Does the Grand Prix have to be so effin’ loud?

There’s an important debate going on about the net economic benefits of the Australian Grand Prix, but what I can’t get over is the noise.

The nearest point of Albert Park is 9 km as the crow flies from my house yet today I can hear it inside. It’s not loud enough to be annoying – just part of the background hum really – but I’m astounded that I hear it at all.

That makes me wonder why F1 has to be so extremely, incredibly loud. According to the cost benefit analysis published by the Victorian Auditor General on the 2005 race, the estimated peak noise level trackside reaches 125 dB(A) and 105 dB(A) at 100 metres. The report says above 70 db (A) is annoying and 115 dB (A) can cause hearing damage, although this depends on the duration and the vulnerability of the listener.

I’ve only visited Albert Park once but that was enough – I found the noise excruciating. Ditto the Gold Coast Indycar. Even with foam ear pads plus a set of those external headphone-type sound dampeners it was still plenty loud enough. At some events the organisers also send an air force jet over at low altitude, presumably to show what real noise is!

The Auditor General reckons the impact of noise from the 2005 event ‘cost’ 12,500 neighbouring households a combined $415,000 (not that they were actually compensated!).  Households within the 70 dB (A) contour suffered an estimated disamenity of $50 per week and those within the 80 dB (A) contour – where the noise level is generally regarded as intolerable – suffered $100 per week.

I’d debate the methodology but there’s some relief coming in the 2013 season when a new ‘green’ four cylinder turbo charged engine has been mandated by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). It will be significantly quieter than the current eight cylinder engine but it seems noise is in the DNA of the sport. F1 boss Bernie Eccelstone is at loggerheads with the FIA over the change. This week he said:

I meet people worldwide in all different walks of life – sponsors, promoters and journalists – and I think there are two things that are really important for Formula One. One is Ferrari, and second is the noise. People get excited about the noise. People who have never been to a Formula One race, when they leave you ask them what they liked, and they say ‘the noise.’ It’s incredible, it really gets to you.

With serious questions being raised about the viability of the Grand Prix in Melbourne, it’s time for Bernie to embrace this change. The Auditor General found that the costs of the event exceed the economic benefits, let alone the cash outlay. Reducing the impact on residents affected by the noise footprint might help fans retain the race. In fact the sport should go further to embrace ‘green’ thinking as I argued this time last year.


Can we make living together better?

OK so now it’s time to turn to State politics.

I have a modest idea for making our major cities more liveable that I’d like to offer to the Premiers and Opposition Leaders of Victoria, NSW and Queensland in the run up to their forthcoming State elections.

The idea could be named something like the Better Neighbours Initiative or it could as easily be titled Considerate Cities or Liveable Cities or something of that ilk. The idea starts with the recognition that living in close proximity within cities imposes stresses on human relations and demands strong remedial action.

Some of the risks associated with cities, like disease, respond to investment in physical infrastructure. But some don’t – they require behavioural approaches.

The main objective is to limit the stress that inconsiderate behaviour, like noise from “hot” cars or audio amplifiers, imposes on residents and neighbours. I’ll focus on noise here, but the ambit of the liveable cities idea could extend to other problems such as taming the speed and behaviour of cars in local streets and activity centres. Read the rest of this entry »


Will the streets of Melbourne look more like Hanoi than Manhattan in the future?

I’ve believed for some years that motor scooters and motorcycles are likely to become a much more important component of Melbourne’s transport system if the cost of fuel increases dramatically.

Scooters and small motorcycles are extremely popular in cities like Hanoi where, like the probable Melbourne of the future, the cost of transport is very high relative to incomes.

Like cars, scooters offer a very high degree of personal mobility. They also have the advantage that they can ‘thread’ their way through congested traffic, are easy to park and are light on fuel. Read the rest of this entry »


Get social to increase density

Almost everyone with an interest in the future development of Melbourne agrees that a key strategy for dealing with unprecedented population growth is to increase the supply of multi unit housing in the suburbs.

Unfortunately there is also a consensus that this objective will be hard to achieve given the near certainty that existing residents will fight tooth and claw to resist new developments in their neighbourhood. Read the rest of this entry »