Monday 25 May 2015

101 uses for a nearly dead Ginkgo tree

We've noticed 4X4 drivers often have to deal with the problem of street trees when they park off-road in Bristol. Even in RPZs. Even in 20 MPH zones. Even near schools.

Fortunately many of these trees are now stumps and some of the stumps have been there so long that they are rotting into the ground and the removal can be accelerated by a little nudge. In time they will be tarmaced over but in the meantime the tree pits provide a little offroading experience.
Unfortunately some of the street trees that are planted, such as London Plane trees, grow quite quickly and rapidly provide the amenity and canopy cover that "environmentalists" love to promote at the expense of proper off-road pavement parking.  
However... Not the humble Ginkgo tree. It's a relic of the age of the Dinosaurs (and a conifer to boot - don't let those weird leaves and the fact it sheds them in winter fool you). 
This particular specimen has hung between life and death and remained the size it was planted for about a decade. 

The question as to whether urban trees have any purpose is maybe too philosophical for this blog. But in a very practical sense this particular tree has finally found its purpose and meaning in life in modern day 20 MPH Bristol.  
It is providing security for a traffic counting and speed measuring device.

Speeds on 20 MPH Redland Road are, of course, consistently well above 20MPH, so this tree may finally contribute in some small way to the urban fabric by helping Bristol City Council to calm the traffic down this very steep hill where even cyclists regularly exceed 20MPH whilst car, van and lorry drivers overtake them with gay abandon, because they Must Get In Front.
We are struggling to come up with a single other use for this or any other Ginkgo so finding a further 100 uses may be a tall order.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Who to vote for? Some of the above

As Bristol's premier data science organisation —and one of the few press outlets people trust— people ask us: who should we vote for?

Our answer: anyone you like —but.

Which is where our game theory work comes into play.

First though, consider all the members of Clifton Tank Command who kept on saying "but the nurses!" and "but the schoolteachers!", when arguing against the RPZ.

  1. It's probably the hospital porters who have the worst job. Ask them how little they get paid for a 10-12 hour shift? It's just that "but the hospital porters!" doesn't conjure up those Florence Nightingale scenes of the selfless nurse —so doesn't get used when seeking sympathy.
  2. Ask the nurses, hospital porters or other staff what is the worse thing to happen to them in the last five years. The Clifton RPZ or Jeremy Hunt's "reforms"? Because it won't be parking (probably).
  3. Similarly, ask the school teachers: "what is worse, the Clifton RPZ or Michael Gove's 4+ years in charge of education"? Because it won't be parking (probably).
All those people who were citing teachers and nurses in opposition to the RPZ now have a choice: do they vote for the parties that made things worse at a national level, or do they not. Because if they do vote Tory or LibDem, they abdicate the right to pretend to care about the wellbeing of all public sector employees.

What about the rest of us? This is where it gets interesting, especially in Bristol West.

  1. In 2010, the fact that the Conservative Party could gain an outright majority by working with the LibDems meant that they needed them, either in a coalition or on a vote-by-vote basis. 
  2. The LD team went for coalition. This gave them a seat at the table —but in exchange, they gave the Cameron government the majority they desired. 
  3. In exchange for that majority, the LDs got support for two referendums: electoral reform and house of lords reform. They got promised them, but then had the Tory party actively opposing them, and plans fell through. If electoral reform had gone through, all the smaller parties would be happy this election, and the LD would stand a chance of counting MPs in double digits next week. As it is: they lost. And in doing so, lost all that they could have gained from the coalition.  They've made their play —and lost.
  4. Theymade the mistake of promising support for five years. Once they'd done that: all negotiating power was lost.
  5. This week, they are arguing that they can be good for either a Labour or Tory government -but to negotiate hard with either party, they need to be absolutely prepared to work with the other party. Which means if you vote for them, you, the voter, don't get any say in who is the government. Only, possibly, the identity of some of the members of that government, and one or two of their actions.
If the LD are to have power next time round, they need to play differently. First: don't trust Cameron to deliver on any promise. You want agreements -get a lawyer to spell out all the T&Cs, not some handshake over tea. Better yet: supply votes on a case-by-case basis, and demand concessions on every single vote. That way lies power.

They're slowly exiting the Blair era, but following the press too much -making promises about "never forming a government with the SNP" which actually hampers their negotiating options. It would have been better to be vague. 

Just move to North Somerset now. We don't need your folk in the city.  

It was only the early 1990s when Bristol West was conservative, but nowadays that's viewed as utterly unrealistic —which is why they can stand up candidates that are quite happy to denounce the Cycling City work as a waste of money, whilst not denouncing the Managed M4 as equally useless for the majority of Bristol W commuters. She's also stopped updating her web site some time in February, showing her commitment to getting elected or an understanding of computers on a par with UKIP candidates.

One thing that is notable is that their agenda has moved from anything forward looking, even from anything about preserving their accomplishments (where is that Michael Gove person? Or Jeremy Hunt?). Instead they've actually focused on being anti-scottish. And while they say "no, anti-SNP": that's not how it comes across. It comes across as saying Scotland isn't welcome in shaping what kind of nation Britain will be in the 21st century. Which a fair Scots find somewhat offensive. A majority of the country did vote to stay in the UK, so why push them away?

They've moved on from banners saying "Bannockburn, 1314 -we remember". Glasgow has embraced them —and in doing so, they've embraced Glasgow; Scotland's city of the workers, with the history of Red Clydeside and the closest Britain has ever come to a communist uprising. They promise to give Labour the heritage they've forgotten.

Here's some fun.  The Green party appear to be in second place in Bristol West, not that far off from Labour. And they do seem to have some more posters up than the others —though given the general lack of posters, that's fairly meaningless.

Bristol W. is the Green's targeted second seat? Does that mean they will win it? They presumably hope that by repeating it often enough people will believe them and they'll get that majority. At the same time, there's that risk that the anti-coalition vote will be split, Stephen Williams will get in, so giving the LDs more negotiating power, and so the likelihood that Cameron stays in his office.

Independents for Bristol

They exist, apparently. Maybe as local councillors they'll have a role.

Plaid Cymru

They never come over to Bristol to campaign. And there's us with a River Avon. Someone should stand on their behalf. Over in Wales, it'll be interesting to see what happens, and if they can gain that same momentum that the SNP have got.

Emigrate to Spain and spend the rest of your miserable life whining about immigration. For reference, the people in Edinburgh didn't attack Farage out of racist hate of the English: they did it because he's a pillock.

Friday AM will have Labour and Tory short of a majority, 2+ smaller parties trying to have power and influence over them by promising support. The LD experience of 2010 has shown the danger of a coalition with the conservative; Scotland learned about the worthlessness of Cameron's promises the day after the referendum, so won't be sitting down with him.

Tory will be able to talk to: DUP, LD and perhaps UKIP. Hopefully UKIP will be irrelevant. DUP aren't too different from the conservative party, and won't make things better or worse. The LDs? Will they have learned their lessons from last time and negotiate better, or again, give up their ideals for an office with a phone?

Labour is going to have to talk to the SNP, which is why Milliband's absolute refusals to work with them are shortsighted.

Meanwhile, the majority of the press will be saying a government with the SNP in it —or supported by the SNP— is not legit. Well, here's some bad news, since the mid 1980s Scotland has been almost entirely unrepresented by any conservative government (thank the "campaign for a tory-free Scotland" there). That's led to a pretty abusive relationship coming up from the south, the Poll Tax (seen above) being the key example. Having a government with the SNP involved would actually be fairer than those conservative governments from 1988 to 1997: Thatcher and Major.

Anyway, your call. Just bear in mind that if you are voting LD in the general election, there is a high chance you are actually voting for a conservative government. Voting Green you may be making Bristol West stand out as a green city, or losing your choice to have a say in the country. 

Us? A joint SNP+Labour government with a couple of green MPs would be an interesting government to have.

PS: what about their actual manifestos? Meaningless. Why analyse things made up for press releases. Interesting that only the SNP think Trident is an utter waste of money; only the LibDems have raised the fact that our government's monitoring of everyone's emails may be something to question. That topic didn't even make the press. But then neither has the environment. Arguing about whether Scottish MPs could form part of a government take priority over policy, apparently.

Sunday 3 May 2015

The Zone map that Clifton Tank Command Dare Not Show

Of all the maps that appear in the RPZ tank-battles, this is one that does not surface.

Its the map of where the air pollution levels in Bristol exceed the levels that are considered safe.

Look at that map. What stands out (to any resident of the city)

  1. The entire city centre is an Air Quality Management Area. 
  2. Clifton manages to dodge it, primarily by being above the town -though as it gets into Kingsdown and Windmill hill, height is not enough for the roads to stay breathable.
  3. The roads into and out of the city are pollution hotspots. That includes Gloucester Road, Bristol's "most popular" cycle road.
  4. The Frome valley pollution zone tracks the M32 perfectly.
We can't split the pollution into resident, business, public transport and commuter, apart from the Rupert Street bus & taxi only road —the one with the worst pollution in the city. Usually.

What we do know from the queues of cars on the A370 and A4 Portway every morning is the number of people who drive in to the city.  Any morning you can walk onto the Suspension Bridge and look down at the queue of cars who have done the portishead-M5-A4 route (and from other places, including Clevedon & Weston) and are now stuck in the Avon Gorge, fuming at the empty lane next to them along which park and ride buses whizz past. Any morning you can go to the footbridge above the M32 and look down at the line of near-stationary cars, all sitting with their engines on.

And in any inner-city area that is not an RPZ, you can watch the cars go round and round in circles looking for somewhere to park.

And now what -we have a  Somerset MP actually surfacing in the county to complain that Bristol's RPZ has had knock-on effects for Leigh Woods. Well, that's unfortunate —but not a reason for Bristol to attempt to do something about their air-quality. And an RPZ, if it actually helps alternate transport options in the area -including N. Somerset- will.

What's not covered here is that Leigh Woods has always experienced commuter parking -which was getting worse with the cost of crossing the Suspension Bridge, even before the RPZ went live. People who lived in the hinterlands weren't prepared to pay £2/day to drive over, and leigh woods became the cutoff point.

Well, Leigh Woods is free to roll out an RPZ too. As is Long Ashton. We can't say "but the roll-on effects" should stop any attempt at trying to make the city better to live and breathe in.

As for the residents of Portishead who say that Bristol is now trying to control where they work? 

Sorry. We are trying to control how people get to to work, to adopt options that aren't so literally poisonous to the city.

And the people who say "hold off until there's a viable alternative?" The residents of Portishead were all happy when the council spent £3M widening a roundabout, to reduce the time they spent queuing to get onto the M5 and then to work in Bristol or the North Fringe. £3M for what: one roundabout? Which, in a manner obvious to those of us who actually understand Queue Theory (it's not rocket science, you know), does nothing except move the traffic jams slightly closer to the city. North Somerset, under the guidance of Elf-King App Rees have spectacularly failed to get the Portishead Railway reopened for passenger traffic. They've actively opposed cycle facilities along their roads,  and actively campaigned against cycle routes through their two-cars-per-household-mock-villages.

It is the repeated choices and actions of the residents of North Somerset that have failed to provide that viable alternative to driving.  Why should Bristol care about those decisions? By leaving the city, these people abdicated their right to influence the decisions the city makes. And, in the hands of their democratically elected council, held back any form of progress. When they do attempt something, it fails so badly it gets ridiculed on national TV.

North Somerset are the hinterland of Bristol, not just geographically, but culturally.

Which is why we in the city can't afford to be held back by them.

We aren't trying to tell them where to work. We aren't even telling them how to commute.

What we are doing is saying "The road space and air quality in Bristol is too precious to waste on free commuter parking." By taking that away, anyone who wants to drive in still can —except they now get to pay for that right, so making the external costs of commuting in what is usually a single-occupancy vehicle tangible. In doing so it makes the now-internalized cost of driving in closer to that of using public transport, including the Avonmouth P&R site. It may even provide motivation for the residents of Portishead to push their councillors to get their thumbs out their arses and start working on this —maybe even setting up a Metropolitan Transport Authority covering the CUBA district, so actually giving them some input on Bristol's traffic plans. And, given there's an election coming up, maybe talk to their candiate MPs and say "will you do something for transport in the area other than staged photos in Leigh Woods?"

What we can't do is stop the RPZs and say "business as usual". Because its not just that everyone driving is causing congestion, they are helping poison the city.

Next time someone talks about resident parking zones, say "what about the air quality zones?". And if they don't have an answer, instead complaining how they have to use P&R instead of queueing to get into the city —you don't have to feel sorry for them at all.