The psychology of time, travel & intelligent design
Imagine knowing that you can get across Birmingham anytime of day within 40-45 minutes maximum by public transport, and journeys half-way across within 20 or so minutes.
How would that change your travel patterns? And how, do you suppose it'd affect communities in this city? That's what Londoners have . . .
Looking at these two maps, one of Brum, t'other of London (courtesy of the brilliant crowd-sourced OpenStreetMap), and you can begin to grasp some of the social impact that connectivity has.
See the circles? Their diameters represent 10km.
- Journeys in the London circle take 40-45 minutes maximum.
- These journey times do not vary according to the time of day.
- The maximum journey times within the Birmingham circle vary with a change of the start time; sometimes journeys are 70%, even 80% longer than the fastest route and time.
- Many cross-city journeys in the Brum circle use more than two modes of transport.
- Many of these journeys take over an hour, and involve walking up to a mile, occasionally more.
It's not just how long a journey is that matters to people, it's also whether or not we know the time the journey will take. (Traffic planners' understanding of this aspect of our psychology means we now have dynamic info on to our transport infrastructure, on motorways or at bus stops for example, telling us the time a journey is taking, rather than the distance.)
London's travel times don't vary because road traffic doesn't affect the Tube. For overland travel, too, the congestion charge has freed up lanes for buses and taxis making journey times more predictable.
I set myself a little experiment using transportdirect.info again, and also the really neat walkit.com. I planned two journeys, both from New Street Station, one to the Custard Factory and the other to Cineworld on Broad Street; both journeys are a similar distance (0.8 miles on foot). And here's what I found:
Notice the unpredictability of the public transport option in both cases. Two to four minutes on a bus creates a journey that can become 60% longer than the quickest of runs.
Note, too, that a brisk walk can be as fast as public transport and, if you take the Victoria Square exit for Fiveways, it's likely to be faster. (Hm. Not all of us can do "brisk". Think rain or wind, too.)
Imagine for a nanosecond that buses from all the arterial roads went into New Street Station. And that, like London, very few cars went within the five mile radius of the city centre drawn on the maps above . . . Then these journeys by bus would be much, much quicker, and predictably so.
Here's another factoid about our psychological responses to commuting coming from the bags of research on the matter. Most people tell researchers that travelling more than three hours a day is stressful. It seems this time is the world over, regardless of the mode of transport, perhaps an evolutionary legacy from our hunter-gatherer days.
So let's think of an important journey many Brummies make. To London. It's usually an hour and twenty minutes by train on the fast route.
But you've got to get to New Street Station first. From my front door to the station, it's a 34 minutes walk -- possibly lugging a computer or suitcase, possibly in the rain.
This journey is only a few minutes shorter by public transport as there's a (reasonable) five minute walk to the bus stop at the start for me but eleven minutes t'other end. (Eleven bloody minutes! Should be 30 seconds! I feel a rant coming on . . .)
So my commute to London is nearly two hours, well over the threshold for it being tolerable as a commute, especially if I have to travel onward from Euston.
And so here's an argument for HS2.
HS2 to Euston will take, according to Wikipedia, 49 minutes. Add in a 20 minute onward journey t'other end and, even with a half-hour needed to get from home to New Street Station, the total journey is a lot closer to the magic 1.5 hour threshold.
It'd be well under this threshold if Brum's public transport infrastructure had the predictability and efficiency of London's. That the bus drops you off at the station . . .
Let's hope the design of the next generation transport infrastructure within the city (and between UK cities) is an intelligent design -- which means it also will be an evolving one. Transport systems are, after all, complex systems.