Does rail transit reduce CO2?

An interesting new Cato study from Randal O’Toole says no:

Rail transit may use less energy, per passenger mile, than buses. But the introduction of rail transit rarely leads to a reduction in bus operations. Instead, buses that once followed the rail corridors are converted to feeder bus routes. So the incremental effect of rail transit on a transit system’s overall energy use can often be to increase consumption per passenger mile.


Most light-rail systems use as much or more energy per passenger mile as the average passenger car, several are worse than the average light truck, and none is as efficient as a Prius. Three emit less greenhouse gases than a Prius, but several emit more greenhouse gases than light trucks.

Since auto efficiency will continue to improve as fuel prices rise and since rail lines have a working life of several decades, the difference is only likely to become greater. O’Toole suggests that improvements in fuels, vehicles, road innovations, and relatively inexpensive bus transit would be much more cost-effective for reducing greenhouse gas emissions than expanded rail service. Some of these improvements would be surprisingly cheap:

San Jose coordinated 223 traffic signals on the city’s most-congested streets at a cost of about $500,000. Engineers estimate that this saves 471,000 gallons of gasoline each year, which translates to a 9.2 million pound reduction in CO2 emissions. That works out to a cost of just 5.4 cents per pound.

At the margin, of course, if your city already has a rail line you’ll reduce your personal carbon footprint by using it. But if it doesn’t, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is probably not a good reason to spend millions of dollars building one.

Consider this my obligatory Earth Day post.


L20 goes cupping

L20 is an inventive, soon-to-open restaurant in Chicago, and the chef has been documenting the opening process on a weblog. It’s fascinating stuff, with photos that are sure to make you hungry. In the newest post, the staff shows that they’re paying attention to the coffee, too:

Our coffee undertaking began over six months ago. Our desire was to achieve the highest level of quality and consistency that we could, in order to provide the best cup of coffee to our guests. We started first with the beans.

After several cuppings of coffees from various roasters across the country, representing beans from across the globe, we finally made a decision—Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea. Their coffees were consistently better than all of the rest. It was very clear that their commitment to coffee mirrored our commitment to our guests’ experience.The passion and service displayed by their team assured us that we had made the right decision.

We will focus on direct trade coffees and source micro-lots whenever they are available to us. We will change the selections as new crops become available on the market.

I’ve written before about “restaurant coffee” and how chefs that pay attention to every little detail settle for really poor coffee, so it’s great to see another high-end place taking coffee seriously. They also adapted the coffee cupping process for vanilla beans, which sounds like an interesting experiment.

[Thanks to David for the link.]


Guess what? Burgers make you fat!

A federal court has ruled against restaurants and upheld a New York City regulation requiring chains to post calorie information on their menu boards. Editors at The New York Times are predictably pleased:

The regulations apply to restaurants that are part of chains with 15 or more locations nationwide. About 10 percent of city restaurants, some 2,400, are affected. A few — including Starbucks, Quiznos, Subway, Chipotle, Auntie Anne’s, Jamba Juice and Chevys — are being responsible and voluntarily complying.

Others, like McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, are hold-outs. They must have missed the news that New Yorkers gained 10 million pounds over the last two years, disproportionately in poor and minority neighborhoods, where many of the 10 million chain-restaurant meals sold each month are consumed. Those neighborhoods are also where diabetes, hypertension and heart disease are at epidemic levels.

Does the weight gain have anything to do with lack of nutritional information? It’s already available if diners want it. Fast food restaurants advertise healthier options to interested customers. And really, no one orders a Big Mac thinking that it’s going to be good for them. People may be eating too much unhealthy food, but a lack of data on menu boards isn’t the cause.

This law isn’t about improving health outcomes. It’s about making city council members and other right-thinking nannies feel good about punishing fast food chains while being condescending toward the people who frequent them. Meanwhile, they will continue to dine at Mario Batali’s restaurants unmolested by the calorie counts lesser mortals need to keep them away from heavy food.

Information wants to be free — but it’s not!


Last two weeks at Open City

I put in my two weeks notice at Open City today. It’s been a good place to learn how to tend a bar, but as the warm weather tourists descend on DC restaurants it’s time for me to move on. I can be much more adventurous in my home bar now than I can be at work, and with two other jobs keeping me busy I need to free up the time. So if you’ve been wanting to drop in while I’m behind the stick, Mondays the 21st and 28th are your last chances to do so. (And sorry, Lance, that’s one more name you’ll have to scratch off your list of working bartenders with blogs — at least for now.)

Open City is located at 2331 Calvert St., NW.


Good coffee in downtown DC?

It’s true! The dearth of good coffee shops downtown is one reason my desk is cluttered with a grinder, gram scale, kettle, three brewers, and lots of coffee beans. But finally, Counter Culture Coffee has latched its tentacles into the city center.

Bolla Coffee and Tea, now under new ownership, is a small commuter shop offering sandwiches, tea, and coffee. They’re still working on the espresso program, but on the right track with a La Marzocco and serving only traditionally sized cappuccinos. The brewed coffee is all Counter Culture, which is a very welcome addition to the area. Check them out on G St. NW, between 14th and 15th.

[Via Ryan on CoffeeGeek.]


Would a just God let this happen?

Newsarama reports that Rob Liefeld is launching a new series of graphic novels illustrating biblical prophecies. He describes the books as “Dan Brown in tone.” To his credit the apparent protagonist is wearing only six visible pouches, so there’s hope that these books aren’t actually the first sign of the apocalypse.

For more on Liefeld, check out Progressive Boink’s rundown of the 40 worst Rob Liefeld drawings.


Tax day is a very dangerous day

Discovering that the amount you were paid for a gig exactly equals the minimum 1099 reporting requirements: Annoying.

Paying capital gains on a stock acquired in 1980: Expensive.

Eva Solo coffee brewer

Ending tax day by shattering your favorite coffee brewer: Priceless.


MxMo Massa Mojito

Massa Mojito

The best thing about Mixology Monday is that you have to try every drink at least twice: once to test it and once to photograph it. Today’s experiment worked on the first try, so I’m writing this entry just two drinks in.

This month’s MxMo is hosted by Anna at Morsels and Musings, who challenges us to make cocktails with fruit liqueur. I dipped into Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology to find the limoncello-based Massa Mojito. Gary writes:

Adapted from a recipe from Pizzicato Restaurant in Philadelphia, this interesting variation on the classic Mojito calls for Villa Massa Limoncello. This particular bottling of limoncello isn’t as sweet as most of the other commercial brands, so if you experiment with other bottlings you must take their relative sweetness into account.

I don’t have Villa Massa on hand, but as longtime readers know, I like to make my own limoncello. Assuming that mine is a little sweeter, I found that this slight tweaking of Regan’s recipe makes a tasty, refreshing cooler:

4 wedges lemon
1 tsp sugar
~15 mint leaves
2.5 oz limoncello
club soda

Muddle the lemons, sugar, and mint, then shake over ice with the limoncello. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and top with the soda. Perfect for chilling out in the summer.

Update 4/17/08: The complete roundup is now available here.


Seattle speakeasy shut down

Two weeks ago I posted about a trend in “speakeasy” dining, places or clubs where diners can go underground to enjoy meals from adventurous cooks without being burdened by city inspections and other formalities. They sound great — until someone tells the authorities. Gypsy, reportedly one of Seattle’s better dining adventures, has been forced to shut down. From an email they sent out:

Camelot has ended.

We wake up, we go to work, we come home, we occasionally eat out. Most lives are fashioned after this pattern. Most restaurant’s lives are as well: make food, sell food, clean up, go home. Sometimes, a very magical sometimes, restaurants are able to trancend the merely ordinary and in doing so, transform to some small degree the lives of its patrons.

Gypsy has been this magical place for many many people. New friends, new ideas, new love, a salon of creativity. But as with all things destined to touch hearts, evil waits to take it away. We have been betrayed. Gypsy as we know it was too scary a place to exist, so now it doesn’t.

We are going much deeper underground. Those who really know how to get ahold of us, please email (please don’t call us), we will start a new list, a more protected list. Dinners are cancelled for all intents and purposes. And to the traitor to the clan we offer you this: May you never sleep well, may laughter sound bitter in your ears, and may food always taste like ashes to you…this is our Gypsy curse. You have destroyed a good thing.

More details here.