Graham McCabe, director of Urbis' Transport Advisory service is also a transport planner and traffic engineer with over 20 years’ experience in developing and leading innovative transport planning and traffic engineering projects.

He has developed innovative designs to enable improved connectivity at a human and a city scale, and specialises in cost-effective holistic transport solutions.

What can governments do to be better at designing urban transport solutions? 

The governments around Australia and, so at a state level and also Nationally, are working really hard at improving how we plan transport. So, infrastructure itself, so whether it's a road or railway line, that's an outcome.

That comes from someone working out that there's a level of demand between two or more locations, and then trying to work out the best way to actually connect those people. So, if you look at any road, say, Parramatta Road, you'll see lots of cars there. You know, there's lots of cars but they're not driving end-to-end.

The New South Wales government has Future Transport 2056 as its current long-term plan, and if you look at something like WestConnex .

You know, WestConnex has a lot of people who are quite opposed to it at the moment. But the new M5 that's being built at the moment, that is as a result of transport planning and traffic planning that was done in the 1980's and the 1990's. And it's taken that long to get it onto the ground.

We keep hearing about infrastructure, and off-air we spoke a bit about infrastructure. Do we need more of it or do we need to better design what we already have? There's a whole heap of things that probably could be made better including our railways. Do we need new stuff or do we need to augment what we already have? Or both?

Both. So, the current population for cars that, you know, Australia's going get to 50 million. Sydney's going get to eight to ten million, Melbourne's going get to eight to ten million people. You know, Brisbane five. Perth, I think about four? I could be wrong on the numbers, but we're going be a much bigger country. So, even with what we've got at the moment.

So, you look at the train system. So they're improving signalling systems, getting rid of railway level crossings, so the level crossing removal program that they've done in Victoria which has created the elevated railway in the east of the city.

And that's created new parks, and new opportunities to connect communities. So that doesn't just provide a more efficient train system where you can run more, longer trains because you've got a wallop of new stations, so you can carry more people. But it also connects local communities so that people aren't having to make really long-distance travel in order to just get to their neighbours on the other side of the railway line. They can now literally walk under it.

How does transportation planning, or even the lack of transportation planning, how does it change the way that we design cities?

So the lack of transportation planning, we were talking off air about Manila, where I spent a couple of weeks over the last couple of years. It, historically, has had no real coordinated transport planning so it's made up of a bunch of small cities that all do their own thing, and then there's an overarching authority. But the transport planning hasn't kept with the growth of the city.

Transport planning can lead, so it can work with planning on making sure that people who don't need to travel have the services, opportunities, jobs, education, near them. So you look at any inner city area within our capitals, and people can walk to basically everything they need or hop on a bike, or now an electric scooter. But they've also got a dense web of public transport services.

So that makes for an efficient city, and as property density gets lower and lower, so fewer people, so your quarter acre block, your traditional development, and no one really does that anymore. But when every front door is 20 meters apart on a standard straight, that's 5 houses per hundred meters. So 5 houses per 100 meters, you've maybe got 30 people in that. You do that per kilometre, you've maybe got 300 people. 300 people per kilometre is along a length of road, is not very many people, it doesn't really support a public transport service. People want to live where they can have yard, you know I've got a big back yard. I live close to a railway station. But my nearest supermarket is two kilometres.

Let's talk about the light rail. I mean there's light rail being built all over Sydney, they're attempting to finish it down here within walking distance, actually, of where we are. Some people have said it's a waste of time in terms of how many people it can carry, what is your opinion on that? 

I'll start off with the second one. It's taking so long to build because it's being built in a city that has existed for 200 years. So you can't dig up a road, and it doesn't matter what type of infrastructure you're creating, the moment you start digging up a road, you'll always find utilities that you didn't expect to be there.

Even with digging underneath Moore Park and diverting Anzac Parade so that they can build a tunnel. But moving all the utilities that are put in the road and the footpath is very complex, and utilities have the legal right to put their services within the public right of way.

Lastly, what are some things you think that architects may be missing in terms of design for better habitation, in which, obviously, I mean connecting from A to B, from work to home, and vice versa, in terms of habitation, what could they be doing better? Are they missing something, or are there other things at play here?

I think, you look at modern stations and airports and things, and they're beautiful pieces of architecture, very aesthetically pleasing. I'm an engineer, so I'm probably the last person who should be commenting on the aesthetics of things.

You also look at, sometimes landscape architects will do bicycle plans, or they'll integrate bicycle facilities and they'll have a beautiful meandering soccer way, which goes through a park, and down a river, lots of opportunities to sit.

If you want that to become an all-day bicycle path, then it needs to be near where people are. Because who's going let their teenage daughter ride down a path that meanders down through bushland and a river at night in order to get home after they've been at their friend's place?

And then your daytime network would be your one which would be more catered towards your recreational or sporting bicycle rides. So people who either wanted to go fast and race, or meandering so you could have a nice pleasant ride with shade and opportunities to sit and have a picnic or whatever.

It's thinking about, I suppose, the obvious use cases that actually attract people across the day. I know sectored crime prevention through environmental designs are a big thing, but the thinking about the con activity and ease of connections.

If you've got a railway station entrance, you don't put it at 90 degrees to where the main desire line is, because then that just encourages people to work diagonally to walk to that entrance.

For the full interview, go to our podcast with Graham McCabe here and also here.