How data can identify accident black spots, improve transport and life in the city

University of Melbourne researchers – armed with the right analytical tool – are finding Twitter data surprisingly useful. They’re mining the data and looking for patterns, from identifying real-time traffic jams to measuring community sentiment to even finding the hotspots for bad language.

Social tools such as Twitter can provide a wealth of data for urban researchers. Picture: Pexels

“We have built a way to harvest Twitter data while people are on the roads. It’s a controversial idea, because people shouldn’t be tweeting while they’re driving,” says Professor Richard Sinnott, director of the Melbourne eResearch Group and from the Melbourne School of Engineering’s Department of Computing and Information Systems.

Professor Sinnott and his team do their analysis using Australia’s road system data, available through the Australian Research Infrastructure Portal (AURIN) portal.

“Just as measuring a person’s vital signs — pulse, temperature, breathing rate and blood pressure —tell you a lot about their health. Measuring signs of activity, life and movement in a city can tell you how functional or dysfunctional it is,” says Dr Serryn Eagleson, an urban researcher and Manager Data and Business Applications at AURIN.

Collectively the AURIN community have curated and integrated vast amounts of urban data — over 2,000 datasets from 40 providers — mapped it and developed tools to analyse it so that researchers like Richard can put it to use.

“We’ve written a set of algorithms that identify tweets that originate on the road system. You can write an algorithm that moves along CityLink or the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne, or the Southern Expressway south of Adelaide, checking for tweets in each small section of the road,” Professor Sinnott explains.

Originally Published by Tanya Ha, University of Melbourne read full article here.

A brief history of autonomous vehicles

A brief history of autonomous vehicles: A personal perspective on the history of autonomous vehicles in Australia (2016 to 2060) and their impact on the built environment

ABSTRACT: Dame Sylvia Crowe the great forward thinking landscape architect of the 20th Century once said “It would seem that the highway facilities must always lag far behind the means of locomotion, and we should watch carefully that the next advance in transport does not find us still thinking in terms of roads for outdated vehicles.” (1960)

With the advent of autonomous vehicles the effect on the road and street environment will be profound. Almost every geometric standard, design guide and roadside piece of furniture is there because it mitigates driver error which accounts for over 90% of all crashes. Wide lanes, large radii and barriers save people from their poor driving. Signage exists because of human navigation deficiencies. Car parks exist because we all like to park in one easily found space. Road upgrades and widening occur because we are unable to drive in an ordered regular and straight path and the act of driving is a waste of productive time. On motorways over 30m of the cross section is devoid of trees because of the dangers of an accidental swerve.

This talk will explore, from the perspective of urban design, the many small simple changes that will occur because of autonomous vehicles and also some of the more challenging wide reaching effects.

Summary of talk

This talk took a different angle to the normal discussions about driverless vehicles. It was presented as a future history looking back from 2060, on 100 years of development of the modern motor vehicle. It seemed to go down well; the audience really began to engage with the theme and asked me to explain exactly what happened in 2028! – two years out from my fictional legislative requirement for all vehicles to be autonomous in 2030.

In preparing the talk it was surprising how current plans could be extrapolated into the future. In Sydney NorthConnex and WestConnex will be complete by around 2022. The whole of the Pacific Highway from Sydney to Brisbane will be dual carriageway by 2020. Around the world many autonomous initiatives are currently taking place (self-driving taxis in Singapore, self-driving truck lanes in Belgium, self-driving experimental cities in the United States). Taking these major project achievements and advancing vehicle technology together, it seems feasible by the mid-2020s to expect a level of autonomy in vehicles – particularly trucks – and to make the most of these fully connected motorway systems and advancing technology.

With the potential lessons learnt from motorway vehicle autonomy and the benefits of lane correction and crash detection, it also seems feasible to continue the trend from motorways into the general road network.

The potential reduction in crashes (currently still in the global top ten of all deaths and over 1000 fatalities per year in Australia) could be dramatic with currently over 90% of crashes caused by driver error. Insurance companies, roads authorities, safety groups and the general community will call for the benefits of autonomous vehicles to be more widely available. It is conceivable (subject to the popularity, design and cost of vehicles) that by 2030 the Government will have to do something and some form of legislation might be put in place.

Gareth Collins
Principal Manager, Centre for Urban Design.
Project Development | Infrastructure Development

Cities for Healthier Lives

We are sitting in worsening traffic jams, breathing in car fumes, living in isolated suburbs with no shops or services to walk or cycle to, and spending hours travelling to work because jobs are concentrated in unaffordable inner city areas.

The way we are planning our cities is causing a host of preventable health problems, from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases to diabetes and stress.

But we now have a blueprint for change. An international team of researchers, led by the University of Melbourne, have quantified for the first time the massive potential health benefits to be had if we finally just started planning our cities around the needs of humans and not cars. The researchers say it is a call for politicians to take action and set targets.

Published as three papers in The Lancet medical journal, the research was launched by the United Nations in New York on September 23, 2016, where the authors addressed a meeting of the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Planning cities around cars is damaging our health and is unsustainable. Picture Pexels.

Central to the research is the promotion of “compact cities” in which people live in higher density neighbourhoods closer to local shops, public transport, services and jobs, and complemented by increased infrastructure for walking and cycling instead of relying on cars.

If the compact city blueprint was implemented they calculate that a car-dependent city such as Melbourne would cut the burden of cardiovascular disease by 19 per cent and cut the burden of type-2 diabetes by 14 per cent. Overall the equivalent of 679 years of extra healthy life would be gained in Melbourne per 100,000 people.

The gain for Boston in the US would be 826 healthy years, in Delhi the gain is 620 healthy years, and in Sao Paulo 420 healthy years. There is no set size for a compact city – what matters is the planning and design of safe walkable local neighbourhoods.

“For the first time this research quantifies the relationship between land use, urban design, population density and transport systems, and the impact they have on our health,” says lead author Professor Mark Stevenson, epidemiologist and Professor of Urban Transport and Public Health at the University of Melbourne. “It shows that by adopting a compact cities model that places an emphasis on active transport, we can achieve a huge reduction in the burden of chronic disease.”

The compact city model is based on increasing land use density, and the mix of uses on that land, by 30 per cent, while decreasing the average distance of housing to public transport by 30 per cent and increasing the use of non-motorised transport by 10 per cent. For example, jobs and services should be accessible within 30 minutes of home by public transport. Homes should have bus and train stops nearby, within no more than 400 metres and 800 metres respectively.

Originally Published by Andrew Trounson, University of Melbourne, read the full article here.

Bushfires: Have You Treated Your Risks?

However, we can make ourselves much safer during the bushfire season, and it’s not just about cleaning the gutters.

The resilience of a house or a community revolves around the interaction between the design of the structure itself, the natural environment in which the community is located, the behaviour and habits of the human occupants, and the overall planning and layout of the community.

Planning for emergencies, and empowering people to take responsibility and action, can make a significant difference when it comes to bushfire resilience.

Despite numerous media campaigns raising awareness about protecting your home from bushfires, the message still seems to be getting lost along the way.

A sharply winding Wye River road highlights the challenges faced by emergency services when trying to access properties in fire affected communities. Image Alan March

Here are our five tips for dealing with bushfires:

1. Understand that bushfire risk is not a lottery

There is a common perception that bushfires are unpredictable and out of our control. While this may be true to some extent in the midst of an “event”, the reality is that bushfire risks are highly specific to particular environments and they can be assessed and addressed. While we usually can’t predict what day or even year a serious fire might occur in a given place, we can determine how risky certain locations and houses are.

2. Design matters – design flaws and things to look for

While proximity to vegetation remains the most important factor, the design characteristics of dwellings in their surroundings are also key to their riskiness. On the whole, older buildings are more vulnerable. This is partly because of traditions of building, the limited regulations applied to older homes, and the challenges associated with maintenance – including gardens and outbuildings. Add to this that many older structures are made of wood, and have raised floor platforms allowing embers to be blown underneath floors.

3. Building your home? Take design codes and regulations seriously

In general, new structures or those that have undergone significant change must meet current regulatory bushfire design codes and regulations, based in the first instance on Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) standards. Compliance with the relevant BAL is part of gaining a building permit and significantly improves chances that a house will survive a bushfire, so engaging a reliable and qualified building practitioner is paramount.

4. People’s survival is the most important, then structures…

Okay – you have met the bushfire design regulations, but did you know that your dwelling is not necessarily going to survive a fire? Even though we want your home to survive, the design codes are rated only to ensure the structure will resist the passing of the main fire front.

5. Be aware that circumstances (and people) change

The temporary population of a holiday town on the coast during summer will be far less prepared for bushfires compared with a permanent population such as that in a farming area or those that are engaged with response authorities in ongoing volunteer or permanent roles.

Originally Published by Associate Professor Alan March and Constanza Gonzalez Mathiesen, University of Melbourne, read the full article here.

Land of opportunity – accommodating population and social diversity from the ashes of manufacturing

Preston is a typical Melbourne working class suburb characterised by industrial properties along key routes with surrounding ¼ acre worker housing.

The recent decline in Australian manufacturing has resulted in many sites becoming vacant and jobs going out of these areas.  In many cases these vacated sites are large enough to accommodate significant residential, commercial and civic infrastructure and therefore generate local employment.

They also present a great opportunity for exemplary urban design outcomes due to the sheer scale.

Oakover Square is such a property.  This proposal is an example of industrial land being successfully knitted back into its suburban context.  It provides an urban village development model based on a series of “key moves” designed to establish meaningful community connections and a high level of liveability, as follows:

  1. Net positive urban outcome – protected public and private amenity, favourable aspect to and from buildings, an architecture that is highly expressive
  2. Contribution to public open space – an urban square at the heart of the site provides space and amenity for the residents and all the community
  3. Hierarchy of streets – primary streets widened to facilitate access and enhanced through landscaping, the green streets and pocket parks create attractive amenity for residents
  4. Enable modes of public transport – a highly porous pedestrian and bicycle network and inter-modal public transport exchange
  5. Vertical green amenity – ground level community and commercial uses integrated with landscape, first floor child care with open play areas and upper level green terraces accessible to residents.
  6. Encourage Social diversity – a mix of housing types, diverse employment opportunities and a collection of buildings with individual character and identity.

The development convenes around a central public square with a grid of internal streets and lanes which are generated from the surrounding context.  Combined with pocket parks these provide a series of gathering places of different scales and levels of intimacy.

A multi-generational village is created through offering a variety of residential options.  Localised retail and soho suites activate the ground plane and connect with the existing grain.  Vertical layering enriches the experience through multi-level greenery, providing secluded havens, enhanced amenity and visual stimulation.

The idea is relaxed enough to allow each of the pieces its own character and an equivalence of urban space-making between buildings and open areas.

While subject to statutory height limits, the investment of social capital such as child care, aged care and affordable housing, combined with the contribution of public open space, provides community benefits which justify a significant uplift in scale.

The consequential additional height provides the necessary critical mass of residential infrastructure to support the financial, operational and commercial feasibility of the place.

The overall impression is a sophisticated approach to urban place-making with the feel of a highly energised and individual local living hub.  This is type of outcome we need to address the increased demand for housing in these inner city suburbs.

Murray Brassington
Partner – Commercial