Thursday, 30 December 2010

Fawlty Towers

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How appropriate to find the location of Fawlty Towers missing from Open Street Map.

The place where they filmed the exterior was not in Torquay at all. It was at Wooburn Grange Country Club between Bourne End and Wooburn Green. The familiar white building burnt down in 1991. It was demolished and replaced by private houses. I've used OS Streetview to add the roads.

There's more informsation here

Monday, 27 December 2010

Rode ten miles this afternoon. Well I say rode, but....

I took a quick turn over the winter hill loop after lunch. The road there and back was clear, but between Winter Hill and Cookham there was still a lot of snow and slush on the road surface.

It was a bit of a mess, and left the road slippery and lumpy so the bike was sliding around quite a bit. Last winter (when I was younger and more foolish) I rode in worse. Today I decided that discretion was in order, so I ended up walking and pushing for a mile or so.

Despite that it was good to get out. The ten miles has finally taken this year's total mileage over 3,000. That falls well below my plan for the year, but at least I can console myself that it's higher than I achieved in 2009, and there are still a few days left to go.

I also took the opportunity to try out the new helmet camera, but that wasn't a great success. I hadn't positioned it properly so I have just collected and downloaded about 40 minutes of video showing nothing except a stretch of tarmac just ahead of the front wheel. I'll have another try soon.

Christmas presents

There has been a bit of a cycling theme to this year's Christmas presents.

I must have been a good boy in 2010. There's an old cycling poster from the 1940's to go on the wall, a couple of cycling books to dip into, some padded underpants to protect my nether regions, and a helmet camera so that I can record descents down some favourite bits of road. I suspect most of these will reappear here in future.

Today, though, is a lazy day. This shiny little metal cyclist is getting more exercise than I am, as he pedals across the windowsill in front of me.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Roads for the rich

Some drivers claim ownership of the roads because they pay road tax. The "road tax" part of this is nonsense (see footnote below if you don't know why). But let's suspend disbelief for a moment, and examine the other part of the idea - that those who pay most for the roads have a superior right to use them.

Roads are funded through general taxation. The average family with income of more than £74,000 contributes about 27% of their income to government spending. The average family with income under £26,000 a year receives more in benefits than they pay in taxes. Low income families make no (net) contribution to government spending. An average family with income between £26,000 and £74,000 contributes about 15% of their income to government spending. All this is laid out here. (the numbers may be slightly different two years on, but I can't find anything more recent, and I am confident that the principle still holds).

In other words families with the highest incomes are contributing most to funding the road system. If we follow the principle that those who pay most have some kind of moral ownership of roads then nobody with household income under £26,000 should be allowed to use the roads at all, and those with income of more than £74,000 should be allowed to use them most.

Since 60% of households earn less than £26,000 it's obvious that limiting use of the roads to higher income groups could solve a lot of congestion problems. It would be a cheap way of boosting sustainable forms of transport, such as buses and walking, as well as cycling - all policy aims of our government.

I commend the idea to the house.

On second thoughts, perhaps not. Surely a gap between the value of services we receive from government and the amount we pay in taxes isn't some anomaly in the system - that's how it is supposed to work.

Footnote - what most people mean by "Road Tax" is actually Vehicle Excise Duty. VED is what we pay for the right to use a vehicle (not really - see Chris Hill's comment below), and has nothing to do with spending on roads. For what it's worth, fuel duties raise more than VED, but fuel duties have nothing to do with spending on roads either. Spending on roads is funded from general taxation. VED and fuel duties all go into the same pot as income tax, VAT ,and the rest. All this was decided way back in 1937. Before that there was a separate Road Fund. The case for the change was made by Winston Churchill (no less) - "It will be only a step from this for them to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created". Even though the system was changed the problem that he envisaged didn't go away - though "a few" years seems to have turned out to be about 70.

Friday, 17 December 2010

One in 25,000

According to this I've contributed about 0.004% of the content on OSM since I started about three years ago. That's 1/25,000 of all the content.

I'm sure that I could have done more, and perhaps I ought to feel bad about that. But I don't. This isn't a competition (or if it is, I'm not playing). There are 336,650 registered OSM users. I'm quite pleased with the bits I've added, but more than 2,000 have made a bigger contribution than I have, and I think that's great.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Phlegmatic cyclists

According to the British Crime Survey people who have their car stolen are more likely to be emotionally affected than people who have their bike stolen. They are also more likely to get angry (69% vs. 55%) and more likely to cry (8% vs 2%). Perhaps that's because people get more attached to their car, perhaps it's because the average value of a stolen vehicle is £2,400 and the average value of a stolen bike is £253. Or perhaps cycling helps us deal with stuff. The data is here

Leave your bike at a London Station - but hurry

This is the best time of year to leave your bike at a London station. There are fewer bicycle thefts reported to British Transport Police in December than at any other time of the year. But hurry - things start to get worse after Christmas, and by next summer there will be three times as many bikes being reported stolen.

Richmond, Camden, Bromley and Kingston together account for a third of the reports.

The data is here

Monday, 13 December 2010

DfT consultation

I see that the Department for Transport have opened consultation on the Transparency section of their business plan. The information is here. We are not being invited to comment on the content - I assume that consultation has already happened. So leaving aside any issues we might have with the rest of the document, we are invited to comment on whether they:
  • have selected the right indicators and measures and clearly explained their meaning in order to give a helpful high-level picture on the spending and performance of the transport sector
  • have robust data systems in place to ensure that the information provided is accurate, timely and robust and the quality is fit for purpose
  • have clearly defined their commitment to publishing data to help judge performance and whether the data that will be published meets our needs
  • should be mandating or encouraging the publication of extra data, or data broken down in a different way, that we would find helpful in holding the transport sector to account or making choices about transport services
I'll take it as a given that the people in DfT really are interested in encouraging sustainable travel, making cycling more attractive and so on. On that basis my first thoughts are:
  • Decision taking is going to be at a local level, but the DfT plan is to publish the main indicators at a regional level - shouldn't we expect data at local authority level on the proportion of cycling trips to presented in a consistent format so that we can compare how different local authorities are performing?
  • Numbers are pretty useless in isolation - there are too many other factors to explain any differences and confuse the issues. Shouldn't we expect at least some baseline data for each local authority, so that we can see future trends
  • Measuring the number of urban trips under 5 miles strikes me as a fairly useful proxy for measuring progress. It's particularly relevant for large towns and cities. But any single target is potentially going to distort behaviour. What about additional measures for local authorities that choose to prioritise other forms of cycling (sport, or tourism); or particular groups (school-children, commuters, rail users) 
  • What this is seeking is behavioural change across large numbers of road users. That takes time. I imagine that even the most effective local initiatives will show little impact on outcomes in the first couple of years. The suggested indicators are "lagging" in the way they measure any impact. It's no good looking back in four years time and saying "well that didn't work then". Effective scrutiny will have to rely on  leading indicators, to see what our local representatives are up to, and whether things are heading in the right direction. If individual local authorities are bombarded with FOIA requests it will waste a lot of their time.  Local authorities themselves will need more detail to monitor and steer their local initiatives. So it would be good to see some consistent standard measures for each local authority of things like the level of investment in cycling infrastructure, what local goals and targets have been set, the types of initiative that are taking place, and the number of participants in schemes such as training for cyclists
  • Is DfT providing any guidelines to local authorities on how to track progress and how to ensure measurements are consistent between authorities - and if so, what are they. 
  • Finally (and I'm not sure if this fits the consultation criteria or not), I've not seen anything on how proposals for the sustainable transport fund are going to be evaluated - how can we participate  without knowing this?
I don't have any experience of this kind of thing. Maybe others do, and maybe they are already involved. What is the best way to be heard? Have I missed anything? Am I wasting my time even thinking about it?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

If we had no rules where would we be?

Our local council has posted an item on their web site about a campaign by community wardens and police community support officers to discourage cycling in pedestrian areas around the town centre. Apparently in one week of November they issued five fixed penalty notices and "educated" four young people about the dangers of cycling in a pedestrian area.

My reaction to this is a bit mixed.

On the one hand:

I don't like to see cyclists riding on the pavement. Most of those I see doing it are young men, who are big enough to handle traffic, don't always take much care around pedestrians, and ought to know better. I can see why it worries the more elderly or parents with young children. I know it would be better for both cyclists and pedestrians if more cyclists were on the road and fewer on the pavement.

On the other hand:

There are situations where I can understand why people ride on the pavement. There are busy roads, and dodgy drivers around. I've recently learned the hard way just how vulnerable cyclists can be in traffic. So I have some sympathy with people who sometimes feel safer on the pavement than on the road.

For me the bigger issue is finding my way around a jumble of pedestrian areas and access roads in the town centre. Traffic is taken around a tortuous one-way system, and there are only a few clear cycle routes. I can easily find my way around the centre on foot but I don't often ride through it, so I don't always have a clear idea of the best way to navigate from A to B. As a result I admit to sometimes riding on pedestrian areas - just because it's easiest.

I don't want an FPN, so in future I'll have to be more clear where we are allowed to ride, and where we are not. I'll end up avoiding some of the more difficult parts of the centre.

Basically I think what I'm saying is that I approve of what they are doing to stop others cycling on the pavement. I'll do my bit, but it's all a bit of a pain and I wish the rules didn't apply to me.

They say their campaign has been a success, and I suppose this means they are right as far as I am concerned. But if I forget, make a mistake, or end up bending the rules for some reason, I hope they handle it sensibly. So far that seems to be how it is. Each day of the week's campaign they issued less than one FPN and educated less than one cyclist. That doesn't sound as though the enforcement has been too vigorous so far. Either they are being very reasonable, or there wasn't much of a problem in the first place.