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Monday Melbourne: LXXXI, July 2005
Russell Degnan

The Metropolitan Hotel, North Melbourne. Taken July 2005

Melbourne 26th July, 2005 13:05:36   [#] [3 comments] 

Sharing road space
Russell Degnan

I love plans that are destined to fail. Particularly those otherwise logically sound plans that give an insight into the mentality of the proponent. Like this one to take demerit points off the licenses of cyclists who break road rules. Naturally there are two problems. The first is they aren't driving. It makes as much sense as taking demerit points off passengers in speeding vehicles, or for that matter, for a crime like theft. Secondly, there is a reasonable chance that the cyclist won't have a license at all, which somewhat defeats the purpose.

There is a broader issue however, that relates to the attitude of cyclists to traffic and vice versa. On a normal road the cyclist has to contend with drivers in the cycle lane (if they are lucky to have one), drivers who cut them off, drivers who don't bother leaving space, drivers who think cyclists travel at about 5km/h and go in front, and plenty of other problems. In a big bunch cyclists are largely protected, visible and dominant. For all that their behaviour is illegal, it is occuring because for once it can. The level of scrutiny it is receiving is a disgrace when compared to that given to the poor and illegal driving that puts pedestrians and cyclists at risk.

But one other point should be made, and it is that riding in lage bunches is exactly the sort of social and physical activity that should be encouraged. At right are two pictures I took in Paris in 2001. It was taken very late at night, nearly midnight, when a certain number of roads were closed in the city centre for skaters. The cars had to wait, upwards of 15 minutes in fact, while thousands upon thousands of people cruised on by.

It is not unreasonable for a similar response here. Beach Rd. is not so buy, nor so important that it couldn't be closed for three hours on a Saturday morning for cyclists to use. it is certainly a better response than an indulgent legal crackdown in favour of a over-privileged drivers.

Planning 24th July, 2005 23:38:52   [#] [4 comments] 

Inner Navigation - Erik Jonsson
Russell Degnan

Given the majority of books I purchase these days are recommendations creamed from assorted bloggers, it is nice to stumble across a book that was simultaneously fascinating, completely unknown to me, and extremely useful. The sub-title of this book is "Why we get lost and how we find our way". Jonsson seems more fascinated by the former than the latter in this breezy and entertaining read. Each chapter placing another brick or two in the argument through a wealth of interesting stories about lost people, and confused internal maps.

In a basic sense, we seem to have two methods of wayfinding. The first is our 'dead-reckoning' system, our ability to say roughly what direction we are heading, and keep track of how far. The second is complementary. It is the landmark method where a person walks from known place to known place in a sequence.

A Landmark's usefulness is based on our ability to integrate the knowledge it gives us into the current mental map we have of where we are. The interesting parts therefore, are how we actual orientate ourselves, and how we assess our position, and to Jonsson, how these can go wrong.

Although he mentions other orientation systems, the author, to me, overemphasises the compass points as means of orientation. Probably because of his background in orienteering and non-urban navigation. For probably two reasons I can't say I have much use for north-south at all -- though I can generally point them out with a bit of thinking. Firstly, Melbourne has an imperfect north-south street grid, a perfect one to its north, confusing curves in North Melbourne and something else south of the river. Secondly, when travelling overseas, and as Jonsson describes, it can be quite difficult to work out which direction the train is travelling as it curves into town. In addition, the sun, being in the southern sky in Europe throws my northern sky orientation so much I can't trust it.

My method of orientation is different. It might be more unreliable at times, but it is easier to construct. Instead of compass points -- useless on curving medieval streets anyway -- I generally orientate myself according to a line from the railway station to the town centre. A sort-of town-north if you will, that may or may not resemble an actual north. I therefore have an odd directional sense: in Bologna north is actually south-south-west; while in Ravenna it is east, which an abominable west to the top tourist map made even more problematic. Though this isn't always the case, in Genoa's maze of twisty little streets, all alike, it is easier to orientate yourself by the harbour, and to pray. While in Florence I orientated myself by the river (and it seems strange to me that the old Roman part of town is orientated differently to the Uffizi gallery).

The book doesn't provide all the answers. Navigation seems to remain something of a mystery to cognitive scientists. But it does provide an excellent basis for thinking about navigation, about how people get lost, and more interestingly (to me), how to try and prevent that happening through good urban design and better maps.

Book Club 19th July, 2005 02:17:20   [#] [6 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXXX, July 2005
Russell Degnan

The Myer Building and Bourke St. Taken July 2005

Melbourne 18th July, 2005 23:41:29   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXXIX, July 2005
Russell Degnan

Late, but I've had no internet. The Western suburbs, from Flagstaff Gardens. Taken May 2005

Melbourne 16th July, 2005 01:28:22   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXXVIII, July 2005
Russell Degnan

Strictly speaking I didn't take this. But it was on my camera, and the Domed Reading Room never looked better. Taken July 2005

Melbourne 5th July, 2005 00:08:23   [#] [1 comment] 

Understanding Capacity
Russell Degnan

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the budget seminar for the Department of Infrastructure. It was a very interesting experience, not least because of the insights it gives into the DOI mentality. When you hear it said that "Melbourne 2030 is a planner's plan", see the frustration with repeated councilor demands for necessary but potentially costly improvements (such as removing level crossings), or listen to half-hearted attempts to justify uneconomic political promises (like reconnecting the railroad to Mildura), you are left in no doubt where the DOI is heading.

They remain unequivocally an engineering body. This is not to pick on engineers. But, travel demand is at heart driven by individual choices that -- as any economist will tell you -- are too complex to be modelled. What the DOI engages in is a combination of demand chasing and demand forcing, putting in infrastructure to cover some demand and simultaneously generating more. Demand shaping -- being advocated through road pricing in Britain -- is not on the agenda.

What I'd like to dwell on here however, is another, purely engineering, issue that seems to be slipping by the DOI -- far too constrained by politics to do otherwise. Namely, the difference between capacity and potential capacity in relation to transport.

The DOI splits itself into two budgetary elements: the operating expenditure ($3.5b), including maintenance, of railways and roads -- railways get twice as much as roads, but include far more of the total service; and capital expenditure ($600m) on new works. Operating expenditure maintains existing capacity. Capital expenditure increases total capacity. More capital expenditure also translates into greater operating expenditure in future budgets.

Transport capacity is straight-forward. It is the amount of travel that is provided for by the road and rail system in Victoria (and in particular, Melbourne). Potential capacity is different and only rates a peripheral mention. It is the ability of the DOI to create additional capacity in the future. A road or rail reserve (do we have any rail reserves anymore?) is potential capacity. Potential capacity is good, it means, in effect, that capacity problems aren't an issue, you merely need to build a new road/railway.

Unfortunately, to interpret the DOI's position on capital expenditure, there is no potential capacity within 15km of the CBD in Melbourne. Outside that, they see no problems, except in specific areas. Creating park-and-ride facilities around railway stations in outer suburbs and regional areas for example.

In my other profession, capacity constraints are an inevitable and ongoing problem that has to be constantly managed. Computer systems expand at rates that would make traffic engineers' minds boggle. The standard solution is to throw more hardware at it. ie. buy a new road reserve. But if that isn't possible, and it often isn't, you need to be substantially more efficient with existing resources. In other words, you need to increase the potential capacity of the existing built capacity.

And more than anything else -- mostly political -- this is what I meant when previously arguing that we aren't planning properly. In the budget seminar there was no evidence that the DOI has any strategic plan to increase the efficiency of the existing system, by demand management, by large-scale conversion of type, or speed increase. Everything consists either of maintenance and basic improvements, or of stabs in the dark in the hope they can eke a little more out of an antiquated system.

The tram speed program is a classic example. The DOI knows trams are travelling slowly (16.5km/h) and getting slower, but their speed improvements are little more than a few road rule changes (introducing hook turns for example). In reality, trams will not substantially increase their speed without completely unimpeded runs. And that means turning over some of the road capacity to the more efficient mover of traffic -- presumably trams, but if it isn't they need to be removed. It is a political minefield, but pretending otherwise will not make it easier in the long-run.

In the long-run it is a disaster waiting to happen. A long term plan for nothing but maintenance will eventually fill any of the potential capacity remaining in the centre of Melbourne. The DOI needs to prioritise its road users and start assigning them the space they deserve, they need to start investing in ways to increase potential capacity, and the government needs to start supporting it as a strategy.

Planning 1st July, 2005 18:32:46   [#] [0 comments] 


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