What’s wrong with (green) cars?

Optical illusion slows traffic in Vancouver

Earlier in the week I argued that public policy needs to recognise that climate change and peak oil are the least compelling reasons for investing in public transport (Public transport: time for a new paradigm?). There are far more convincing reasons, I argued, such as providing universal mobility and an alternative in congested conditions.

One of my key points was that cars will almost certainly be the dominant mode for many decades to come. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that there are potential substitutes for oil and that travellers will not easily give up the advantages of on-demand mobility.

It will also take considerable time to move our cities to a more transit-friendly urban form and improving public transport to the point where it can “take over” from the car will be enormously expensive. Of course there are also alternative uses competing for investment and attention, like education and health.

I argued that we should therefore give high priority to making cars green i.e. work toward vehicles powered by renewable energy sources with low carbon and pollution. Some people say that even cars powered by zero carbon electricity will nevertheless have enormous negative impacts. Whether that’s right or not, we don’t realistically have a choice – at least in the medium term – because the transformation from car-dependent cities to transit-dependent cities will be long and arduous.

However it is true that green cars will still present serious challenges. Read the rest of this entry »


Historic short films of early Melbourne, 1910-1947

Melbourne Today 1931

There’s a wonderful video of Melbourne in 1931, Melbourne Today, put up by Gillian over at Melbourne Curious. This inspired me to track its original source to the Screen Australia web site where there are literally hundreds of films on diverse aspects of Australian life dating from the end of the nineteenth century.

I went looking for films with a specifically Melbourne urban perspective and picked out these four:

Marvellous Melbourne, circa 1910

City traffic in variable moods, circa 1920

Melbourne Today, 1931

Beautiful Melbourne, 1947

Melbourne Today was made by F.W. Thring, renowned Melbourne film maker and father of Aussie film legend Frank Thring (who memorably appeared as Pontius Pilate in the 50s sword and sandals epic, Ben Hur). More over the leaf….. Read the rest of this entry »


What should be done about cars?

I’d like to see one of our political leaders steal a march in this election campaign by promising to do something about the environmental and ‘quality of life’ issues associated with car use.

Almost everyone recognises the weakness of our current car fleet in the face of climate change and peak oil, but no one seems to want to do much about it. Most of the focus is on expanding public transport and increasing urban density – at first glance this sounds good, but even on the most optimistic view cars are going to be the dominant mode in Melbourne for a long time yet.

For example, the Victorian Government set a target in Melbourne 2030 to increase public transport’s share of motorised trips to 20% by 2020 (it’s currently around 11%). The report of the Independent Public Inquiry into a Long-Term Public Transport Plan for Sydney, which was released earlier this year, aims to increase public transport’s share of all travel in Sydney to 25% over the next 30 years (currently around 16%) and walking and cycling’s to 10% (page 152)*.

Even if petrol prices suddenly went stratospheric, it would take decades to expand public transport ‘s capacity to a level where it could handle the majority of trips. And it would still have to compete for funding with other areas of serious need like health, education and social housing. This would be more complicated if dramatically higher petrol prices were accompanied by a severe contraction in economic activity. Read the rest of this entry »


Google Maps makes an art of traffic

Google Maps seems to have spawned a new genre of digital art. This one, Satellite Car Chase, joins Google Maps to Grand Theft Auto!