Does being a locavore add up?Posted: November 30, 2010 Filed under: Education, justice, health, Energy & GHG, Planning | Tags: agriculture, food miles, locavore 7 Comments
As I’ve argued before (here) there are a number of reasons why buying food locally is probably the least sustainable basis on which to base your food buying preferences.
First, transport is only a small component of the total carbon emissions from agriculture.
Second, most food can’t be grown locally without resorting to potentially environmentally damaging practices like excessive application of fertiliser, irrigation or artificial heating of greenhouses.
Third, even where the local area is suitable for growing certain foods, it might not be the most environmentally efficient location for a particular food.
Fourth, producers in more distant locations might have superior farming practices to local growers. Fifth, the environmental and economic cost of moving people is higher than the cost of transporting their food.
Now Stephen Budiansky has assembled an array of interesting factoids in this NY Times oped, Math lessons for locavores, to show the folly of being a locavore. He’s a stylish writer so you might want to read the full article; otherwise here are a few key quotes:
- “Whether it’s grown in California or Maine, or whether it’s organic or conventional, about 5,000 calories of energy go into one pound of lettuce. Given how efficient trains and tractor-trailers are, shipping a head of lettuce across the country actually adds next to nothing to the total energy bill. Read the rest of this entry »
Where will the money come from?Posted: November 30, 2010 Filed under: Infrastructure | Tags: debt, Infrastructure, Lateral Economics, Nicholas Gruen, PPP, Public Private Partnerships 3 Comments
According to Paul Austin in The Age (29/11/10), there’s little doubt that infrastructure inadequacies weighed heavily on voters’ minds in last Saturday’s election. His list of problems includes overcrowded trains, congested roads, the Myki debacle and long hospital waiting lists.
The pressure to “fix” these problems from voters in the eastern suburbs and sandbelt electorates that fell to the Coalition on Saturday will be immense.
The new Premier, Mr Baillieu, might therefore find it worthwhile to look at this report on public sector borrowing by Dr Nicholas Gruen (summary here).
Dr Gruen contends that governments in Australia have focussed on the cost of debt but have ignored the benefits. They’ve reduced the budget deficit to zero but exchanged it for an infrastructure deficit. Their constituents have saved on debt repayments, but:
they are paying inflated tolls on roads and heavy mortgage repayments that reflect the lack of land release and the loading of infrastructure charges onto the land that has been released. And they are paying with their time as they wait at peak hour in traffic that has slowed to a crawl or crowd into late trains and buses.
Thanks to the culture of strict fiscal rectitude that dominates modern government thinking, new debt has been kept off the government’s balance sheet by funding infrastructure in other ways – partly through asset sell-offs but mostly via Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). Read the rest of this entry »
What is the inner city?Posted: November 28, 2010 Filed under: Planning | Tags: Brisbane, definition, density, Employment, history, Inner city, Jobs 7 Comments
We all use the term “inner city” but I doubt we’re all talking about the same geographical area.
For some people, the inner city means the area where cafe society thrives – probably a 10 km circle around the CBD in cities like Sydney and Melbourne. Or it might mean the extent of medium density historic terrace housing.
Some Brisbanites think of the inner city as the large area covered by the Brisbane City Council (1,367 km2) while some Melburnians think of it as the area serviced by tram lines.
Planners have addressed this problem by adopting simple measures. For example, in Melbourne the inner city is customarily defined as the area covered by the central municipalities of Melbourne, Yarra and Port Phillip (77 km2). Sometimes the Prahran portion (SLA) of the City of Stonnington is also included.
In my work on Melbourne I define the inner city as the area (79 km2) within a 5 km radius of the City Hall . This approximates closely to the three inner municipalities, but I use it because it’s consistent with what’s done elsewhere. US researchers typically use a 3 mile radius to define the inner city – an area approximating the size of the central Counties of the larger metros.
There are a number of problems with this sort of ‘administrative’ approach. A key one is that there is no underlying rationale for where the boundary is drawn – why not 2 km or 10 km? Another is that it doesn’t really connect with people because it has no obvious reference like, say, the tram network. Read the rest of this entry »
Why did Melbourne 2030 fail?Posted: November 22, 2010 Filed under: Planning | Tags: Brownfields, Challenge Melbourne, Decentralisation, empty nesters, growth areas, Infrastructure, Melbourne 2030, Oliver Hulme, peri-urban 6 Comments
The Age editorialises (21/11/10) that Melbourne 2030 is effectively dead and I agree. The latest nail in the coffin in The Age’s opinion is the apparently burgeoning growth of housing in townships and hamlets located in the peri urban area outside the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).
I’ve argued before that this sort of “decentralisation” is poor policy (e.g. here and here). But I also think The Age has tended to ‘catastrophise’ the scale of the problem, especially with its highly misleading contention that Melbourne has “sprawled 50% beyond the official growth boundary, spanning 150 kilometres from east to west”.
However what interests me at the moment is why Melbourne 2030 failed. The key reason in my view is that it blithely assumed that enough affordable dwellings – mostly town houses and apartments – could be provided within the established urban areas to avoid the need for the UGB to be extended.
This objective was never realistic for a number of reasons. Read the rest of this entry »
What’s good about the Coalition’s planning policy?Posted: November 21, 2010 Filed under: Growth Areas, Planning | Tags: code based assessment, election, Melbourne 2030, Melbourne @ 5Million, Metropolitan Liveability Audit, population projection, spare infrastructure capacity, Urban Growth Boundary, Victoria, Victorian Liberals Nationals Coalition Plan for Planning 2 Comments
I think some aspects of the Victorian Opposition’s clumsily titled Plan for Planning are doubtful, especially their proposal for ensuring 25 years land supply within Growth Areas and their intention of levying the Growth Areas Infrastructure Charge at the time of development.
But there are also some good ideas that I want to discuss, notably the proposal for a new strategic plan for Melbourne and another for an audit of the infrastructure capacity of the entire metropolitan area.
A new plan for Melbourne would be timely because Melbourne 2030 is misguided, old and tired. It’s been more than ten years since the process of preparing the metropolitan strategy began and eight years since it was published.
A key problem with Melbourne 2030 is that it was misconceived from the get-go. It never worked properly and simply hasn’t delivered on its lofty ambitions.
Its relevance took a serious hit when the projections of future population growth that underpinned its policies were revised upwards. Further, one of its main directions – the primacy of the CBD – was weakened in 2008 when the Government decided to establish six new CBD-type Central Activities Districts in the suburbs.
The objective of locating nearly 70% of all dwelling commencements out to 2030 within the existing suburbs – rising to almost 80% by 2030 – was also abandoned in 2008 and replaced with the much less challenging target of just 53%.
And of course the much vaunted Urban Growth Boundary lasted only a few years before it was breached. The supply of well-located affordable housing that the plan was intended to foster dried up and neither jobs nor housing gravitated to suburban centres on anything like the scale originally envisaged.
The problem with Melbourne 2030 is that it was driven from the outset by ideological posturing rather than logic. Too many of its key directions weren’t supported by data or analysis and the consultation process was largely a sham. Read the rest of this entry »
Are Melburnians mad about trains?Posted: November 18, 2010 Filed under: Airports & aviation, Public transport | Tags: Avalon Airport, Martin Pakula, promises, rail, Ted Baillieu, Tullamarine, Victoria election 2010 19 Comments
Yesterday’s promise by the Victorian Opposition to build a $250 million rail line to Avalon Airport – with an unambiguous commitment to spend $50 million over the first term if elected – confirms how powerful the idea of rail is in this year’s election.
A new line is such a potent idea that Ted Baillieu didn’t even feel the need to lay out the warrant for the line. While the Greens are promising vapourware and the Government is close to mute on transport, the Coalition has put a real rail line on the table.
The Minister for Transport, Martin Pakula, made some lame criticisms of the accuracy of Mr Baillieu’s costing, but there are larger failings with this idea.
The most obvious one is it’s simply not warranted by patronage. Given that the numbers don’t make sense (yet) for a rail line from the CBD to Tullamarine, it’s highly unlikely they’re going to add up for a small operation like Avalon. Geelong’s population of 175,000 offers growth potential for Avalon, but Tullamarine is always going to overshadow it because it’s much closer to the centre of gravity of Melbourne’s 4 million population.
Today’s listed flights (18 November) show only 13 scheduled departures from Avalon between 6.45am and 9.55pm. Avalon’s owner, Linfox, claims 1.5 million passengers use Avalon each year. This compares with 26 million p.a. using Tullamarine. Read the rest of this entry »
How can we improve our schools?Posted: November 17, 2010 Filed under: Education, justice, health | Tags: class size, Education for Life, Grattan Institute, Investing in our teachers, Labor. election, NSW Teachers Federation, teacher effectiveness, The Greens, VECCI, Victoria schools 6 Comments
The editorial writer in The Age today reckons many teachers and parents will be underwhelmed by the Government’s new
$208 $258 million Education for Life promise. The writer bemoans the lost opportunity for the Government to advance some “big ideas”.
I agree that Education for Life won’t rattle the windows of most voters, but the objectives of the program are important and worthwhile. As explained by VECCI, it addresses the disengagement of many young people from the education system. This is a program that, if done well, might help to tackle the sorts of safety and security issues around trains that I discussed yesterday.
It’s a pity, though, that the Premier didn’t use the opportunity of the campaign launch to also pick up on the important message in the new report on teacher effectiveness released this week by Melbourne’s own Grattan Institute, Investing in our teachers, investing in our economy.
In the past I’ve wondered what the purpose of some of the Institute’s reports is, but not this one. Its message is clear and direct – improving teacher effectiveness is the single most important reform that could be put in place to improve educational outcomes.
The report makes three key points. Read the rest of this entry »
Are Melbourne’s trains really dangerous?Posted: November 16, 2010 Filed under: Public transport | Tags: andrew leigh, Auditor General, police, safety, security, trains 4 Comments
Personal safety on trains is a big election issue. Both major parties have promised to increase transit police numbers and to return more staff to stations.
This is not a beat up. Fear about personal safety – whether real or imagined – could seriously undermine usage of Melbourne’s trains, especially in off-peak periods. There’s a danger that negative perceptions will reach a ‘tipping point’ and assume epidemic proportions.
If the money proposed to be spent on building and operating a Doncaster rail line were instead devoted to improving security on the entire train system, I’ve little doubt it would give a much bigger pay-off in terms of replacing car trips with train.
But that highlights the other big issue with security – it adds significantly to the cost of running the train system.
The Government has promised an extra 100 transit police and 180 staff to provide a “presence” at all metropolitan stations. The Opposition is promising two armed police protective services officers on every one of Melbourne’s 200 plus stations after 6pm.
The Auditor General says there isn’t really a problem – passengers are apparently over-reacting. The number of crimes on the rail system remained constant over the last five years even though patronage grew 50%. Crime fell from 45 offences per million boardings in 2005-06 to 33 in 2008-09.
Yet in spite of these favourable numbers, perceptions of personal safety on trains and at stations have deteriorated over the same period. The proportion who rated the rail system as safe declined from 55% in 2005-06 to 51% in 2008-09. In contrast, perceptions of personal safety on buses were constant at around 71% over the period.
Train users might be delusional or irrational, but I doubt it. Read the rest of this entry »
Is the Opposition’s promised airport rail line good policy?Posted: November 15, 2010 Filed under: Airports & aviation, Public transport | Tags: Airtrain, Melbourne airport, rail, Skybus, Tullamarine 13 Comments
The Age reported today that the Opposition has promised to start planning immediately for a new rail line from the CBD to the airport if elected. The leader of the Opposition, Mr Ted Baillieu, said tickets would be priced the same as current Zone 2 fares.
I’m not at all surprised. This idea has immense popular support from readers of The Age and, I daresay, from Melburnites generally.
There is little doubt that a time will come, given projected passenger numbers through Tullamarine, when passenger volumes will justify replacing the existing privately-owned Skybus service with rail.
But the available evidence indicates that time hasn’t come. Not yet. I’ve previously outlined the case against constructing an airport rail link at this time (here, here, here, here, here, here and here), but in summary the key objections are: Read the rest of this entry »
Does the Green’s public transport plan cut it?Posted: November 14, 2010 Filed under: Public transport | Tags: Doncaster rail line, Public Transport Plan for Melbourne's East, The Greens, The People Plan, The Sunday Age 20 Comments
Following my review of the Greens’ Public Transport Plan for Melbourne’s East (here and here) some Green’s supporters have suggested that I should really look at the party’s broader public transport vision for Melbourne.
They’ve suggested I should examine The People Plan, which the Greens bill as their “long term vision of the Melbourne we want to live in”. It’s intended to avoid good long-term policy losing out to short-term politics.
During the week The Sunday Age also asked me about the Greens transport policies, so all in all it seemed timely to visit The People Plan.
So I have. And I’m gobsmacked. There’s barely a space on the map where the Greens aren’t proposing to run a new rail line or a new tram line, build a new station or duplicate, triplicate and quadruplicate rail lines. The scale of this plan is epic. The main components seem to be:
- 10 new rail lines
- Close to 40 new rail stations
- Extension of four rail lines (electrification)
- The aforementioned expansion of track capacity (duplications, etc)
- 30 new trains
- 12 new tram lines
- 12 extended tram lines
- 550 new trams
- Conductors on all trams
All of this, the Greens say, can be bought for a mere $13 billion plus additional operating costs of $333 million per annum.
I applaud the objective of making Melbourne a more liveable, sustainable and equitable city. Melbourne definitely needs better public transport. But whether this Plan is the best way of achieving that objective is doubtful. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »
Do fringe dwellers want density?Posted: November 11, 2010 Filed under: Growth Areas, Housing | Tags: density, Docklands, growth areas, Henley, Housing, mcmansion, Stockland, urban fringe 8 Comments
The benefits of residential density are more complex than they appear. The attractions of living cheek by jowl in places like Surfers Paradise or the CBD may not apply everywhere, especially on the fringes of our major cities.
Almost everyone knows, it seems, that density has enormous benefits. It is correlated with lower levels of car ownership, fewer kilometres driven and higher public transport use. It lowers infrastructure costs and is also associated with lower consumption of energy and water. According to some, it’s even connected with higher levels of social capital and lower rates of obesity.
However most of the benefits – both private and social – do not derive from density per se but rather from location. Lots of people want to live in high amenity places like the beachfront or in proximity to the jobs, entertainment opportunities and transport infrastructure of somewhere like the city centre. These sorts of places are in short supply so demand can only be met by increasing density.
Higher density necessarily means less land per dwelling but it doesn’t inevitably mean smaller dwellings. However unless you’re filthy rich, one of the compromises you will have to make to capitalise on a sought-after location is a smaller dwelling. The 350 m2 McMansion on the fringe might at best be a 140 m2 three bedroom unit on the top of Doncaster Hill or an 80 m2 two bedroom unit in Docklands.
The point is that many of the social benefits associated with density – like higher public transport use and lower car ownership – are a function of the location, not the dwelling type. In turn, lower energy and water use is not primarily a direct function of density but rather a result of their smaller size.
This might seem self-evident or even a distinction of no more than academic interest. But as I’ve argued before, the failure to fully understand what density is, can lead to bad policy. It is also a particularly pertinent point in the context of advocating higher densities in places like fringe Growth Areas.
What if the price of petrol doubled?Posted: November 10, 2010 Filed under: Cars & traffic | Tags: growth, incomes, patronage, petrol price, Public transport, wages 10 Comments
One clue to the likely consequence of a major hike in the price of petrol is provided by the recent past. As it happens, the price almost doubled within the last ten years.
The accompanying chart, which is based on ABS data, shows the nominal price increased 100% between March 2000 and September 2008. Fortunately it’s dropped back substantially since then. Even so, the current price is still around 80% higher than it was ten or eleven years ago.
It is therefore instructive to look at how drivers responded to this increase in costs.
In part, travellers adjust to higher petrol prices by driving more carefully, driving less and by buying more fuel-efficient cars. While there have been some improvements in this respect, they’re not spectacular. The average fuel consumption of new light vehicles is now around 8 litres per 100 km. Yet the average consumption of the national fleet is still up at 11 litres per 100 km. Moreover, the potential benefits from more fuel-efficient cars are not being fully realised because of increasing consumer demand for larger, more powerful and more luxurious vehicles.
Some travellers respond to higher petrol prices by switching to public transport. Indeed, there was a significant increase in demand for public transport over this period, especially from around 2004-05. However this was from a small base and public transport still only accounts for around 14% of all weekday trips in Sydney and Melbourne.
Like most things, this increase in patronage is very likely the result of a combination of factors. While there seems little doubt that the higher price of petrol is a factor, it is by no means certain it is the most important one. Read the rest of this entry »
Is management of public transport a mess?Posted: November 9, 2010 Filed under: Public transport | Tags: coordination, flowchart, Greens, management, PTUA, Public transport, Public Transport Users Association, State Election, Victoria 10 Comments
It seems the way management structures and processes are arranged is still the key public transport solution being advanced in the Victorian election campaign.
The first three points in the Green’s Six Point Transport Plan all relate to governance and management. Now the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has released this chaotic flowchart with the charge that “a hundred different organisations are running public transport in Victoria” (see first graphic).
The PTUA says the flowchart illustrates how difficult it is for the average person to work out who to contact with questions and problems. This is a brilliant and no doubt effective piece of politics, building on the glorious history of spaghetti diagrams like Barry Jones’ famous Knowledge Nation vision.
As I’ve argued before, I think management arrangements are a second order issue – there’re more important things to get right first. And I’m by no means arguing that current arrangements are ideal or can’t be improved.
But there are a number of reasons why this flowchart is not a fair and reasonable account of the way transport is managed in Victoria.
First, as pointed out by a commenter (Invincible) over at Skyscrapercity.com, this is a deceptive diagram – flow charts usually flow from top left to bottom right, otherwise they will always look misleadingly complex. Invincible has redrawn the same information in a more logical flow, producing a vastly simpler diagram (see second graphic). Read the rest of this entry »
Is Qantas shirking its corporate responsibilities?Posted: November 8, 2010 Filed under: Airports & aviation, Public transport | Tags: Airbus A380, Boeing 747, Channel Nine, density, Exxon Valdez, fuel dumping, Gulf of Mexico, Moscow, Qantas Leave a comment
There’re a couple of letters in today’s issue of The Age (8/11/2010) related to Qantas’s A380 problems that I think illustrate a tendency to over-egg the corporate responsibility pudding.
A Peter Tregear of Brunswick is surprised that on a recent flight from Hobart to Melbourne, Qantas’s in-flight news service did not cover the serious engine trouble the airline was having at the time with the A380 Airbus.
He wonders if the news provider, Channel Nine, came under pressure from Qantas to excise the story or whether it was self-censorship by the network. Either way, he concludes, it’s not a great moment for either journalism or corporate honesty. He asks if Qantas has something to hide.
I would say the last thing some passengers want to hear about while they’re mid-flight is the vulnerability of flying. A flight from Hobart is likely to have more occasional flyers who might have some fear of flying than (say) flights on the Sydney-Melbourne routes that have many frequent business travellers.
This story dominated the terrestrial news so I don’t think passengers wouldn’t have known about Qantas’s problems before they boarded. And the in-flight news is invariably so out of date so it would be hard to argue passengers were being denied ‘new’ information. Read the rest of this entry »
Will changing management arrangements give us better cities?Posted: November 7, 2010 Filed under: Management, Planning, Public transport | Tags: Grattan Institute, Hunter District Water Board, John Paterson, management arrangements, MMBW, organisation, Paul Landa, structure, Vicroads, water pricing 7 Comments
Almost everybody, it seems, from political parties to academics, think tanks and planning experts, reckons the key priority for improving planning and public transport in Melbourne is to reform the way they’re managed.
The clamour for revised governance arrangements in order to effect reform has been increasing in Melbourne, with groups like the Committee for Melbourne, the Greens, the Public Transport Users Association and the Committee for Economic Development of Australia agitating for change.
It’s therefore sobering to see the Grattan Institute pointing out that reformed governance arrangements are not a silver bullet. The Director of the Institute’s Cities program, Jane-Frances Kelly, makes the point that:
the evidence from successful overseas cities does not support the idea that changing governance structures will help. In the successful cities we examined, no one type of governance was dominant. Unnecessary changes to governance structures can also be a distraction from the things that are vital. In short, changing structures is no cure-all. Read the rest of this entry »
Does the Opposition’s pitch on Doncaster rail stack up?Posted: November 4, 2010 Filed under: Public transport | Tags: Banyule, City of Melbourne, Doncaster rail line, election, Liberal Party, Maroondah, Ted Baillieu, The Greens, Victoria, Whitehorse 24 Comments
So now the Victorian Opposition has jumped on the Green’s bandwagon and proposed a new rail line along the Eastern Freeway from Clifton Hill to Doncaster!
Ted Baillieu has made an art form of ‘vagueing’ the details, but this is essentially the same proposal as the Greens put forward last month for linking Doncaster with Victoria Park station.
I dealt with the shortcomings of this idea last week (here and here) so I’ll just look at a claim made in The Age that the City of Manningham has low public transport use.
This is attributed to the absence of both trains and trams in Manningham – the only municipality in Melbourne that doesn’t have at least one of these modes.
The reporter, Clay Lucas, says that only 7% of all trips made by residents of Manningham are by public transport compared to the metropolitan Melbourne average of 9% (actually he said 14% but the VISTA travel survey indicates the correct figure is 9%. Note also that this claim does not appear in the on-line version of The Age).
He is right – public transport does indeed have a lower share of trips in Manningham. In fact VISTA shows its share compares poorly with the neighbouring municipalities of Whitehorse, Banyule and Maroondah, which all have rail lines. In these municipalities, public transport carries 10%, 11% and 7%, respectively, of all trips. Still, there’s not all that much in it – the car dominates in all four.
The journey to work is probably a more pertinent measure of the warrant for a rail line to the CBD as peak period passenger volumes determine the need or otherwise for a mass transit system. Read the rest of this entry »
Is High Speed Rail the new NBN?Posted: November 3, 2010 Filed under: HSR High Speed Rail, Public transport | Tags: Anthony Albanese, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, High Speed Rail Study, Terms of Reference, very fast train 8 Comments
The Federal Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese, released the Terms of Reference on the weekend for the High Speed Rail (HSR) study promised during the election campaign.
I’m very disappointed with Mr Albanese’s approach. He says the first phase of the study, which will be completed by July 2011, will:
focus on identifying possible routes, corridor preservation and station options, including city-centre, city-periphery and airport stations. This will provide a basis for route development, indicative transit times and high-level construction costs.
That reads to me like a straight up and down business plan. The key questions it seeks to answer are nothing more than: is there a feasible route? is it affordable? and, where will the money come from?
This is most definitely not a cost-benefit analysis. We already know that HSR will never work without a heap of taxpayer’s money. Yet there’s no suggestion here that it should first be established whether or not it’s a good idea – do we need to do it? Why would we want to do it? What will the consequences be for other industries?
Since when did it become accepted wisdom that HSR is such ‘a good thing’ that it’s not necessary to make a case for it? Read the rest of this entry »