Jewel goes undercover

Click through to video

One of the most popular recent articles on The Melbourne Urbanist was one on happiness (What makes you happy?) that I put up back at the start of the month.

It was based on a research paper which looked at which events have the highest positive effect on happiness.

This video is more practical – it shows what unalloyed delight and elation look like. It covers the singer Jewel singing her own songs incognito at a karaoke bar.

The excitement of the patrons when they hear how good this apparently ordinary woman is at singing Jewel’s songs is a joy to behold.


Are wind turbines a danger to birds?

A common objection to wind turbines is that they’re dangerous for birds. Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution reports that the number of birds killed by wind turbines in the US is between 20,000 and 37,000 annually.

He draws on data from this report by the Committee on Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects, (US) National Research Council of the National Academies.

The report puts the bird strikes from turbines into context with annual estimates for deaths in the US from other causes (the wide ranges in the estimates indicate this is not an exact science):

Collisions with buildings: 97 – 976 million

Collisions with high tension lines: 130 – 1,000 million

Collisions with communication towers: 4 – 50 million

Collisions with cars: more than 80 million

Toxic chemicals: more than 72 million

Cats: more than a billion

BP oil spill: more than two thousand to date Read the rest of this entry »


How punctual are our city trains?

Waitin' on a train

Actually they’re probably much less punctual than you think, no matter which major city you live in.

Consider the performance of Metro Trains, the new private operator of Melbourne’s metropolitan trains. Back in May, only 82.7% of services operated by Metro Trains ran on time.

This is well below the contracted 88% monthly punctuality target below which Metro is obliged to pay compensation. And it’s positively woeful compared to the 96% punctuality achieved by New York City’s commuter rail system last year.

The circumstances in May were probably unusual, but the standard 88% is hardly a high hurdle. Yet from a commuter’s perspective, it’s actually worse than this figure suggests. Read the rest of this entry »


Are Australia’s 1960s suburbs really “emptying out”?

This article at Club Troppo, We’re not full, has generated lots of interest on the net (e.g. here) because the writer argues that, contrary to what population growth opponents contend, Sydney is far from “bursting at the seams”.

The key evidence he offers is that many older suburbs that were settled in the 1960s and 70s, like Campbelltown, are losing population. This is largely because the children of those early settlers have grown up and left home, leaving mum and dad getting older and rattling around in a home with three or more bedrooms.

I completely agree that Sydney is not bursting at the seams, but regular readers of The Melbourne Urbanist will know instinctively that there’s more to this issue than meets the eye. These suburbs are not really “emptying out”. Read the rest of this entry »


Mandatory CO2 emissions – will Julia do enough?

Projected average CO2 emissions of the whole light vehicle fleet under a range of CO2 emission targets for new vehicles

With all the brouhaha about ‘cash for clunkers’, the mainstream media seems to have completely missed analysing a new initiative that was also announced on Saturday by the Prime Minister – mandatory CO2 emission standards for light vehicles.

Prime Minister Gillard committed the Government, if re-elected, to an obligatory average emission standard for new light vehicles of 190 g/km from 2015, and 155 g/km from 2024. This represents a 14% reduction on the 2008 level by 2015 and 30% by 2024.

This is the sort of initiative I’ve argued for before (here and here) as it recognises the reality that light vehicles (i.e. cars, SUVs, vans) will be around for a long time yet and something therefore needs to be done fast to make them more environmentally responsible.

It’s a pity the Government took the spotlight away from this worthwhile initiative by simultaneously announcing the deeply flawed ‘cash for clunkers’ scheme.

Yet the Government’s take on mandatory emissions is far from perfect. In fact it verges on feeble. The standards announced by the Prime Minister are well short of the European CO2 emissions standard, which is currently 160 g/km and by 2015 will be 130 g/km (see here). Read the rest of this entry »


Is Cash for Clunkers a great big new mistake?

Clunker - 1992 Nissan Pulsar

Did Julia Gillard read my post last Thursday arguing that she should take action in the election campaign to improve the fuel efficiency of Australia’s cars? Possibly not, but I wish now I’d left in the sentence saying that whatever happens, please don’t make the same mistake as President Obama and bring in a poorly-designed “cash for clunkers” program!

Now the PM has announced today her own Cash for Clunkers initiative (here and here) with the ostensible purpose of saving one million tonnes in carbon emissions (this is not an annual saving but the total over the life of the scheme).

The scheme will be financed by cutting back other programs, including the solar and carbon capture and storage programs, and the renewable energy bonus scheme (see here).

President Obama at least had the excuse that his scheme was primarily a pump-priming exercise designed to lift consumer spending in the wake of the GFC. In our context however, Cash for Clunkers looks like seriously bad policy. Even on the skimpy detail released today, it is evident there are clear failings. Read the rest of this entry »


How bad is traffic congestion in Melbourne?

IBMs Commuter Pain Index

The Age reported earlier this month that Melbourne is second only to Stockholm for low traffic congestion according to a survey of 8,200 motorists in 20 cities.

The survey (here and here), which measured “commuter pain”, was undertaken by IBM, an active player in the international traffic management industry.

My experience of weekday traffic congestion in Melbourne is pretty limited but it is consistent with the survey’s finding. A couple of times a month I have a mid-week late afternoon meeting in South Yarra and finish up between 6pm and 6.30pm. I drive home up Punt Rd/Hoddle Street and then on to Heidelberg Rd.

The thing that always takes me by surprise on these trips is that the congestion is never as bad as I expect. In fact it has never yet taken me longer than an half an hour to get home and I rarely have the feeling that I’m “stuck” in traffic. Once you get past Victoria Pde it flows reasonably well in my experience.

I’m surprised because I always remember Eddie in Elliot Perlman’s novel, Three dollars, offering this advice: ‘Abby, my darling daughter, remember this: no matter where you are or what time of day it is – avoid Punt Road.’

But it’s dangerous to extrapolate from the personal to the general – many of the comments in The Age suggest my experience is atypical. Perhaps Punt Rd is much worse in the AM peak than in the afternoon or is simply not as bad as the freeways. Read the rest of this entry »