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Transportist: May 2023
Open PhD Positions
Design of Flexible Public Transport Networks
Do you want to be at the forefront of developing the knowledge to design sustainable public transportation systems for future cities? Would you like to make a PhD in one of the best Universities in the world and in a vibrant and multicultural city?
Up to two fully-funded PhD positions are available at the School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney. The selected candidates be will supervised by Dr Andres Fielbaum, a leading expert in the field of public transport, and will research how to design public transport networks where traditional fixed-line services operate jointly with on-demand vehicles. The specific topics are to be agreed upon with the supervisor, including identifying which role should the on-demand vehicles play, emerging the algorithmic challenges, the interplay with different modes of transportation, the economics of the whole system, among others.
See: https://transportlab.sydney.edu.au/home/research/share/ and Contact Andres Fielbaum for more details.
Revealed: 40-year-old technology riddling Sydney’s trains with delays
Interviewed by the Daily Telegraph for Revealed: 40-year-old technology riddling Sydney’s trains with delays
Sydney’s train network is being hobbled by technology from the 1980s, which is being blamed for the rail chaos plaguing commuters in recent weeks, according to exclusive documents. …
Professor David Levinson, a transport network expert at the University of Sydney’s school of engineering, said the faults presented a challenge the new NSW Government has to tackle.
“The recent failures indicate problems with aged equipment and maintenance procedures that the new government will have to address,” he said.
“These train closures bring to the surface the importance of modernising the aged invisible infrastructure that has been failing recently.”
Loyola, M., Nelson, J.B., Clifton, G., and Levinson, D. (2023) The influence of cycle lanes on road users’ perception of road space. Urban, Planning and Transport Research. 11(1) [doi]
Despite the many benefits of cycle lanes for active travel, their implementation remains a persistent problem. Road users who believe that building cycle lanes will take away their road space may object because they believe there is not enough space to do so. This study aims to address the visual perception of road space by exploring the relationship of the road users’ country of residence with how they perceive road space. Through an online survey distributed in three countries (n = 1591) with different levels of implemented cycle lanes this study demonstrates that the road space context significantly influences the visual perception of road space. Residents in the Netherlands, where cycle lanes are a common element of the road space, demonstrate 10% more recognition of having space to implement cycle lanes than the respondents in the UK and Australia, where cycle lanes are not as common. The implications of this research into the recognition by the public of having space (or not) to implement cycle lanes demonstrate the importance of context and provide evidence to policymakers to address a persistent problem.
Research by Others
Shuo Feng, Haowei Sun, Xintao Yan, Haojie Zhu, Zhengxia Zou, Shengyin Shen & Henry X. Liu (2023) Dense reinforcement learning for safety validation of autonomous vehicles Nature volume 615, pages 620–627.
One critical bottleneck that impedes the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles is the prohibitively high economic and time costs required to validate their safety in a naturalistic driving environment, owing to the rarity of safety-critical events1. Here we report the development of an intelligent testing environment, where artificial-intelligence-based background agents are trained to validate the safety performances of autonomous vehicles in an accelerated mode, without loss of unbiasedness. From naturalistic driving data, the background agents learn what adversarial manoeuvre to execute through a dense deep-reinforcement-learning (D2RL) approach, in which Markov decision processes are edited by removing non-safety-critical states and reconnecting critical ones so that the information in the training data is densified. D2RL enables neural networks to learn from densified information with safety-critical events and achieves tasks that are intractable for traditional deep-reinforcement-learning approaches. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach by testing a highly automated vehicle in both highway and urban test tracks with an augmented-reality environment, combining simulated background vehicles with physical road infrastructure and a real autonomous test vehicle. Our results show that the D2RL-trained agents can accelerate the evaluation process by multiple orders of magnitude (103 to 105 times faster). In addition, D2RL will enable accelerated testing and training with other safety-critical autonomous systems.
Brooks, Leah and Zachary Liscow. 2023. "Infrastructure Costs." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 15 (2):1-30. $
Despite infrastructure's importance to the US economy, evidence on its cost trajectory over time is sparse.1 We document real spending per new mile over the history of the Interstate Highway System. We find that spending per mile increased more than threefold from the 1960s to the 1980s. This increase persists even conditional on pre-existing observable geographic cost determinants. We then provide suggestive evidence on why. Input prices explain little of the increase. Statistically, changes in income and housing prices explain about half of the increase. We find suggestive evidence that the rise of "citizen voice" in government decision-making increased spending per mile.
Wavelength is a new social media platform built around Topical Groups and conversing with an AI. I have started a transport group on there. The invite link is here. I am not all-in or anything at this point, but it is an interesting experiment.
I remain more in on Mastodon. You may also find me at the BlueSky beta transportist.bsky.social , or perhaps Substack Notes (follow me). The collapse of Twitter is going to diffuse social communications. This is probably a good thing for society, but the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) remains an issue, as no one can possibly be everywhere all at once, not even Michelle Yeoh.
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OK, no one wants to go first. So here you go: Is it true you grew up next to famous stripper Blaze Starr, famous for her relationship with Louisiana Politician Earl Long? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaze_Starr
Yes, from the age of 1-5, we were next door neighbours in the Baltimore suburbs. We moved in 1972, just before Hurricane Agnes flooded the street and wiped out both houses. Ms. Starr did not move, and there is a nice picture in the Baltimore Sun with her on her roof with all her burlesque costumes (yes strippers have clothing). Story in the Baltimore Sun about the neighbourhood https://www.baltimoresun.com/business/real-estate/bal-cp-villanova-story.html (can't find the picture, need to go through Sunpapers archives)
Don’t build in floodplains, kids. Don’t buy houses in floodplains either (my parents were from New York, so did not have the topographical diversity in their environmental experiences to identify floodplains on-site, which in retrospect this obviously was).
KV What are the differences/similarities between doing research in the US vs in Australia?
1. Research Students in Australia only do 3.5 years post Bachelor and don’t do coursework. 2. Funding is different ARC seems harder (less flush) than NSF. States are less supportive here than US. 3. There are even fewer domestic PHDs here. 4. Quality of students is similar. 5. Students will sometimes pay to attend the PHD program. There are probably more differences from when I started to now then between the locations. Students from IITs and Tsinghua don’t apply any more.
KV Have you traveled on the Indian Pacific train?
I have not. Intercity train is slooow. Hope to get to Perth in November for ATRF conference.
JR I feel like I've seen you post about NRL sometimes. Have you got into Australian sports since moving here? If so, can I persuade you that AFL is the best one?
“into” is far too strong a word. I have watched occasionally on tv. I believe AFL is a better game, for players despite living in Sydney, and Rugby Union seems more entertaining than NRL, but all these games miss the forward pass that makes American Football a more entertaining game to watch. If you could somehow re-merge the rules, (they all derived from the same game more or less) and increase the pace of NFL and remove all the helmets and equipment, you would have something great. The concussion problem in the NFL is due to all the safety equipment like helmets. [Sort of like biking]. The main problem is team loyalties are formed in childhood. My NFL team, the Baltimore Colts, were hijacked by Indianapolis, and that was the end of caring deeply about football. So I can watch it but cannot root for a team. (Can I say “root” in Australia?)
AJS: I'll ask the obvious questions: What areas of transport and planning do you see Australia generally doing better at than the US?
Coming from the US, what was the most notable difference about transport and planning in Australia that stood out the most to you?
If you were in charge of transport and planning in either country, what would be your top priority for change?
Generally Australia’s transport planning and implementation is superior to the US. Judge by the outcomes (less car use). Consultation in AU is bogus, but allows governments to actually not get gridlocked, so it’s a trade off. Australia (or at least NSW) has a more corporate framework, calling people CEOs and having annual reports in the transport agencies. This also makes transparency much worse in NSW than anywhere in the US. “Business cases” are “commercial in confidence “ or “cabinet in confidence “. Drafts are public in US. pricing is probably technically (but not politically) the lowest hanging fruit for getting significant change. Road space reallocation to bike and bus lanes could also be done overnight if one wanted to see significant change. Too much $ is spent on big infrastructure projects instead of managing and maintaining what already exists. “Fix it first “ should be the mantra. Land Value Tax (or other value capture techniques) is also an obvious technically (but not politically) easy policy to align development with infrastructure.
HW: What is your personal record for the highest number of rejections received from a single peer-reviewed paper?
I don’t track, but at least 4. My most widely cited paper was rejected 3X (congratulations to Urban Studies, JAPA and somewhere else). The record number of reviews on an accepted paper is 11 for a TRB submission. The longest period in peer review was 10 years for a paper that had 3 different editors in Transportation Research A - lost 2 times and had to go through at least 4 rounds. I may still be the only author (and certainly was the first) to publish in TR parts A,B,C,D,E, and F.
AL: Which paper are you most proud of and wish people read the most?
You are asking me to choose my children. Chronologically: (many have coauthors)
(1994) Rational Locator
(1998) Accessibility and the Journey to Work. Journal of Transport Geography 6(1) 11-21
(2000) Revenue Choice on a Serial Network.
(2005) The Emergence of Hierarchy in Transportation Networks
(2005) Micro-foundations of Congestion and Pricing: A Game Theory Perspective
(2008) Agent-Based Model of Price Competition and Product Differentiation on Congested Networks
(2008) Density and Dispersion: The Co-Development of Land use and Rail in London
(2009) The Topological Evolution of Road Networks.
(2013) A Portfolio Theory of Route Choice
(2015) Do People Use the Shortest Path? An Empirical Test of Wardrop’s First Principle
(2018) Full Cost Accessibility.
(2018) An Introduction to the Network Weight Matrix.
(2020) Towards a General Theory of Access
(2020) Primal and Dual Access.
in terms of papers that should have gotten more citations:
(2004) Delayer Pays Principle: Examining Congestion Pricing with Compensation
(2004) Weighting Waiting: Evaluating the Perception of In-Vehicle Travel Time Under Moving and Stopped Conditions
(2005) Road Pricing with Autonomous Links
(2011) Work and Home Location: Possible Role of Social Networks
(2013) Selfishness and Altruism in the Distribution of Travel Time and Income.
(2013) An Agent-Based Model of Worker and Job Matching
(2016) Towards a Metropolitan Fundamental Diagram using Travel Survey Data.
AO: what was the move from Minneapolis to Sydney like? What are any similarities / biggest differences (cultural, transport, weather, etc)? Why did you make the move and how do you feel about it several years in? Which accent is stronger and have you acquired either?
it was literally moving from Winter to Summer (or Spring to Fall). The weather is the most obvious difference and I don’t miss 8 months of winter (particularly ice, particularly people who don’t clear sidewalks, particularly falling on said ice). The community engagement of the citizens was much stronger in Minnesota (probably because of 8 months of winter). Sydney is more LA than MPLS I think (well more San Diego anyway). … It’s also a place where transit works pretty well, despite the complaints. Trading off the Riots and Covid and snow of Minnesota for the Fires and Lockdowns and Border Controls and La Niña of Sydney probably still favors Sydney, but the transition was harder than expected (public schools are not especially good here, and Immigration is atrocious).
I retain my US east coast suburban accent. My kids retain their even less ethnically distinct American suburban accents as well. The Australian accent is stronger (strong-ah) to my ears (ea-as), largely because of the inability of Australians to enunciate their (they-ah) Rs (ahhs) at the end of syllables or words (unless preceding a vowel I guess ). Most Minnesotans don’t talk like Fargo, so it’s just a bit midwestern but not terribly so. And of course interacting with Family and University people from elsewhere you don’t hear it as much. The vocabulary is also more distinct here, with the shortening of words and random slang. Sydney is also far more ethnically diverse than the Great White Homeland. (Which had some enclaves, but they were much smaller).
The Aurora has been spotted in places it is not usually spotted. There was a Solar Eclipse in Australia. Certainly, these are portents of something.
Introducing the 15-hour city (McSweeney’s)
Google Maps now maps the 15-minute neighbourhood [It’s only for pre-determined places from what I can tell]
Musk’s SpaceX rocket explodes in what is hailed as success. [Everything is hailed as a success by proponents, I’d bet a better success would not be exploding].
A very short Science Fiction story: Volcanic microbe eats CO2 ‘astonishingly quickly’, say scientists - It is used for Carbon capture and storage (CCS). But it escapes and is too successful, eats all the earth’s CO2 before dying off, but not before decimating plant life. Life crashes. Earth rebooted.
The "permanent now" by Paul Skallas. [Decadal "break points" in culture no longer happen]
NYPD robocops: Hulking, 400-lb robots will start patrolling New York City [This was a Hill Street Blues Episode 40 years ago].
One of the great things about democracy is that after a change in regime, everything the previous regime did comes to light:
No trains for 15 months (time cost of converting Trains to Metro to improve reliability in the future means 15 months of no service.
Rapid delivery service Milkrun to close its Australian doors. It never came to my neighborhood so I never could partake, but the economic model always seemed crazy for anything other than a niche market serving people who have far too much money and cannot plan more than an hour in advance (and those people might already have people doing their own shopping). Maybe with robots this will work, but that is a ways off.
The real reason trucks have taken over U.S. roadways [Tax policy and CAFE standards are differently applied to trucks and cars - tax policy is safety policy.]
Not really, economists being blind to work not done by economists; but the rest is plausible. Generally the low cost/high benefit projects were done first, so the remaining projects are those that could not be done earlier, and would have been more expensive even if they had been.