In almost every city, hordes of people commute towards the city centre in the morning and back away from the city in the evening. This largely radial travel causes plenty of congestion on road and public transport networks.
But only a fraction of commuters in each city actually work in the CBD. So just how radial are journeys to work? How does it vary between cities? And how does it vary by mode of transport?
This post takes a detailed look at journey to work data from the ABS 2016 Census for Melbourne, Sydney, and to a less extent Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra. I’ve included some visualisations for Melbourne and Sydney that I hope you will find interesting.
How to measure radialness?
I’m measuring radialness by the difference in degrees between the bearing of the journey to work, and a direct line from the home to the CBD of the city. I’m calling this the “off-radial angle”.
So an off-radial angle of 0° means the journey to work headed directly towards the CBD. However that doesn’t mean the workplace was the CBD, it might be have been short of the CBD or even on the opposite side of the CBD.
Similarly, an off-radial angle of 180° means the journey to work headed directly away from the CBD. And a value of 90° means that the trip was “orbital” relative to the CBD (a Melbourne example would be a journey from Box Hill that headed either north or south). And then there are all the angles in between.
To deal with data on literally millions of journeys to work, I’ve grouped journeys by home and work SA2 (SA2s are roughly the size of a suburb), and my bearing calculations are based on the residential centroid of the home SA2 and the employment centroid of the work SA2.
So it is certainly not precise analysis, but I’ve also grouped off-radial angles into 10 degree intervals, and I’m mostly looking for general trends and patterns.
So how radial are trips in Melbourne and Sydney?
Here’s a chart showing the proportion of 2016 journeys to work at different off-radial angle intervals:
Technical note: As per all my posts, I’ve designated a main mode for journeys to work: any journey involving public transport is classed as “Public”, any journey not involving motorised transport is classed as “Active”, and any other journey is classed as “Private”.
In both cities over 30% of journeys to work were what you might call “very radial” – within 10 degrees of perfectly radial. It was slightly higher in Melbourne.
You can also see that public transport trips are even more radial, particularly in Melbourne. In fact, around two-thirds of public transport journeys to work in 2016 had a destination within 2 km of the CBD.
Melbourne’s “mass transit” system (mostly trains and trams) is very radial, so you might be wondering why public transport accounts for less than half of those very radial journeys (41% in fact).
Here are Melbourne’s “very radial” journeys broken down by workplace distance from the Melbourne CBD:
Public transport dominates very radial journeys to workplaces within 2 km of the centre of the CBD, but is a minority mode for workplaces at all other distances. Many of these highly radial journeys might not line up with a transit line towards the city, and/or there could well be free parking at those suburban workplaces that make driving all too easy. I will explore this more shortly.
Sydney however had higher public transport mode shares for less radial journeys to work. I think this can be explained by Sydney’s large and dense suburban employment clusters that achieve relatively high public transport mode shares (see: Suburban employment clusters and the journey to work in Australian cities), the less radial nature of Sydney’s train network, and generally higher levels of public transport service provision, particularly in inner and middle suburbs.
Visualising radialness on maps
To visualise journeys to work it is necessary to simplify things a little so maps don’t get completely cluttered. On the following maps I show journey to work volumes between SA2s where there are at least 50 journeys for which the mode is known. The lines between home and work SA2s get thicker at the work end, and the thickness is proportional to the volume (although it’s hard to get a scale that works for all scenarios).
First up is an animated map that shows journeys to work coloured by private transport mode share, with each frame showing a different interval of off-radial angle (plus one very cluttered view with all trips):
(click/tap to enlarge maps)
I’ve had to use a lot of transparency so you have a chance at making out overlapping lines, but unfortunately that makes individual lines a little harder to see, particularly for the larger off-radial angles.
You can see a large number of near-radial journeys, and then a smattering of journeys at other off-radial angles, with some large volumes across the middle suburbs at particular angles.
The frame showing very radial trips was rather cluttered, so here is an map showing only those trips, animated to strip out workplaces in the CBD and surrounds so you can see the other journeys:
Private transport mode shares of very radial trips are only very low for trips to the central city. When the central city jobs are stripped out, you see mostly high private transport mode shares. Some relative exceptions to this include journeys to places like Box Hill, Hawthorn, and Footscray. More on that in a future post.
Here are the same maps for Sydney:
Across both of these maps you can find Sydney’s suburban employment clusters which have relatively low private transport mode shares. I will explore this, and many other interesting ways to visualise journeys to work on maps in an upcoming post.
What about other Australian cities?
To compare several cities on one chart, I need some summary statistics. I’ve settled on two measures that are relatively easy to calculate – namely the average off-radial angle, and the percent of journeys that are very radial (up to 10°).
The ACT (Canberra) actually has the most radial journeys to work of these six cities, despite it being something of a polycentric city. Adelaide has the next most radial journeys to work, but there’s not a lot of difference in the largest four cities, despite Sydney being much more a polycentric city than the others. Note the two metrics do not correlate strongly – summary statistics are always problematic!
Here are those radialness measures again, but broken down by main mode:
Sydney now looks the least radial of the cities on most measures and modes, particularly by public transport.
The Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) has highly radial private and active journeys to work, but much less-radial public transport journeys than most other cities. This probably reflects Canberra’s relatively low cost parking (easy to drive to the inner city), but also that the public transport bus network is orientated around the suburban town centres that contain decent quantities of jobs.
Adelaide has the most radial journeys to work when it comes to active and public transport.
What about other types of travel?
In a future post, I’ll look at the radialness of general travel around Melbourne using household travel survey data (VISTA), and answer some questions I’ve been pondering for a while. Is general travel around cities significantly less radial than journeys to work? Is weekend travel less radial than weekday travel?
Follow the blog on twitter or become an email subscriber (see top-right of this page) to get alerted when that comes out.
Australian cities are growing in population as a result of international migration, internal migration, and births outnumbering deaths. But which of these factors are most at play in different parts of the country?
Thanks to ABS publishing data on the components of population growth with their Regional Population Growth product, we now have estimates of births, deaths, internal/international arrivals, and internal/international departures right down to SA2 geography for 2016-17 and 2017-18.
This post aims to summarise the main explanation for population change in different parts of the country.
This post isn’t much about transport, but I hope you also find the data interesting. That said, it’s possible that immigrants from transit-orientated countries might be more inclined to use public transport in Australia, and that might impact transport demand patterns. We know that recent immigrants are more likely to travel to work by public transport than longer term residents, but that probably also has a lot to do with where they are settling.
How is population changing in bigger and smaller cities?
First up, I’ve divided Australia into Capital Cities (Greater Capital City Statistical Areas), Large regional cities (Significant Urban Areas with population 100,000+, 2016 boundaries), small regional cities (Significant Urban Areas, with population 10,000 to 100,000, 2016 boundaries ) and “elsewhere”.
Here’s a chart showing the total of the six components of population change in each of those four place types. I’ve animated the chart (and most upcoming charts) to show changes in the years to June 2017 and June 2018, with a longer pause on 2018.
There were significant internal movements in all parts of Australia (shown in green) – even more so in 2018. These include people moving between any SA2s, whether they adjacent within a city or across the country.
International arrivals and departures were much larger in capital cities and there were more arrivals than departures in all four place types. International arrivals declined between 2017 and 2018, while international departures increased slightly between 2017 and 2018.
Births also outnumbered deaths in all place categories in both years.
Here’s a look at the larger capital cities individually:
The chart shows Sydney, Perth, and Adelaide had more internal departures than arrivals. These cities only grew in total population because of natural increase and net international immigration. Melbourne and Brisbane had a net increase from internal movements in both 2017 and 2018, while Canberra has been a lot more even.
International arrivals outnumbered international departures and births significantly outnumbered deaths in all cities. Melbourne and Canberra were the only cities to see a significant increase in international arrivals between 2017 and 2018.
Here is the same chart but for medium sized cities:
Again, there were much larger volumes of internal migration in 2017-18 compared to 2016-17.
The Gold Coast is the only medium-sized city to have significant volumes of international movements. The fast population growth of the Gold and Sunshine Coasts is mostly coming from internal arrivals.
What is the dominant explanation for population change in different parts of Australia?
As mentioned the ABS data goes down to SA2 statistical geography which allows particularly fine grain analysis, with six measures available for each SA2. However it is difficult to show those six components spatially. They can be consolidated into three categories: net natural increase, net internal arrivals/departures, and net international arrivals/departures, but that is still three different metrics for all SA2s.
One way to look at this is simply the component with the largest contribution to population growth (or decline). Here is a map showing that for each SA2 in Melbourne:
You can see that international arrivals dominated population growth in most inner and middle suburbs, while internal arrivals dominated population growth in most outer suburbs. There are also some SA2s where births dominated (often low growth outer suburbs).
This representation is quite simplified, and doesn’t show what else might be happening. For example, here is a summary of the population changes in Sunshine for the year to June 2018:
Overseas arrivals dominated population growth (net +313), but the otherwise hidden story here is that they were largely offset by net internal departures of 279.
So to add more detail to the analysis, I’ve created a slightly more detailed classification system that looks at the largest component and often a secondary component, as per the following table.
Growth – mostly births replacing locals
Net internal departures more than 50 and net internal departures more than net overseas departures
Growth – mostly births
Net internal and overseas departures of no more than 50
Growth – mostly immigrants replacing locals
Net overseas arrivals
Net internal departures of at least 50 and/or natural decrease of at least 50.
Growth – mostly immigration
Net overseas arrivals
Net internal departures less than 50 (or net arrivals).
Net natural decrease of 50 or more, and bigger than net overseas departures
Growth – mostly internal arrivals
Net internal arrivals
Net internal arrivals greater than net overseas arrivals and natural increase
Decline – mostly internal departures
Net internal departures
Natural increase and net overseas arrivals both less than 50
Decline – mostly internal departures partly offset by births
Net internal departures
Natural increase of at least 50, and natural increase larger than net overseas arrivals.
Decline – mostly internal departures partly offset by immigrants
Net internal departures
Net overseas arrivals of at least 50, and net overseas arrivals larger than natural increase.
Decline – mostly deaths
There are no SA2s where net international departures was the major explanation for population change.
Here’s what these summary explanations look like in Melbourne (again, animated to show years to June 2017 and June 2018):
Technical notes: On these maps I’ve omitted SA2s where there was population change of less than 50 people, or where no components of population change were more than 1% of the population. Not all classifications are present on all maps.
You can now see that in most middle suburbs there has been a net exodus of locals, more than offset by net international arrivals (light purple). Also, many of the outer suburbs with low growth actually involve births offsetting internal departures (light blue).
Turning near-continuous data into discrete classifications is still slightly problematic. For example the summary explanations don’t tell you by how much one component was larger than the others. For example if there were 561 net international arrivals and 560 net internal arrivals, it would be classified as “Growth – mostly immigration”. Also, SA2s are not consistently sized across Australia (see: How is density changing in Australian cities?), so my threshold of 50 is not perfect. At the end of the post I provide a link to Tableau where you can inspect the data more closely for any part of Australia.
The inner city area of Melbourne was a little congested with data marks on the above map, so here is a map zoomed into inner and middle Melbourne:
You can see significant population growth in the Melbourne CBD and surrounding SA2s, particularly in 2017. The main explanation for inner city growth is international immigration, although internal arrivals came out on top in Southbank in 2018. Curiously, net internal arrivals were larger the international migration in Brunswick East in both years. And natural increase was dominant in Newport in the inner-west.
Zooming out to include the bigger regional centres of Victoria (note: many regional SA2s don’t show up because of very little population change):
In most regional Victorian cities, internal arrivals account for most of the population growth, although the net growth in “Shepparton – North” of +222 in 2017 and +152 in 2018 was mostly made up of international arrivals. The only other SA2s to show international arrivals as the main explanation were in inner Geelong.
(I haven’t shown all of Victoria because few SA2s outside the above map had significant population change).
Heading up to Sydney, the picture is fairly similar to Melbourne:
Like Melbourne, internal arrivals accounted for most of the population growth in outer growth areas.
International immigration dominated the inner and middle suburbs in 2017, but in 2018 immigration eased off, and births became the main explanation for population growth in more SA2s.
The middle SA2s of Homebush Bay – Silverwater and Botany are noticeable exceptions to the pattern, dominated by internal arrivals.
Zooming out to New South Wales:
Central Newcastle, central Wollongong, Armidale and Griffith saw mostly international immigration led population growth. Most larger regional towns saw growth from internal arrivals, but further inland there was population decline – mostly from internal departures.
Next up, Brisbane:
Population growth in Brisbane’s inner suburbs is much more of a mix of internal and overseas arrivals. There are also more SA2s where births dominate population growth. There were also some SA2s with slight population decline for various reasons.
Zooming out to South East Queensland:
International arrivals dominated areas on the Gold Coast closer to the coastline, but much less so on the Sunshine Coast and in Toowoomba.
Looking at other parts of Queensland:
There was population decline in several areas, including Mackay and Mount Isa. Rockhampton and Cairns saw population growth mostly through internal arrivals. Townsville was dominated by internal arrivals in 2017, and births in 2018.
Airlie – Whitsundays stands out as having population growth mostly from international arrivals in both years.
Next up, Perth:
Like other cities, population growth in the outer suburbs was dominated by internal arrivals. There were a lot more SA2s showing population decline, and this was largely due to internal departures, partly offset by natural increases or net overseas arrivals.
Zooming out to Western Australia:
Population growth on the south-west coast was mostly dominated by internal arrivals, while in many other centres around the state there was population decline, mostly due to internal departures, however in many areas this was offset partly by births.
Next up, Adelaide:
Firstly, keep in mind that there has been relatively slow population growth in Adelaide (the scale is adjusted). The inner and middle suburbs mostly show population growth from international arrivals (often offsetting net internal departures), and the outer growth areas were again mostly about internal arrivals.
Zooming out to South Australia:
In 2017 there was considerable population decline in Whyalla and Port Augusta. Murray Bridge is another rare regional centre where population growth was largely driven by almost 400 overseas arrivals each year.
Next is Tasmania:
Note the circle size scale is even smaller. Overseas arrivals dominated population growth in central Hobart and Newman – Mayfield in Launceston (possibly related to university campuses), while internal migration dominated most other areas.
Here is Canberra:
International immigrants dominated population growth around Civic and the inner north. Internal arrivals dominated Kingston and Griffith and most outer growth areas. The outer suburbs saw a mixture of births and internal arrivals as the dominant explanation.
And finally, Darwin, which actually saw net population decline in the year to June 2018:
Palmerston South saw the largest population growth – mostly from internal arrivals. International arrivals were significant around Darwin city in 2017, but were much less significant in 2018. Most of the northern suburbs saw population decline in the year to June 2018.
Didn’t see your area, or want to explore further? You can view this data interactively in Tableau (you might want to filter by state as that will change the scale of circle sizes).
Where were international arrivals most significant?
I’ve calculated the ratio of international arrivals to population for each SA2. The SA2s where international arrivals in the year to June 2018 make up a significant portion of the 2018 population are all near universities and/or CBDs. Namely:
Melbourne CBD and neighbouring Carlton at 20% (Melbourne Uni, RMIT, and others)
Brisbane CBD at 18% and neighbouring Spring Hill at 20% (QUT and others)
Clayton in Melbourne at 18% (Monash Uni)
Sydney – Haymarket – The Rocks at 15% and neighbouring Pyrmont – Ultimo at 17% (near to UTS, Sydney Uni, and various others)
Acton (ACT) at 17% (ANU)
Kingsford (in Sydney) at 16% (UNSW)
St Lucia (Brisbane) at 15% (UQ)
I hope you’ve found this interesting. In a future post I might look at internal migration origin-destination flows, including how people are moving within and between cities.
While Australian cities are growing outwards, densities are also increasing in established areas, and newer outer growth areas are some times at higher than traditional suburban densities.
So what’s the net effect – are Australian cities getting more or less dense? How has this changed over time? Has density bottomed out? And how many people have been living at different densities?
This post maps and measures population density over time in Australian cities.
I’ve taken the calculations back as far as I can with available data (1981), used the highest resolution population data available. I’ll discuss some of the challenges of measuring density using different statistical geographies along the way, but I don’t expect everyone will want to read through to the end of this post!
[This is a fully rewritten and updated version of a post first published November 2013]
Under traditional measures of density, you’d simply divide the population of a city by the area of the metropolitan region.
At the time of writing Wikipedia said Greater Sydney’s density was just 4.23 people per hectare (based on its Greater Capital City Statistical Area). To help visualise that, a soccer pitch is about 0.7 hectares. So Wikipedia is saying the average density of Sydney is roughly about 3 people per soccer field. You don’t need to have visited Sydney to know that is complete nonsense (don’t get me wrong, I love Wikipedia, but it really need to use a better measure for city density!).
The major problem with metropolitan boundaries – in Australia we use now Greater Capital City Statistical Areas – is that they include vast amounts of rural land and national parks. In fact, in 2016, at least 53% of Greater Sydney’s land area had zero population. That statistic is 24% in Melbourne and 14% in Adelaide – so there is also no consistency between cities.
Below is a map of Greater Sydney (sourced from ABS), with the blue boundary representing Greater Sydney:
One solution to this issue is to try to draw a tighter boundary around the urban area, and in this post I’ll also use Significant Urban Areas (SUAs) that do a slightly better job (they are made up of SA2s). The red boundaries on the above map show SUAs in the Sydney region.
However SUAs they still include large parks, reserves, industrial areas, airports, and large-area partially-populated SA2s on the urban fringe. Urban centres are slightly better (they are made of SA1s) but population data for these is only available in census years, the boundaries change with each census, the drawing of boundaries hasn’t been consistent over time, they include non-residential land, and they split off most satellite urban areas that are arguably still part of cities, even if not part of the main contiguous urban area.
Enter population-weighted density (PWD) which I’ve looked at previously (see Comparing the densities of Australian, European, Canadian, and New Zealand cities). Population-weighted density takes a weighted average of the density of all parcels of land that make up a city, with each parcel weighted by its population. One way to think about it is the average density of the population, rather than the average density of the land.
So parcels of land with no population don’t count at all, and large rural parcels of land that might be inside the “metropolitan area” count very little in the weighted average because of their relatively small population.
This means population-weighted density goes a long way to overcoming having to worry about the boundaries of the “urban area” of a city. Indeed, previously I have found that removing low density parcels of land had very little impact on calculations of PWD for Australian cities (see: Comparing the residential densities of Australian cities (2011)). More on this towards the end of this post.
Calculations of population-weighted density can also answer the question about whether the “average density” of a city has been increasing or decreasing.
But… measurement geography matters
One of the pitfalls of measuring population weighted density is that it very much depends on the statistical geography you are using.
If you use larger geographic zones you’ll get a lower value as most zones will include both populated and unpopulated areas.
If you use very small statistical geography (eg mesh blocks) you’ll end up with a lot fewer zones that are partially populated – most will be well populated or completely unpopulated, and that means your populated weighted density value will be much higher, and your measure is more looking at the density of housing areas.
To illustrate this, here’s an animated map of the Australian Capital Territory’s 2016 population density at all of the census geographies from mesh block (MB) to SA3:
Only at the mesh block and SA1 geographies can you clearly see that several newer outer suburbs of Canberra have much higher residential densities. The density calculation otherwise gets washed out quickly with lower resolution statistical geography, to the point where SA3 geography is pretty much useless as so much non-urban land is included (also, there are only 7 SA3s in total). I’ll come back to this issue at the end of the post.
Even if you have a preferred statistical geography for calculations, making international comparisons is very difficult because few countries will following the same guidelines for creating statistical geography. Near enough is not good enough. Worse still, statistical geography guidelines do not always result in consistently sized areas within a country (more on that later).
We need an unbiased universal statistical geography
This ABS is now providing population estimates on a square km grid for every year from 2006.
Here is what Melbourne’s estimated population density looks like on a km square grid, animated from 2006 to 2017:
The changes over time are relatively subtle, but if you watch the animation several times you’ll see growth – including relatively high density areas emerging on the urban fringe.
It’s a bit chunky, and it’s a bit of a matter of luck as to whether dense urban pockets fall entirely within a single grid square or on a boundary, but there is no intrinsic bias.
There’s also an issue that many grid squares will contain a mix of populated and non-populated land, particularly on the urban fringe (and a similar issue on coastlines). In a large city these will be in the minority, but in smaller cities these squares could make up a larger share of the total, so I think we need to be careful about this measure in smaller cities. I’m going to arbitrarily draw the line at 200,000 residents.
How are Australian cities trending for density using square km grid data 2006 to 2018?
So now that we have an unbiased geography, we can measure PWD for cities over time.
The following chart is based on 2016 Significant Urban Area boundaries (slightly smaller than Greater Capital City Statistical Areas but also they go across state borders as appropriate for Canberra – Queanbeyan and Gold Coast – Tweed).
Technical notes: You cannot perfectly map km squares to Significant Urban Areas. I’ve included all kilometre grid squares which have a centroid within the 2016 Significant Urban Area boundaries (with a 0.01 degree tolerance added – which is roughly 1 km). Hobart appears only in 2018 because the Hobart SUA crosses the 200,000 population threshold in 2018.
The above trend chart was a little congested for the smaller cities, so here is a zoomed in version without Sydney and Melbourne:
You can see most cities getting denser at various speeds, although Perth, Geelong, and Newcastle have each flat-lined for a few years.
Perth’s population growth slowed at the end of the mining boom around 2013, and infill development all but dried up, so the overall PWD increased only 0.2 persons/ha between 2013 and 2018.
Canberra has seen a surge in recent years, probably due to high density greenfield developments we saw above.
How is the mix of density changing? (2006 to 2018)
Here’s a look at the changing proportion of the population living at different densities for 2006-2018 for the five largest Australian cities, using square km grid geography:
It looks very much like the Melbourne breakdown bleeds into the Sydney breakdown. This roughly implies that Melbourne’s density distribution is on trend to look like Sydney’s 2006 distribution in around 2022 (accounting the for white space). That is, Melbourne’s density distribution is around 16 years behind Sydney’s on recent trends. Similarly, Brisbane looks a bit more than 15 years behind Melbourne on higher densities.
In Perth up until 2013 there was a big jump in the proportion of the population living at 35 persons / ha or higher, but then things peaked and the population living at higher densities declined, particularly as there was a net migration away from the inner and middle suburbs towards the outer suburbs.
Here’s the same for the next seven largest cities:
Of the smaller cities, densities higher than 35 persons/ha are only seen in Gold Coast, Newcastle, Wollongong and more recently in Canberra.
The large number of people living at low densities in the Sunshine Coast might reflect suburbs that contain a large number of holiday homes with no usual residents (I suspect the dwelling density would be relatively higher). This might also apply in the Gold Coast, Central Coast, Geelong (which actually includes much of the Bellarine Peninsula) and possibly other cities.
Also, the Central Coast and Sunshine Coast urban patterns are highly fragmented which means lots of part-urban grid squares, which will dilute the PWD of these “cities”.
Because I am sure many of you will be interested, here are animated maps for these cities:
Canberra – Queanbeyan
Newcastle – Maitland and Central Coast
What are the density trends further back in time using census data?
The census provides the highest resolution and therefore the closest measure of “residential” population weighted density. However, we’ve got some challenges around the statistical geography.
Prior to 2006, the smallest geography at which census population data is available is the collector district (CD), which average around 500 to 600 residents. A smaller geography – the mesh block (MB) – was introduced in 2006 and averages around 90 residents.
Unfortunately, both collector districts and mesh blocks are not consistently sized across cities or years (note: y axis on these charts does not start at zero):
Technical note: I have mapped all CDs and MBs to Greater Capital City Statistical Area (GCCSA) boundaries, based on the entire CD fitting within the GCCSA boundaries (which have not yet changed since they were created in 2011).
There is certainly some variance between cities and years, so we need to proceed with caution, particularly in comparing cities. Hobart and Adelaide have the smallest CDs and MBs on average, while Sydney generally has larger CDs and MBs. This might be a product of whether mesh blocks were made too small or large, or it might be that density is just higher and it is more difficult to draw smaller mesh blocks. The difference in median population may or may not be explained by the creation of part-residential mesh blocks.
Also, we don’t have a long time series of data at the one geography level. Rather than provide two charts which break at 2006, I’ve calculated PWD for both CD and mesh block geography for 2006, and then estimated equivalent mesh block level PWD for earlier years by scaling them up by the ratio of 2006 PWD calculations.
In Adelaide, the mesh block PWD for 2006 is 50% larger than the CD PWD, while in the Australian Capital Territory it is 110% larger, with other cities falling somewhere in between.
Would these ratios hold for previous years? We cannot be sure. Collector Districts were effectively replaced with SA1s (with an average population of 500, only slightly smaller) and we can calculate the ratio of mesh block PWD to SA1 PWD for 2011 and 2016. For most cities the ratio in 2016 is within 10% of the ratio in 2011. So hopefully the ratio of CD PWD to mesh block PWD would remain fairly similar over time.
So, with those assumptions, here’s what the time series then looks like for PWD at mesh block geography:
As per the square km grid values, Sydney and Melbourne are well clear of the pack.
Most cities had a PWD low point in 1996. That is, until around 1996 they were sprawling at low densities more than they were densifying in established areas, and then the balance changed post 1996. Exceptions are Darwin which bottomed out in 2001 and Hobart which bottomed in 2006.
The data shows rapid densification in Melbourne and Sydney between 2011 and 2016, much more so than the square km grid data time series. But we also saw a significant jump in the median size of mesh blocks in those cities between 2011 and 2016 (and if you dig deeper, the distribution of mesh block population sizes also shifted significantly), so the inflection in the curves in 2011 are at least partly a product of how new mesh block boundaries were cut in 2016, compared to 2011. Clearly statistical geography isn’t always good for time series and inter-city analysis!
How has the distribution of densities changed in cities since 1986?
The next chart shows the distribution of population density for Greater Capital City Statistical Areas based on collector districts for the 1986 to 2006 censuses:
You can more clearly see the decline in population density in most cities from 1986 to 1996, and it wasn’t just because most of the population growth was a lower densities. In Hobart, Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne, the total number of people living at densities of 30 or higher actually reduced between 1986 and 1996.
Here is the equivalent chart for change in density distribution by mesh block geography for the capital cities for 2006, 2011, and 2016:
I’ve used the same colour scale, but note that the much smaller geography size means you see a lot more of the population at the higher density ranges.
The patterns are very similar to the distribution for square km grid data. You can see the how Brisbane seems to bleed into Melbourne and then into Sydney, suggesting a roughly 15 year lag in density distributions. This chart also more clearly shows the recent rapid rise of high density living in the smaller cities of Canberra and Darwin.
The next chart shows the 2016 distribution of population by mesh block density using Statistical Urban Area 2016 boundaries, including the smaller cities:
Gold Coast and Wollongong stand out as smaller cities with a significant portion of their population at relatively high densities, but a fair way off Sydney and Melbourne.
(Sorry I don’t have a mesh block times series of density distribution for the smaller cities – it would take a lot of GIS processing to map 2006 and 2011 mesh blocks to 2016 SUAs, and the trends would probably be similar to the km grid results).
Can we measure density changes further back in history and for smaller cities?
Yes, but we need to use different statistical geography. Annual population estimates are available at SA2 geography back to 1991, and at SA3 geography back to 1981.
However, there are again problems with consistency in statistical geography between cities and over time.
Previously on this blog I had assumed that guidelines for creation of statistical geography boundaries have been consistently applied by the ABS across Australia, resulting in reasonably consistent population sizes, and allowing comparisons of population-weighted density between cities using particular levels of statistical geography.
Unfortunately that wasn’t a good assumption.
Here are the median population sizes of all populated zones for the different statistical geographies in the 2016 census:
Note: I’ve used a log scale on the Y-axis.
While there isn’t a huge amount of variation between medians at mesh block and SA1 geographies, there are massive variations at SA2 and larger geographies.
SA2s are intended to have 3,000 to 25,000 residents (a fairly large range), with an average population of 10,000 (although often smaller in rural areas). You can see from the chart above that there are large variances between medians of the cities, with the median size in Canberra and Darwin below the bottom of the desired range.
I have asked the ABS about this issue. They say it is related to the size of gazetted localities, state government involvement, some dense functional areas with no obvious internal divisions (such as the Melbourne CBD), and the importance of capturing indigenous regions in some places (eg the Northern Territory). SA2 geography will be up for review when they update statistical geography for 2021.
While smaller SA2s mean you get higher resolution inter-censal statistics (which is nice), it also means you cannot compare raw population weighted density calculations between cities at SA2 geography.
However, all is not lost. We’ve got calculations of PWD on the unbiased square kilometre grid geography, and we can compare these with calculations on SA2 geography. It turns out they are very strongly linearly correlated (r-squared of over 0.99 for all cities except Geelong).
So it is possible to estimate square km grid PWD prior to 2006 using a simple linear regression on the calculations for 2006 to 2018.
But there is another complication – ABS changed the SA2 boundaries in 2016 (as is appropriate as cities grow and change). Data is available at the new 2016 boundaries back to 2001, but for 1991 to 2000 data is only available on the older 2011 boundaries. For most cities this only creates a small perturbation in PWD calculations around 2001 (as you’ll see on the next chart), but it’s larger for Geelong, Gold Coast – Tweed Heads and Newcastle Maitland so I’m not willing to provide pre-2001 estimates for those cities.
The bottom of this chart is quite congested so here’s an enlargement:
Even if the scaling isn’t perfect for all history, the chart still shows the shape of the curve of the values.
Consistent with the CD data, several cities appear to have bottomed out in the mid 1990s. On SA2 data, that includes Adelaide in 1995, Perth and Brisbane in 1994, Canberra in 1998 and Wollongong in 2006.
Can we go back further?
If we want to go back another ten years, we need to use SA3 geography, which also means we need to switch to Greater Capital City Statistical Areas as SA3s don’t map perfectly to Significant Urban Areas (which are constructed of SA2s). Because they are quite large, I’m only going to estimate PWD for larger cities which have reasonable numbers of SA3s that would likely have been fully populated in 1981.
I’ve applied the same linear regression approach to calculate estimated square kilometre grid population weighted density based on PWD calculated at SA3 geography (the correlations are strong with r-squared above 0.98 for all cities).
The following chart shows the best available estimates for PWD back to 1981, using SA3 data for 1991 to 2000, SA2 data for 2001 to 2005, and square km grid data from 2006 onwards:
Technical notes: SA3 boundaries have yet to change within capital cities, so there isn’t the issue we had with SA2s. The estimates based on SA2 and SA3 data don’t quite line up between 1990 and 1991 which demonstrates the limitations of this approach.
The four large cities shown appear to have been getting less dense in the 1980s (Melbourne quite dramatically). These trends could be related to changes in housing/planning policy over time but they might also be artefacts of using such a coarse statistical geography. It tends to support the theory that PWD bottomed out in the mid 1990s in Australia’s largest cities.
Could we do better than this for long term history? Well, you could probably do a reasonable job of apportioning census collector district data from 1986 to 2001 censuses onto the km grid, but that would be a lot of work! It also wouldn’t be perfectly consistent because ABS use dwelling address data to apportion SA1 population estimates into kilometre grid cells. Besides we have reasonable estimates using collector district geography back to 1986 anyway.
Melbourne’s population-weighted density over time
So many calculations of PWD are possible – but do they have similar trends?
I’ve taken a more detailed look at my home city Melbourne, using all available ABS population figures for the geographic units ranging from mesh blocks to SA3s inside “Greater Melbourne” and/or the Melbourne Significant Urban Area (based on the 2016 boundary), to produce the following chart:
Most of the datasets show an acceleration in PWD post 2011, except the SA3 calculations which are perhaps a little more washed out. The kink in the mesh block PWD is much starker than the other measures.
The Melbourne SUA includes only 62% of the land of the Greater Melbourne GCCSA, yet there isn’t much difference in the PWD calculated at SA2 geography – which is the great thing about population-weighted density.
All of the time series data suggests 1994 was the year in which Melbourne’s population weighted density bottomed out.
Appendix 1: How much do PWD calculations vary by statistical geography?
Census data allows us to calculate PWD at all levels of statistical geography to see if and how it distorts with larger statistical geography. I’ve also added km grid PWD calculations, and here are all the calculations for 2016:
Technical note: square km grid population data is estimated for 30 June 2016 while the census data is for 9 August 2016. Probably not a significant issue!
You can see cities rank differently when km grid results are compared to other statistical geography – reflecting the biases in population sizes at SA2 and larger geographies. Wollongong and Geelong also show a lot of variation in rank between geographies – probably owing to their small size.
The cities with small pockets of high density – in particular Gold Coast – drop rank with large geography as these small dense areas quickly get washed out.
I’ve taken the statistical geography all the way to Significant Urban Area – a single zone for each city which is the same as unweighted population density. These are absurdly low figures and in no way representative of urban density. They also suggest Canberra is more dense than Melbourne.
Appendix 2: Issues with over-sized SA1s
As I’ve mentioned recently, there’s an issue that the ABS did not create enough reasonably sized SA1s in some city’s urban growth areas in 2011 and 2016. Thankfully, it looks like they did however create a sensible number of mesh blocks in these areas, as the following map (created with ABS Maps) of the Altona Meadows / Point Cook east area of Melbourne shows:
In the north parts of this map you can see there are roughly 4-8 mesh blocks per SA1, but there is an oversized SA1 in the south of the map with around 50 mesh blocks. This will impact PWD calculated at SA1 geography, although these anomalies are relatively small when you are looking at a city as large as Melbourne.
My last post showed half of Perth’s outer urban population growth between 2011 and 2016 happened in places more than 5 km from a train station (see: Are Australian cities sprawling with low-density car-dependent suburbs?). It’s very car-dependent sprawl, with high levels of motor vehicle ownership (96 per 100 persons aged 18-84) and high private transport mode share of journeys to work (88%).
But what about population growth overall in cities? Is most growth happening close to rapid transit stations? How are cities orientated to rapid transit overall? And how does rapid transit orientation relate to mode shares?
Let’s dive into the data to find out.
Why is proximity to rapid transit important?
Public transport journey to work mode shares are generally much higher close to stations:
And motor vehicle ownership rates are generally lower closer to stations:
However it is worth noting that the proximity impact wears off mostly after only a couple of kms. Being 2-5 kms from a station is only useful if you can readily access that station – for example by bus, bicycle, or if you are early enough to get a car park.
Melbourne has seen the most population growth overall, followed by Sydney and Brisbane. Population growth in Perth has slowed dramatically since 2014, and has been remained slow in Adelaide.
Population growth in areas remote from stations most cities has been relatively steady. By contrast, the amount of population growth nearer to stations fluctuates more between years – there was a noticeable dip in growth near stations around 2010 and 2011 in all cities.
You can also see that in recent years the majority of Perth’s population growth has been more than 5 km from a station.
To show that more clearly, here’s the same data, but as a proportion of total year population growth:
You can see that most of Perth’s population growth has been remote from stations. In the year to June 2016, 85% of Perth’s population growth was more than 5 km from a train station (the chart actually goes outside the 0-100% range in 2016 because there was a net decline in population for areas between 2 and 4 km from stations). That was an extreme year, but in 2018 the proportion of population growth beyond 5 km from a station had only come down to 57.5%. That is not a recipe for reducing car dependence.
At the other end of the spectrum, almost half of Sydney’s population growth has been within 1 km of a train or busway station. No wonder patronage on Sydney’s train network is growing fast.
Melbourne has had the smallest share of population growth being more than 5 km from a station over most years since 2006. The impact of the South Morang to Mernda train line extension, which opened in August 2018, won’t be evident until the year to June 2019 data is released (probably in March 2020). Melbourne’s planned outer growth corridors are now largely aligned with the rail network, so I would expect to see less purple in upcoming years.
Here’s the same data for the next largest cities that have rapid transit:
Gold Coast – Tweed Heads has seen the most population growth, followed by the Sunshine Coast and more recently Geelong population growth has accelerated.
The Sunshine Coast stands out as having the most population growth remote from rapid transit (a Maroochydore line has been proposed), while Wollongong had the highest share of population growth near stations.
What about total city population?
The above analysis showed distances from stations for population growth, here’s how it looks for the total population of the larger cities:
Sydney has the most rapid transit orientated population, with 67% of residents within 2 km of a rapid transit station. Sydney is followed by Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and then Perth.
The most spectacular step change was in Perth in 2008, following the opening of the Mandurah rail line in the southern suburbs. This brought rail access significantly closer for around 18% of the city’s population. However, Perth has since been sprawling significantly in areas remote from rail while infill growth has all but dried up in recent years. 22% of the June 2018 population was more than 5 km from a train station, up from 19% in 2008. But it’s still much lower than 37% in 2007. Perth remains the least rapid transit orientated large city in Australia.
Brisbane has also seen some big step changes with new rail lines to Springfield (opening December 2013) and Redcliffe Peninsula (opening October 2016).
Several new station openings around Melbourne have kept the overall distance split fairly stable – that is to say the new stations have been just keeping up with population growth. The biggest noticeable step change was the opening of Tarneit and Wyndham Vale stations in 2015.
Adelaide’s noticeable step change followed the Seaford rail extension which opened in February 2014.
Sydney’s step change in 2007 was the opening of the North West T-Way (busway). The opening the Leppington rail extension in 2015 is also responsible for a tiny step (much of the area around Leppington is yet to be developed).
Here are the medium sized cities:
Woolongong is the most rapid transit orientated medium sized city, followed by Geelong and Newcastle.
In the charts you can see the impact of the Gold Coast train line extension to Varsity Lakes in 2009, the truncation of the Newcastle train line in 2014 and subsequent opening of “Newcastle Interchange” in 2017, and the opening of Waurn Ponds station in Geelong in 2015.
Average resident distance from a rapid transit station
Here’s a single metric that can be calculated for each city and year:
Many cities have barely changed on this metric (including Melbourne which has had a reduction of just 26 metres between 2006 and 2018). Brisbane, Perth and the Gold Coast are the only cities to have achieved significant reductions over the period.
It will be interesting to see how this changes with new rail extensions in future (eg MetroNet in Perth), and I’ll try to update this post each year.
How strong is the relationship with public transport mode shares at a city level?
Here is a comparison between average population distance from a train/busway station, and public transport mode share of journeys to work, using 2016 census data:
In particular, Newcastle, Geelong, and Wollongong have relatively low public transport mode shares even though they have high average proximity to rapid transit stations.
Most journeys to work involving train from these smaller cities are not to local workplaces but to the nearby capital city, and those long distance commutes make up a relatively small proportion of journeys to work.
Here are some headline figures showing trains have minimal mode share for local journeys to work in the smaller cities:
Train mode share for intra-city journeys to work
Train mode share for all journeys to work
Appendix: About the data
I’ve used ABS’s relatively new kilometre grid annual population estimates available for each year from June 2006 onwards (to 2018 at the time of writing), which provides the highest resolution annual population data, without the measurement problems caused by sometimes irregularly shaped and inconsistently sized SA2s.
I’ve used train and busway station location data from various sources (mostly GTFS feeds – thanks for the open data) and used Wikipedia to source the opening dates of stations (that were not yet open in June 2006). I’ve mostly ignored the few station closures as they are often replaced by new stations nearby (eg Keswick replaced by Adelaide Showgrounds), with the exception of the stations in central Newcastle.
As with previous analysis, I’ve only included busways that are almost entirely segregated from other traffic.
I also haven’t included Canberra as it lacks an internal rapid transit system (light rail is coming soon, although it will have an average speed of 30 km/h – is that “rapid transit”?).
Distances from stations are measured from the centroid of the grid squares to the station points (as supplied) – which I have segmented into 1 kilometre intervals. Obviously this isn’t perfect but I’m assuming the rounding issues don’t introduce overall bias.
Here’s what the Melbourne grid data looks like over time. If you watch carefully you can see how the colours change as new train stations open over time in the outer suburbs:
On this map, I’ve filtered for grid squares that have an estimated population of at least 100 (note: sometimes the imperfections of the ABS estimates mean grid squares get depopulated some years).
Finally, I’ve used Significant Urban Areas on 2016 boundaries to define my cities, except that I’ve bundled Yanchep into Perth, and Melton into Melbourne.
Many people talk about urban growth in Australian cities being car-dependent low-density suburban sprawl. But how true is that in more recent times? Are new greenfield density targets making a difference? Are cities growing around their rapid public transport networks? And how do growth areas compare to established areas at a similar distance out from city centres?
This post takes a look at what census data can tell us about outer urban growth areas in terms of population density, motor vehicle ownership, distance from train/busway stations, and journey to work mode shares.
How much of city population growth is in outer areas?
Firstly a recap, here is the percentage of annual population growth in each city that has occurred in “outer” areas (defined by groupings of SA3s around the edges of cities – refer my previous post for maps showing outer areas) for Greater Capital City Statistical Areas.
Sydney has had less than a third of its population growth in outer areas since around 2003, while Perth has mostly had the highest outer growth percentage (since 1996), and more recently pretty much all population growth in Perth has been on the fringe. You can see how the other cities sit in between.
However, not all of this “outer” population growth was in urban growth on the fringe. For that we need to distinguish between urban growth and infill development, even in “outer” areas. So we really need a better definition of outer growth areas.
How to define outer urban growth areas
I have built groupings of SA1s (Statistical Area Level 1) that try to represent outer urban greenfield residential development. SA1s are the smallest census geographic areas (average population 400) for which all census data variables are available.
I’ve selected 2016 SA1s that meet all of the following criteria:
Brand new SA1 or significant population growth: The 2016 SA1 is new and cannot be matched to a 2011 SA1 (by location/size and/or ABS correspondences), or if it can be matched, the population at least doubled between 2011 and 2016. Brand new SA1s are very common in urban growth areas as new SA1s are created to avoid oversized SA1s on last census boundaries (except this doesn’t always happen – more on that shortly).
In an SA2 with significant population growth: The SA2 (Statistical Area Level 2 – roughly suburb sized with typically 3,000 to 25,000 residents) that contains the SA1 had population growth of at least 1000 people between 2011 and 2016 (based on 2016 boundaries). That is, the general area is seeing population growth, not just one or two SA1s.
Are on – or close to – the urban fringe. I’ve filtered out particular SA2s that I’ve judged to be contain all or mostly in-fill development rather than greenfield development, or that are largely surrounded by existing urban areas and are not close to the urban fringe. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the inclusions/exclusions are a little arbitrary.
The criteria aren’t perfect, but it seems to work pretty well when I inspect the data. I’m calling these “Growth SA1s” or outer urban growth in this post.
For urban centres, I’m using Significant Urban Area 2016 boundaries (rather than Greater Capital City boundaries), and I’ve bundled Yanchep with Perth, Melton with Melbourne, and the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast with Brisbane to form South East Queensland (SEQ).
Where are these outer urban growth areas?
What follows are maps for each city with the density of these growth SA1s shown by colour.
Melbourne’s northern and western growth areas:
Technical note: The maps do not show non-growth SA1s with fewer than 5 people per hectare, or “growth SA1s” with fewer than 1/hectare, although these SA1s are including in later analysis.
And the south of Melbourne:
Note: not shown on these Melbourne maps are isolated tiny growth SA1s in Rosebud and Mooroolbark.
Here are Sydney’s growth SA1s – all in the western suburbs:
Next up South East Queensland, starting in the north with the Sunshine Coast:
Outer urban growth is scattered in southern Brisbane and northern Gold Coast:
Gold Coast – Tweed Heads:
Perth’s northern and eastern growth areas:
Perth’s southern growth areas:
Note: Canning Vale East is an inclusion you could debate – the previous land use of the growth SA1s appear to have been rural based on satellite imagery.
And finally Canberra:
So how much of each cities’ population growth has been in outer growth areas?
Here’s a breakdown of the population growth for my six urban areas:
Over the five-year period, outer urban growth areas accounted for 19% of Sydney’s population growth, 43% of Melbourne’s, 37% of SEQ’s, 60% of Perth’s, 27% of Adelaide’s and 69% of Canberra’s.
Technical note: These “outer urban growth” figures are different to the chart at the top of this post which had a coarser definition of “outer” and used Greater Capital City boundaries. Some of my “outer urban growth” areas actually don’t quality as “outer” in the coarser definition, and I’ve also excluded several “outer” SA2s from “outer urban growth” where I’ve deemed the growth to be mostly infill. Hence the differences.
In case you are wondering, it’s not easy to create a longer-term time-series analysis about the proportion of population growth in “outer urban growth” areas because the classification of SA2s would have to change on a year-by-year basis which would be messy and somewhat arbitrary.
A challenge for density analysis: some SA1s are over-sized
You might have noticed some SA1s in the maps above are very large and show a low average density of 1-5 persons per hectare (I’ve coloured them in a light cyan). Many of these SA1s had thousands of residents in 2016, which is way more than the ABS guideline of 200 to 800 residents. Unfortunately what seems to have happened for 2011 and 2016 in some cities is that the ABS did not create enough SA1s to account for new urban areas. Some Melbourne SA1s had a population over 4000 in 2016. Many of these SA1s contain a combination or urban and rural land use, so their calculated density is rather misleading.
I’m designating any SA1s with more than 1000 residents and larger than 100 hectares as “oversized”, and I’ve exclude these from some density analysis below. Here’s a chart showing the proportion of outer growth area populations that are in oversized SA1s:
You can see it is a substantial problem in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and South East Queensland, but miraculously not a problem at all in Adelaide or Canberra (I’m sure someone in ABS could explain why this is so!).
If you are interested, in 2011 it was a bigger problem in Melbourne, and only Canberra was fully clean.
So how dense are outer urban growth areas?
Firstly, I am excluding over-sized SA1s from this analysis for the reasons just mentioned.
Secondly, all cities will also have growth areas that were partially developed at the time of the census (ie some lots with occupied houses and other lots empty) so the densities measured here may be understated of the likely fully built-out density of these SA1s. That said, those areas perhaps are more likely to be in over-sized SA1s, but it’s hard to be sure. So keep this in mind when looking at growth area densities.
You can see dramatic differences, with Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne showing higher densities, and South East Queensland with much lower densities. As we saw on the maps above, South East Queensland’s outer growth areas are very dispersed, so perhaps more of them are growing slowly and more of them are partially built-out? It’s hard to be sure.
But perhaps what is most remarkable is that Canberra had the highest densities in outer urban growth areas of any city – nothing like what you might consider suburban sprawl. Here’s what was 144.5 people per hectare in 2016 in Wright on Canberra’s new western growth front looks like:
The densest SA1 in Sydney’s growth areas was 101 persons/ha. Nothing like this was seen in other cities.
Canberra’s outer growth areas are actually, on average, denser than the rest of Canberra (on a population weighted density measure):
The same was also true by a slim margin in both Perth and Adelaide, but they have relatively “suburban” densities for both growth and established areas. The growth areas of Sydney and Melbourne are more dense than Perth and Adelaide, but not compared to the rest of these cities as a whole. That’s probably got to do a lot with the large cities having dense inner suburbs.
So perhaps it is better to compare the urban growth areas with established areas a similar distance from city centres, which the following chart does (I’ve filtered out 5 km distance intervals without growth areas of at least 2000 population, and apologies for rather squashed Canberra label):
Technical note: for South East Queensland I’ve measured distances from the Brisbane CBD.
Outer growth areas were much more dense than the rest of each city at most distances from the city centre, except in Sydney.
One issue with the above chart is that different distance intervals have different populations – for example only 2,815 people were in growth SA1s at a distance of 45-50 km from the Perth CBD (just above my threshold of 2000), so the low population density of that interval is not hugely significant.
To get around that issue, I’ve calculated the overall population weighted density of non-growth SA1s that are within these 5 km distance intervals from the CBD (including all of SEQ beyond 15 km from the CBD). The following chart compares those calculations with the population weighted density of the growth areas overall:
This shows that urban growth areas are on average more dense than other parts of the city at similar distance from the CBD, except in South East Queensland. And remember, many of the growth SA1s will be partially built out, so their expected density is understated.
Are outer urban growth areas near rapid public transport?
The next chart shows the proportion of growth SA1 population by distance from the nearest train or busway station:
Technical notes: Distances are measured from the centroid of each SA1 to a point location defined for each station (sourced from August 2016 GTFS feeds). For oversized SA1s these distances might be a little longer than reality for the average resident. I haven’t excluded oversized SA1s because I want to see the population alignment of growth areas overall. Canberra excluded due to lack of separated rapid transit.
What sticks out clearly is that just over half the of the population in Perth’s outer growth areas was more than 5 km from a station in 2016. That is to say Perth has had the least alignment of outer urban growth areas and rapid public transport networks of all five cities. I’m not sure many urban planners would recommend such a strategy.
However, Perth’s MetroNet program appears to be trying to rectify this with new lines and stations proposed near urban growth areas such as Yanchep, Canning Vale East, Ellenbrook, Byford, and Karnup (Golden Bay). It will however take some time to get to them all built and open.
South East Queensland was second to Perth in terms of urban growth remote from stations, with a lot of the growth scattered rather than concentrated around rail corridors. I haven’t included the Gold Coast light rail in my proximity calculation – it runs at an average speed of 27 km/h (which is slower than most train networks) and doesn’t serve outer urban growth areas.
Sydney and Adelaide had the highest proximity of growth areas to stations.
Around half of Melbourne’s growth SA1s that were more than 5km from a train station were in Mernda and Doreen, a corridor in which a rail extension opened in 2018. Many of the rest are not in the current designated growth corridors, or are where future train stations are planned. Melbourne’s current designated urban growth corridors are fairly well aligned to its train network. From a transport perspective this is arguably a better kind of sprawl than what Perth has been experiencing.
Adelaide’s outer growth areas more than 5 km from a station were in Mount Barker (satellite town to the east) and Aldinga (on the far south coast of Adelaide).
Are the outer urban growth areas better aligned to rapid public transport stations than non-growth areas at the same distance from city centres? Here’s the chart as above but with an extra column for non-growth areas within the same distance intervals from the CBD (as before).
The populations of urban growth areas are less likely to be within a couple of kilometres of a station (most of that land probably has long-established urban development), but curiously in Adelaide and South East Queensland the urban growth areas are more likely to be within 5 kilometres of a station than the non-growth areas, suggesting better rapid public transport alignment than older urban growth areas. Older urban areas in other cities are more closely aligned to stations, particularly in Perth.
As an interesting aside, here’s a breakdown over the last three censuses of population by distance from train/busway stations (operational in 2016 – so it overstates 2006 and 2011 slightly):
So how did people in these outer growth areas get to work?
Technical note: The figures here for “private transport” are for journeys involving only private transport modes – i.e. they exclude journeys involving both private and public transport (eg car+train).
While private transport (mostly car driver only journeys) dominated journeys to work from almost all growth areas, Melbourne and Sydney were the only cities to see significant numbers of residents in outer growth areas with private transport mode shares below 80%.
South East Queensland’s outer urban growth areas were the most reliant on private transport to get to work, with an overall private transport mode share of 93%, followed by Adelaide on 92%, Canberra on 91%, Perth on 90%, Melbourne on 86%, and Sydney on 81%.
Here’s how the growth area mode shares compare to other areas a similar distance from city centres (note: the Y-axis is not zero-based):
Significantly, the growth areas of Sydney and Melbourne had lower private transport mode shares of journeys to work than other parts of the city a similar distance out – even though they are generally further away from train or busway stations (as we saw above)! That’s not to say they didn’t drive themselves to a train station to get to work.
Similar to population density, here is a summary of growth areas compared to other areas in the same distance interval from the CBD:
There’s really not a huge amount of difference within cities. Sydney’s growth areas had a mode share 1.5% lower than non-growth areas, while Canberra’s growth areas had a mode share 2.5% higher.
What are motor vehicle ownership rates like in the outer growth areas?
My preferred measure is household motor vehicles per persons aged 18-84 (roughly people of driving age).
Motor vehicle ownership rates are generally very high across the growth areas – with the notable exceptions of Melbourne and Canberra where around a quarter of the growth area population had a motor vehicle ownership rate of less than 80 (although that is still pretty high!). (I explored this in more detail in an earlier post on Melbourne)
South East Queensland, Perth, and Adelaide outer urban growth areas had the highest motor vehicle ownership rates. Perth’s urban growth areas overall averaged 96.7 motor vehicles per persons aged 18-84 – pretty close to saturation.
How does motor vehicle ownership compare to established areas a similar distance from the city centre? The following chart compares motor vehicle ownership between urban growth and other areas at the same distance from the CBD (note: the Y-axis is not zero-based):
Motor vehicle ownership tends to increase with distance from the CBD, and in Sydney and South East Queensland the growth areas have higher ownership compared to non-growth areas. But the opposite is true in Melbourne, Perth and Canberra.
The population at each distance interval varies considerably, so here is a summary of the data across all distance intervals that have growth SA1s for each city:
The growth areas of Melbourne, Perth and Canberra had slightly lower motor vehicle ownership than other areas a similar distance from the city, while the opposite was true in other cities. That said, motor vehicle ownership rates are very high across all cities.
How does motor vehicle ownership relate to distance from stations?
Technical note: for scatter plots I’ve filtered out SA1s with less than 50 population as they are more likely to have outlier results (one person can change a measure by 2% or more).
Lower rates of motor vehicle ownership are generally only found close to train/busway stations (and are dominated by Melbourne examples), but close proximity to a station does not guarantee lower rates of motor vehicle ownership. Quite a few Adelaide SA1s are found the top middle part of the chart – these are all in Mount Barker which has frequent peak period express buses to the Adelaide CBD operating along the South East Freeway – which is similar to rapid transit although without a dedicated right of way.
How do journey to work mode shares relate to distance from stations?
Here’s a scatter plot of private transport mode shares of journeys to work and distance from train/busway station:
This shows that lower private transport mode shares are only generally seen within proximity of train or busway stations, and areas remote from stations are very likely to have high private transport mode shares. But also that proximity to a station does not guarantee lower private transport mode shares of journeys to work (particularly in SEQ).
Technical aside: You might have noticed that almost no SA1s report 99% private mode share. How can that be? The ABS make random adjustments to small figures to avoid identification of individuals which means you never see counts of 1 and 2 in their data. To get a mode share of 99% you’d need at least 300 journeys to work with “3” being non-private (or a similar but larger ratio). Very few SA1s have 300+ journeys to work, and even for over-sized SA1s, they are very unlikely to have only 3 or 4 non-private journeys to work. A mode share of 100% is much easier because you can get that no matter the total number of journeys.
How does population density relate to distances from train/busway stations?
Densities above 45 persons/ha were mostly only found within 5 km of stations, and almost entirely in Sydney and Melbourne. The highest densities were very close to train stations in Sydney. In the middle area of the chart you can see quite a few Perth SA1s that are around 30-40 persons/ha but remote from stations. These are all in the Ellenbrook area of Perth’s north-east, generating a lot of car traffic.
How does motor vehicle ownership relate to private transport mode shares of journeys work to work?
For interest, here is the relationship as a scatter plot:
There is certainly a relationship, but it’s not strong (r-squared = 0.22). Other factors are at play.
Perth and Canberra are seeing most of their population growth on the fringe, with Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, and South East Queensland seeing most of their population growth in established areas.
Growth areas in Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra have higher than traditional urban densities, indeed Sydney and Canberra have a few very high density greenfield developments. Perth, Adelaide, and particularly South East Queensland have urban growth at relatively low densities. In fact, SEQ is the only major urban centre where growth areas are measured as less dense than non-growth areas at similar distances from the CBD.
Perth’s urban growth areas are largely remote from rapid transit stations, and this is likely contributing directly to very high and increasing rates of motor vehicle ownership and private transport mode shares. Melbourne’s current urban growth corridors are closely aligned to train stations (thanks to the opening of the Mernda line), and this is also largely true of Sydney and Adelaide.
Almost all outer urban growth areas had high rates of motor vehicle ownership. Overall, Melbourne, Perth, and Canberra’s outer urban growth areas had slightly lower rates of motor vehicle ownership compared to other areas at the same distance from the CBD. Only Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra have some growth areas with lower motor vehicle ownership and/or lower private transport mode shares of journeys to work – and these were all close to train or busway stations.
I hope you’ve found this at least half as interesting as I have.
The location of population growth has a big impact on transport outcomes. It’s also interesting in its own right. So where is Australia’s population growing?
This post primarily uses the ABS’s Regional Population Growth data set, which is the highest resolution geography level for which per-year population estimates are published and the data series goes back to 1991.
Population growth by part of Australia
At the top level I’ve divided Australia’s population into those living within:
Capital cities – defined by Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (GCCSA)
Large regional cities – defined as Significant Urban Areas (SUA) (2011 boundaries) with more than 100,000 population in 2011 – the smallest city qualifying being Toowoomba, the largest city not qualifying being Ballarat
Small regional cities – all other Significant Urban Areas with at least 10,000 population (in 2011)
Elsewhere – ie smaller towns and rural areas
Here’s the history of Australia’s population and growth since 1991, by these four categories:
While the capital cities have seen the largest absolute growth, the large regional cities have seen the highest percentage growth.
Here is the annual population growth by each category:
The capital cities have dominated the quantity of population growth, particularly since around 2007, with “elsewhere” having very small net growth in recent years. But as the first chart showed, large regional cities have had the fastest percentage growth – so it all depends on how you want to think about “growth”!
The distribution of total population across the four categories has very slowly shifted towards capital cities:
So what proportion of Australians live in urban areas?
Here’s a breakdown of Australia’s population from the 2016 census by size of city/town and rural areas (using urban centre and locality boundaries – different to the above analysis):
Dominance of capital cities within states and territories
In all states, capital cities have been increasing their share of the population:
The blip in the Northern Territory represents a temporary exodus of population after Cyclone Tracy devastated much of Darwin on Christmas Day 1974.
Population growth of cities
The following chart shows the population of capital cities and large regional cities. Note I’ve again used a log scale on the Y-axis to separate the cities.
You can see the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coasts have overtaken several other cities.
Here’s a longer time series history of the capital cities (this time not a log scale):
Technical note: Historical population estimates on Greater Capital City Statistical Area boundaries are only available back to 1971, and for Significant Urban Areas boundaries back to 1991. Estimates for earlier years are on inconsistent boundaries.
Perth overtook Adelaide in 1984, and Canberra overtook Hobart in 1972.
Here is the percentage population growth since 1971 for capitals:
And for more recent history, here is the percentage population growth since 2001 for capital and large regional cities:
The Gold and Sunshine Coasts are the fastest growing cities by far, followed by Cairns, Brisbane and Perth. Hobart and Adelaide are the slowest growing capital cities.
Another view is annual growth rates:
In 2017, Melbourne had the fastest population growth rate, and Adelaide the slowest. The Gold and Sunshine Coasts have had relatively high growth since 1991. All cities have fluctuated a fair bit over time.
Here’s the annual population change for each city – again on a log scale Y-axis:
Technical note: because of the log scale, negative values are omitted from the chart.
Melbourne has been adding more people than Sydney every year since 2002 (hence predictions it will become Australia’s largest city), while Perth’s recent strong growth spurt ran between 2006 and 2013.
Here’s a simple map of Australian cities and towns by size (based on 2016 GCCSA and SUA boundaries, which is different to the time series data shown above):
Note: the intervals are arbitrary and it’s hard to get them perfect. For example, Ballarat had 103,581 residents and Bendigo 97,470 (in 2017), so they are coloured differently. Note: Ballarat had less than 100,000 residents in 2011 so was not included in the earlier charts for regional cities.
Also many of these SUAs include a lot of hinterland – eg Geelong includes Torquay
Here is a similar map, but colours now indicate percentage population change 2001 to 2017:
The city or town with the highest percentage growth is Bussleton in WA (+66%), followed by Hervey Bay in Queensland (+58%). Broken Hill (NSW) has seen the biggest population decline (-15%), followed by Mount Isa in Queensland (-7%).
Where is population growing within larger cities?
Firstly, my home town Melbourne. Here’s the population growth in the five years to 2017:
Technical note: I’ve used point circles for each SA2, rather than fill colour (which should never be used for non-ratio data because the size of the zone can too easily distort the message!). Alternatives are to show population density, population growth density, or growth rate percentages. However some metro fringe SA2s include a relatively small urban area coupled with a large rural area, so the density gets washed out by the rural area. Growth rate percentages also depend a lot on the population in the base year. If an SA2 goes from 2000 residents to 8000 residents the growth rate is 300%, but that’s the same increase as a SA2 that goes from 30,000 to 36,000 (20%).
Melbourne’s SA2s (on 2016 boundaries) with the largest population growth were in the outer west, outer north, outer south-east, and central city. SA2s with population slight decline were Rowville South, Upwey – Tecoma, Endeavour Hills South, Keilor Downs, Taylors Lakes and Mill Park.
I think it’s also important to note that SA2 boundaries are somewhat arbitrary and they only change every five years.
In fact, South Morang was reported by the ABS (and media) as the fastest growing SA2 in Australia in 2015-16 (on 2011 boundaries) in terms of absolute growth, but by then it had 64,354 residents and was by far the largest SA2 in Australia (the next largest, Point Cook, had 52,253). It was time to split into smaller SA2s – which indeed happened shortly thereafter with the new 2016 boundaries (ditto Point Cook). So it was probably the fastest growing SA2 more because the ABS had not yet split it into smaller SA2s. Unfortunately this issue isn’t always picked up by the ABS and the media.
How has population growth changed over the years? That is a four-dimensional question, so my answer will be a four-dimensional visualisation. Here’s an animated map showing the annual growth for each SA2 for each year 1992 to 2017 (you might need to click to enlarge to see it clearly):
Technical note: until 2001 the maps shows SA2s on 2011 boundaries and then from 2002 onwards the map shows 2016 boundaries. There were several SA2s that split with the 2016 boundaries, mostly in the northern suburbs.
While there has been fairly consistent growth on the fringe in all years, the amount of growth in established areas has fluctuated over time. Here’s a summarised view of the same data, but simplifying the geographic element to distance from the CBD:
You can see many of Melbourne’s middle suburbs (particularly 10-15 km) saw population decline around 1992 to 1995 while Victoria was under economic stress (but also Australia’s total population growth rate fell below 1% during this period).
Most of Melbourne’s outer growth areas are 20+ km from the CBD, and you can see reasonably steady growth in bands that far out and beyond. But within 20 km there was a big population growth slow-down in 2010 and 2011.
Here are the same two charts for Sydney:
Sydney’s population growth has also varied considerably between years, but the most consistent band for population growth is within 5 km of the CBD. Population growth in the inner and middle suburbs has been strong since 2007.
Brisbane seems to have been a mixed bag. There’s been growth on the fringe to the north and south-west. From around 2002 there was an increase in central city population growth, with a particularly strong surge in 2003 and 2017.
Perth is an interesting story. Apart from the mining boom years 2007 to 2013, most of the population growth has been through urban sprawl. During the mining boom the central and inner suburbs saw substantial population growth (along with the fringe), but since 2014 that’s crashed and there was substantial population decline in the inner and middle suburbs, particularly 10-15 km out from the CBD in 2016.
Adelaide saw substantial population decline in the inner suburbs in the early 1990s, with instead sprawl to the south and north. Things were quieter around the turn of the century before population growth rose around 2005, with quite significant inner suburban population growth, but still plenty of sprawl on the fringe.
In the early 1990s, population growth was mostly in the far north and south. Then at the turn the century the south quietened down and Queanbeyan West – Jerrabomberra had a growth spurt. Growth in the outer north took off around 1995. Infill growth took off around 2007, particularly in Belconnen, Bruce, Civic and Kingston – Barton. And then from around 2014 a brand new growth front opened in the west (Wright and Coombs).
Note: I’ve used a different scale for the bubbles. because of the smaller changes and smaller geography.
Hobart had net population decline in the late 1990s but then grew quickly from 2003 onwards, with particularly strong growth in 2009 and 2017. The majority of population growth in recent years has been within 10km of the CBD.
Population growth in regional areas
Here is a map showing population growth percentage from 2001 to 2017 for all SA2s in Australia:
No, a new gigantic dense rectangular city has not emerged in the north-west of Western Australia. That’s an artefact of coloured maps and large geographic zones. The “East Pilbara” SA2 population simply grew from 2441 to 6789, which is 178% growth. But the 2017 average density was 0.00017 persons per hectare.
Otherwise places of higher percentage growth are mostly around the major cities. Population decline is common in most inland/outback areas.
I hope this has provided you some new insights on population growth around Australia.
My next post will look at the urban growth areas of large cities in more detail.
Each year, just in time for Christmas, the good folks at the Australian Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Economics (BITRE) publish a mountain of data in their Yearbook. This post aims to turn those numbers (and some other data sources) into useful knowledge – with a focus on vehicle kilometres travelled, passenger kilometres travelled, mode shares, car ownership, driver’s licence ownership, greenhouse gas emissions, and transport costs.
Vehicle kilometres travelled
Road transport volumes are rising, and most of the traffic is of course cars:
Here’s the growth by vehicle type since 1971:
Light commercial vehicle kilometres have grown the fastest, curiously followed by buses (although much of that growth was in the 1980s).
Car kilometre growth has slowed significantly since 2004.
In fact, on a per capita basis car use peaked in 2004 and then declined until 2014, with a little growth since. Here’s the Australian trend (in grey) as well as city level estimates to 2015 (from BITRE Information Sheet 74):
Technical note: “Australia” lines in these charts represent data points for the entire country (including areas outside capital cities).
Darwin has the lowest average which might reflect the small size of the city. The blip in 1975 is related to a significant population exodus after Cyclone Tracey caused significant destruction in late 2014 (the vehicle km estimate might be on the high side).
Canberra, the most car dependent capital city, has had the highest average car kilometres per person (but it might also reflect kilometres driven by people from across the NSW border in Queanbeyan).
The Australia-wide average is higher than most cities, with areas outside capital cities probably involving longer average car journeys and certainly a higher car mode share.
Passenger kilometres travelled
It’s also possible to look at car passenger kilometres per capita, which takes into account car occupancy – and also includes more recent estimates up until 2017:
While car passenger kilometres per capita also peaked in 2004, they have increased slightly in recent years in Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Sydney.
BITRE also produce estimates of passenger kilometres for other modes (data available up to 2017 at the time of writing).
Rail use is highest in Sydney followed by Melbourne. You can see two big jumps in Perth following the opening of the Joondalup line in 1992 and the Mandurah line in 2007.
(note: this includes both public and private bus travel)
Australia-wide bus usage is surprisingly high. While public transport bus service levels and patronage would certainly be on average low outside capital cities, buses do play a large role in carrying children to school – particularly over longer distances in rural areas. The peak for bus usage in 1990 may be related to deregulation of domestic aviation, which reduced air fares by around 20%.
Darwin saw a massive increase in bus use in 2014 thanks to a new nearby LNG project running staff services, while investments in increased bus services in Melbourne and Brisbane in the first decade of this century led to significant patronage growth.
We can sum all of the mass transit modes (I use the term “mass transit” to account for both public and private bus services):
We can also calculate mass transit mode share of motorised passenger kilometres (walking and cycling kilometres are unfortunately not estimated):
Sydney has maintained the highest mass transit mode share, while Melbourne made significant gains between 2005 and 2009, and Brisbane also grew strongly 2007 to 2013.
Here’s how car and mass transit passenger kilometres have grown since car used peaked in 2004:
Mass transit use has grown much faster than car use in Australia’s three largest cities. In Sydney and Melbourne it has exceeded population growth also.
Mass transit has also outpaced car use in Perth, Adelaide, and Hobart:
In Canberra, both car and mass transit use has grown much slower than population, and it is the only city where car growth exceeded public transport growth between 2004 and 2017.
The ABS regularly conduct a Motor Vehicle Census, and the following chart includes data up until January 2018.
Technical note: Motor Vehicle Census data (currently conducted in January each year) has been interpolated to produce June estimates for each year.
Technical note: the ownership rate is calculated as the sum of car, motorbike and truck licenses – including learner and probationary licences, divided by population. Some people have more than one driver’s licence so it’s likely to be an over-estimate of the proportion of the population with a licence.
There’s been slowing growth over time, but Victoria has seen slow decline since 2011.
Here’s a breakdown by age bands (note each chart has a different Y-axis scale):
Motor vehicle licence ownership rates have increased for people over 70 (presumably due to a healthier ageing population), and declined for people under 30.
Licencing rates for teenagers have been trending down in South Australia and Victoria recently, but not in other states:
The trends are mixed for 20-24 year-olds:
New South Wales and Victoria are seeing downward trends in the 25-29 age bracket:
Licencing rates for people in their 70s are rising in all states (I suspect a data error for South Australia in 2016):
A similar trend is clear for people aged 80-89 (Victoria was an anomaly before 2015):
Australia’s domestic non-electric transport emissions have increased steadily since 1990 and show no signs of slowing down, let alone declining (latest data at the time of writing is up to June 2018):
Depending on how you disaggregate total emissions, transport is the second largest sector and the fastest growing.
Here’s breakdown of transport emissions (detailed data only available to 2016 at time of writing):
And the growth in each sector since 1990:
Domestic aviation has had the fastest growth, followed by buses. In more recent years rail emissions have grown strongly (note: most of this is rail freight as the vast majority of passenger train movements are electric). Car emissions have grown 27%, but make up the largest share of transport emissions.
Here are per capita transport emissions for each state:
The data is a bit noisy (largely due to fluctuations in aviation emissions). Here are road emissions per capita:
In 2016 there were sharp increases in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, while most other states appear to be on a downward trend.
Car emissions per capita have been generally trending downwards in most states, again except Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory:
Of course if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, total emissions need to reduce substantially, not just per capita emissions!
It’s possible to combine data sets to estimate average emissions per vehicle kilometre for different vehicle types:
It’s difficult to see any significant reductions in emissions intensity, while average bus emissions intensity has increased recently (not sure why). Average car emissions have fallen slightly from 281 g/km in 1990 to 244 g/km in 2016.
However, the above figures don’t take into account the average passenger occupancy of vehicles. To get around that we can calculate average emissions per passenger kilometre for the high person-capacity modes:
Of course the emissions per passenger kilometres of a bus or plane will depend on occupancy – a full aeroplane or bus will have likely have significantly lower emissions per passenger km. Indeed, the BITRE figures imply an average bus occupancy of around 9 people (typical bus capacity is around 60) – so a well loaded bus should have much lower emissions per passenger km. The operating environment (city v country) might also impact car and bus emissions. On the aviation side, BITRE report a domestic aviation average load factor of 78% in 2016-17.
Cost of transport
The final topic for this post is the real cost of transport. Here are headline real costs (relative to CPI) for Australia:
Technical note: Private motoring is a combination of factors, including motor vehicle retail prices and automotive fuel. Urban transport fares include public transport as well as taxi/ride-share.
The cost of private motoring has tracked relatively close to CPI, although has been trending down since around 2008. The real cost of motor vehicles has plummeted since 1996. Urban transport fares have been increasing faster than CPI since the late 1970s.
Here’s a breakdown of the real cost of private motoring and urban transport fares by city (note different Y-axis scales):
Urban transport fares have grown the most in Brisbane, Perth and Canberra – relative to 1973.
However if you choose a different base year you get a different chart:
What’s most relevant is the relative change between years – eg. you can see Brisbane’s experiment with high urban transport fare growth between 2009 and 2017 in both charts.
To illustrate the data visualisation problem of choosing a base year – here is the same data for every base year between 1973 and 2018:
Hopefully this post has provided some useful insights into transport trends in Australia. A future post might examine the relationships between the data sets further.