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Articles by Alan Davies

Don’t forget the injured when reporting on road accidents

Public concern at the number of road-related fatalities is important. In 2013 there were 1193 road-related deaths in Australia in 2013: 50 cyclists, 157 pedestrians, 215 motorcycle riders and 766 motor vehicle occupants. But it’s not the complete picture. Many more travellers suffer injuries — some very serious — in road crashes. In 2010-11, more than 33,000 people injured […]

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The 20-minute neighbourhood: great idea but will never work

The draft metropolitan planning strategy released earlier this year for Melbourne proposes a city made up of “20-minute neighbourhoods”. As the diagram shows (above), the idea is that every home will be within 20 minutes of active travel (i.e. public transport, walking and cycling) of jobs, shops, cafes, schools, parks and community facilities. It’s certainly […]

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Should we expect public transport to perform like a car?

Drivers should get 24 demerit points and no more, for life

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New transport projects matter less than you think

Investing in big urban transport infrastructure projects, especially motorway and rail projects, is the common response to the growth pressures faced by our major cities. But big transport projects are extremely expensive, and governments at best only budget for one every five years or so. It’s also not clear that all big projects provide a […]

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Living the high life? Emulating NY’s rail renovation is a dumb idea

One of the co-founders of New York’s celebrated High Line, Robert Hammond, is in Australia explaining the fascinating story of how a disused elevated railway line on Manhattan’s west side was turned into a beautifully landscaped linear park. Given its high international visibility and iconic status, it’s not surprising cities around the world are keen […]

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Mythbusting those tales of urban sprawl

New analysis by Chris Loader at Charting Transport shows that while Australian cities are continuing to spread outwards, they’re nevertheless getting markedly denser. He calculated the changes in population density of Australia’s main cities over the period 1991-2012 and produced a fascinating chart … Contrary to the stereotype, the density of all of Australia’s major cities increased […]

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Here’s why you should stop bashing Canberra

Art critic Robert Nelson says Canberra is an example of how planning, on the rare occasions when it’s done thoroughly, mostly results in something we scorn. He says Canberra is: “… a place with no sense of community, with an automotive footprint and hardly any people. Though its architect, Walter Burley Griffin, is still respected, Canberra […]

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Why do transport projects always run over cost estimates?

I can’t think of too many major public infrastructure projects that ever came in on budget, much less in line with early stage cost estimates. For whatever reason, they almost always exceed the original figure that got them the go-ahead. Yet these days early estimates of the cost of building new rail lines are routinely […]

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Perhaps bikes will never be a genuine city transport solution

Syd Mead reckons it’s “specious folly” to propose bicycles as a serious component of urban transportation. There’s “an almost messianic insistence that bicycles should be part of the urban travel mix”, he says, but the notion cities can be “liberated from the car … has zero basis in practical terms”. Before entering the ranks of […]

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Sky’s the limit? Rethinking tall buildings

The Age reported on the weekend that a Melbourne developer has released plans for a high-rise public school with a rooftop playground. The developer, David Wardlaw, stated that a 25- to 30-storey tower would likely be added to his company’s plans in light of “Melbourne City Council’s decision to allow buildings over 36 metres if the package […]

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Should cyclists be registered?

Following public outrage over the court’s decision last month on the death of cyclist Richard Pollett, the Transport, Housing and Local Government Committee of the Queensland Parliament agreed last Friday to inquire into a number of possibilities that might “improve the interaction of cyclists with other road users”. The committee is looking at a range […]

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Peak demand for road and rail: is that all there is?

Here’s something we don’t often see — how travel behaviour has changed over long periods of time, in this case three decades … It’s taken from a paper by Craig Mcgeoch, a transport analyst at engineering consultants Arup. While it’s specifically about Melbourne, it tells a story that applies in general terms to all our large cities. […]

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Living in a walker’s paradise: impossible if you’re in Canberra

Only 380,000 residents of Australia’s largest cities live in very walkable suburbs, all of them in the inner city. Creating new fringe suburbs with high walkability will be very challenging. Sydney and Melbourne are by far Australia’s most walkable cities according to US company Walk Score, which released walkability rankings of Australia’s largest cities last week. Walkability is a […]

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I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like

Now that cycling is increasingly a “mainstream” mode of transport, there are calls for cyclists to conform to the road rules. That prompts the question why some cyclists don’t in the first place. Australians tend to see cycling as something special — it’s racing, it’s exercise, it’s “cycle chic”, it’s advocacy, it’s identity — but it’s not usually hum-drum […]

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Transport and infrastructure: Labor’s budget on the rails

The government was criticised by some talking heads last night for not taking the opportunity in the budget to give greater emphasis to the differences between Labor values and Coalition values. One area, though, where there’s now a clear distinction between the two contenders is public transport. The budget surprised with funding for three rail projects: […]

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Are cyclists ‘mere obstacles’ to cars and trucks?

Cyclists are outraged a jury this week found a truck driver not guilty of dangerous driving causing the death of a cyclist. It’s time the law stopped treating cyclists as mere obstacles to motorists. Queensland cyclists want the road rules to be changed so that motorists are required to maintain a minimum safe passing distance […]

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The Urbanist: what if there were no new public transport?

There are good reasons to be pessimistic about the prospects for major new public transport infrastructure investments in Australian cities. Governments across the country are reluctant to increase taxes or make further borrowings. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says he won’t help fund urban public transport projects if he wins the September election. Since public transport recovers none of its capital costs […]

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What should motorists want? Better public transport

The Australian Automobile Association, which claims 7 million members via its state auto clubs, has called on Australian governments to spend $100 billion on better transport infrastructure. The AAA published a priority list of five transport projects in each state (there are only four in South Australia and one in the Northern Territory). These are regional as […]

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Our $20b city congestion problem — why we’ll have to pay for it

The economic cost of traffic congestion in cities is estimated to cost the Australian economy $20.4 billion per annum by 2020. But what can really be done about it? A new report by the Victorian Auditor-General, Managing traffic congestion, argues governments need to think harder about ways to deal with congestion. It argues there’s too much attention given to […]

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Wait, high-speed rail would increase carbon emissions?

The Commonweath’s new Phase 2 report on high-speed rail forecasts that if HSR is built on the east coast, total emissions from travel in the corridor over the 50-year evaluation period would be 384 million tonnes (Mt CO2-e). But in the base case, which assumes HSR isn’t built, emissions would total 362 Mt CO2-e. That’s 22 million […]

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Abbott will fund more freeways, but not public transport

The Coalition’s decision to abolish federal funding for urban rail projects will have an enormous impact on Australian cities if an Abbott government is installed in Canberra on September 14. Last week Abbott said the Commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads, but “we have no history of funding urban rail and I think it […]

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Hold the bus — the wait is worth it

I think we need to be wary of the contemporary push to “demonise” commuting for the time it consumes, as often a longer commute means more time on public transport. Concern about long commutes is one reason the Victorian government is backing the goal of a 20-minute city as a key plank of the forthcoming strategic […]

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Bike helmet laws prevent injuries to kids — by putting them in cars

A new paper on the effects of mandatory bicycle helmets on cycling by children and teenagers in the US has created a lot of buzz among those interested in this arcane and contentious subject. The headline finding is the mandatory helmet law is associated with a 13% reduction in head injuries for five- to 19-year-olds. But it’s […]

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Baillieu’s ’20-minute cities’: are they just big country towns?

Ted Baillieu’s big idea for the future planning of Melbourne is one he’s apparently borrowed without acknowledgement from his predecessor, former premier John Brumby. Brumby was enthusiastic about the idea of Melbourne as a city of villages where people could “work closer to where they live”. Baillieu’s version is essentially the same — he says Melbourne should be a […]

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Buckle up: in defence of the bike helmet

A paper released earlier this month found cyclists who ride without a helmet are more likely to take risks. It’s generating a lot of talk. The Conversation did its own investigation and ran the story under the heading “Crash data shows cyclists with no helmets more likely to ride drunk”. The Sydney Morning Herald took […]

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