Thursday, July 26, 2012

Olympic Lanes - Day 2

Another relatively quiet day on the central London roads in this morning's rush hour. The Standard yesterday was reporting congestion at the A40 Hanger Lane, the A13 Canning Town and the A12 Green Man, but everyone I've spoken to has said that traffic on their routes was quieter than usual.

I took a slightly different route in today.

Lambeth Bridge roundabout (South side) was busy, but no more than usual and traffic was moving.

On Lambeth Bridge itself there were queues, but certainly no worse than a normal weekday.
Outside Parliament, traffic was very light - not a single motor vehicle in this picture:

Parliament Square was like yesterday, far quieter than usual, and once round it you see that Whitehall is closed to motor vehicles other than buses and there's a gentleman whose job it is to tell non-Games drivers to clear off:
So Whitehall is a pleasure to cycle along (I never thought I'd write those words), with only the odd bus for company:

They've messed up the Trafalgar Square end with an unnecessarily narrow lane making it difficult to get to the front of the junction:

Trafalgar Square itself was quieter than usual, although The Strand westbound was its usual congested self.

In summary, cycling in central London has actually become much more pleasant experience as a result of the road changes brought by the Olympics -  but it is worth pointing out that this entirely by luck rather than design. There has clearly been very little consideration of cyclists gone in to this project - the roads restrictions generally don't have exemptions for cyclists; there's been no attempt to make provision for cycling through St James's Park for example, and the banned turns and no-entry signs don't have cycle bypasses. All of which is at least consistent with the general lack of any attempt to encourage cycling that's the hallmark of the London Games, as Vole O'Speed documents.

So enjoy central London while you can. It'll be back to the same old crap come September.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Olympics Lanes - Day 1

I don't think I've ever seen Central London quieter. Even in the middle of the night you get more traffic than I saw today, the first day of operation of the Oympics 'Zil' lanes.

It's quite interesting to see the bizarre treatment given to CSH#8.

Above you can see they've blacked out all trace of the CSH barring the blue paint along Millbank. Here the lane markings were only advisory, so it was completely unnecessary to remove them.

Above, you can see the Games Lane actually comes to an end, but they've still pointlessly blacked out the CSH markings.

And above, they've even gone as far as to black out the CSH logos in the middle of the road. Presumably so that the 'Games Family' don't have to think about cyclists at all.

Above, as we go past Victoria Tower Gardens towards Parliament Square, there is 'Bus and Games Lane' stencilled on the carriageway in big letters, but no lane markings, so it's not clear what to do here. However it's on the nearside so bikes would be allowed in it - if it existed.

Above: Believe it or not, this is Parliament Square. The bikes dominate the motor traffic for a change.

Above, Victoria Embankment. And there's an actual Games car in the Games Lane. Again, this road has never been quieter.

Now, we know that there are a lot of people avoiding driving in Central London because of the Olympics. But if journeys are really necessary, people presumably still have to drive. You can't deliver goods or fix boilers without a van. Maybe some of these essential journeys are being put off, but even allowing for all that, there was still a very small amount of traffic compared to normal, considering we're always being told about the absolute imperative of maximizing traffic flow. Maybe we're being kidded about the number of essential motor journeys in London?

Monday, July 23, 2012

If the things that were bad for you, were actually good for you

When you have kids, you have these surreal conversations: "Dad", said my little one, "Wouldn't it be wierd if the things that are bad for you, were actually good for you? And the other way around - the things that were good for you were actually bad for you?"

That got me thinking...

The unhealthy effects of sport would need to be counteracted by, say, major sporting events being sponsored by healthy things like burgers and soft drinks.

You'd need a fleet of taxis to drive round the streets of central London, to top up the air with life-enhancing particulates, and save people from all that unhealthy walking around.

You wouldn't ban cycling just because it's unhealthy - after all, this is a democracy not a nanny state - but you'd do everything you could to make it as unpleasant and unattractive as possible - you'd make cyclists share the road with fast-moving motor vehicles, and you'd make sure there were as few dedicated places to cycle as possible. You'd want to scare cyclists into making healthier transport choices, by setting up major road junctions to cause as many 'near misses' as possible. And where there's a collision between a cyclist and a motorist, you would want the law to favour the motorist. After all, if people will indulge in unhealthy pursuits, it's their own look-out. You'd probably want a prime-time BBC TV show to promote motoring as a cool way to get around.

It would be the duty of the government to tackle the epidemic of emaciation caused by too little saturated fat and too much exercise. So you'd want to encourage people to use their cars as much as possible, to promote a healthy sedentary lifestyle. You'd reduce fuel duty, and make public transport more expensive - those walks to the bus stop and train station really add up to a considerable amount of dangerous exertion. You'd make sure parking was permitted whereever possible, and you'd allow parking in cycle lanes to reduce the amount of unhealthy cycling. You'd make sure there were plenty of fried food outlets on every high street so people can get enough fat in their diet. And you'd only want healthy food to be advertised, such as pizza, burgers, chips, ice cream and soft drinks.

That's what Britain would look like - if the things that were bad for you, were actually good for you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Copenhagen vs London

I defy anyone to watch this film about Copenhagen and tell me with a straight face that London makes better use of its public spaces.

The film documents Copenhagen's transition from a traffic-dominated city to one oriented towards people. Car parks were converted into public squares, and streets were pedestrianised. The architect Jan Gehl comments, "when these people-friendly schemes go in, the businesses actually thrive". When the pedestrian areas were first proposed, retailers were against the idea, but after, it became clear that these had become the best commercial locations in the city.
Unfortunately, in today's London in this age of austerity, the priority has to be creating jobs, not doing fluffy things that stifle enterprise like pedestrianising places like Parliament Square. Or is it? In order to create jobs, you need enterprises to set up shop in your city. And for that to happen, your city has to appeal as a place to live as well as a place to work.

In this research, Red Associates, a strategy consultancy, discovered that "the future of a city is no longer exclusively dependent on low taxes. The new trend is to sell a city on its people and their lifestyle."
"Copenhagen is a place that trumps many others when it comes to quality of life", they claim. "It’s expensive and cold but it’s so clean that you can even swim in the ocean by the airport and happily raise a family without many financial constraints."
Quality of life in a city is clearly important for corporations seeking to relocate employees and their families on long-term assignments. And Copenhagen ranks 9th on Mercer Consulting's Quality of Living index. London is 38th.

Boris needs to take note. Maximum motor traffic flow and quality of life do not go together. Copenhagen proves there is another, better, way - better for people, and better for businesses.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Local Sustainable Transport Fund: Putting Cycling Last

News from the valleys: Traffic-free routes for pedestrians and safe cycle lanes will be developed across Wales to connect sites such as hospitals, shopping centres and schools as part of the Active Travel (Wales) Bill.

Meanwhile, in Belfast, the Roads Service plan to drive cars out of Belfast city centre, in a plan endorsed by Sustrans.

Even Glasgow has been getting in on the idea of decent-quality cycle provision, according to Joe Dunkley at War on the Motorist.

Only England stands alone against the onslaught of Continental-style active travel. While Boris has signed up to the LCC's Go Dutch principles, we have yet to see what his plans for Vauxhall and Greenwich will involve. Vauxhall in particular already has off-road provision - it just happens to be crap. You're expected to share pavements with thousands of commuters on foot, crossings that take ages to negotiate: the whole gyratory is basically a road scheme with cycling belatedly tacked on as an afterthought. And once through the junction you're spat back onto busy roads such as South Lambeth Road. How many parents do you think let their kids cycle in these conditions?

One chink of light, the government would have us believe, is the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF). This is supposed to promote cycling as well as public transport. But are the bids actually favouring cycling - and do the bidding local authorities know what they need to do to deliver more cycling, or will they steer towards the usual cycle facilities that upset no-one, and are used by next-to-nobody, because they stop when there's a tough decision to be made that might slow down a couple of motor vehicles?

Let's take a look at one successful bid, from Slough. I've picked it more or less at random, partly because I have some knowledge of the town, but not because I believe it to be better or worse than any of the other bids. Slough is a pretty typical English town, where the car is king. Only a tiny percentage of trips are made by bike. 40% of journeys to and from school are by car and that accounts for 20% of traffic between 08:00 and 09:00. With a few well-placed, well-designed cycle routes, you could make a dent in that, you would think.

So what are they actually doing?

"We will therefore carefully target funds to make tactical improvements to the safety, security and
connectivity of the walking and cycling networks to make it more attractive to travel short distances to work and school on foot and by bicycle. For example, we will improve links to and from the trading estates, town centre, A4 corridor and surrounding residential areas such as Britwell, Chalvey and Langley."

No reference to minimum standards, segregation, Continental approaches, or any of the stuff that is proven to work, you'll note.

The bid as a whole looks pretty car-centric to me. Over 75% of the supposed benefits are accounted for by "reduced congestion, improving journey times and journey time reliability". It consists of the cycle network improvements, 'behaviour change', which means cycle training, help with journey planning, and so on, and SCOOT. The only purpose of SCOOT is to push more motor traffic through junctions, so how that counts as 'sustainable' I don't know. We know from experience that if you increase capacity for motor vehicles, more motor vehicle journeys will result, as sure as night follows day.

Now turn to Section C1 in Slough's LSTF bid. The bits in blue on the map are the new infrastructure that is resulting from the LSTF. There looks to be considerably less than a kilometer of new route, and two 'junction improvements'. There is a new east-west cycle route planned, but that's not part of the LSTF bid (except for the very small sections illustrated), and crucially, it is not clear whether this will be segregated from traffic. It needs to be, because it will pass through the industrial estate area, which will see heavy traffic at commute-times, unless I miss my guess.

So let's summarize what's going on in Slough. They are spending £10M on "sustainable" transport projects, of which £4.5M is the LSTF contribution, and the rest is locally-funded. They are building under 1km of new cycle infrastructure, while at the same time increasing motor traffic flow and reducing motor journey times. Yet Slough's Cycling Strategy Document identifies the domination of motor traffic as a major problem for cycling. How is making motoring quicker and easier going to fix that? Unfortunately although this Cycling Strategy Document does a reasoable job of identifying the problems, it is pretty clueless when it comes to solutions. "Segregation" doesn't even appear in the list of "best practice". It notes that "insufficient confidence to ride on heavily trafficked roads) is also restricting accessibility to cycle travel", yet without a trace of irony it criticises the Local Access Forum (whose job is to "encourage people to walk or cycle") for being "pre-occupied with pressing for off-carriageway provision for all non-motorised users including cyclists. This contravenes current Government advice."
Slough is typical of local authorities who shut their eyes to the experience of European countries that have a track record of success in promoting cycling, and cling to policies with an uneviable, uniform and uninterrupted record of failure.As a result, Slough has as much chance of a local cycling revolution that I have of winning the Tour de France.

This is localism in action: a government with no strategy on cycling giving money to people who have no idea how to spend it to good effect, even if they had the inclination.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Higgs Boson and Climate Change. It's Science, Stupid.

Apparently some blokes in Switzerland have discovered something very, very small and shortlived using lots of magnets and wires and a rather long tube. It only took them 45 years. And it all sounds a bit fishy...

"They claimed that by combining two data sets, they had attained a confidence level just at the 'five-sigma' point - about a one-in-3.5 million chance that the signal they see would appear if there were no Higgs particle."

All sounds very unlikely doesn't it? This combining two data sets trick? One data set wasn't enough for them, so they went and got another one, which they might have just made up.

"However, a full combination of the CMS data brings that number just back to 4.9 sigma - a one-in-two million chance."

One in 3.5 million chance down to one in 2 million? Make up your minds! How about "no chance at all" ?

"We have a discovery - we have observed a new particle consistent with a Higgs boson. But which one? That remains open. It is a historic milestone but it is only the beginning."

They don't even know what they've discovered! "Its only the beginning" ? Yes - the beginning of a massive job-creation scheme for scientists, paid for by your tax dollars. Higgs boson is a myth. No-one has ever seen one, because like the Emperor's new clothes, it doesn't exist. It's a massive money-making conspiracy. There's no evidence you can discover anything that small.

The above is what I imagine people like James Delingpole would make of the obscure and complex science that is going on at Cern, if their attitude to science is consistent. Strangely enough, the BBC hasn't asked Delingpole for his opinion on Higgs Boson. And why would they? He isn't a scientist, and knows nothing about sub-atomic physics.

Yet for some reason, the BBC does want to ask him about climate science, a discipline of which he is similarly ignorant. On the Daily Politics, Andrew Neill had the aforesaid climate change denier pitted against Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth. For some reason best known to the BBC there were no scientists at all present in this debate about science, although there was a second science-denier, Peter Hitchens. However, Hitchens does ride a bike and has said he wants to "plough up all the motorways in the country, and rebuild the rail network that Beeching trashed. Motorways are a horrible idea. They have ruined our countryside and our cities, and it’s no surprise to me that Adolf Hitler liked them so much." So we'll cut him some slack.

Anyway, back to the Daily Politics. Andrew Neill set the participants a challenge: to make the case for or against the idea that the planet had warmed since 1995.

To make such a case, all you need to do is refer to the BBC's own  science reporting, which said in June 2011, "Climate warming since 1995 is now statistically significant according to [Dr] Phil Jones...[the temperature dataaset] HadCRUT shows a warming 1995-2010 of 0.19C - consistent with the other major records". The report goes on, tellingly, to inform us that (with my emphasis) "nothing has emerged through mainstream science to challenge the IPCC's basic picture of a world warming through greenhouse gas emissions."  And that "a new initiative to construct a global temperature record, based at Stanford University in California whose funders include 'climate sceptical' organisations, has reached early conclusions that match established records closely."

Delingpole, inexplicably, chose not to refer to the work of any scientists in his submission. Except for the work of Dr Phil Jones, whose comment on the subject I've quoted in the above paragraph, which confirms that warming is happening. The rest of his argument is classic denial - it seems to rest on the datasets not being "reliable and trustworthy", or the temperature not "being measurable with any accuracy". But again, my previous paragraph shows even a climate-sceptic-funded study confirms the accuracy and reliability of the data. Perhaps Delingpole's response would be that the BBC itself has been taken over by "warmists", as he terms supposedly rational people who are cruelly misled by  "evidence" and "facts".

You can argue about matters of opinion, such as whether gay marriage is right, or how best to fund the NHS, or whether Coke is better than Pepsi. Climate change, on the other hand, is science, and as such is not a matter of opinion - it's a matter of fact, at least by any reasonable test. Delingpole, instead of setting reasonable tests (which he is incapable of doing, being too ignorant of the science), attempts to attack science with mockery, with baseless assertions, denials, or personal attacks, like someone trying to win a chess match by punching his opponent. See here for his attack on Sir Paul Nurse, the Nobel-prize-winning scientist, also known for making Delingpole look a prat on television. (Delingpole has thus far escaped the gaze of the Nobel committee).

Why is it easy to attack science? Scientific research exists at the boundary between the known and the unknown. At this point, competing theories, conflicting data and divergent streams of research give the impression of a world in which no-one can agree on anything. Add into that the intagible nature of the phenomena being studied - like particles no-one can see, or temperature fluctuations of a fraction of a degree - and the use of advanced statistical techniques to make sense of seemingly random patterns - and the whole thing looks impenetrable. But science exists to make sense of the apparent chaos, contradictions, inconsistencies and uncertainty that we observe in the world. If you take the science away, all you have is the apparently random phenomena that you observe with your senses. And human senses are remarkably selective and unreliable, so you are able to establish very little for certain, and you're back to the pre-enlightenment age of superstition and witch-hunting. That's what the science-deniers want, because they don't like the message that science is delivering, and they can't engage with it on a rational basis. Yet most climate-change-deniers aren't sceptical about science when it suits them - they own mobile phones, computers and cars, all goods that could not exist if it wasn't for some very unlikely-sounding science.

The theories of electromagnetic waves and semiconductors that underpin today's gadgets and enable us to play "Angry Birds" and tweet while driving a car, were once cutting-edge science. And similarly, thoeries that are currently novel will become tomorrow's facts. Science-deniers would have you believe that scientists are incredibly gullible, and any wild-ass theory just passes into the domain of accepted science overnight. That, of course, is not the case - novel  theories are repeatedly challenged and reviewed by other scientists, using new data and diverse approaches. As Sir Paul Nurse puts it, "You make your reputation in science by overturning [theories]". Only those theories that repeatedly prove sound establish credibility and pass into consensus, which is constantly renewed as old theories are overturned and more sophisticated ones take their place. In this way, the body of established science has been accumulated over centuries. One person alone could never derive all this knowledge from first principles, but one person can build upon it knowing it is a sound foundation. This is what Isaac Newton described as "standing on the shoulders of giants" - a phrase you can find on the edge of a £2 coin.

Climate science deniers could be described as "squatting on the toes of dwarves, in a deep, dark hole, into which the light of knowledge cannot penetrate". You could write that (in very small letters) on the edge of a 1p coin, which is worth rather more than the total of their work.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Road Casualties 2011

Road casualty statistics, after a long period of decreasing overall casualty rates, have become a grim topic.

In 2011, casualties who were killed or seriously injured (KSI) on the roads increased by 2% over the previous year. There has been a sustained downward trend averaging about 4.5% since 1996. The Department for Transport (DfT) claim that the increase in 2011 is in part due to the effect of poor weather in 2010. I don't have the detailed breakdown by month, but 2010's figure was considerably better than trend, at about 9% lower than the previous year, so the 'bad weather' theory has some credibility. However for cyclists, bad weather doesn't explain the 2011 KSIs increase of 15% over the previous year, which are also 26% above the 2005-2009 average. 2010's figures were an increase of 2% over the previous year. Cycle traffic levels rose between 2009 - 2011 by a little over 3% nationally, so we're seeing a sustained increase in serious injuries that can neither be explained by lots of snow or by increasing numbers of cyclists.

The picture is even bleaker in London. Casualties rose 8% in 2010, and a massive 22% in 2011. TfL claim cycling increased by 15% in 2010. The problem is that we were promised that as cycling moved from being a minority activity to a mainstream transport mode, it would become safer due to the 'safety in numbers' effect. While that has likely been true to some extent, in 2011 cyclists accounted for 2% of journeys but 21% of serious injuries. Car occupants, by contrast, made up 35% of journeys and 40% of serious injuries. So per journey, you're an order of magnitude more likely to be injured on a bike than in a car.

But enough of raw statistics. We know Boris has been doing precious little to make cycling safer, but let's look at the actual effect this has on the environment in which people live.

On 26 June, just before 8 at night, while it was still light, a car ploughed into a bike being ridden by two boys in Woodhouse Grove, East Ham, just near the entrance to a local park. The car then crashed into a stationary vehicle, pushing it 60 yards down the road. Woodhouse Grove is a quiet road in the middle of a residential area, with traffic calming and 20MPH signs on the road surface. Exactly the kind of road where children should be able to go from their houses to a nearby park in safety. Instead, one of the children is dead. The other has lost his brother.
Now, you could say that such recklessness is exceptional and rare. Which is true to an extent, but it is also the tip of a considerable iceberg of dangerous and inattentive driving. I was out riding with my son on a very similar road on Sunday, with a 20MPH limit and traffic calming. A motorist came up behind us and very considerately waited and did not attempt an overtake. However, the car behind did not, and stormed past the first car at speed on the wrong side of the road. As it happened, there was no oncoming traffic, so this wasn't a problem, despite the driver having broken a number of points of the Highway Code. But there could have been another cyclist on the other side of the road, who the driver may not have seen until too late. The point is, cyclists of all ages are forced to share the road with motor vehicles. There is little attempt to control speeds or traffic levels on many roads. As cyclists we witness dangerous overtakes, cutting in, speeding, mobile phone use, red light jumping, and general recklessness in various combinations on a daily basis but unless there is an actual crash, incidents are almost never reported or acted upon by the police. You can bet that the driver who killed this young boy - the second to be killed on a bike in London so far this year, by my reckoning, had been driving in a similar manner for years, having lots of near misses and the occasional crash, and leaving a trail of intimidated pedestrians and cyclists in his wake. While most drivers are not utterly reckless, there are enough that pose a clear enough threat to make many parents declare even quiet streets like Woodhouse Grove out-of-bounds to their kids.
In other words, London's residential areas are not fit for purpose, if you consider that purpose should include reasonable access for children to recreation out-of-doors. Children should not be prisoners in their own homes, locked up for 23 hours a day and only allowed out for exercise when escorted.

Which brings us back to the national picture. Mike Penning, minister for road safety, confronted with the latest road casualty figures that should really get him sacked,  commented that he was taking "urgent action to crack down on the most dangerous drivers". I have no idea what that means. As cuts to police numbers bite, the probability of getting stopped for dangerous driving is now lower than ever. Cuts to safety camera budgets mean that the one existing way to deter and punish law-breaking drivers, however imperfect it might be, is losing its effectiveness. Meanwhile, mobile phone use, even texting and social network use while driving, is becoming the norm. And even if you kill when behind the wheel, the justice system rarely metes out any kind of punishment. There's never been a better time to be a crap driver. No wonder casualty figures are going up. Rather than cracking down on dangerous driving or ensuring that children, pedestrians and cyclists are protected from it, the Government and the Mayor of London are still persuing the cynical 'war on the motorist' and 'traffic flow' agenda, where safety and the upholding of the law takes second place to the speed and convenience of car journeys. While the Mayor is urging cyclists and motorists to 'share the road', the sharing of risk is about as inequitable as it could get.