Thursday, 25 June 2009

One in a million

New Department for Transport statistics show a surge in cycling activity in 2008, from 4.2 billion km (2,609 million miles) in 2007 to 4.7 billion km (2,920 million miles).

If they are right, then that's a 12% increase, and the longest total distance cycled in the UK since 1990.

I did my bit. I contributed 3,000 miles: just over one millionth.

Update: CTC has a summary here which also points out that cycling deaths have fallen.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Putting Stoke Poges on the map

I got another report out the door today, which is always worth a small celebration. So I decided to go for a decent ride after dinner.

This week Jack Thurston's Bike Show was covering the first part of his ride from London to Bristol. The programme is always worth a listen, and this one is particularly interesting to me because he was covering my local area, including Stoke Poges, Henley and the Chilterns.

But when I looked at the OSM map, most of Stoke Poges was missing. Fixing that seemed like another good excuse for a ride. So this evening I ended up covering 28 miles out to Stoke Poges, tracing most of the missing streets, then back home again.

It was a lovely evening for a ride. I've taken this week's total distance over 100 miles (and it's still only tuesday). I'm now 127 miles ahead of plan for the year, and to reach my annual goal I only need to average 57 miles a week for the next six months. Non-trivial, but I'm more on top of the plan than I've been all year.

So it's been a good day, although I forgot to take my little digital recorder with me to collect the street names, so it looks as though a return trip will be needed. Perhaps next time I'll finally get to see the famous bicycle window in St Giles' church.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Round Britain

Gregory Williams is now a week into his "Three Corners" ride around Britain, via Canterbury, Land's End and John O'Groats. He has reached Cornwall. He is taking sponsorship for the British Heart Foundation, and tracing routes for OSM. His diary is worth a look, and I'm looking forward to tracking his progress.

Meanwhile Mike Carter from the Observer has reached Yorkshire, travelling the other way round the coast.

I wonder which of them will reach the other first.

Jenkins 25

This map shows the first 25 churches in my Jenkins quest. The list is taken from Simon Jenkins' book of the Thousand Best English Churches, ranked by distance from home. I'm riding to each in turn on the bike.

I covered twelve last year, a bonus one (because I mucked up, and lost one from the list) and twelve more this year. The question now is whether I should continue to extend the list for the rest of this year, or invent a new challenge and change tack for six months. I'm inclined to go for something different for a while, and I've got a few ideas. But I'm happy to listen to advice and suggestions. What do you think?

(I'd show the map on OSM, if I knew how).

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Thomas à Becket

Bramley, Saint James, Thomas à Becket

This is a medieval wall painting, of Thomas à Becket, dating from 1225, in Saint James Church, Hampshire. That means it was painted only 55 years after he was murdered.

This is the 12th, and last church in the list that I am trying to reach on the bike this year, and the 25th that I have ridden to since I started this project. So this is a bit of a milestone.

As the crow flies, this is the most distant of the churches on this year's list, but the ride itself wasn't a particularly long one. That's largely because a straight line on the map took me along quite a few pleasant roads that I hadn't tried before. So there was no incentive to wander more widely. I got a bit muddled around Stratfield Saye on the way out, but on the way back I got through Winnersh Triangle without getting lost. The total came to 58 miles.

All in all it was a very pleasant day.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Czy ty też lubisz jeździć na rowerze?

Thanks to my weekly newsletter from CTC, I find that the European Economic and Social Committee has published a European Cycling Lexicon which can be downloaded here.

I feel the need for a tour that will make best use of it.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Danny Macaskill

While I was putting off re-starting work this afternoon, I saw this on a link from Real cycling.

The video has been on Youtube for a couple of months now, and has more than 7 million views, so I'm not exactly at the cutting edge, but I hadn't seen it before. If you haven't either, then it's work a look.

Unfortunately it's going to take me a few hours to finish off this report, and it needs to be out this afternoon. Otherwise I'd be rushing out now to try some of these stunts. There's a row of railings just down the road that should do fine, and a couple of shop fronts I could try jumping across. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until this evening. I'll let you know how I get on.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Seer Green

I had a nice long evening ride after dinner yesterday. I went out to Seer Green, through Burnham and Beaconsfield, then back through Jordans, Wooburn Green, Bourne End and Cookham.

Seer Green is pleasant enough, but as far as I know there isn't anything remarkable about it. I chose the destination because it is one of the few settlements around here that hasn't been covered very well on Open Street Map. I haven't been contributing much to the map recently, but I have now managed to add quite a few more roads. This morning I see that my additions have already started to appear. But Seer Green still isn't completely mapped, even at the most basic level. There is plenty more to do, so there is an excuse for at least one more outing along the same lines.

By the time I got home I had covered just over 30 miles, and it was getting late. As it began to go dark I realised that the batteries in the front light were flat, so I had to make a small diversion to buy some replacements. I really ought to have checked them first.

Otherwise the only event of note was spotting a fox in the woods near Jordans. The pleasure of the evening wasn't in the highlights: but it felt good to have a decent stretch, on a lovely evening.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

When I grow up I want to be Simon Sharma

When I grow up I want to be Simon Sharma. However, my wife tells me that this is unlikely to happen. So I've been thinking that maybe I should be David Aaronovitch instead. But apparently the problem isn't so much with the Simon Sharma bit. Unfortunatley, it's more to do with the growing up bit.

My hopes have been dashed, but life must go on. Miles must be cycled, churches must be be visited, ways must be added to Open Street Map.

So today I set off for Saint Lawrence at Stanmore, to see the ceiling paintings, and the organ that Handel played (and tick off the 24th church on my Jenkins quest).

The day was hot, and the route involved quite a lot of North-West London suburb. That's not as boring as some might think, but it's not really in the same league as the destination. This church cleverly combines some remarkably rich detailing and quite a plain building. Neither on its own is really my thing, but the combination is very appealing.

I rode through Uxbridge, Ruislip, Pinner, and Harrow Weald, and I've traced nearly 60 miles of the route. Tomorrow I will check, but these are areas that are already pretty well covered on OSM at the level that I was gathering data. So I suspect that I will be able to plug no more than a couple of minor gaps. Still I had a good day. I hope that, in their own way, Simon and David did too.

Sociable tricycle

Sociable tricycle. Digital ID: 1196270. New York Public Library
The Sociable bicycle, from a collection of 50 at the New York Public Library.

"In the early 1880's the tricycle was being developed in so many types that the trade was embarassed by its own ingenuity. Two seaters became the vogue and a novel pattern was the sociable in which the riders sat side-by-side, but they were slow, heavy and awkward and had only a short period of popularity. This picture shows the "Salvo" sociable of 1882. The riders are Mr and Mrs W. D. Welford, famous in the history of photography as well as cycling. W. D. Welford was the first paid secretary of the Cyclists' Touring Club. (1879-1881) and Mrs Welford, still hale and hearty in 1939 at the age of 85 - was the first woman member of the CTC."

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Mad King George

In Windsor Great Park there is a huge statue of George III on the top of a hill, at the end of the Long Walk, in direct line of sight from the castle.

You would think it would be easy to find.

It's probably worth pointing out that you are not allowed to ride a bike on the obvious route, along the Long Walk. But it still doesn't say a lot for my navigation skills that it's taken me four or five attempts to find another route to the statue, which is known as the "copper horse".

However, this afternoon I finally made it, in fairly grim weather, with light drizzle on the way out, a heavy shower when I got there (I sheltered under a tree for a while), then more drizzle for half the journey back.

It's a horrible statue, but I'm glad I've finally crossed this off my list of things to visit on the bike.

Even better, on the way down the hill I rode past a herd of deer that were making their way across the road.

Even if it was possible, it's not a good idea to get too close, so the picture seems a bit unimpressive. In the real world, seeing so many deer at (fairly) close quarters was something memorable.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

What is going on - part-2

Two people have commented on my previous post about inconsistencies in the cycling statistics.

Both raise interesting points, for which I am grateful. I've been crunching some numbers to try and figure out whether their suggestions could explain the discrepancies. My initial conclusion is that both suggestions are plausible, but the suggestion from Townmouse that cyclists are moving off-road, is less depressing than the suggestion from Shaun that the amount of cycling in the rest of the country is on a different trajectory to cycling in London.

I'll start with the Department for Transport cycling figures. These work out at about 1 billion (1,000 million) cycle trips a year, averaging 2.4 miles each, and totalling 2,400 million miles of cycling each year in the UK.

The DfT estimated a 10% drop in the number of cycle trips in 2007, but their numbers fluctuate quite a bit from year-to-year, and 2006 was an exception. Smoothing the trend over the last 5 years, it works out at about a 0.5% p.a. decline. This is equivalent to 5 million fewer cycle trips on the roads each year.

Then I examined the Sustrans figures. As far as I can make out, about 30% of their network is off-road, but this accounts for about 80% of their traffic. They estimate that there are 354 million trips a year on their total network, of which about half are on bikes (the other half are walkers). Activity on the Sustrans network is rising by about 5% p.a., which would work out at about 8 million additional cycle trips each year.

So the Townmouse scenario would imply that Sustrans have attracted 5 million trips off the roads, onto their traffic-free network, and in addition to this, they have encouraged people to make 3 million extra cycle trips on their network each year. I don't know if that's reality - but it sounds plausible to me. A round of applause, please, for Sustrans.

On Shaun's suggestion that cycling is rising in London and declining elsewhere.

A step change in cycling in London was measured in 2006 (after the bombings). This change alone was equivalent to a 3% increase in cycling across the whole country, and pretty much explains the whole of the increase estimated by DfT from 2005 to 2006. However in London, the increase in cycling activity was sustained for the next year. The figures did not fall back again in 2007. But the DfT national figures did.

Other DfT figures suggest that London accounts for almost a fifth of all UK cycle trips. Assuming the 2006 growth in London has been sustained beyond 2007, then the London Transport cycling figures should now be growing at about 5% growth p.a..

For the DfT figures to be right, and cycling across the whole of the UK to be decreasing by 0.5% p.a. while London increases by 5% p.a. , then simple arithmetic says that cycling activity across the rest of the UK must be decreasing by 2% p.a.

The national strategy is to encourage cycling, and most local authoriites seem to have a goal along the same lines. It is not clear to me whether there is currently a measureable national target for this (the government may have other things on its mind at the moment). But there used to be one that aimed to double the amount of cycling by 2001, and double it again by 2012. This works out at 7% p.a. growth from 2001-2012. In comparison to this, an annual decline of 2% p.a. outside London would be pretty depressing. It wouldn't fit my own impressions of more cyclists on the roads in South-east England. And it wouldn't fit what a lot of councils say they want to achieve.

What I can't find is any recent data for individual councils that would indicate what progress is being made (if any) outside London. So at the moment we are all speculating. It's interesting though.

Friday, 5 June 2009

What is going on?

Some of these numbers are a bit old, but they are the latest I can find. CTC reports record membership, Sustrans reports more users of the National Cycle Network, there is more cycling in London, many local authorities have a goal to encourage cycling, and cycling accidents are up.

And yet the Department for Transport last reported that the number of miles travelled on bikes is going down.

I know there is widespread cynicism about official statistics, but my own experience is that they are normally pretty robust. I can't help feeling, though. that there is something wrong here.

It's hardly a representative sample, but my impression is that the number of bikes on the roads is going up. So my inclination is to think that there must be something wrong with the way the Department for Transport carry out the survey that underpins their figures on the number of miles cycled in the UK each year.

For comparison, I've been looking for robust local government data from outside London, without success. Am I missing something? Has anyone already challenged the DfT figures?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Update on the numbers

We are five months into the year now,  and a roundup is overdue on how the mileage is doing.

My goal for 2009 is 3,249 miles, and so far I've covered 1,439. That means that I've completed 44% of the target in 42% of the year, and I'm about 65 miles ahead of where I wanted to be at this stage. Things went a bit adrift in February, but at the end of April my week's cycling holiday in Northumberland and the borders put me back on track. Through May I've maintained a slight lead over my plan. If I average 60 miles a week for the next 7 months then I will reach my target for the year.

Looking at the diary, I've not taken the bike out as often this year as I did last year, but my trips have got longer. Since the beginning of 2009 I've  ridden my imperial age (57 miles) seven times, and I've done more than 100km three times. I still haven't done a ride of 100 miles, but there's time yet, and I hope to by the end of the year. As a result of longer rides my Eddington number is now up to 37, and I only need five more long rides to get it up to 40. My Eddington number just for this year is 21.

I've reached ten of the Jenkins churches that are on my list for this year, leaving two to complete the set. Including the 13 that I reached last year, that makes 23 in total. As I reach each church the next one on the list is a bit further away. The current batch are all about 20 miles away as the crow flies, so the round trips normally come out at about 60 miles. Importantly, the routes are not just getting longer, they are getting increasingly interesting as well. 

Progress on the height front is a bit disappointing. I've lost a few pounds since the beginning of the year, but not as much as I'd hoped. So I'm still 7½ inches short of the ideal height for my weight. The trouble is that all this exercise gives me an appetite.