Laszlo's Law of Urban Transportation

Behind programming and linguistics/syntax, planning urban transportation is my third favourite intellectual activity. This is of course why a spend a few days last year researching and designing a subway system for Ottawa. In no way is there sufficient population density in this field of urban sprawl they call the nation’s capital to make a subway cost effective, but it is still an exercise I enjoy. Trying to find the optimal routes for a number of subway lines it kind of like solving the travelling salesman problem. There are many close-to-perfect answers that are easy to find and only one perfect answer that is impossible to find, but the challenge of trying to get as close as possible is fun.

This week I have been researching flights and train voyages to get to LugRadio Live in Wolverhampton this summer. The trick is finding the fastest and cheapest route from Ottawa to Wolverhampton. Even though Ottawa is the capital, it is quite small and so the only direct flights to the UK from here go to London Heathrow. That would mean I would have to get off the plane after a 7 hour flight and get on the train for another 2.5 hours. If I want to get a plane to Birmingham or Manchester I will have to transfer in Toronto, Montreal or London Heathrow.

For $50 I could take the bus to Toronto, but the bus terminal is downtown, and the airport is 30 minutes west of the city with no rail links. Also for $20 I could take the bus to Montreal – at least there they have rail access to the airport. If I decide to transfer in London I would be able to easily take the tube to any train station which would lead me to Wolverhampton. I love the Tube. Travelling to London scores high on my list because of it as you’ll see below.

Okay finally on to the real reason for this article. I present Laszlo’s Law of Urban Transportation:

“The quality of urban transportation planning in any given city is directly proportional to the time it takes to get from the main passenger airport, to the main passenger train station, and from there to the city centre and back to the airport.”

In the paragraph above, train station can be replaced by bus/coach terminal and the law will still hold. You should notice that I didn’t specify the distance but instead it should be measured by time. This is because for big cities there is no option. The new Hong Kong airport is really far away from the city because with mountains on one side and the ocean on another, there isn’t much room. However there is a high speed train which will still get you to the airport in 24 minutes. This is about the same or maybe even less than Ottawa who’s airport is quite close to the city.

You should also notice that I didn’t exclude taxis or even specify that it must be public transportation. You could probably increase the ranking of a particular city by taking a taxi and shortening the time it takes to complete the airport-train-downtown loop. This is only because in some cities this is the only way. In Prague there are three subway lines that go north, south-west and south-east. Unfortunately the airport is a 20-30 minute taxi ride due east.

From what I have seen and guestimated so far, the cities that have the shortest airport-train-downtown loop are Geneva, Switzerland and Sydney, Australia. I have been to Geneva and I remember that the train station is a short walk from downtown and for a few Euros you can take a 5 minute train ride to the airport. Of course they had to put the airport close because of all the damn mountains. I suspect the same is true with Sydney but I have never been there. Based on looking at Google Maps, it seems that the airport is 4km from the train station and the train is only 1 km downtown. Way to go Sydney.

  1. says:

    In Pisa, Italy, the airport is very close to downtown, there is a rail link to the central station which takes 7 minutes (but it is a little infrequent) and a bus link which brings directly from the airport to the central station and then to the Leaning Tower.

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