Back to News page

Save Our Sydney Suburbs (NSW) Inc.
News Release June 2004

Paris question

Hi SOS Members

The following correspondence, stemming from a recent letter published by the Sydney Morning Herald, deals with important matters that do not appear to be understood by our political masters (or perhaps they do not wish to understand).

Tony Recsei

----- Original Message -----
Chris Watkins
Sent: Friday, June 11, 2004 9:25 AM
Subject: Your Paris question to Prof Newman

Hi Tony,

I saw your letter to a newspaper recently, posing a question to Peter Newman re public transport & traffic speed in Paris. But in assessing the time efficiency of transport (and this is only one of the important factors), surely actual transit times rather than speed should be used (including the time taken for those on PT)?

Have you read Newman & Kenworthy's book, "Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence"? So far I have only leafed through it, but it does appear to address the relative merits of different forms of planning and transport, based on a good size sample of cities.


Hi Chris

You have posed an excellent question. As letters to the newspaper have to be brief if they are to be printed, it was not possible to deal in detail with all aspects.

I have read Newman and Kenworthy's book. If you look at the statistics listed (such as % energy used) you will deduce that in all sizable cities, the portion of journeys using public transport is very much less than those travelling in their own cars. This is more clearly shown in figures from another of Kenworthy's publications, "An International Sourcebook of Automobile Dependence in Cities: 1960-1990" (Jeffrey R. Kenworthy, Felix B. Laube and others) which provides the actual % daily journeys in private and public transport:

                              %Private transport %Public transport
Europe    Vienna            71.52%               28.48%
Europe    Munich            71.66%              28.34%
Europe    Paris               73.02%              26.98%
Europe    London            73.67%              26.33%
Europe    Stockholm       74.36%              25.64%
Europe    Zurich              77.48%             22.52%
Asia        Surabaja          79.75%             20.25%
Asia        Kuala Lampur   83.05%            16.95%
Europe    Brussels          84.12%            15.88%
Europe    Copenhagen    84.62%             15.38%
Europe    Hamburg         86.35%             13.65%
Australia Sydney           86.44%              13.56%

It is apparent that even if Sydney were to be able to put into place an equivalent of the Paris public transport system (impossibly expensive), change single residential houses to Paris type higher densities (so worsening our quality of life) and close all freeways (exacerbating congestion even more) the % of people's journeys in public transport could only double and would still be much less than the % in cars. The number of cars in a given area will increase from the increased density - note the number of car parking spaces in the new high density built around railway stations. This increase will overwhelm any greater portion of people using public transport, and therefore congestion increases. It is really quite simple, more concentration means more congestion.

With regard to your question, a widely used measure of traffic congestion is average speed - the more the congestion the lower the average speed through the streets. The slow average speed through Paris streets is an objective indicator of the serious congestion that people tell us they experience in that city.

There is a fundamental reason for this transport difficulty. In large cities, the variety of destinations located over a wide area and distances involved make it impossible to walk or cycle to most of them.

Even more fundamentally, cities are two dimensional spaces, public transport travels in one dimensional straight lines. So for the majority of journeys, it is quite impractical for public transport to directly connect the desired destination with the point of origion of one's journey (unlike a car). Therefore people have to use cars. Add onto that the limitations of publc transport timetables often not according with the desired travel times, as well as many other problems (carrying large parcels, safety, weather). The result is people use cars for most of their journeys.

The plans announced for the Sydney Metropolitan Strategy are naive in the extreme, huge amounts of money will be spent on reconfiguring and disrupting Sydney for no benefit, in fact our quality of life will become worse, not better.

In case you are interested in joining our community organisation, Save Our Suburbs, an application form is attached.

Tony Recsei
Save Our Suburbs (SOS)

Back to News page