Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Bartholomew's maps

My parents used the post-war Bartholomew's 1/2" road maps, and I probably learned most of my map-reading skills* by navigating with them as my father drove. I don't think we have any of them at home these days, but I remember them well, and still see plenty in second-hand bookshops.

They are hopelessly out of date now of course, and of little practical use. But they are very colourful. I always liked the robust way they were mounted on fabric, and I still find them attractive in their own right.

The general style seems to have originated at the end of the 19th century for the maps that Bartholomew's produced of Scotland. There's a chunk of Mull here. By the 1920's they were producing similar maps of England and Wales. There's a chunk of Liverpool here. These were derived from the 1" scale Ordnance Survey Popular Edition. They seem to have been widely used as leisure maps (including cycling) by my parents' generation. I probably became familiar with them in the early 1960's, but I suspect the maps I was using dated from ten years earlier.  Bartholomew's continued to produce 1/2" to the mile maps into the 1970's.

Until I went back to look at these again I hadn't realised that from the beginning of the 20th Century they described roads as being "First Class", "Secondary" (good), "Indifferent" (but passable by cyclists) or "Not to be recommended to cyclists". Sometimes with variations:

This wasn't done on the basis of some official classification. The information was provided by members of the Cyclists Touring Club, and their logo appeared on the map. I suppose it's an  example of crowd-sourcing.

According to this, there was a formal arrangement between Bartholomew's and the CTC from 1910-1928. Apparently (from here) CTC had a network of map revision officers who tracked changes in the minor road network and correspondence continued until 1975. Though by then CTC felt that the maps didn't take much notice of the feedback their members were supplying.

I see some similarities between the OSM Cycle Map and the Bartholomew style. I don't know whether there are practical reasons for that, though I suspect there are. I hadn't expected to find a parallel in the way that the underlying data was sourced, but it obviously made as much sense in the past to crowd-source local detail as it does now.

The National Library of Scotland provides detailed scans of old Bartholomew maps for England and Wales, and for Scotland in their extensive online collection. And there's more here.

*(and the ability to travel south without turning the map upside down)

Green Way

I think I've mentioned before that one of the challenges around here is finding decent cycle routes through, or around, the various towns. Traffic in the centres can be very busy, and the major roads are designed to keep cars moving. While there are plenty of alternatives on the minor roads, these tend to be very fragmented and you need to know how to find your way. A simple journey from A to B can get complicated when you are not familiar with the best routes.

Difficulty in navigating around back roads is a reasonable problem when I am crossing towns that I don't visit very often. But we have lived here for more than ten years now, and it's a bit of an embarrassment to realise that I sometimes have the same problem in my own town.

This has come up because I had to take the car in for a service this week. The garage is on the other side of town, so these days I stick the bike in the car, and cycle back. With a few minor exceptions, I normally follow much the same route whether I am driving or cycling.

Finally it occurred to me that there ought to be a better way. And there is. Or at least I think there is.

There's a back lane that follows some old waterways near the centre of town. It dives under bridges that carry most of the traffic. There is only one point where you have to get off the bike to negotiate some steps and a messy road junction. Otherwise the route zigzags around the backs of offices and houses. Most of it is well surfaced, quite smooth, pleasant to ride, and remarkably quiet. Best of all, it slices right through busy and messy parts at the edge of the town centre, where it is particularly difficult to find alternatives.

I knew it was there of course. It is on the local maps, and I ride across it often enough. But bizarrely I had never thought to give it a proper try on the bike. Which makes me wonder how many similar alternatives I am missing.

The only fly in the ointment is that I'm not entirely sure that cycling is allowed along the whole length. It certainly is on parts, because there are signs to say so. At a few points I'm afraid I was concentrating on finding my way, and I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been to what all the signs said. Open Street Map shows it as a footpath. The local authority cycle map shows most of it as part of the local cycle network. I need to take a more careful look.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Turville and Hambleden (again)

It's been a beautiful day today, and I've covered 42 miles on the bike. That's my longest ride in months: and it feels like it.

The plan was to ride out to Christmas Common via Henley, then from Northend down Holloway Lane (a lovely ancient road) to Turville. The return was going to be across Hambleden weir and home through Warren Row and along NCR4. These are all familiar roads, so I didn't think to take a map.

Just after leaving home, it occurred to me that my plan involved covering the same roads in the first and last part of my day. I had plenty of time, and felt up for anything, so I thought I would take a different loop on the way out, approaching Christmas Common from the north via Marlow and through Stokenchurch.

The bit between Stokenchurch and Christmas Common is not so familiar to me, but I knew it was part of the Chilterns Cycle Route, so I didn't think it would be difficult to follow. I thought it would be a bit different and I was right.

Unfortunately I turned off too soon, and ended up in Ibstone. That road gets me directly to Turville a bit more quickly than I had planned. It's been a bit of a day for bright ideas that turn out not to be so clever. I decided I would be able to get back on track by taking a short-cut along the Chilterns Way, a bridle path. Several people on mountain bikes had obviously gone the same way before me. I could tell because they left tyre marks in a very soft and muddy path. I was slower to twig that this meant riding it on a road bike was a non-starter. But I was too stubborn to backtrack.

That part of the Chilterns Way runs through the Wormsley Estate, which is owned by the Getty family, so you pretty much have to stick to the path. I ended up pushing the bike through a lot of sticky mud for longer than I would have wished. However, we made it in the end, around a long difficult loop that took me back to where I had originally left the road.

At that point I gave up any ideas of finding a short-cut to Christmas Common, and pressed on directly to Turville. I made it most of the way up Holloway lane, before turning round and heading for home.

The return journey was much more straightforward, with one exception. I was running later than I had planned, so to save time I came back across the roundabout where I've been knocked off the bike by a car once, and almost knocked off another time. This is not my favourite piece of road. This evening, as I rode round the roundabout I was Clarkson'ed by an idiot who yelled and peeped his horn at me. He obviously didn't think I ought to be there. The seriously wealthy might be able to insulate themselves from the rest of the world, but the rest of us can't. I hope that it ruined his day to discover that cyclists use his personal roundabout - but he wasn't going to spoil mine. It felt good to have covered a longer distance, and (as usual) when things went a bit pear-shaped they also got more interesting.

The coming of the Camerons

Looking for some information on the old Bartholomew 1/2" maps, I got diverted (like you do) by a charming, if not entirely convincing, short film from 1944 in the Scottish Screen Archive.

Jean Cameron is a post woman in the highlands, who cycles around some beautiful scenery delivering the post (or as they put it: "keeping the glen folk in touch with the world"). The film is the story of her request to be issued with uniform trousers rather than the regulation skirt.

I can't figure out how to embed it, but the link is here.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

War on the enemies of empathy

I'm still wondering who my enemy is supposed to be in the war on the motorist. Then I came across an interesting and thought provoking piece of research called "Safety, cycling and sharing the road" on theDfT website here.

They interviewed cyclists, other road users and the parents of young cyclists about their views on cycling, the problems of interacting with other road users, and strategies for dealing with them. The paper was published a few months ago, but I didn't find it until today, from a link provided by Londonneur. For which thanks.

A lot of what they say rings true, and I like the different ways they describe different types of cyclist, the attitudes of different road users, and the various ways that things go wrong. They talk, for example, about acts of aggression, and failures of attitude, competence, and expectation as examples of the sort of thing that goes wrong when different types of road users are sharing the road.

But to my mind it's when they get on to stereotypes and empathy that things get really interesting. They describe empathy between different types of road user as "an important ingredient in successful road sharing".

When they talked to cyclists about how they see other road users they found a mix of different stereotypes. Some cyclists emphasised the sel´Čüshness and aggression they saw in other road users, but others were more inclined to explain driver behaviour by other factors. Of course, many of the cyclists they talked to were also drivers, which would explain why they found diverse views.

Quite a lot of the blogs about this stuff seem to originate in London, and maybe we should all note that London is where they found the emphasis on selfishness and aggression was particularly apparent (this applies all types of road user – drivers and pedestrians, as well as cyclists).

However, back to the empathy thing. Overall they found higher levels of empathy for car drivers than they found for other road users. And the groups for which there is less empathy don't just include cyclists. The same applies to all sorts of "minority" road users: cyclists, of course, but HGV drivers and bus drivers as well.

It's no real surprise to read what the stereotypes of cyclists were like: "the stereotypical cyclist emerges as a kind of lawless free-rider in the highly constrained and heavily taxed world of the driver". "serious failures of attitude", "generalised disregard for the law" "lack of concern for the needs of drivers", (linked to the fact that cyclists do not need to be licensed or insured). "serious failures of competence and knowledge of the rules of the road" (linked to the fact that cyclists are not required to undertake training).

Apparently even the most negative towards cyclists concede that not all are the same, but the consensus was that most conform to the stereotype: in London, it was estimated that 70–80% of cyclists do.

One of several conclusions from all this is that there is a failure in the culture of road sharing, and a lack of consensus about whether cyclists belong on the roads. I'm still grappling with the question of who my enemy is supposed to be in all this, so I don't want to get diverted into the debates about when cyclists ought to be given separate facilities. But the bit about the culture of road sharing is interesting.

I like this idea that the culture of road sharing is part of the problem, and that empathy is the key to successful road sharing. So I'm inclined to think that the real enemies I should be concerned with are those who undermine empathy between road users.

It seems to me that would exclude the vast majority of other road users - even those who think that I'm a "lawless free-rider" (I quite like the idea of being seen as a lawless free-rider). On the other hand it would include politicians who concoct thoughtless "War on the Motorist" nonsense, journalists (and others) that sensationalise the issues, and of course, anyone that acts aggressively to other road users - whether they are driver or cyclist.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The fog of the war on the motorist

A month or so ago I was lent a copy of a documentary called “The Fog of War”. In this Robert McNamara, (1916-2009), former US Secretary of Defence reflects on the lessons he learned during a life that involved advising Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Johnson during the Vietnam War. Before he worked for Kennedy, McNamara ran the Ford Motor Company, and after Johnson fired him he ran the World Bank. It's not important, but it's quite interesting that his middle name was "Strange".

I've been mulling over the idea that  his eleven lessons of war might be applied to this mythical war between cyclists and motorists:

  1. Empathize with your enemy
  2. Rationality will not save us
  3. There's something beyond one's self
  4. Maximize efficiency
  5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war
  6. Get the data
  7. Belief and seeing are often both wrong
  8. Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning
  9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
  10. Never say never
  11. You can't change human nature

I suspect some of them would - if only I could figure out who my enemy is supposed to be. The fact that I can’t even answer that presumably means that I’m stuck on rule #1.

There's more about Mr McNamara here, and the whole Fog of War documentary can be viewed here.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Getting a grip

For my first attempts to use the helmet camera I tried the obvious approach and mounted it on my helmet. I felt like a teletubby, and I found that I ended up capturing too much sky, or too much tarmac. I've also tried various ways of attaching the camera to my clothing, but none worked very well for me when I was riding. I decided it would be better mounted on the bike.

Veho provide a wide variety of different options for attaching the camera to different things. They are very clever, and I think they would work fine if there was a bit more room available on the handlebars, but I found I had trouble locating the camera with a clear line of sight around the bar bag, brake cables, and other bits and pieces. I needed a way of lifting it a bit further away from the bar without losing stability.

I bodged up home-made bracket Mark-1 from various bits and pieces. It worked up to a point, but it needed very careful positioning to get a clear view. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, and I didn't know which until I got home and saw the results.

Mark-2 was an improved version, built from Meccano, which worked better. The results were more consistent, but it wasn't rigid enough, so they were consistently shaky. It did give me a better idea of where I needed the camera to be positioned though.

At least at that stage I thought I understood better what I needed to achieve. So I set out to build something that would position the camera where I wanted it, would be stable enough, and give me some ability to adjust the camera position.

Bracket Mark-3 aimed for all that, and turned out to be too ambitious. It was nice on paper, but some way beyond my limited construction skills. So it never got completed, and I went back to the drawing board to figure out something simpler.

I thought I was beginning get my ideas sorted out, but then this morning I was mooching around B&Q and discovered their mini clamps. These were probably not designed to be used as camera mounts, but they looked as though they might work.

It's been a lovely day today, so I treated myself to a set this morning and tried them out this afternoon. There's a picture that gives a better idea of how it works here. As far as I can tell, they are the best solution (so far). They are very easy to mount, they give me a choice of different camera positions, and they seem to be reasonably stable.

Once I manage to edit the results we'll be able to see whether they are good enough to justify an Oscar nomination. I suspect not. But these clamps look as though they might meet my limited needs for the time being.

Clever animation

London Hire Bikes animation from Sociable Physics on Vimeo.

From here via Jack Thurston

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

January roundup

It's not much of a story for January, with just half a dozen rides covering about hundred miles in total. Things need to pick up a bit.

I've made more progress with some related activities though.

To start with, I managed to build myself a new copy of the OSM Cycle Map for the GPS. There are plenty of other people who have done that, of course, so it's no great achievement. The tools needed are readily available, but it's a while since I last used them. After some early success, as the map grew I found things got more difficult. So for a while I've been using versions of the map on the GPS that others have provided. This time I found that some of the options needed a bit of tweaking, but apart from that it was straightforward enough. I've loaded the map onto the GPS and tried out a little bit. It seems to work fine, though routing over anything more than a few miles is causing me problems. I'm not sure why, but I normally plan the more difficult routes beforehand, so it isn't very important.

In the last month I've also managed to create a new copy of the OSM database on the old computer that sits under my desk. I used a similar database in the past to estimate the amount of road coverage in different parts of the country. The results I produced then have long been superseded, but there are some other ideas that I would like to play around with. It all works OK, but the database load took a lot longer than I expected. That's partly a sign that I didn't pay enough attention to performance issues before I lumbered into it, but mainly a sign of impressive coverage and detail in the data.

I've also started to get stuff ready to use my new helmet camera. We've been seeing a lot of media comment about cyclists using helmet cameras to record dodgy driving. That's not my main interest. I want to see how well these little cameras work as a way of recording some favourite rides. Things aren't really ready yet, but I'm getting there. I've experimented with different ways of mounting the camera - on my helmet, my arm / shoulder and clipped to my clothing. None of them seems entirely satisfactory, so there's plenty of scope for more tinkering (which is part of the fun). I'm also starting to getting to grips with different tools for editing out the most boring bits.

Lastly, I can't help feeling that this year I should be contributing something to groups involved in local cycling action, and I've started to make moves in that direction. It's early days, but contact has been made, and we'll see what happens.

In summary, I can't claim that the cycling year has really started yet, but with January and some groundwork behind me things are promising to pick up.