Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Big Shout Out to SWC scaffolds van HK15FYH!

We don't normally go to S gloucs on the basis that it's boring.

Nice to see that today, the driver of SWC scaffolds van HK15FYH / HK15 YHF decided to lighten up the journey of our tax dodger by not bothering to slow down for the roundabout.

This isn't a great junction, so the cyclist lined up for a right turn, waited for the traffic coming from the MoD abbey wood direction to go, then set out, slowly enough to be able to react to problems. Which was good, as you can see that the van coming from the left doesn't appear to slow down at all, not until shouted at.

If you look at the still, you can see why: he's got his shiny gold iphone six in his hand

It's interesting to see the driver's reaction: they look up from the phone, look at the cyclist, then drive off, without even bothering to show a hint of remorse.

Which raises the question: report the driver to the police or not? Because that may be the only way to see some remorse, and perhaps even him stopping texting while driving.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Bristol's Parking Problem: 2016 style

There's an article up on the evening post saying for the first time in a generation, a majority of people are using either buses, bikes or walking to work instead.

This is fascinating. Too bad there is no coverage of the methodology of the survey other than it's "a survey of the commuting habits of thousands of city residents". How did they conduct this survey? A random call of Bristol numbers? Did it include s survey of the rural backwaters of S Gloucs and N Somerset? Did they look at the distances travelled to measure commute-miles, rather than just journeys? Did they ask firstbus and wessex bus lines for data, along with ANPR logs and phone company travel datasets? These are the things we need to know.

Anyway, in the list of people the paper called for an opinion, they reached for their Fax Machine contact list and got in touch with Hugh Bladon, Bristol's member of Association of British Drivers, who is always woken up from his sleep for a quote. Hugh Bladon actually lives in Weston Super Mare, a town which is still looking forward to 1974, so it's always surprising that they can contact Hugh for a quote. That's 20 miles away, a distance quoted by Google maps as 38 minutes drive from Stokes Croft on a Sunday evening. If Mr Bladon really does commute into Bristol every day, he'll be spending an hour each way, first on the A370, A38 or M5+ portway, then in stop-go mode through town to finally reach his destination. And for what? To live in Weston? That's the place where Banksy hosted his Dismaland Exhibition —and that's not a coincidence. Probably the main problem they had there was people walking round town laughing at stuff and taking selfies in front of the sea front, not realising they weren't actually at the exhibition yet. Why would anyone voluntary live there? If you have children, think of what it does to their minds? And, think what it does to your life, with 2+h a day sitting in a car.

Essentially, you can't trust the judgment of anyone who lives in WsM of their own volition. So the fact he is called on to be the ABD spokesman is a bit worrying for them: can't they find anyone else?

And what did he have to say? Rather than go for the survey methodology —always the first line of attack—, he accepted the findings and then blamed the council
I suppose people are getting fed up with travelling into the city. here is not enough provision for people to park, and I suppose more people are using the park and rides. I would also think George Ferguson and his 20mph scheme are frightening people who think they might get a ticket for doing maybe 23, or 24mph Those are the sort of things that drive away people.With the expanding economy, I would have thought more people would be in cars. It might also be there is not enough parking. Cycle lanes now take up a lot of tarmac where road parking used to be.
This is hilarious. We have never heard of anyone too scared to drive into the city in case they get a ticket(*).

Blaming the RPZ for removing a large amount of free-at-point-of-use commuter parking is something he should have gone for, but instead he imagines that people are scared of getting a ticket for driving at 24 mph. That's like saying people are scared of using the M4 in case they get a ticket for driving at 74 mph. They aren't, you don't.

As for the "Cycle lanes now take up a lot of tarmac where road parking used to be.". He must have a different cycle map than everyone else. The purpose of cycle lanes is to provide short stay parking. Even bus lanes are only closed to parking for 3 hours a day, 21 h a week.

But he does have a bit of a point: there isn't enough parking. Only what you want to park has changed.

Look at this video of a Bristol (not a WsM) resident cycling to the shops on a weekend.
  1. There are no cycle lanes.
  2. There are still people driving, not scared of getting a ticket for driving at 23 mph.
  3. A lot of the people driving don't seem to looking where they are going.
  4. None of the car parking space has been re-allocated to cycle lanes.
  5. There are lots of bike racks,  about 8 opposite where Havana Coffee used to be, two over the road by that, then more by costa coffee and sainsbury's.
  6. All of these bike racks are full.
There is nowhere to park a bicycle

Our reporter cycles down hill, avoids getting hit by the 4x4 turning from Aberdeen Road without looking, and the hatchback pulling out from the other side of the road without looking, carries on a bit, having to wait with a car in front for a driver taking their time to reverse park, then pulls over themselves to find somewhere to park. First rack: 12 bikes; no room for more. Visible across the road: two racks, four bikes, no space. They continue down to Whiteladies Road. On the far side of the road, there's space for about 30 bikes, looking fairly full. On this side of the road, 6 more racks, space for 12. Except, again, full.

One of the bikes there half of an abandoned frame, lying on its side. So the the tax dodger gets to do something nobody who drives in from WsM can get away with; they stick their own bike on top of it, lock up, and go to the shops. So we see approximately six cars worth of space allocated -all from the pavement, we note- for bicycles, which is a fraction of the space allocated to car parking. What we see in this video is, on Cotham Hill alone, 32 cars, two spaces free. For bikes, 48 spaces: all taken, albeit some with dissolving relics.

Is this an unusual event? Not really; the same situation was encountered on Gloucester road an hour earlier: one space outside Maplins, someone else queueing for it before the tax dodger had even unlocked. Because on that side of the road, there are about eight bike stands, from Zetland Road up. In contrast, if you wanted to drive there, there's more space.

Essentially, we are seeing a shift to cycling as a transport option in some parts of the city —and we aren't seeing the city adapting to that.  Hugh can complain about removal of parking, but there is significantly more space allocated to parking here than any other other form of transport.

This little stretch of Whiteladies Road is interesting, as it is what the ABD use in the videos calling the council "bonkers", showing how shops have suffered from a lack of parking and have had to shut down.

Well, our anecdata beats theirs, at least in terms of being up to date, and what it says is "Bristol does have a parking problem, but it's not just for cars".

(*) If you have —or know someone who has— stopped driving around out of fear of getting ticketed at 23 mph, please get in touch.

WN60HDC: Sign Language

If you look at any of the London cyclists videos, they normally involve shouting, swearing and recrimination. Well, a lot of Bristol coverage is like that —but it can be done less confrontationally.

Here is a silent movie showing the exchange of opinions on the merits of texting while driving between a tax dodger and WN60HDC WN60 HDC

After a point and a dismissal of he phone in use, the tax dodger points to their camera and then the number plate, the driver then responds with their own pointing action.

This is of course the site of our experiment where we see 1 car in 6 looking at their phone screen on a weekday morning. Here, on a saturday afternoon, Whiteladies Road is less congested, so it's surprising to see someone having time to check up on facebook. They don't check for very long, perhaps they don't have any friends.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Hints of a left hook

Nothing spells "left hook" like a van coming up alongside with its indicators on. However, this one did actually wait for the cyclist to get past.

For London viewers: note the stressful conditions of Bristol streets. This is actually Sustrans NC4, as marked by some fading paint.

For ABD members from Weston Super Mare and 1973: note the parking spaces stolen by the RPZ, the cyclists in one direction, and how a van was held from turning by another bicycle —costing the company and city money.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Prewar Bristol

A lot of newcomers ask us: "what was it like before the war began?", or "How was the city centre before it was ruined by the war?"

Well, the War on Motorists began over 25 years ago —and the city is still suffering under it. Before the war, you could drive from temple way over the rickety flyover, straight to the centre, then past the cathedral and out to the A4, with only a couple of traffic lights in your way. Not now.

Some of the history of pre-war Bristol is still there, if you know where to look. Redcliffe Way for example —have you noticed how wide it is? Or why the road from the Jacob's Wells Road roundabout to (what's left of) the Bristol library is wide, yet deserted. All distant memories of a city before the war.

Here, in our historical artifacts, we've found an A-Z map of Bristol from 1985, when the motorists were not yet under attack by a car-hating council.

Look at the subtle differences
  1.  Castle Park is as it once was: parking. A large amount of its surface area was dedicated to medium to long stay parking for "Broadmead Shopping Precinct" —one of Britain's premier shopping areas. Now: stolen by greenery. And of course, there's a bike path. And look what happened to Broadmead —its decline is not a coincidence.
  2. There's a road, "College Green", where now there is a park: "College Green". Newcomers just don't appreciate how wonderful it was to have a main road going past the cathedral entrance, between it and the council house —showing the council what mattered to Bristol: fast-moving cars. When Anchor Road was reworked in the early 1990s, it was designated the through road, and College Green taken from us; Dean Road becoming a cul-de-sac.  And of course, the park added a bike path. This was one of the first losses in the war —and possibly the greatest strategically. No longer did the council get to see a main road out their windows. And without that, they lost their way: they forgot what mattered.
  3. Redcliffe Way goes all the way through to The Centre, via what is now known as "Queen's Square". That got captured by the tree-huggers at the turn of the century —who went out to plant trees to commemorate their victory. And of course, a bike path.
  4. The infamous rickety flyover has gone. Nobody who has arrived in the last 15 years will ever appreciate the thrill of driving over that single lane flyover, wondering if today would be the day that it fell down. Stolen, replaced by a lights-controlled gyratory. And of course, a bike path.
  5. Templemeads had a motorail terminal. Actually, this was news to us. Apparently you could drive onto a sleeper train and get to Scotland overnight. Of course, being able to drive up the M5, get stuck at Spaghetti Junction, crawl over Wolverhampton on the M6 and then eventually get to the A74 replaced that. And even now, with the M74 and new motorways round Glasgow, the speed enforcement on those motorways have made the journey worse.
  6. The railway path doesn't exist. While they didn't steal our roads for that —they could have converted that old railway line into a new road, or at least extra parking. Instead: a route designed to encourage more law-breaking cyclists to come into the city.
  7. The M32 ends at the "Allied Carpet and sex shops" junction, rather than the more convoluted "queue for Cabot Circus Parking" junction. Again, the addition of vast amounts of parking has made congestion worse on the M32. And, with more lights, pedestrian and cycle crossings.
  8. Nine Tree hill is open to through traffic. This was the great partition of Kingsdown. Before then you could drive down Springfield road, cut through Ninetree Hill and make your way to Jamaica street —allowing you to get all the way from The Downs to the city centre without a traffic light. Not now —and by forcing everyone to drive down Whiteladies Road, St Michael's Hill or Arley Hill+ Cheltenham road, it only makes congestion worse. And again: there's a bike path on the roads they stole.
  9. Prince Street Bridge. Two way, Closed to cars —possibly indefinitely.
  10. Lots of the other little "P" areas have been taken away by offices and housing. And what have we got in exchange? Nothing but the multi-storey parking of The Galleries, the multi-storey parking of Cabot Circus, the underground parking at @Bristol and the vast amount of parking behind Temple meads. That's it.
You can see, then, the multipronged battles which we've been fighting —and losing— in the war on motorists. Those bits of red paint on the main roads aren't the real war, they are just the victory signs, the equivalent of unionist and nationalist kerb painting. No, the battles fought have been far more strategic
  • The closure of the inner ring road, the replacement of College Green and Queen's Square's main roads with parkland and bike paths. And in doing so —increasing congestion on the remaining roads.
  • The closure of important rat-runs, closures which partition whole parts of the city. And in doing so —increasing congestion on the remaining roads.
  • The replacement of surface parking with multi-storey parking facilities. And in doing so: encouraging congestion.
This is what we are up against. And while it's easy to point to the current mayor and say "20 mph zones! RPZ zones!" and accuse him of conducting a war on motorists, those aren't the real war. Those are details in a conflict going back decades.

Monday, 28 December 2015

DfT: Number of cyclists on M32 still zero

If you go into a bike shop you can pick up a freebie map of where to cycle in the city —one that's actually good for walking and running too.

You can more easily get a map of where not to cycle. In any overview map of the city, it's the red roads on the cover, along with the junctions between them.


Which is quite a coincidence really, as those are, essentially, the locations of the Department of Transport traffic survey sites

This is why the DfT traffic survey, showing a levelling off in cycle use, has to be treated with some scepticism. Frankly, if the number cyclists on the A370 and Cumberland Basin Flyover, or Temple and Newfoundland Ways was measured at more than zero, we'd actually suspect a measurement error.

Joe Steinsky tears into the numbers, with a graph we've stolen without any attribution.

The sheer variance in that cycling graph shows its flaws —you have to worry about how meaningful it is.

Even so, it's going to be taken up by those people who find it supports their opinions. In Bristol, that's the usual anti-cycling lobby: the evening post, the evening post commenters, random twitter haters and conservative party council and mayoral candidates.

If you encounter it —don't be afraid to ask "where are the numbers of people walking or on a train?", as you aren't going to see any of them on the M32, A370 or Temple Way either.

Out of Bristol, the group people need to worry about is actually the DfT themselves. Their 2013 traffic model predicted a fall in miles cycled after 2015, the data they've published appears aligned with this, so helps congratulate their modelling team on their skills, perhaps promoting them to the DEFRA Flood Modelling project. Which is why the cycling troublemakers need to be pushing back on this, not just asking for the council to collect better data on routes such as the BBRP, suspension bridge, Create Bridge crossing (oh, wait, BRT2 killed that), Prince St Bridge (oh, wait, BRT broke that), the Chocolate Path (oh, wait, BRT2 again), but maybe the castle path, farm pub path, eastville park path, and up through Stoke Park to UWE, etc. And then advocate the DfT to include such data in their modelling of urban use. And include walking too. Because that's a legitimate form of transport and is as much at risk of neglect as the cycling.

At this point, the locals who sneer at Bristol traffic for being car-hating extremists will accuse of us discounting data we don't like, just as they themselves do with all climate change research that brings bad news, models that predict warmer winters with more floods.

For those people, know that we slagged off the survey the moment we encountered it in progress.

This is it: four people on a footbridge overlooking the M32. We faulted it at the time for being an inadequate way of measuring car traffic in a modern city. It is only this week that we discover that one of the people sitting there with a little "clicker" was waiting for cyclists and presumably getting bored at the inaction.


Four people sitting on a footbridge, counting cars on one single weekday in a year. And using that for the traffic statistics and future predictions of Bristol's road needs? That is not modern "data science". In fact, it's more of a practical A-level project —though even there you could do more with a camera and at-leisure replay.

Manually counting one morning in 365 just doesn't produce valid data. Was it a weekday? Which day? Was it a schoolday? Or was it half term with reduced traffic counts? Was it raining? Such experiments may have been a viable strategy in 1963, maybe even 1974 with the M32 open and three Austin Allegros an hour driving down the "Bristol Parkway" to see the shopping wonder that was 1970s Broadmead.

Nowadays, it's a historical relic of a process, no doubt hooked up to a traffic model that considers pedestrians at a junction "a cost", values cyclists as being worthless (OK, that still holds), and considers time in a traffic jam is as cost, rather than a valued quiet texting time between the office and the hell of parental responsibilities.

If you want modern data, throw the hi-viz tops off the footbridge, use the now-rolled out ANPR camera arrays to log vehicle movements, and start to do some decent analysis of the data beyond just "how many"
  1. Split by vehicle type and time of day. Do vans come in earlier or later?
  2. What fraction of the traffic is in-city vs "Greater Avon" vs out of Town?
  3. How many pass out the city on a different route shortly after entering it?
  4. When do people commute in each direction? Is it a simple 9-5? How many are 9:30 to 4:30, vs. 08:00 to 18:30? And does that vary from direction into town?
  5. Do vehicles coming into town on the M32 return the same way? Or do they take a different route? (Not as unusual as you think; from city to N. Fringe, M32 after 09:00 is fast, but for a return between 17:00 and 18:30, Filton Ave has more predictability).
  6. There's apparently a rise in vans. How many are for internet-shopping deliveries vs. independent locals vs. service organisations?
  7. How many people commute from Wales? By motorbike? (it's a free bridge crossing, see).
  8. During school half terms, do many commuters change their driving schedule and/or route?
  9. Do red cars go faster? This'd be a really interesting question to answer, something you could do today by combining the M5 ANPR dataset with one of vehicle make/model/colour. It's not enough to measure the ratio of red to other colours, you need to compensate for the fleet, to make it more "do red Mark IV Vauxhall Astras go faster than other colours"?
Ignoring the final question, which is more of social commentary than anything else, the other questions all directly define the motor vehicle use that's made of the city's road infrastructure. Information that could be used in some way, not just for better DfT modelling, but for moving traffic understanding beyond simple anecdotes.

Transport for London have a data team; they do churn through the oystercards, the C-zone stats: they do understand some of the use of the city? Not Bristol —and clearly, not the Department of Transport, who are still shaping the country's transport infrastructure based on four people and a clipboard.

[footnote: that cover is from a 4th edition A-Z. Look at its rendering of the inner-ring road and see if you spot what's changed?]

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Press, politicians and 100 year floods

This post covers basic probability theory.

The media and the politicians seem to be completely confused by the concept of flood frequency, particularly in the abuse of the concept of "a hundred year flood".

The use of that term creats the misguided idea that you get such a flood every hundred years, and that having had one a few years ago, you aren't going to see another one for nearly a century.

This is shows a complete misunderstanding of statistics and probability. Which for the people being evacuated from their houses you can partly understand —you can't expect them all to have studied maths to A-level or remembered the details. What is wrong is that the press keeps using the same term, along with "20 year flood", misleading the people. And the politicians, they are equally a bunch of Oxbridge PPE-graduates who don't have a single cartesian coordinate between them —but should at least have those science advisors to explain the basics. FFS, there is the whole "Royal Society" which is meant to explain science to royalty, and, given we still live in a feudal state, the crown's ministers, Cameron included.

A "hundred year flood" really means a "1% chance per year flood". Assuming that the effects of the previous year's weather has no bearing on its successors, the probability of having a 1% flood the year after a 1% flood is, wait for it: 1%. The probability of having one in the five years after is, wait for it: five percent. And in 15 years, it's 15%. So the fact that York is currently underwater for the first time since 2000, means that the the two-flood-in-15-year-event, which had ~15% probability, has occurred. Which is not impossible, even for a "hundred year event". In fact, when you start counting since, say, 1995, you are looking at the probability of two 1% floods happening in a 20 year period —which is actually 20%: 1 in 5.

For the curious, assuming that the flood events are entirely independent, it'd follow a Poisson Distribution

Except, certainly within a single winter, we know the events are not independent —if the ground is saturated from previous rainfall, the rivers bloated from previous storms, then the probability of another storm triggering a flood is higher. If the land is already full of water, then it only takes a little bit more to tip things over the edge.

That "hundred year flood" really means, then:

The meteorologists' model of rainfall over a single winter, of the volume and frequency of rainfall, predicts the probability of flood of a specific volume occurring at 1%.

The probability of  a 1% flood re-occuring may follow a poission distribution —and hence the likelihood of multiple floods happening within a few decades is actually quite high.

Floods do appear to be happening more often than even a Poission distribution would apply, so what does that mean?

Some hypotheses spring to mind
  1. The rainfall model is correct and we've simply had the misfortune to have a rare-but-not-impossible series of storms.
  2. The rainfall model is correct, but the estimates of probability of storms within a season are wrong —that is, bad historical data created optimistic estimates.
  3. Year-on-year flood events are not independent.
  4. Changes in the terrain: farming differences, the building of houses on flood plains, etc, changed the runoff of the system, so amplifying the effect of rain
  5. The rainfall model is in fact wrong due to failures such as the failure to consider the impact of global warming on the evaporation of water, the actions and position of the gulf stream, and/or the fact that with warmer air, it falls more as a a liquid ("rain"), than in a crystalline form ("snow" and "hail").
  6. There was a more pessimistic (i.e. accurate) estimate of rainfall, but managerial or political pressure discounted it in favour of one which played down the risks, reducing the requirements and cost of flood defences, and obviated the need to press for changes in the agriculture system within the catchment area
Note also that these hypotheses are not exclusionary. The model could have failed to consider global warming, been based on bad historical data, and not planned ahead for the conversion of flood plains into suburban housing estates —then been downplayed by politicians who disagreed with the answers.. Which, when you think about it, is entirely possible.

That's why the term "hundred year flood" is so bogus. More accurate is "a 1% flood based on a broken or pre-global warming model with incomplete data without considering urban sprawl, and probably downplayed for political reasons". Using the term "100 year flood" does nothing but create unrealistic expectations that the floods aren't going to re-occur, year-on-year.

Someone in the press could look at the model, the data, the politics and determine what's actually happened, then try and explain it in a way which doesn't use terms like "hundred year flood". Because the science is there, the maths is there —and someone needs to hold the politicians and the scientists to account.

[These photos are all from Jan 4, 2014, showing the Avon fairly close to breaking its banks. Avon Crescent was actually underwater in winter 1990

Saturday, 21 November 2015

BRS: Lessons from PDX

The Bristol Traffic team has actually been on a council-funded trip round the world to see what ideas we could adopt in the city to make it more successful. Finally, after months of first class travel and hotels, we have found it -in Portland Airport.

Portland is a relatively small city in the US; less population than, say, Glasgow —and doesn't actually merit an acronym or nickname the way, say 'NYC, LA, Vegas" and others do. Instead it tends to adopt the initials of its airport, PDX. Bristol is similar, except most people in the UK don't know the initials for Bristol International Airport, BRS. Well, use it enough and maybe they'll learn.

Anyway, the first thing you see thing when you get off your plane in PDX is the signs towards some bicycle assembly area. THIS IS NOT WHAT WE ARE ADVOCATING.

A bike assembly area in BRS would only go in if the airport could charge cyclists for using it —and they could only do that by making it illegal to assemble your bicycle near the airport. They'd probably just make it illegal to cycle to it, just as LHR have done by converting the cycle tunnel to road traffic and fining anyone who cycles down it.

No, what's of interest to us is the sign 180 degrees behind the camera here, the one at airport security

Please be advised recreational marijuana is not permitted on flights travelling outside of Oregon.
That's a bit late to see that sign; there isn't one when you load a 14 kg rucksack in as hold luggage, and it is clearly one with implications. If they have to have a sign saying "you can't fly outside of Oregon with weed", then by implication "if you are flying within the state —you can". And they are right.

It is now legal to grow 4 ganja plants of your own: provided you live more than 1000 yards from a school. Imagine that —people would be looking at the catchment area maps of the city to make sure they weren't living near a school; it would turn the current game on its head. House prices would actually go down the closer you were to a school.

It even complicates the university: should their agriculture department start projects to advise farmers on the growing of industrial scale marijuana? Some proposals are on hold because it conflicts with federal funding, and despite the enthusiasm of graduate students to study for a PhD in Marijuana Agriculture, the existing farmers have many years of experience growing weed. All that is happening now is the farmers can do it in public and pay income tax.

Because that's where things are going: industrial scale farming for selling in California and Seattle. It's now got a new problem for the city: how to manage the planning permissions for where to grow and process this "new" commercial product.

It's actually been an open secret in the state that weed was the big rural earner with the demise of logging; it battled with Intel x86 parts for maximum income and profit margins —it just wasn't something that could be discussed publicly. And, unlike CPU foundries, it's something that those towns whose livelihoods had been destroyed by the end of logging could take up, more reliable income than tourism, and generally a wholesome product people could enjoy,

Imagine if Bristol legalised the recreational use of ganja, the growing of plants, and in N. Somerset, full scale agriculture.

It would transform the city!

We would become the powerhouse of the south west, one to rival London! We'd get visitors from all over the country to spend a weekend —and Weston super Mare would become Britain's most popular summer holiday destination.

It would also finally end the gulf between the city and the countryside. The North Somerset Agricultural Show would be transformed from somewhere where range rover owners from near the A370 could turn up and talk about their "crops" to one where range rover owners from near Montpelier could turn up and talk about their "crops" —and the Somerset farmers would listen intently, offer to buy some of the product, then even offer the city folk some paid consultancy.

As the ganja industry grew, North Somerset would move beyond a dormitory county for the city, to one where people would commute too from the inner city, to help "work the farms". Oh, and then there's the pick-your-own harvesting event, which would be a national festival.

And of course all this will bring in money: the tax from the plants, the income tax from the staff, staff who will be earning more than minimum wage as they bring the skills acquired over the years to full use. All those visitors, those tourist events -more money, enough for Weston to move beyond Dismaland as a national tourism event. And all the town will be outside on a sunny summer evening, lighting up in the parks, turning up the sounds of Bristol music, and getting stoned of our heads.

How about it then, prospective candidates for Bristol Mayor? Who is going to look at the lessons from Portland, Colorado, Seattle —and campaign on a "legalised marijuana industry for the greater bristol area"?