Thursday, 18 December 2014

Tablets in the car are the new status symbol

Anyone can text and drive; here on Arley Hill on a weekday you see about 1 car in 4 texting.

What do you do if you want to show that you are really important?

Step 1 is the expensive car, like the BMW

That's good, but it's not enough, now that phones have become the new status device. What else can you do?
That's right: a tablet, here put away when they noticed someone taking photos of them.

They shouldn't be self-conscious! They should be proud! Tablets are something to show off!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Brunel 150

Sunday saw a fantastic display on the Downs.

And a confirmation that engineering really does work.

After 150 years the Downs were opened up to as many cars as possible for a firework display, which lasted 15 minutes.

Yesterday the roads around the Downs became a thing of the past, and parking prohibition became a mere memory of some ancient time when Engineers were lauded for their contribution to the 'Modern World'.

Luckily for drivers the 'No Cycling' signs did not apply to them, so they were able to park and drive right across the Downs to avoid the gridlock caused by the other traffic and escape into the night. Pedestrians were particularly helpful in getting out of the way if hooted at whilst they walked home. It was fantastic.

Unfortunately, the Downs have returned to normal today, and if you are driving a car you will need to use a road.

However, Bristol's biggest car park WILL be celebrated with fireworks every 150 years from now on.

On the Downs.

In cars.


Saturday, 20 September 2014

Bristol: cycling discriminates against the obese and the unfit

There's a bit of an upset in Birmingham currently, where (conservative) councillor came out and accused cycling of being discriminatory on race and gender, and that the £23 M could be better spent on things like parking spaces. And that it is also biased against women who want to wear modest clothing.

Well, we agree, in Bristol it is a discriminatory form of transport too. But not on race or gender.

No, in Bristol, Cycling discriminates against obese people with no legs and a lifestyle focused on fry-ups rather than hill climbs. These are people who suffer in our city.

Take this scene here, a mature Bristolian rastafarian working his way up Bridge Valley road. He's very much not a young white man -but to get up the hill on a road bike he has to be fit. A large proportion of our population —especially the residents of the suburbs, are significantly overweight, smoke, and generally live an unhealthy lifestyle.

These are the people that our city cycling project discriminates against —and no amount of cash on cycling infrastructure will fix that, unless the infrastructure involves lifts and escalators.

These are also the people that the city's expanding RPZ project discriminates: people to unfit to walk more than 15 metres to their destination. Removing all the free parking penalises those people who are too unfit to walk or cycle anywhere, by forcing them to pay.

The only person who cares for those people's needs is Eric Pickles –because he is the only politician who understands what it is like to obese and unfit. This is why his "short stops on double yellow lines" proposal is targeted at them: now they will be able to stop outside the newsagent to buy a packet of fags, then drive on to the chip shop to buy the evening meal.

Segregated cycling facilities will make this worse by removing short-stay parking opportunities, discriminating against the obese and the unfit merely by their very presence.

Returning to Birmingham, gateway to the M6, the councillor's colleague, Councillor Hutchings came out with the other part of the story, when he said “he feared hoards” of cyclists would have “a severe impact on pedestrians and motorists”. That's the other way a cycling program penalises the obese and the unfit. If you aren't fit enough to cycle round the city, driving is all you can do. The more cyclists there are, the more you get held up.

This is why the very presence of cycling infrastructure and increased cycling is so discriminatory against overweight suburbanites who will be hit by the triple whammy of cycling infrastructure removing main-road short stay options, the RPZ removing back road long stay parking, and finally cyclists themselves being in the way. Oh, and of course there's the 20 mph zone slowing down the journeys from their houses to the chip shops.

This is why it is critical that the Birmingham councillors recognise that cycling doesn't discriminate against gender or ethnic groups —if that city doesn't get the funding then it could come Bristol's way, and things would only get worse!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Scotland: a nation once again

It's in the balance right now: which way will Scotland vote?

It's time we stopped being impartial and stated our preference: Yes

Why? One reason is that one of our reporters lived there in the 1980s and remembers how a London-based government killed its entire manufacturing base: the shipyards, Ravenscraig, the coal mines, all the time promising that new industries would take its place: the service industry, the financial sector.

Well the financial sector did go big, but mainly so that London grew so wealthy that nobody can afford to live there. Edinburgh gained too -but it turns out those bankers got so excited about short term bonuses they turned out be a con. Meanwhile, what was left of the scottish industry died. Now, an independent scotland isn't going to get the clyde busy again, but at least now it'll have a government that actually cares about Glasgow, unlike Westminster, which has only just discovered where Glasgow is.

The 1980s also came with the Poll Tax, showing how Westminster was happy to impose its daft ideas on scotland first, a country that could be "an experiment". Aye, we remember that.

An independent Scotland would have a a government that cared about Scotland. You don't get that today, and you have no guarantees it will happen in future.

What you do have today is all the legacy politicians going north of the Border and promising more devolved powers. Promising is the key word: no politician can make guarantees. That's particularly true in the Conservative party, who have to keep their backbenchers happy and try and stop voters defecting to the UKIP, which they can only do by having policies that keep Daily Mail commenters happy. They will try and weasel out of every promise they make to Scotland, and over the years, pull more of them back.

As an example: Eric Pickles. We have a government that claims that it is in favour of "localism", in which councils and people get more of a say in what they do. Yet the councils and people are only allowed to do what Eric Pickles wants them to. He's killing the ability of Bristol Council to drive round schools with a CCTV camera to catch parents endangering schoolkids by parking on double yellow lines and keep clear zones. He's killing the councils ability to use CCTV to enforce bus lane parking restrictions. Why? He'd rather appease daily mail readers who believe in "Common Sense" over having safe schools and a functional transport system. Do you really believe that any promises of devolved power to Scotland will be kept when you have ministers trying to restrict how councils enforce bus-lane blocking?

Scotland going independent will force the rest of the UK to think "how will we be governed". The north of England does have legitimate rights to say "we deserve to have devolved powers to ... there's enough of a cultural gulf between there and London, enough of diverged economies, that it makes sense".

The same goes for Bristol. We're the same size as Edinburgh, diverged from London -yet we don't effectively even have a say on whether or not parents  can park outside schools. Any rethinking of how the UK is governed needs to address that.

An independent Scotland has the potential to bring change that will benefit Bristol. It's not guaranteed -yet it delivers an opportunity which can exploit

A vote for no is a vote for the status quo: irrespective of what the promises are.

Monday, 15 September 2014

At Last. Reclaim that Illegal Road Tax.

Yes. We're sick to death of the endless phone calls reminding us we can claim for mis-sold PPI we bought years ago*.

Yes. We're sick of the texts telling us we can claim for that accident that wasn't our fault.

Yes. We're sick of being promised a new kitten if we watch the internet for long enough.

But most of all we're sick of the WAR ON THE MOTORIST!

So thank goodness it's now possible to use a new website to reclaim overpaid taxes, entirely legitimately. All Road Tax ever paid since since 1937 can be reclaimed here:

and Road Tax Expert will help you through a full refund of any Road Tax paid since 1937.

You could be eligible for up to 77 years of repayments!!! That's probably thousands and thousands of pounds.**

*We didn't.

**non-hypothicated tax payers are ineligible. Apparently.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Scandal: Britain's rulers, judiciary and media are a clique of art and law graduates

There's been lots of press this week, rightfully noting that Britain's rulers are an elite clique of a few schools and two universities.

What was not picked up on was

  1. All of them have arts and law degrees. Usually the arts degree is "PPE: politics, philosophy and economics", which is an oxbridge-only degree with no real-world relevance outside local and national government. 
  2. A whole six percent of the current MPs have science degrees.
  3. It applies to the media too, where again schooling, networking and the willingness to work £0 interns get you a job.
This utter ignorance of the scientific method "let the data guide you, not your ill-informed opinions" shows up throughout much of government policy.
  • Badger culling. The scientists said it wouldn't work. They were right
  • The East Coast Mainline returning more money to the treasury than any private rail company, yet the government opening up the franchise again. What is it about spreadsheets that they don't believe?
  • The price guaranteed per MWh for nuclear power generated at Hinkley Point C, despite the way the price curves for solar and other renewables saying "massively over the odds"
  • Global warming. It may be bad news, but that doesn't stop you pretending it doesn't exist.
  • etc. etc. We have politicians on all sides of the house who have agendas and beliefs and who are not prepared to consider how many of those beliefs are defensible
And as noted, the media are as bad. Which means when the politicians say things that are blatantly wrong, this doesn't get picked up on. The classic example is when politicians say that cycling in the UK is safer than the NL as annual fatalities/head of population are less. They can quote the numbers because they are dividing the death rate by the wrong value ... it is as defensible as saying "the uk is safer as annual cycling fatalities per sheep in the country" is less. It's completely bogus, either said knowingly to defend a position —confident that it won't be challenged by a media without the understanding— or uttered because they are clueless and don't recognise its flaws themselves.

This whole "25% of London Guide dog owners" story is the ignorant abuse of statistics:
"A survey by the charity found one in four blind and partially-sighted people were involved in a crash"
As has eventually reached the press, this came from 14 people who may or may not have had guide dogs, and therefore is pretty much meaningless

In contrast, we are data driven organisation.

Admittedly all our content is self-selected, hence utterly prone to selection bias and observer bias —but we are aware of this fact and happy to admit it.
  1. we back up our assertions with photos and videos, not anecdotes about cyclists hitting wing mirrors and cycling off. 
  2. by surveying the same streets repeatedly, we build up a defensible dataset. For example, we have no evidence that the fabled "stokes croft bike lane" actually exists other than as a short-stay parking area for the post-office and the mercedes owner who lives next door to it. 
  3. When our assumptions are proven incorrect, we are happy to admit it. For example, when we had evidence that the infamous YA55VDY delivery van could park legally when there was a space for it.
we also know what a survey is. 

For the reference of others
  1. Census: you measure the entire population (i.e. set of things you care about).
  2. Survey: you measure a proper subset of the entire population in the hope that this data can be used to reach conclusions about the entire population. 

The critical thing is that for a survey to substitute for a census, it needs to be a representative sample of the entire population.  If it is not, then it can only be expanded to the non-representative portion of the population.

In the case of the guide dogs, it could be expanded to say "25% of the kind of people who follow our twitter feed and can be bothered to fill in surveys claim to both have guide dogs and to have been hit by a cyclist"

That's a very different statement. But it is all that can be made.

Which brings us round to the point. It's bollocks, but it is a bollocks that will be repeated blindly by much of the press then believed by its readers —and it will also be believed by politicians who don't have a clue about how numbers work.

Maybe we should just make up random facts too.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Clifton: riot of the self-entitled

The Economist has discovered the Clifton Popular Front in their article Four wheel Fever.

This shows what press a tank in a city can have.

The paper did fail to note what bad press a tank in a city can have, such as when the driver of the tank feels that a protest against an RPZ in Clifton is more important than a protest against bombing of UN refugee centres in Gaza

As the paper nodes, "CLIFTON, in Bristol, is an unlikely hotbed of political activism. ". It is however, a hotbed of self-entitlement, be it the right to park your 4x4 on a double-yellow-lined corner near your fee-paying school, the right to double-park near your house -and the right for commuters to park on pavements.

Which is the problem: a clash between a mayor trying address the traffic problems for the city with a part of the city that believes in the inalienable right to drive the kids to school even if there is no parking, to drive to the local shops even if there is no parking, and to drive to work even if there is no parking.

A lot of the city believes that, but Clifton is one part of the city that has come out in protest against it. There's also the Aberystwyth Faction of Gloucester Road, but they have gone quiet. And in Clifton, its the traders who believe in the right to drive to work that are being most vocal.

The article is interesting, we just have a few points to add

"Bristol is one of the most congested cities in Britain. Traffic during the evening rush hour moves more slowly than anywhere except Belfast, Edinburgh and London. "

That's something we've looked at before. "Congestion" is an odd concept; for Bristol it is often defined as "the city with the highest variance between peak hour and non-peak hour traffic". Bristol becomes easy to drive around between 09:10 and 16:30, whereas outer london is always near-stationary. Another metric "average traffic speed" fails to consider that journey time is defined as distance/velocity, so if the distances are short, so is the time. In London, people travel further to work.

"Locals will pay £48 ($81) for the first permit to park near their homes."

Locals in some of the city already do, Kingsdown (KN) and Cotham South (CM) being examples. Nobody protested there, showing that it's not the residents in the inner ring that have the issues. It's those people who have adopted a lifestyle that assumes that free parking will be available near their place of work, and consider congestion to be something imposed on them, rather than a consequence of their own decisions.

"In Clifton, a suspension bridge links Bristol with North Somerset. “Everybody and his daughter will park there and walk across,” predicts one resident. Rather than solving a city’s traffic problem, Mr Ferguson might just end up pushing it elsewhere."

If you ever visit Abbot's Leigh on a weekday you will see that it is already full of park+walk commuters. Why? You save on the £1 bridge toll, adding up to £10/week for commuters. There's also more chance of finding a parking space there. Claiming that the RPZ will force commuters to park elsewhere really means "the expanded RPZs will force commuters to walk further". Oh, and as the Downs is out of the zone, park+bus and park+pedal from there will continue to be as popular as it is today.

What the paper does pick up on is the fact that South Gloucestershire council has a big chunk of the Bristol metropole —and a very different transport policy. S Gloucs has the "Leeds Strategy": wider roads. They've had the space for this, but all it does is amplify congestion in the North Fringe. That conflict between strategies is going to place Bristol and South Gloucestershire in head-on conflict between long.