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Monday Melbourne: XCV, October 2005
Russell Degnan

One last cricket picture. Not all grounds are picturesque, but they all have character. This is the Turner Road Reserve, Highett. Taken March 2002

Melbourne 31st October, 2005 17:33:57   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XCIV, October 2005
Russell Degnan

October and cricket don't mix well, it gets dark early, and rains a lot. This is a better depiction of last Saturday. Taken August 2005

Melbourne 25th October, 2005 18:12:57   [#] [0 comments] 

Victorian Planning: Failing at almost every level
Russell Degnan

In the paper this morning, and over the past week, there have been several planning articles. Directly and indirectly they relate to Melbourne 2030, but even though some of them discuss it, none of them ever engage with it properly, because none of them seem to understand what it really means. This is an abysmal failure on the part of this state's planning fraternity, to actually explain what it means. But then, I am assuming that they really do understand what it means, and perhaps that is wrong too.

Let's start with the articles:
- On Tuesday, the problem was the water supplies of the regional cities, Ballarat and Geelong; predicted to have substantial shortages by 2030. [1]
- An inernational consortium wants to build an estate in Rockbank;
- outer suburban councils and developers want to review the Urban Growth Boundary.
- (Some) farmers in Rockbank don't want their little town to become part of Melbourne;
- while some planners (Michael Buxton) don't want housing encroaching on the green wedges;
- Marcus Spiller wants infrastructure on the city's edge to stop being subsidised by imposing a developer's levy.
- And Guy Rundle wants to protect 'neighbourhood character' in Melbourne's existing suburbs.

What needs to be remembered, nay, must be remembered, is why planning is a worthwhile activity (if indeed it is). The Planning Act lays it out simply enough: planning is to facilitate development, in a manner that respects the amenity, environment, heritage, and character of the built environment. Melbourne 2030 requires exactly the same thing, but is intended as a guide for how to best accomplish this given an expectation for another million Melbourne residents over that period.

The reason I summarised all those articles above is to point out what should be blindly obvious. What looks like a local complaint about heritage, or sprawl, or the environment, or transport, or water, is not local. Every single person living anywhere has some attachment to their place of residence and the local character. Every single person who moves into a residence does so because that is the cheapest place they could find that offered elements of the lifestyle they wished to have.

The problem with the making of that lifestyle choice is that it depends on the choices of people outside your own sphere of control: mostly in the public realm, but also in the private. The entire basis of planning is to mediate that problem by considering the long-term implications of those decisions. The ongoing failure of planners has been to explain why this makes Melbourne 2030 desirable.

Every planning decision has costs. Rejecting an inner-suburban residential tower impacts on Ballarat's water supply, because some of those potential residents choose to live there instead. Not many perhaps, but some [2].

Development levies are not necessarily right, and certainly aren't equitable. Because what you charge for are the current costs of providing for new residents in that place. Consider this example: if 50 years ago I asked you the most cost effective way of housing forty thousand people the answer would undoubtedly be on the urban fringe (plenty of land, sufficient infrastructure, easy access to transport); if I asked you that question every year after that the answer would be the same, for the same reasons. But if I asked you the best way to house two million people fifty years hence, the answer would be very different. The costs of providing Melbourne's infrastructure get higher every year -- consider the Thomson Dam that had to cross the ranges, or the extensions to rail and freeway systems. A regional centre policy would have been much cheaper, but the planning system has never been capable of providing it and still isn't.

There is much more to be said on this, but I need to think it out first. Instead, I'll reiterate my main point: planning, despite what it seems, is not a political exercise. Planning as politics is a waste of time and money, driven and ultimately won by those best placed to exploit the system - namely developers and well-heeled suburban residents (not to mention laywers and planners). If planners want to be something other than despised they would do well to start explaining themselves better.

[1] The second part of this article quoted Federal MP Greg Hunt on recycling city water for country areas. This would be a good idea if Australia's urban population wasn't on the coast. Pumping water up hill is very expensive; pumping it uphill for agricultural purposes is very unlkely to be cost-effective.

[2] It is actually a chain, the first person chooses another spot where they can afford it, pushing out someone else, who pushes out someone else, and son on until someone has to build a house on the urban fringe.

Planning 22nd October, 2005 23:29:29   [#] [2 comments] 

The Australian Dream
Aaron Hewett

Royce Millar in today's Age proclaims that Melburnians still want their big backyards and this pressure, along with mounting pressure from developers, is putting pressure on the State Government's Melbourne 2030 plan - including its urban growth boundary and green wedges.

Ironically, while many people may want their big backyards, they sure as hell aren't using them.


Planning 22nd October, 2005 17:39:35   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XCIII, October 2005
Russell Degnan

The picket fence of the University Ground, with Ormond college in the background. Taken July 2004

Melbourne 18th October, 2005 11:51:40   [#] [1 comment] 

Monday Melbourne: XCII, October 2005
Russell Degnan

These are my grounds. The McAlister and Ryder Ovals. Taken November 2002 when the poplars, art-deco changerooms and caretaker's cottage were around to make it charming.

Melbourne 10th October, 2005 18:32:28   [#] [3 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XCI, October 2005
Russell Degnan

Cricket season starts this weekend (ok, technically last weekend, but it rained, as usual). This isn't my ground but Princess Park. Taken December 2002

Melbourne 4th October, 2005 22:40:09   [#] [10 comments] 

Congestion and its solutions
Russell Degnan

Yesterday saw another two articles added to the clamor for a solution to West Gate Bridge congestion problem by first, noting that average travel times have almost doubled, and second, putting the blame on the number of new houses in the south-west region. I'd like to begin however, by discussing what congestion actually is, because how you think of it, affects what you think we can do about it.

The standard definition of congestion is when "the volume of traffic on a roadway is high enough to become detrimental to its performance". This implies that the congestion problem occurs when there is insufficient road-space to allow traffic to flow freely. Ergo: build more roads.

Looked at another way though, congestion at a point in the road occurs when the out-flow of traffic is less that the current in-flow of traffic. This is useful because it not only tells you why congestion occurs, but also why the speed drops so substantially. To explain further, under normal conditions the out-flow of traffic will equal the in-flow:

No problem. However, when the out-flow becomes less there is an issue. This can happen for any number of reasons: more traffic, an accident at that point of the road, a persistent bottle-neck (such as the West Gate Bridge) or a lane merge, or because of a subtle slowing of the traffic (people slowing down to merge with an on-ramp, or gawking at something on the side of the road).

Regardless, what occurs is a queue, cars at the front still leave at the standard flow-rate, cars arriving later must wait, reducing traffic speed at that point. This is why there is a substantial drop, instead of merely a minor slow-down. Cars are waiting for others to clear that point.

The road will remain congested until the in-flow is once again less than the out-flow. It will then begin clearing from the front, but takes time for the traffic to regain speed. Thus, even a short and small initial slowdown in traffic flow can cause a queue and substantial congestion.

What matters therefore is not the volume of traffic on the road, but the relative flows on either side of a congested point. This makes a solution much more complex. Consider for the West Gate Bridge:

1. Increase road space by building a tunnel or bridge

At the point of congestion the traffic flows equalize again, and the time becomes a constant (the distance travelled / the speed of movement). However, by doing this the in-flow to the roads after that point have increased substantially. And in this case, those points are the city itself. All this achieves is a movement of the queuing point to nearer the city centre.

2. Decrease the speed or the traffic leading to the bridge

People do seriously propose this, so it is worth considering; often by placing traffic lights on on-ramps. This time, the in-flow of traffic has been reduced instead of increasing the out-flow. The bridge is no longer congested; instead, the roads leading to the freeway form queues. Theoretically better? Certainly cheaper, but you can do the maths yourself.

3. Do nothing

But... it's congested. Correct, but roads -- transport generally -- is affected by the 'equalisaition' principle. We choose to travel by a method and to a destination based on the time, the cost, the convenience and the comfort (generally in that order). Oddly enough, for most people, the time spent commuting tends to be quite constant -- around 30min. This is why a large increase caused by congestion causes such angst; people have decided to buy houses based on their ability to get to work in 30min. When that jumps out to an hour parliamentary seats change hands.

However, as Hayek would gladly tell you, the high or low price of a product sends a signal that you should (or can) use less or more of that product. Changes in the amount of time spent travelling send the same signal: a longer period says to find either another destination or another method of travel; a shorter period says that this is a good way of travelling and you should do more of it (the Induced Demand Effect). Over the long-term -- in which we are all dead -- roads will find a natural level of congestion, and land-use and travel patterns will reflect the time people are willing to spend travelling to places. As argued here and elsewhere, suburban sprawl is generally the result of faster travel over greater distances.

Therefore, any changes to the speed travelled eventually find the equilibrium of what people will pay. Roads (and railways, and for that matter, cycling paths) will naturally congest unless you have so many of them that you couldn't conceivably fill them.

4. Do something

Government policy is not tuned to doing nothing however, and so the one final solution is to try and tempt people on one of the other travel factors. Public transport advocates love talking about convenience and comfort but as Banister says in the book Transport Planning:

"No matter how attractive public transport is, no matter how close facilities are located to the home, no matter how expensive petrol is, people will still use their cars."

London's congestion charge however, has comprehensively proved one thing: cost considerations will kick in for some people -- and by some, we mean enough to reduce the in-flow of traffic to a congested road or area -- if you make the charge high enough, and if the money is used to fund an alternative that is vaguely competitive with the car time-wise.

With the possible exception of Singapore, who've been quietly applying these principles since 1975, congestion charging has been fairly ad-hoc and problem specific. Large headlines screaming about road chaos and expensive but ultimately futile public/private works projects need to be reassessed. The principles of economics will always apply even if the relevant factor is normally time, not cost. It would be nice if transport planners took even the slightest bit of notice before creating said chaos.

Planning 4th October, 2005 15:04:35   [#] [1 comment] 


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