Revving up the rev heads

The Age yesterday ran a report on the PTUA’s submission to the Garnaut inquiry on climate change, with the headline being “Ban new freeways: transport group” — above another rather good article about cars not being on average any more efficient than 40 years ago.

It didn’t take long for the rev heads to spot the report, and as you might expect, they launched (within their own little forum) a tirade of abuse: everything from tree hugging, whale saving, dread locked morons to mungbean chewers and tree huggers. It was pretty clear none of them had read the Age article or the original press release, let alone the study itself.

Green groups (real greenies, that is, not just us sustainable transport advocates) also spotted the Age report, and a version of the story got a run in the West Australian. And there was a chat between yours truly and John Barron this morning on ABC News Radio. (MP3, 9Mb, 4 min 53 sec)

Perhaps to some people it sounds counter-intuitive: that building motorways doesn’t solve traffic congestion, but makes it worse. But not if you think about it. When each new road opens, people consider their travel options, and if it’s markedly easier to drive, many of them do. They drive longer, and in greater numbers, because they can, and the new road fills up. The end result is we have more space dedicated to roads, more cars on the road for longer, and more congestion and pollution.

Maybe we should turn it around: What proof is there that building motorways does help congestion? The quick answer is that there’s nowhere in the world (except perhaps Houston, where they spend billions on it every year, and oh, look at their greenhouse emissions!) where this has turned out to be the case.

The French have worked all this out, and last October President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to stop building motorways and put the money into railways instead, to improve freight and passenger rail.

Anyway, this is only a small part of the report. What the rest of it is pointing out is that while transport isn’t the majority of greenhouse emissions, it is growing fast (up 30% in the last 15 years) and as part of an overall push to reduce emissions, action needs to be taken on transport. Hybrid cars will only help to a certain extent (and actually rely on stop-start congestion to be efficient), oil is running out, and other fuels are unproven (with biofuels in particular causing emissions during production, and resulting in food shortages).

Good to have sparked some debate about it, anyway.

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13 Replies to “Revving up the rev heads”

  1. Oh yes, I’ll agree! Here, sadly they *STILL* haven’t done anything concrete about trains. Meanwhile the entire area encompassing Ottawa, Gatineau and the surrounding areas are getting infilled with houses, as well as spreading out farther and farther. The computer control of all traffic in Ottawa said recently that at most times of the day now, the roads are at peak capacity. That means it doesn’t help for them to switch the lights longer for one direction. That’ll simply cause backups in the other one. It’s getting really bad for traffic, honestly, for my husband to get home from the other end of town at the end of the day. Sometimes a 1.5 hour drive after a 10 hour day in construction. Ouch!

    So, yes, I can see the stupidity into continously building new roads and not improving the PT. But, sadly, governments just don’t change strategies on a dime, do they? It’s up to us, their voters to convince them, along with the egg-heads who do studies to convince them. Make more PT available!

  2. Scary comments on the ‘rev-head’ site. Different world. Wonder how we’ll ever combat global warming while those attitudes persist.

  3. I find the PT strategies of governments very interesting. In WA we have a new southern railway. Fantastic! Passenger numbers are exceeding expectations. But they are causing traffic chaos on the roads to the stations and parking around the stations is insane because the options for bus travel to them are almost nil.

    A friend who lives near a station found a car in her carport a few weeks back. The owner just parked there because he couldn’t find a park on the road.

    They need to look at the whole package otherwise all they are doing is exacerbating the problem.

  4. I noticed this particular gleaming new freeway as the train I was riding to Belgrave passed over it and I thought abot your comments about building more roads. Building a new rail line or extending an existing one would seem to take up much less land and construction material and result in a non polluting, much safer form of transportation. It would certianly cost less too.

    I love the transportation system here in Melbourne. It would be even better if they ran a few trains and trams overnight too. Perhaps one per hour. I know it is not really cost effective but some people such as bakery workers like myself start or end their shifts in the early morning hours and otherwise need a car to get to work.

  5. Funny you should mention Houston…

    While I live in Melbourne now, I spent the first 30+ years of my existence in the Houston area. I was in my early-teens during the ‘boomtown’ period in the early-80s, so have watched the city grow.

    Rest assured, your hypothesis above is correct. Houston’s road frenzy has not eased congestion one iota. I have observed this build-up of congestion and sprawl on brand new highways firsthand.

    Not only are the GHG emissions bad, H is also at or near the top in ozone emissions, too. This is thanks to the endless sprawl — the cars, the freeways — and the miserable climate. Not only that, for a while at least, H was noted as ‘The Fattest’ city in the US. A dubious honor if there ever was one.

    Peak Oil will be the end of H, arguably one of the early casualties as the effects become more pronounced. It is a poor model for any city to follow.

  6. Revheads? Hopefully they’ll join (to put it in their inept words) the rest of the oil-digging, backwards-thinking, pious-praying, vested-interested, global-warming denying, flat earth sympathising on the mothership.

  7. http://melbourne.indymedia.org/news/2006/10/124836.php

    While cycle commuting is on the rise, the installation of cycling infrastructure has failed to keep pace. Cycling infastructure is much cheaper to provide than other transport infrastructure. Bike paths and lanes cost a fraction of other infrastructure.

    Average cost for one kilometre of Freeway was $13 million;
    Tram track $8 million;
    Off-road bike path $150,000; On-road bike lane $20,000 (to mark bike lanes on an existing road).

    The Victorian State Government spends the following amounts on transport infrastructure each year (2004/04 figures):
    * Public transport franchises ($112m per year for trams; $345m per year for trains) $457m
    * Arterial road network development $289.2m (not including Eastlink and Federally funded road projects)
    * Bicycle lanes and paths $5รขโ‚ฌโ€œ10m (including specific bike projects & those built as part of major road projects; e.g. the 14.4km path along the $306 million Craigeburn Bypass cost $3.5m

  8. Daniel
    > Perhaps to some people it sounds counter-intuitive:
    > that building motorways doesn’t solve traffic
    > congestion, but makes it worse.

    1. Anything that gets subsidizes increases, anything that gets taxed decreases.

    2. Computer folks have know the “will fill to capacity” principle from the days of 10 megabyte hard drives.

    Chris L:

    Yo from Houston!

  9. Amidst the PTUA promoting heavily on the basis of carbon emissions these days and the evils of freeway construction I thought I’d note the following:

    Connex’s own site claims that carbon emission per passenger-kilometre before 1999 was actually higher than that for a car driver – 250g for the train vs around 200g for the car. The figure for urban rail has since reduced to 164 g. Only now that were crammed in like sardines at peak times is the consumption less than that of the car. A significant expansion of services and the network would pushe this figure back towards the 1999 figure.

    The rerason for this is simple – Melbournes electrified system operates using an archaic 1500V DC system – the same one that oprated on the first regular electric service between Sandringham and Essendon in 1919. Similarly the tram system uses a 600V DC system. Significant energy losses occur as a result of rectification of the incomming 22kV AC supply, and the lower voltage-higher current supply – Higher Current = more energy loss through resistance. This makes PT one of the biggest energy users in the state.

    Modern systems like Perth and Brisbane use 22kV AC traction systems where the supply is fed directly into the rail network via a couple of points, rather than the regularly intervals of sub-station and tie-station buildings seen in Melbourne and Sydney systems

    Although logistically difficult to implement, the benefits in consumption are significant. With the AC system we could more efficiently electrify places like Geelong and probably still run electric trains to Gippsland , as opposed to the so-called ‘upgrade’ as part of the ‘fast rail’ project which actually saw the removal of the overhead between Pakenham and Warragul, along with other wonderful initiatives like singling Bendigo and clumsy bi-directional opperation on both tracks to Gippsland, as they could only be bothered upgrading one. At least the government spin doctors will tell us it was the biggest upgrade in 120 years or something like that …

  10. In 1999 off peak trains usually were empty or very close to it, and trains at night were so empty that the 3 car train ran in 1 car mode, with the other 2 cars shut down and locked off.

    Nowadays trains throughout the day and night can rival peak hour crowding levels. Even when it’s not overcrowded, at least the loadings are respectable now.

    I’d suggest that it’s off peak crowdng, not peak crowding, that is driving the reduction in GHG per passenger km.

    Besides, GHG is fading away as a concern now that oil depletion awareness is kicking in. It’s small comfort if you have a car that only emits 200g/km when the petrol is $8/L and is only available 2 or 3 days a week.

    Australia has plenty of wind, plenty of waves, plenty of sunlight, plenty of geothermal potential, and yes, plenty of coal. Stuff the inefficiency, I’d rather have a choice in the matter of how I can get from A to B.

  11. You know what else Australia has plenty of!? Uranium! Yes, about 40% of the world’s supply! Maybe we should use some of it, rather than selling it off to other countries! Heck, we could use it to give us GHG free public transport, as inefficient as it is! And it would be much cheaper too! But that means using those naughty words- nuclear energy! But you’re right, efficiency isn’t as important as having a choice of getting from A to B- as long as A to B is in a line radial to the city!

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