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Transportist: February 2023
Happy Year of the Cat!
January was the month I returned to America for the first time since 2020. I flew in on New Year’s Eve (We celebrated twice, once on the plane, once on the ground, ain’t the International Date Line grand).
The flight was delayed, but importantly all the flight crew were wearing silly Happy New Year headware, giving me great confidence.
I will say Qantas did not impress, my international flights were late on both ends of the trip for no obvious reason,1 while domestic flights were on-time (whereas international travel used to be on-time while domestic flights were often delayed). Yes, obviously US domestic flights have had a huge problem with the Southwest Airlines debacle and the FAA NOTAM debacle (and Canada’s), and Australia has recently had a different Qantas problem.
Internet joke: What’s the difference between COVID and Southwest Airlines?
COVID is airborne.
Congratulations to the US for eliminating the superfluous customs check at airports, at least LAX. Significantly better than last time.
The new terminals of Dulles (and Salt Lake City where we spent two lovely if unintended hours) are nice, it seems the US can build nice infrastructure, just not in LA or NY. LAX remains a disaster, the individual airline gates were fine, but everything is disconnected. Perhaps if construction ever ends it will be nice. The old section of Dulles (now 60!) is looking aged. The Metro was a long walk from the terminal and the moving sidewalks were out of order.
We had planned to land at National Airport 7 hours earlier, but just before midnight we finally made it to Dulles — our domestic connections being switched from the American Airline flight we missed due to Qantas ground delays in Sydney to a seriously lovely Delta experience via Salt Lake City. I swear the rows are wider on the Delta domestic planes than the Qantas international fight.
We caught the Silver Line train from Dulles. Fortunately it is New Years Eve and the trains were free. A few people boarded the Silver Line with us at Dulles Airport but by Spring Hill, it was a private carriage. I have always disliked the Ride Quality on DC MetroRail. Even the new section is jerky and far worse than older systems like London or Sydney. Not sure what the causal factor is: higher speed and sharper deceleration maybe, but also higher sway.
To be fair, traffic on the Silver Line picked up after it joined the Orange Line track. Some partiers were singing Bohemian Rhapsody on the train. I don’t think they knew anything besides the refrain.
I visited family, visited New York City, saw Penn Station (still under construction, not the good parts) and Union Station (the good parts are not for the train users, saw HadesTown — a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth as a high energy musical with amazing lighting] — and attended TRB.
TRB was good, mainly to see old friends, colleagues, and students, and so on, though clearly down in attendance from its pre-pandemic levels.
At TRB I asked people:
What do we not know in transport that matters?
Not what do we know and not do, which is of course a lot (transport is unsafe, needlessly crowded, subsidised, and polluting, for starters, we know how to mitigate this technically, but don’t do this for political reasons in most places), but what are the truly unknown, but plausibly knowable scientific questions. There is always an extra digit of precision on some parameter, but that’s not as important as the first or second digit. People want to answer with things about the future - we don’t know what the effects of AVs will be. This is true. But we cannot know that presently — social dynamics over a 30 time period are far less predictable than astronomical dynamics, this is not Asimov’s Foundation. The answer will reveal itself anyway and thus we won’t know until it happens.
I didn’t receive any truly satisfactory answers. Transport is not like math where there are problems requiring proofs that have been established for decades. The best answer so far is about “how can we implement the things we know are good policy that are not (yet) implemented”, i.e. it’s in the realm of political (and perhaps individual) persuasion of things that people are either ignorant of, or believe is against their personal interest. I just hope Transport Engineering is not like Irrigation Engineering, which collapsed as a field once people discovered water ran downhill.2
If you have a good scientific unknown in Transport (or Urbanism), email me.
Upon return, from my heights overlooking the airport flight paths, I make the casual observation: flights into Sydney Airport have increased markedly since last month, so airfares should come down. Good for travellers, bad for the planet.
Why we confer
Nominally: To exchange technical information
Practically: Networking (social professional career advancement and meeting professional friends, which are not mutually exclusive)
Unofficially: Vacation time is attached to the conference, and some sight-seeing is done in the conference town, if it is out-of-town. This is not inherently a bad thing, especially in the transport and urbanism fields, where understanding different models of how space works can best be seen first hand by visiting. See my post on Junkets.
Cynically: CV padding
I am of the belief that there are too many conferences. A naïve free-marketer might think the market provides an equilibrium number of conferences, but that is true only after the tâtonnement process completes. However, this also misses the economies of agglomeration (a positive externality) that arises from concentrating more people together. In Australia alone the past year had:
ITS Australia: Roads, Tolling and Technology
And I was at many of them. There are surely more. To be fair they had different functions — for instance, TRANSW is local to New South Wales and has an academic bent, showcasing university research, while TransportCamp is geared more to advocacy and solutions — and slightly different markets, but perhaps some coordination could have increased both attendance and value. Conferences are just temporary cities, and cities are well-known for their economies of agglomeration, so by temporally dividing the market, we are able to meet fewer people. While forming cities is difficult and has a high fixed cost, a conference can be set up without much difficulty. Thus we get more than would be optimal from a social welfare perspective.
One well-attended conference for 4 days is better than 5 conferences of 2 days each.
Sustainable transport, preserving the options for future generations, requires, among other things, achieving Net Zero carbon emissions and Vision Zero1 fatal and injurious crashes. We talk a lot about these ideas in the transport planning field, but we haven’t collectively confronted what is one of many steps required to achieve this, the near elimination of private cars in the urban sphere. ….
In this post, I list a set of products that I wish existed, I think are technically feasible with some R&D, have a potential market, and I will never create myself — though I am open to being added to the patent application. ….
Flow and Flux
A while back, in one of my more popular posts, I noted the subtle distinction between flow and flux in traffic. The flow is vehicles (or people) per unit time, past a point in space. For instance, vehicles per hour on a section, or vehicles per hour per lane. The flux controls for the width of the place they are crossing (vehicles per hour per meter). The reason this matters is that some things we would like to track are wider than others. The width of person or a bicycle is narrower than a typical automobile or truck. So a bike lane with 1800 bicycles per hour is more productive than a typical motor vehicle lane with 1800 single occupant vehicles per hour. Similarly, we might be interested in the flux (rather than the lane flow) in lane-free traffic, as presently seen in developing countries prior to the introduction of western traffic engineering practice. ….
Follow-Up: Why Sydney should [should not] build a tram network
Chat-GPT is a Large Language Model (LLM) developed by OpenAI.
I asked : Write a blogpost on why Sydney should build a tram network
The following is computer generated text.
The city of Sydney is one of the most vibrant and exciting places to live in Australia. It is also rapidly becoming one of the most congested cities in the world. With a population of over 5 million people and a growing demand for transportation, it is no wonder that Sydney is struggling to keep up with its own growth. One way to help alleviate some of the traffic burden is to build a tram network in Sydney. Here are some of the reasons why Sydney should build a tram network. ….
Light rail costs too much, costs more than expected, it takes too long to build, and it’s intrusive. The Minneapolis Southwest LRT Green Line extension cost estimate has been updated to $US2.75 billion for 14.5 miles (or $US189million/mile, $US117million/km). The Sydney CBD and Southeast LRT is $AU 3B for 12 km, or $AU 250m/km.1 Sydney's line was even more expensive than the very expensive Minneapolis line after adjusting for currency conversion. Reasons include …
Texts by Others
Discrete Choice Analysis with R by Antonio Páez and Geneviève Boisjoly
Song, C.; Dennis, M.; Burns, B.; Dyson, S.; Forrest, P.; Ramanan, R.; Levinson, D.; Moylan, E. (2022) Improving access to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation for out of hospital cardiac arrest – pre-hospital ECPR and alternate delivery strategies. Scandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine. 30:77 [doi]
Background: The use of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECPR) in refractory out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) patients is usually implemented in-hospital. As survival in ECPR patients is critically time-dependent, alternative models in ECPR delivery could improve equity of access.
Objectives: To identify the best strategy of ECPR delivery to provide optimal patient access, to examine the time-sensitivity of ECPR on predicted survival and to model potential survival benefits from different delivery strategies of ECPR.
Methods: We used transport accessibility frameworks supported by comprehensive travel time data, population density data and empirical cardiac arrest time points to quantify the patient catchment areas of the existing in-hospital ECPR service and two alternative ECPR strategies: rendezvous strategy and pre-hospital ECPR in Sydney, Australia. Published survival rates at different time points to ECMO flow were applied to predict the potential survival benefit.
Results: With an in-hospital ECPR strategy for refractory OHCA, five hospitals in Sydney (Australia) had an effective catchment of 811,091 potential patients. This increases to 2,175,096 under a rendezvous strategy and 3,851,727 under the optimal pre-hospital strategy. Assuming earlier provision of ECMO flow, expected survival for eligible arrests will increase by nearly 6% with the rendezvous strategy and approximately 26% with pre-hospital ECPR when compared to the existing in-hospital strategy.
Conclusion: In-hospital ECPR provides the least equitable access to ECPR. Rendezvous and pre-hospital ECPR models substantially increased the catchment of eligible OHCA patients. Traffic and spatial modelling may provide a mechanism to design appropriate ECPR service delivery strategies and should be tested through clinical trials.
Keywords: Emergency medical services, Extracorporeal cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Cardiac arrest, Accessibility
Loyola, M., Nelson, J.B., Clinton, G., and Levinson, D. (2023) Narratives in transport research: a thematic and functional analysis. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Volume 17, January 2023, 100754 [doi]
Narratives have not been widely used in transport research, but their use is increasing.
The use of narratives in transport research is associated with safety research and the social impact of transport.
Narratives are especially helpful addressing social challenges in transport.
Narratives are key in policy, therefore transport narratives should be explored.
Narratives can uncover representations and hierarchies generally unnoticed.
Social science disciplines are increasingly using narratives to develop theory and uncover experiences that give an insightful understanding to people’s beliefs and behaviours. This paper offers an analysis of the academic literature to show how narratives have been used in transport research between 1990 and 2021 and to discuss how narratives are useful for interpretation of real-world policy contexts. We perform a systematic literature review using 106 publications that met the identification and eligibility criteria from the Scopus and Web of Science databases. We analyse frequency and cluster the publications according to their focus and function. For the focus, we categorised by research areas, themes, and sub-themes. For the function, we grouped the narratives into three categories: Elicit narratives(extracting narratives from collected data); explicit narratives (narratives used to create scenarios); and proposed narratives (recommended narratives). Our results indicate that narratives were not previously used extensively in transport research, but their use is increasing in recent years. We demonstrate that narrative methods are most often used to analyse safety and the social impact of transport. Our analysis suggests that narratives are crucial to understanding and implementing transport policies, a helpful methodological tool to capture values and people's experiences, and therefore a useful way to address sustainable change. We posit that if narratives were more widely adopted and circulated in the transport community, we might see more robust insights into mechanisms required to achieve sustainable policy choices.
Grand Central Madison (East Side Access) connecting the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central (in addition to the traditional terminus at Penn Station) opened in New York. Given the length and cost, one feels a maximum security prisoner seeking to escape could have dug the tunnels faster and less expensively with just a teaspoon. (More than $US11Billion. 2 mile (3.2 km) line length).
Pickup trucks have been embiggened - this has been a source of the rise of pedestrian deaths in the uS
US struggles with wave of police violence. A lot of this is based on pretextual traffic stops. [Just a comment. Policing in Australia is far from perfect, but it’s better than the US. One of the reasons perhaps is that it is state level rather than municipal. That makes it more standardized and bureaucratic, but also better trained and more professional.]
US police have killed nearly 600 people in traffic stops since 2017, data shows. Has police based traffic-enforcement saved 600 lives? Who knows?
I wrote this almost 7 years ago “Not in our Name”. Sadly, this police violence is still done in our name.
NSW plan to offer emissions offsets with car registration sends wrong message, critics say “Kean said buying $80 of credits was the equivalent to offsetting 2.4 tonnes of CO2 – the average annual emissions of a light vehicle in the state.” [if net zero were actually this inexpensive why hasn’t it been achieved already?]
Wyoming Moves To Ban Sales Of New Electric Vehicles By 2035 - It’s funny, but in the end just a performative dying gasp of aged culture warriors with nothing to contribute.
Downtowns are lifeless. It’s a once-in-a-generation chance to revive them. Converting selected office buildings to residential is obvious strategy for most downtowns in the US (and Australia, and elsewhere that a monoculture of employment has taken root.
Throw Up Your Hands and Raise Your Voice! Monorail! Monorail! Monorail! How Conan O’Brien created the funniest television episode ever.
Sydney: Why have one metro system when you can have two (or more)? Part 1 - This is a really perplexing strategy, given everything we know about the advantages of compatibility and inter-changeable parts and standards and the opportunities for interlining. It seems they haven’t learned the lessons of the incompatible LRT lines in Sydney. Obviously it can be rectified (at some cost) in the future, but why not bake in compatibility to begin with?
What the poet, playboy and prophet of bubbles can still teach us by Tim Hartford (who has a nice podcast) - with some nice discussion of the Railway Manias of the 18th century and references to the work of Andrew Odlyzko.
Minnesota’s legacy to Australia: Pronto Pups
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The first flight had an “engineering” issue, which I assume means maintenance or parts, since the plane’s engineering took place decades ago. The pilot on the flight back, which was delayed by an hour, implied it was due to lack of blankets and pillows. I think most passengers would have foregone those to be on-time, but perhaps he was covering up for something else.
Joking, sort of.