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Planners, go big: Big data means better decisions on transport, infrastructure
May 26, 2016 News

Big data will allow urban and transport planners to consider projects more thoroughly than they could before, as cloud-based computing can be used to analyse a wider range of unrelated factors in making decisions.

Considerations as varied as retail footfall, carbon emissions and economic return can be modelled and compared faster through the flexible and big-scale use of internet-based computing resources, software company Autodesk industry strategist Dominic Thasarathar said.

“Suddenly you’ve got unlimited resources,” Mr Thasarathar told The Australian Financial Review. “You are moving more towards this notion of being able to simulate anything you would do in the real world, in a digital environment first. You can start to explore thousands of different permutations for your problem and work out the best option.”

As Australia seeks to upgrade infrastructure and revitalise cities over the next 20 years, better decision-making will be crucial. It’s not just money that needs to be found – the postwar development pattern of city centres surrounded by wide flat dormitory suburbs will not be able to cope with the 37 per cent increase in population that will take the country to 30.5 million people over the 20 years to 2031.

Government body Infrastructure Australia predicts that the $13.7 billion cost of delays on roads in the six largest capital cities in 2011, if unchecked, will grow about 290 per cent to $53.3 billion in 2031.

Autodesk, which already sells building information modelling (BIM) software for the construction industry is one of a number of players seeking to make large-scale projects and planning more efficient through the use of cloud computing – IBM, Google and Microsoft all have an interest in it. Large-scale data analysis would permit comparison between different modes of transport and even different spatial layouts, London-based Mr Thasarathar said during a visit to Melbourne.

“One of the big opportunities going forward is this big role that big data and cloud computing is going to have in terms of just doing that infrastructure master planning,” he said.

Planners agree the industry is playing catch-up.

“Urban planning’s one of the few areas of life that hasn’t gone digital,” said Curtin University Professor of Sustainability Peter Newman. “We use BIM for buildings but even that’s not very extensive.”

Mr Newman was speaking separately on Wednesday at a planning seminar for Cloverton, developer Stockland’s 1100-hectare masterplanned community, 30km north of the Melbourne CBD.

“How we plan cities can be helped a lot by the computer. But it doesn’t do it for you. You have to have an ability to say ‘This is the city we want’ now let’s get the computer to show us how best to sort that out’.”

Steven Burgess, a transport planner at consultancy MRCagney, said public transport authorities could also use big data – particularly the information it gave them about movement patterns and habits of different cohorts – to influence the way people moved.

Prepaid transport cards such as Melbourne’s Myki and Sydney’s Opal were the key as the systems underpinning them – if designed properly – could be linked to retail behaviour, he said.

Price promotions could be targeted to encourage commuters to shop locally, for example.

“I could take this card and say ‘All the spending you do in the main street I can track and then it makes your public transport trips free’,” Mr Burgess said. “Or you can get a discount. But if you go into a Westfield [mall], you can’t use it, [and shopping there is] more expensive’. So we can manipulate the behaviour to make the city more efficient by having access to all the data.”

This article was originally published on www.afr.com and can be viewed in full

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