stops can be with a good connecting service.

This conclusion is in some ways obvious: naturally transit can go much faster if it doesn't stop, and naturally systems that interact will work better. But it leads to several important points:

  • It is better to have stop spacing too long than too short, because the time penalty is significant.
  • Transit for long trips and short trips is not interchangeable. This is particularly true if transit designed for long trips has better frequencies, as it will out-compete local transit, making it redundant.
  • A system that allows bleed between the roles of different transit will be sub-optimal. Part of long term planning should be to optimise the system for efficient travel by reorganising stops and connections.

Needless to say this has important implications for Melbourne's public transport system.

[1] Here I have assumed walking is a constant, but note that even at very slow speeds (1km/h) the optimal stop spacing for a 10km trip is 650m, compared to 1300m for a walking speed of 5km/h.

[2] This would be an unusually fast service given that level of stop spacing, and most likely, a street running route. Halving this to 15km/h reduces optimal stop spacing for the rapid transit service by around 15%

Planning 26th May, 2014 01:20:55   [#] [2 comments] 

Mode Choice and Rational Commuting
Russell Degnan

Amongst the various comments about the proposed Metro line and the new station at Fishermans Bend, certain forms of analysis stood out, not for their accuracy, but their falling back on cliched understandings of travel, and the limitations of simple analysis in complex areas.

There are issues with the new proposal, mostly around the absence of long-term strategic planning in favour of project lists, which is not a new complaint.

There are fewer issues with a station at Montague, notwithstanding the commentary suggesting otherwise. Jason Murphy is normally very good, but his use of coverage diagrams merely highlights their limitations. Coverage is only as valuable as the service being connected to, the services that service connects to, their frequency and the line speed. Moreover, residential coverage is meaningless in the context of an area with several major destinations (the conference and exhibition centre, and South Wharf) and the expectations of significant future employment. What matters is the way that area connects as a destination. A connection to South Yarra and Southern Cross is potentially very useful; if debatably similar to the proposed (if unlikely) connection to Newport and Flinders Street.

The complaint of both Daniel Bowen and Tony Morton that residents would not use the station to connect from the light rail is in a similar vein: correct but basically irrelevant, if the stop is considered as a destination.

But they highlight a more general transport problem that is worth noting and explaining:

Public transport has big trade-offs for short trips

This often comes under the problem of the last mile, whereby a trip that ends at a transport hub needs a short connector that is hard to serve efficiently. But the problem of serving the last mile is true generally for short trips.

Consider someone within the residential area of the proposed Montague station, working in the CBD. In general, the potential user won't be either next to the residential station or working at a station in the loop. For the sake of argument we'll put them 400m from each.

As a walk, it is 3km into the centre of the CBD, or around 30 minutes. A trip to Docklands would be shorter, other parts of the CBD potentially longer.

As a train trip is is two walks of 400m (or 8 minutes), two trips through the station and onto underground platforms (2-4 minutes), waiting for the train (2-5 minutes), and a 2km trip on the train to Southern Cross (3 minutes). Somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes, most of which is spent walking and waiting.

On any transport, the walking distance can be shortened by reducing stop spacing. But here again, there is a trade-off in travel time as the stops add minutes, and the transport spends more time accelerating and decelerating at lower speeds. A tram with a 200m stopping distance would quarter the walk on average (2 minutes) but stop six times (5 minutes), and take 6 minutes to make the trip at the lower speed. Making the trip, including wait time, between 13 and 18 minutes.

In his piece on Fishermans Bend Alan Davies sourced a graphic showing walking lengths very substantially by mode in Melbourne. Most likely, this reflects two things: firstly, that stopping patterns are shorter for buses, and therefore the walk is naturally reduced; and secondly, that, although the environment has some effect on preferred walking distance, commuters are largely rational with respect to walking distance and time. Train journeys are longer, and walking is more efficient than the poor connections available in suburban Melbourne (on which, more later).

That being the case, the "rule of thumb" noted by Jarrett Walker of stop spacing between 400 and 800 metres is flawed. If we assume for rational commuters trying to minimise time, for a given trip length, there is an optimal stop spacing where walk time is offset by the speed of the transport. Because commuters go vastly different lengths this distance actually varies, and is often substantially longer than 800m. Though as a future post will show, this is complex; for large metropolitan areas, connections matter, a lot.

But on a short segment such as to Fishermans Bend, where most CBD/Docklands or local trips will be between one and four kilometres, there is no time advantage to having a heavy rail line with stops a kilometre apart through the area. The maximum possible trip is a mere 7km, which just barely goes past 1km as an optimal spacing. Stop spacing of a kilometre is double the optimal length for most of those trips. Yet on heavy-rail, any further shortening of those stops is impossible, and would both: effectively make the service a very expensive light-rail line; and were there a Newport connection, significantly slow suburban passengers.

The graphs below show the various trade-offs, although they slightly over-simplify the longer stopping lengths as at some point it becomes quicker to just walk, and wait-time is eliminated. [1] Notice too, that the optimal stopping distance is, as expected, between 400 and 800m for trips in this range.

There may be a future capacity issue in Fishermans Bend, given the projected population, and there would be a case for a station in Wirraway that connects to local transport in the event the South Morang-Newport connection occurred. But the future residents of the suburb will be much better served by efficient (and substantially cheaper) light-rail/tram lines. The vast majority of their trips (and the only ones reliably performed by public transport now) are too short to gain anything from services better designed for much longer journeys.

[1] Some assumptions need to be noted: the transport in question has a 1m/s2 acceleration and deceleration time, with intersections ignored (ie. light-rail, either grade separated or gated), a 40 second stop penalty, 5 minute waiting average, and a walking speed of 5km/h. It reflects averages; the transport time and waiting time will vary, obviously.

Planning 10th May, 2014 19:40:19   [#] [2 comments] 

Terrible driving, poor riding, but not distracted
Russell Degnan

I really shouldn't be as annoyed by the advertisement as I am. The design is clever and attractive; and the message is straight-forward and not really in dispute; walking or cycling without your hearing sense (or visual sense if you are looking at your phone) makes your day unnecessarily dangerous; although in-car distractions and the sealing off of drivers from the outside world continues apace.

But the depiction of the cyclists sends terrible messages about cycling and driver responsibility, for three reasons.

Firstly, a cyclist should never be riding in amongst the parked cars, as it requires them to continually merge into traffic and makes them harder to see. Veering out into traffic like that just shouldn't happen, and the depiction of a cyclist in that situation sends a message that that is where the should be.

Likewise, a car coming up from behind a cyclist, travelling down the road, should have the awareness that they will move out and around impending obstacles. By putting the blame on an accident of this sort on "distractions", it simultaneously implies that the undistracted cyclist needs to stop before going around a parked car to wait for oncoming traffic.

Whereas an accident of this sort has nothing to do with distractions, unless it is by the driver. Rather the cyclist ought to ride in a manner that maintains their presence and visibility in the driver's zone of attention; and the driver, regardless, needs to be aware of the presence of the cyclist and give them space. To imply that the fault in an accident of this sort would fall on the cyclist is plainly wrong. Cyclists can be distracted, but riding through a give-way sign would have been an accurate depiction of an accident where a distraction and not poor driving was to blame.

Planning 6th August, 2013 01:25:35   [#] [0 comments] 

Women and cycling
Russell Degnan

Much is made of the large disparity between the number of male and female cyclists in some countries - notably the USA, UK and Australia. Numerous differences are cited, from appearances to different patterns of use - most of which don't stand up to scrutiny given the higher rates of female cycling in many northern European countries.

Melissa Lafsky at The Infrastructurist cites some physiological reasons, arguing that commuting by bike is more amenable to the male, testosterone driven mind-set. This is, by no means, a unique observation, but it may be an important one. If female risk aversion is the major reason for lower cycling rates on unsafe streets then we should see some differences in commuting patterns.

Unfortunately, strong data on commuting patterns and demographics is hard to come up with, particularly at the sort of finely grained detail needed for this type of study. A student of mine looked into this earlier in the year and observed almost double the percentage of female cyclists on roads with bike lanes (45%) versus roads without (25%). Unfortunately the study was also small, short and biased towards routes that we already know from the census had high numbers of female cyclists - which may or may not be a cycling lane thing.

Still, this was valuable confirmation of the idea expressed above. The more recent availability of CData for the 2006 census allows me to test another hypothesis: if female cyclists are more risk averse, then the percentage of cyclists that are female should correlate strongly with the percentage of cycling commuters.

Using data from every Statistical Local Area in Australia, we can see graph these two data sets to see what occurs. CData's tendency to randomise small numbers makes this graph a little problematic. Quite a few SLAs have fewer than 10 female cyclists, and I excised SLAs with either no female cyclists or less than 20 cyclists over-all.

The correlation is not linear, so the graph has a logarithmic scale on the y-axis. The correlation is strong, however. Essentially, for every doubling of the percentage of cyclists commuting, you get a 10% increase in female participation rate. The vast bulk of SLAs have very low female participation rates (5-20%). But there are a number of area (notably in Melbourne's inner north) with both high number of cyclists and close to parity in terms of female participation rates.

I agree, therefore with the conclusion made by Melissa:

"All of which leads to our point (we're getting there, we promise): Letís stop talking about the "women on bikes" issue as a psycho-socio-gender phenomenon, and start talking about it as a policy call to action. If we reprioritized public and private initiatives to push biking, by creating more safety features like mandatory bike lanes, bike checkpoints and safety checks, as well as more incentivizing programs from employers ("bike to work" payment vouchers, etc.), we might see a real and meaningful change in the number of women - and men, for that matter - who chose to bike."

With one caveat. Because women are less likely to cycle when conditions are not favourable they are a better barometer than men if you want to find out why 90+% of the population do not cycle. While there are no shortage of commuting cyclists who have grievances - albeit often important ones - with the policy focus on bicycle facilities, their confidence in traffic and tendency not to expect the same of others is less useful if your aim is to promote and expand the base of cyclists. The non-cycling commuter, particularly the female non-cycling commuter needs to be heard.

Which brings me to my final point. While it was good to see a cycling strategy released earlier this year that actively promoted the idea of cycling as a "serious transport mode", the actual actions proposed, beyond the basic infrastructure already mooted, were thin on the ground. One of the things Copenhagen does very well - largely ignored by politicians who'd rather take pictures of bike lanes on overseas junkets than read a strategy document - is set a series of benchmarks for cycling safety and perceptions of cycling safety in the broader community (that is, outside the existing cycling community as well). We need, in Victoria, proper annual surveys, not of cyclists, but of non-cyclists, particularly women, with regard to their reasons for not cycling, with the aim, through the existing programs, of attacking those reasons. Without that, we are, unfortunately, still aiming in the dark, sometimes at real targets, and sometimes, not.

Planning 31st December, 2009 21:54:53   [#] [2 comments] 

Assume utopia, then plan
Russell Degnan

Must be a slow news period, as the last fortnight has seen a jump in planning articles in the papers, without there being terribly much news, as such. The first, by Sally Capp, rolls out the usual tropes: suburban sprawl is bad and must be contained, with the solution being greater densities around activity centres - now reduced to six.

Some of the claims are strange, such as the need for investment to encourage businesses to move outwards to the suburbs, despite that being a trend for well over three decades with the actual percentage of CBD bound long distance commutes in new suburbs being as little as 10 percent. But the real problems lie in the author's certainty. Apparently,

If we could agree on the future direction of our city - the proposed activities centres and greater urban density along existing transport routes - we could all be more constructively involved in these discussions.

Which is probably true, but it never seems to occur to proponents of this model that people do, and will continue to, disagree with it. That their inability to make a case for it, not to themselves, but to the people it will affect, is in fact part of the problem. Instead the finger is pointed at local government, apparently a road block to development and lacking in resources to plan effectively. Although how body could plan effectively, lumbered with a planning system that requires extensive consultation, in-built uncertainty and an appeals process that potentially ignores all that came before is not explained.

The idea that a metropolitan body, as proposed, could work any better than local councils and the planning department (who must surely already have all the power vested in a metropolitan planning body), unless the planning system itself is substantially reformed is laughable. That people take it seriously as a solution, without any adequate explanation of how it will improve the system, is sad.

Actually arguing for a strategic direction, rather than merely proposing one never seems to occur in strategic planning discussions however. Which is why clearly inconsistent statements, and proposals can be discussed, with barely an acknowledgment of the other. Take infrastructure. A central plank of the activity centre proposal is that:

By building around existing economic and social infrastructure, we leverage existing facilities without the need to create new ones.

This has been questioned on a number of levels over the years, but I've yet to see an actual economic study showing how true it is, and under what circumstances, for Melbourne, given different strategic plans. Which is why, last week, Frank Keane could write:

About half of Australia's population is contained in five state capitals. The result is an over-urbanisation that is inefficient and requires the building of ever-expanding infrastructure, including transport, sewerage, water and energy supply, telecommunications and waste disposal.

Smaller cities are then proposed as a solution, clearly at odds with high density growth within Melbourne. The relationship of either solution to the economic processes that underpin urban form is never mentioned, so some sense of what is better, or even what might be possible is unknown. The utopian vision for an environmentally sustainable city, or cities, never seems to ask what the point of a city is, before trying to change it.

Developers are on firmer ground, they, at least, understand that a city is there for them to profit from, even in this uncertain climate, but it never hurts if you can get a helping hand. It suits developers to blame local councils for the slow planning process, particularly when there are jobs at stake. Which is not to say the minister is wrong to call in these proposals - though he may be, who could tell? Merely that the existence of these call-ins points to greater problems with the planning system.

Fear and uncertainty prevails in Victorian planning. People don't trust developers, and they don't trust planners. The market has been tending towards the things planners want - polycentric cities, denser development - for years. But the planners reflex assumption that they must constrain the market, and
"encourage" density lends them, with only the flimsiest (and vaguest) of arguments in favour of the plans being created, has turned the planning process into a tool for conflict, with little upside in terms of better outcomes. When times were good, and a little hindrance of development was able to glean the edge off the most abject developments, such a system was poor, but acceptable. When the state government needs to see development, the flaws are more apparent, and planners need to start thinking about what they can justify, what actually matters, and what can be expeditiously jettisoned.

The last activity centre policy failed before it crashed on the rocks of the 90s recession and the Liberal government. The probability of this one following the same pattern are very high.

Planning 24th April, 2009 18:44:51   [#] [0 comments] 

Data semantics at thirty paces
Russell Degnan

Disputes over the value of Melbourne 2030 are always interesting, some people claim it is effective and producing bad outcomes, some that it is ineffective and not stopping bad outcomes, and some, notably many of the authors printed in People and Place, strike a middle ground that claims it is ineffective at producing things they like, but effective at doing things they don't. By contrast, the government has generally claimed that Melbourne 2030 is doing more or less exactly what they expected, which just happens to be not very much.

The differences in opinion, lie in the interpretation of the actual nature of Melbourne 2030, and its claims, and the expected changes to the urban form in the absence of any plan.

Because dwellings are built almost exclusively by the private sector, Melbourne 2030 is not a facilitator of anything. Even when the legal planning framework is twisted around to claim that no developer should expect to be able to develop without local approval, the developer is still the deciding factor in whether a development goes ahead. The planners and the community can only block it.

This doesn't stop their being claims that Melbourne 2030 has failed, because it hasn't facilitated the sorts of infill development that the planners envisaged, or prevented the sort of infill development (outside of activity centres) that local residents dislike (and Melbourne 2030 claims to discourage). Nor should anyone expect there to be, in the absence of any substantive changes to the planning framework to raise the costs of development in poor locations, and lower them in others.

It is somewhat specious however, to claim, as The Age did this morning, that the impact of Melbourne 2030 in the city of Monash is nothing. Not because it isn't nothing (it may be), but because the article in question (by Peterson, Phan and Chandra, "Urban infill: extent and implications in the City of Monash.", People and Place v16,i4) does a poor job of showing that to be the case. They claim, in essence, that because only a low percentage infill development occurred in activity centers (4.65% within 400m, 20.30% to 800m) or around railway stations (7.2% to 400m, 35.7% to 800m) Melbourne 2030 is failing to concentrate development.

The government response, that they didn't expect more than the 26.1% activity centre share, up to 2005, is equally difficult to parse. The problem lies in the interpretation of expectations, of what a low figure is, and of where that development would occur anyway.

By not providing comparative figures for the percentage of residential land area captured by the 400/800m zones around activity centres and stations, Peterson et al, leave me clueless as to whether 7.2% is a significant percentage (which it might be if only 1% of all land was near a railway station), or worse than random (if around 10% of land was). Similarly, it is probably ludicrous to expect no infill development outside of activity centres, so the comparison should be the level of infill relative to different areas. By neither showing, nor even defining what level of increased activity is expected, the government leaves no basis for making that comparison, and the authors have no way of determining if Melbourne 2030 has failed.

Finally, it is reasonable to deduce that developers would prefer to be near railway stations, all things being equal, so the real question regarding the effectiveness of Melbourne 2030 is whether it has been successful at driving development towards activity centres, above and beyond the expressed preferences of developers, or, whether it has been successful at enabling infill in line with developer and planning preferences. Most likely, as the article concludes, land is in such short supply that development is being driven by 'opportunism', and the expressed preferences of Melbourne 2030 are largely irrelevant to the operation of the infill market.

But That doesn't mean Melbourne 2030 has "failed". In order to fail, someone would need to define what level of housing infill would constitute a success.

Planning 24th February, 2009 16:27:44   [#] [2 comments] 

The rubbish statistic that never dies
Russell Degnan

The Age reports today that:

"Figures released yesterday showed 1,401,675 bicycles were sold last year, 38 per cent more than the 1,012,164 car sales, with cash-strapped and environmentally conscious consumers leading the trend."

Which is funny, because more bicycles than cars were also sold last year, and the year before, and the year before, and the year before...

If you track through advocacy documents, transport plans, sustainability reports and news articles, you see this daft and irrelevant statistic cited almost every year since the early 1970s, when the same people started talking about how good bicycles are for the environment, fitness, congestion, etc.

Bicycles sell more because you need one bicycle for each person who wants to use one (well, almost always), because every child owns one (and then replaces it regularly) even if they don't use it, because most adults own one also, and because cycling is a fairly cheap recreational option, even if you only do it once a month.

But the selling of bicycles matters naught to transport policy, where significant increases in inner city commuters are being offset by declines in teenage and child bicycle use in the suburbs, and where cycling remains barely a fiftieth of car use for commuting.

And yet next year, the same statistic will be quoted again.

Planning 7th January, 2009 08:12:30   [#] [0 comments] 

The road space problem
Russell Degnan

As the debate over Swanston Street rears its ugly head again, the advocacy groups for their particular mode are out in force, to try and asign a few precious feet of street space to their own uses.

The biggest casualty will be the tour buses, but they are, perhaps, the most unfairly treated. Spencer Street station is a significant downgrade from their presently central position. Presuming noone is willing to create a proper bus park along Swanston Street, space next to Federation Square or in an adjoining street should be made for them.

But the tour buses are but a small, mostly immobile, part of a larger problem, as the photo below shows quite clearly.

Even without tour buses, Swanston Street is packed with delivery vehicles at all hours, taking advantage of the ease of parking. Taxis, similarly, take advantage of their access, both for parking and through traffic, and of course (as has been acknowledged for almost 100 years), Swanston Street has too many tram routes for efficient running. The street was never going to be a "walk", though you can walk across it, almost at will. The current configuration is better than what it was, but is a terrible mess.

Robert Doyle's plan to return traffic is either naive or mad. As can be seen in old videos the street has changed significantly in its post traffic days. Apart from the reduction in direct end-to-end through traffic, the footpaths are now substantially wider, street trees and cafes filling the space. Returning traffic under that configuration (two lanes and parking), means either reducing the footpath width, at great cost to the major use of the street (pedestrians), slowing tram speeds further with extra traffic between intersections, or removing parking.

Which oddly enough, makes Swanston Street the same problem facing the shopping strips of inner Melbourne.

The problem of space is obvious at a design level, but too quickly forgotten at a strategic one. At a recent forum, speakers were regularly clapped for promoting "bicycle lanes on every street, protected by parking spaces", "dedicated tram lines", and while it was left unsaid, I am sure they would also be applauded for advocating "increased footpath width and better urban design". I like these things too, but the underlying theme was that the lack of these things occurs because there is a vast road lobby, conspiring to thwart alternative modes, and better livability.

There isn't. On many of these streets, VicRoads is responsible for both improving tram speeds, and on-road bicycle lanes. They have, where possible, dedicated lanes to both trams and bicycles. It just isn't possible on many streets. Not without removing something. And the biggest obstacle to removing something will always be the users of whatever that something is.

Sydney Road is a classic example here. The road is just 1 chain (20m) wide. A 3.5m tram line, 2m bicycle lane, and (narrow) 2.5m footpath leaves just 2m for traffic and parked cars. Even without parking, unless we want to revert to widespread one-way traffic there just isn't space for dedicated lanes for all modes.

Some modes need to be mixed, and the best configuration is a complex negotiation between stakeholders, not feel-good statements of intent of no practical value.

For myself, the priority should be giving p/t dedicated lanes, and increasing pedestrian access. The former because they are the most efficient (and equitable) movers of people across reasonable distances, and the latter because local people should have first access to their environment, and pedestrians are, predominantly, locals. Bicycles are great, but they can share streets, particularly when those streets are slow moving. What makes cycling unsafe now is not traffic per se, but the need to weave in and out, merging with faster traffic at multiple points, or having faster traffic merge with them, pushed from lane to road, and back with little warning for drivers behind.

Parking is a luxury, the value of any particular space marginal to a business, in comparison to the pedestrian traffic, and its removal from streets moderately easily made up for in off-street solutions as the market dictates. This may inconvenience delivery drivers, but few can be parking directly outside their destinations already, and off-street parking could make provision for them.

On Sydney Road, and other inner city roads, that gives 3.5m for trams, 3.5m for cars (now speed limited to 30 or 40 - if they ever reached that speed) and bicycles, and 3m for pedestrians. At intersections, hook turns should be the norm, and light cycles short (an elderly pedestrian crossing and no more). Bicycles should take the whole lane in designated areas, not the left-most edge, as the time savings for traffic behind are minimal.

In the city, with wider streets and already blessed with wide footpaths, a 2m bicycle lane (and even some parking) is possible, though the advent of universal super stops puts further strain on the limited resource.

But we do need to have a debate over space. The extended clearways plan is, in many ways, the most radical change to Melbourne's urban environment. It strongly favours moving modes over local areas, and implemented with little consultation with councils, businesses, or residents. The feedback they did get was almost universally negative, fobbed over with reference a "the silent majority" who remain either ambivalent or unconvinced. The ideas aren't bad necessarily, but we should be cynical of proposals for greater efficiency that run afoul of induced demand, and of advertisements that mysteriously add an extra lane to the configuration of the bulk of Melbourne's roads.

And we should ask what role in our urban system strip shopping centres serve, above and beyond funnels for vast numbers of CBD commuters.

Planning 19th December, 2008 13:06:22   [#] [0 comments] 

The same thing. But five times more expensive
Russell Degnan

There was a certain level of excitement amongst planning types when the Brumby government announced that the Eddington report was going to be responded to via a whole new transport plan. The hope was that, in light of the extensive public consultation that preceded the EWNLA, and the limited public consultation that succeeded it, that the government was going to do something new. In the past month it has become increasingly obvious that yesterday's release of The Victorian Transport Plan was going to be as dull as its name.

Or at least, as dull as a plan can be that promises to spend $50 billion, but with the exception of a few big roads and a few small rail extensions, not until they've probably left government.

Two years ago, I noted that the, then new, Meeting Our Transport Challenges, was predominantly a shopping list. Earlier this year, Carlo Carli in defending MOTC, argued that the shopping list needed to be bought earlier and extended, in line with unexpected increases in population and in public transport patronage.

And that, in essence, is what the VTP is: a list of projects, some significant freeways sourced from VicRoads never-ending vault of necessary connections, some from the significantly more modest list of whomever does public transport forward planning (if anyone), some from the Victorian Freight and Logistics Council (the occasionally strained reasoning behind which can be found in the also released Freight Futures) and a couple - the biggest ones - from the so-called Eddington Report.

Not surprisingly, almost every option was already on the table in some form, either announced previously, or discussed vigorously. This may be because they are the only reasonable ways of organising Melbourne's transport systems. Or not.

On the question of how best to cross the Maribyrnong, we get two answers. A shortened version of Eddington's road tunnel, from Dynon/Footscray Roads to Sunshine/Geelong Roads, shorter than necessary, and undoubtedly to be later extended to the Western Ring Road. The Eastern Freeway extension has been shelved, for traffic and economic reasons, but will undoubtedly return in a decade. Similarly, the worrying plan to grade separate sections of Hoddle Street is a mere placeholder for a North-South linkage study, and probable plans for an underground inner ring road.

And we'll get half a rail tunnel, connecting Footscray, Parkville, the CBD and Domain, under the ostentatious moniker of building a "metro" system. For $4.5 billion this will improve travel for around 20,000 commuters - about $225,000 per person - but may include a freight tunnel. Uncongesting the rail system is a worthwhile goal, but I'm not sure this is good value. Not when you consider you could subsidise $200 million worth of travel per year, and build 200km of tram track for the same price.

There is much more in the project list, some fairly nice, like grade separations at rail crossings, and some slightly bizarre, like the plan to accommodate new industries using brown coal from 2015. Climate change be damned, but it's only $9 million.

I could go on, but my real criticisms of this plan run deeper than the projects themselves, and onto the planning process itself.


Cycling and walking were, as usual given lip service but no place at the table. There is a promise to release a Cycle Strategy, and a $10 (or is it $100) million increase in funds. But the substantial problem remains. Transport modelling looks at network node connections; transport predictions look at movements across local boundaries. They are, by definition, long trips. Important trips, to be sure, but only half the trips done, and I might add, only half the congestion.

There is little to no mention of strategically planning for shorter trips, beyond gestures at new bike paths, and inner city bike hire (as if only the inner city could be riding bikes). Localised congestion on roads remains the preserve of councils and VicRoads engineers. Whether land-use plans that actively encourage higher densities and concentrated commercial development will exacerbate these problems is also not discussed.

Other departmental documents indicate an absence of understanding what they might be trying to achieve. In the above report, a consultancy and the ABS were paid to generate a table informing us that almost all walking trips start and end in the same statistical local area, that cycling is more common near the CBD, and that demographics matter. Anybody could have told you that without a report. In any case, they only looked at the percentage of cyclists in each demographic, not even the relative percentage of cyclists between groups.

What needs to be asked, is what percentage of people could take a form of transport, and what percentage do. And what are the characteristics of those groups. Because until potential transport choice is addressed at the right scale, planned changes in mode share will be the result of lucky guesses and unforeseeable change, not policy.

Managing road space

Reading a transport plan is invariably grating. Lifeless, shop-worn phrases spill forth, rarely checked by statistical fact or insight, and weighed down by allusions to a better, blander future. And then right at the end, something a bit different. Eddington occasionally went beyond his remit in his report, and none more-so when he argued for congestion charging (amongst other things):

The Government should re-evaluate its current road tolling policy to ensure that the long term benefits of new road investments can be fully realised (including public transport priority, improved cycling opportunities, road network balance and improved local amenity).

Varying the response from carefully reworded support, the government takes on the role of managerial supervisor dressing down an employee for undermining their position. They are also, mostly, wrong.

First, the Victorian Government does not toll existing roads.

This is not the first body to suggest congestion charging, though the VCEC got a more polite response. In no case have they adequately explained why - beyond their fear of leaving themselves open politically. Given Melbourne already has a widely used system of electronic tolling, it is a mistake to think that congestion charging couldn't substantial improve the efficiency of our roads, and provide a much-needed revenue stream for other transport improvements.

Secondly, roads are only tolled if they are beyond budget capacity.

This is something of a furphy, as numerous people have pointed out. The government is at least as well placed to take on large debts, and if it can be financed via tolling a subset of tax-payers, you can rest assured it can be financed by all of them. Secondly, private companies need to buffer themselves with a risk premium that leads to inefficient tolling, and lower than optimal road use. At best, there is some level of fairness in only charging road users, but in that case, why apply it to only new projects?

Thirdly, the Government does not close other roads to force people onto toll roads and won't compromise public transport on or around toll roads.

The first part is a framing issue. Eddington (like myself) argued that roads running parallel to freeways should be downgraded, to improve local amenity through lane closures, wider footpaths, bike lanes, and landscaping. The government interprets this as "forcing people onto toll roads". Road space is a public asset that could be used for many other things, other than funneling traffic from the outer suburbs. For inner city residents, the benefit of any tunnels built through their locale is amenity improvements. To not only deny them that option, but to also frame the debate away from its consideration is disappointing to say the least.

I'm at a loss to understand the second part of the response however. It seems to reply to a single (perhaps poorly phrased line): "ensure that the long term benefits of new road investments can be fully realised" . The commercial implications clause that prevents an airport public transport link may be an enduring sore-point for a government that loves its ribbon cutting, but it certainly wasn't what Eddington meant.

The VTP, like so many before it, continues to under-utilise economic theory in understanding efficient of public space, favouring road traffic indiscriminately, and congesting streets unnecessarily. The clearways plan, while ostensibly to improve public transport flows, will undoubtedly have an induced demand effect, quickly negating any gains. Similarly, unless substantially more infrastructure is built than necessary, any improvement in transport (private or public) will also suffer from induced demand, and resolve to congested conditions.

Integrating land-use planning

The great irony in this problem, is that under "What you told us" the government heard that we wanted "ongoing integration between transport and land-use planning". Unfortunately, a few glib comments aside, there is little evidence for it.

The recently released Melbourne @ 5 million had two core components: six Central Activities Districts at Box Hill, Broadmeadows, Dandenong, Footscray, Frankston and Ringwood; and three employment corridors through the outer west, from Caulfield to Dandenong, and from Monash to Heidelberg. Both are laudable enough by themselves, but they need substantial support to work. There is no mention of that support, nor, to the extent that some projects would support, no explanation of how they are supporting this plan.

Transport to any area of the city can be defined by two things: its accessibility and its capacity. The CBD is very accessible - a large population of people can get there quickly - coupled with a high capacity. Although train lines and (perhaps one day) SmartBuses run through the six CADs, they are otherwise accessible mainly by automobile. This is a problem, because capacity is quickly (and already) reached using automobile traffic. Those centres and employment corridors will almost certainly need substantial infrastructure improvements. I say almost certainly, because in the absence of any targets for growth, and in the absence of any transport needs assessment, we don't actually know. The absence is, itself, a clear indication that there is no ongoing integration between land-use and transport planning.

If anything, the building of the rail tunnel demonstrates a clear repudiation of last week's land-use plan, by massively increasing the accessibility and capacity of the CBD, and propelling it onwards in its dominant trajectory. A dominant CBD is not necessarily a good thing. It leads to longer commutes, disparity of wealth and services, and needs more expensive infrastructure to fight congestion. Economically, it may be worth the expense, but when a land use plan says one thing, and a transport plan another, it isn't integration.

Planning for greater efficiency

This is an old school plan in many ways. There are lots of words (and advertising dollars) spilt on current transport fads, but fundamentally it is about big road and rail projects. SmartBuses have been downgraded, trams extensions are spoken of in the past tense, cycling awaits it strategy. But the big people movers are planned, and awaiting implementation.

Doing something with our rail system is, without question, a good thing. Because, as Paul Mees never fails to point out, the operation is a mess. The rail system grew organically, and it grew, for the most part, a long time ago. But because of this, there are lots of niggling issues that affect operations, and prevent it getting anything like best practice. Single lines in unfortunate places and numerous level crossings are being removed, if sometimes slowly, but there is a wider problem. Widely spaced and poorly integrated outer suburban stations run reasonably fast with express trains, but are under-utilised for short trips. Closely spaced and very slow inner suburban stations with trains stopping all stations are well used, but get in the way of express trains. Add in regional rail and a plan to introduce more freight traffic and this plan will do little to eke out extra capacity.

There needs to be plans put in place to move forward. Inner city metro trains in Europe run across short distances, and therefore stop often, but we have an unstable mix in a vast city. Moreover, there is substantial doubling up on several lines, with trams running parallel with trains, both probably subsidised when they could run a profit. Integration of services also needs a clean separation of goals. The rail system, uniquely able to carry large numbers of people very quickly, should be configured to do just that, but it needs careful, long-term planning, not a few big projects.

How I would do it can wait for another post (shortly), but using the train system as we do is an analog signal in a digital world (albeit with a smaller bandwidth jump).

Federal funding

This is, to me, one of the strange oddities of the report is the insistence that projects will go ahead, contingent on Federal funding. There are certainly benefits to saying that. It allows the government to pull out of projects for political reasons, then blame the commonwealth for lack of funds. And it takes debt off the books, which allows them to show a balanced budget.

But unless the fund provided from Building Australia Fund have been quarantined in relation to the Commonwealth Grants Commission (and googling this for an hour provided no indication either way), then the money will never really exist. An extra billion on the state budget will be treated as revenue by the CGC when it comes time to divide GST revenue between states. Because all states will get some infrastructure money, and it will be handed out over a number of years the impact won't look large, but it will exist.

And hence, nor will these projects really be funded "by the Commonwealth". Any budget shortfall as a result of an increase in assessed revenue needs to be paid for via increased borrowing, increased taxes, or decreased services, the same as it normally would. The difference is that (most) Commonwealth funding appears as lower "income", not as an expense (payment of debt). A difference in political terms, but not on the budget. It is wrong to pretend that these projects are somehow dependent on government funds; almost as wrong as abdicating responsibility for transport infrastructure to federal control in fact.

Planning 10th December, 2008 13:33:06   [#] [0 comments] 

Assorted old transport notes
Russell Degnan

No blogging recently, distracted by teaching and marking instead, but some stories are too good to pass up. The Brumby government has been copped a beating a while back for spending money on spinning their transport initiatives instead of on the system. The spin is annoying, but otherwise I can bear it, and the money is, as stated, fairly piddling. But then you come across a non sequitur like this:

"The reason we have done the ads is, in all of the research we have done with commuters, they say they want information about what is happening on the system," she [Lynne Kosky] said.

Now, I may be wrong, there may be a commuter survey out there saying that people want information on new projects and initiatives being undertaken by the department, rather a raft of actual projects and initiatives. But I doubt it.

What this comment represents is a deplorable disconnection between the department and/or the government with what commuting actually entails. If I ticked a box or made a comment saying I wanted "information about what is happening on the system", then I wouldn't be talking about the next few years, I'd be talking about while I was traveling". I'd be wanting to know if I was wasting my time freezing my arse on the bus stop when it would be quicker to walk to the station, or a different bus. Or I'd want to know the alternative routes and times from where I was, at the time I wanted to travel (a service already provided incidentally, but only online, not by mobile).

It is unbelievably sad, that a quite reasonable and sensible request by commuters for information that would actually take pressure off the system has been met with a stale and wasteful advertising campaign. Especially when that same information, distributed widely and reliably, would in the current climate of invention and added customer value, allow people to build useful systems for real time route finding.

But it is also a bizarre decision in light of recent practice. The quality and quantity of information presented on the transport system has improved by an order of magnitude in the past few years - remember when you'd have a one in five chance of having a route map on board a train? The aim should really be to take the next step beyond those initiatives, but as with most little transport initiatives, they are piecemeal, even when they do some good.

Meanwhile, the minister's department is proposing to waste money putting bicycles on buses. This is not to say there isn't half a dozen commuters who are both a) travelling a significantly distance across town and b) in need of a bike at either their origin and destination.

But two things need remembering. Firstly, the major strategic purpose of both bicycles and buses is to connect commuters to the radial railway system. Very few commuters would use either a bus (even the smart buses) or a bicycle for a trip longer than thirty to forty minutes. And secondly, for trips of that length, a bicycle is roughly as fast as the bus anyway - faster once you include delays from congestion and waiting times.

There is hardly a significant demand for such a service, unlike on trains, where bikes are still either belittled or inadequately provided for: is it that hard to install some vertical, space efficient hooks in carriages?

The money would be far better spent improving bicycle lanes and off-road routes parallel to smart bus lanes, to get cyclists there quicker and easier.

It would also be remiss of me not to round out this summary of transport articles from a month ago without mentioning The Age's campaign to bring back conductors. I am in faovur of the idea, but apparently, at least according to Chris Berg this makes me nostalgic for human interaction and a nicer society, rather than a disgruntled opponent of ticketing systems.

I'm not though. I have spent far too many years designing human-computer interfaces not to recognize too fundamental truths. Firstly, somewhat regardless of how clever you are, and how good your interface is, until a computer passes the Turing test, you can't beat a human's ability to be flexible in performing a task. Yes, a computer can sell tickets, and provide some directions, and other commuters can help people on and off the tram, but not to the same level of quality, and not in a way that improves running efficiency and reduces far evasion. Secondly, no matter how intuitive your interface is, customers have a remarkable ablility to both break it, and be baffled by it. The current ticket system in Melbourne is completely baffling to the uninitiated (ie. tourists). Myki will probably be worse, because it tries to be more clever, and clever is confusing.

Which is not to say Myki isn't a good idea - actually it is probably a pointless waste of money, but politicians love the idea of automation, because it looks like an easy way to save money; at least until the IT bills come in. Fare system improvement is a good idea. Re-introducing conductors is a good way of improving the fare system.

Planning 12th August, 2008 19:43:05   [#] [0 comments] 

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