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.

Friday, 3 April 2015

MTB trail: "The Corrie Road"

We've not done much coverage of the mountain bike trails in the area for a while, trails such as Nova, Super Nova of Ashton Court, along with Yer Tiz in Leigh Woods.

To catch up then, lets look at another council-manufactured technical trail through the trees, "Corrie Road".

This trail starts at the local village of "Beddmynster-upon-Avon", known locally as "Bemmy". It can be reached by train from Bedminster Station, or directly from Templemeads via the new Clarence Road segregated path. There also is parking by the local store, "Asda". They sell food and fresh bread there —visit it if you haven't already! Note that while this shop is surviving, the adjacent library is at risk of being shut down and converted to gentrified housing.

As well as food from the local store, you can also buy bicycle spares at that eclectic Bristol chain, Motorman. You can also get waterproofs, footwear and other things from the friendly folk at Taunton Leisure. For anyone planning to make a weekend of it, there is some accommodation right in front of the trail itself. (warning: some of those reviews are a bit negative)

The trail itself is an all weather off-road surface. There are a number of tree obstacles to "work"; making for a very swoopy course. It is probably the easiest to do as a nighttime-excursion, primarily because of the streetlights placed in the middle of the trail itself! You won't be needing any helmet lights here!

It's also flat and straight: no real navigational problems. We'd recommend it as an intro to MTB-ing for children, were it not for the fact that if they get an obstacle wrong and fall left, they will end up going under the wheels of an HGV —this road is notable in that it is still a 30 mph road; the 20 mph zone begins behind it.

Here then is the trail done at near-race speed, though the rider doesn't clear every slalom gate correctly.

Sadly, the trail does peter about rather abruptly, leaving you with a choice of where to go next. Turn right to get to The Chocolate Path, where you can head to the Avon Gorge, the pump trail, or Ashton Court itself via the "metrobus wasteland" —formerly known as Festival Way. Alternative options are head back towards the starting point of the road via the Chocolate path and a non-technical pavement route, or simply return the way you came. Yes, The Corrie Road path is two way —do watch out for oncoming cyclists as you commit into the bend around a tree.

After a ride, we recommend the pub "The Windmill" in Bedminster, or the Nova Scotia at the end of the Chocolate Path—both of which are fine establishments to consume a beer or three.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Our letter to @BristolPost

We've just sent a letter to the evening post. We encourage others to do likewise. This was not sent to the letters@ address -it was sent to the new desk. Its in their part of the web site in which the article is printed, and we want action, not some letter a few days from now.

Subject: April 1st "cyclists and lorries" article


Some people view our Bristol Traffic site as some kind of spoof.

Our contributors have twice encountered HGV/cyclists collisions in Bristol. One of our contributors lives in Bath, not far from Lansdown Hill, where a four year old girl and others were killed by an out of control HGV. When we cover such things, all notion of humor is gone. We treat the incidents as the awful events they are.

Yet your paper thinks this topic merits an April 1st story.

That is probably one of the most tasteless and insensitive stories you have ever printed.

Here is our response.

As we say at bottom of our article: it's not to too late to your article offline and replace it with an apology, one you can reprint tomorrow.

We even grant you the right to use any of the photographs in the above article with such an apology.

Please let us know what your plans will be


the Bristol Traffic team.

Evening Post: not funny at all

The Bristol Post has an April 1st story, Cyclists to escort all lorries through Bristol city centre in bid to reduce speed and improve safety. someone thought that was funny.

More precisely, someone thought that was funny less than eight weeks after a tipper truck killed four people in Bath —something local and awful enough that the BEP felt worth covering themselves. A truck crash in which the driver and the company chairmain have been charged for Manslaughter on. Think about that: if the police not only charge the driver with something worse than "Causing death by careless driving", but even the company owner with manslaughter, there must be evidence of a set of wilful decisions resulting in what even the police consider to be killings. Not accidents: killings.

What those decisions are, we are yet to know. Overloading the vehicle? Maybe. Driving with defective brakes? Quite possibly. Driving down a road with 6.6" signs at the entrance and a use low gear sign later on? Again, highly likely. Some papers have been claiming the width sign had been knocked down -but there are two of them, which kind of makes that statement doubtful. A wilful decision to take a shortcut seems suspiciously likely.

Yet the BEP thinks lorry safety is something worth having a laugh about.

Whoever wrote that article didn't look through their archives for keywords like "HGV and life-changing injuries"

They've certainly never heard the scream someone makes as an HGV drives over them.

On a bicycle, what's likely to kill you is an HGV.

And the Evening Post thinks this is funny enough to make a joke out of on April 1.

Anyone who rides a bike and actually pays for the evening post should reconsider their decision from now on

Anyone who looks at the web site should immediately download the Adblock plugin (Firefox, Chrome) so the evening post doesn't get that advert placement revenue.

As for the Bristol Traffic site? After this post we refuse to place any links to Bristol Post articles. Ever.

To the evening post, we want you to recognise that this isn't funny. Anyone cycling around the city fears the HGV, fears it coming up behind you at an ASL. Or even worse: a roundabout. If you've ever felt your bike being nudged forward by an HGV at a roundabout as the driver looks to their right, you'll know a moment of cool terror. Moving HGVs are just bad. You fears them passing, as you look to the side to see if its indicator lights are on, warning you that it's about to turn over you. And that's if you are lucky, if they do indicate.

Please pull the article and post an apology for such a tasteless story.


As for the author for the article: we extend the offer of a bike ride round central Bristol. The old BEP offices to templemeads should be enough to convince them never to think such an article would be funny. If that's not enough, we'll take them to Bedminster and then down Coronation Road, returning by Anchor Road to the centre, up to the Bearpit roundabout and then Newfoundland Road. If they aren't left a gibbering wreck vowing never to get on a bicycle again, maybe they will write prose so awful in future

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Tribars: not for urban use

Following on from our coverage of the fact that its sporty cars that lose from the 20 mph zone, we should look at the impact of the figures on bicycles.

Before anyone points out that bicycles are exempt from the limit, consider that if it becomes a speed that people expect, then going above it would create problems for people assuming you are heading more slowly. Though as any tax-dodger will point out, most people passing your or pulling out assume you are near-stationary and plan their manoeuvre  accordingly.

Even so, fast bikes don't have a place in the city. Stick to 20 or less: and if you can do that on the uphills you've earned those numbers.

What it does mean is that just like fast cars, tribars aren't needed in the city, nor are carbon wheels or polka-dot socks.

Yet here we see someone doing 6-8 mph in exactly that setup.

And while it's nice to see that they are staying way below that 20 mph limit, they do have their arms on the tribars. Which is another way of saying "their hands are a long way from the brakes".

As they reach the end of Kensington Place, they approach the give way point at Lansdown Road, where this lack of braking ability almost catches up with them. Because there's a Range-Rover heading north from Lansdown Place —below that 20 mph— and the cyclist needs to make a bit of an emergency swerve from going into it. Which could have damaged the paintwork on the car as well as written off some carbon wheels.

Bikesnob is always taking the piss of triathletes. It doesn't really apply here, but it does send a message to all: plan ahead, keep your hands near the brakes especially as you approach junctions where you are expected to give way.

Note the yellow lines on the road. This is the Clifton Village RPZ, as you can see on a weekday it is now a wasteland.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Bristol's 20 mph zones: it's the hot cars that lose

The 20 mph zone has been up for a year now, so it's time to review it as drivers
  1. It doesn't make things slower. Really. It's the delays at junctions & in queues that increase journey time.
  2. It makes things calmer. There's less pressure to put your foot down when you do clear a junction.
  3. Similarly, as you approach a junction, you can coast down more gently. 
  4. As you are going a bit slower, you can take time to look around, which gives you a better view of pedestrians. This is tangibly better at night.
  5. It actually helps you pulling out from side roads to main roads. Why? As everyone is moving slower, the time window for you to do things like pull a right turn with cars approaching from both directions is larger.
  6. Fuel economy? No obvious difference. The engine may be less efficient in 3rd than 4th, but you don't have to accelerate so hard, and can coast down. Of course, anyone in a hybrid car is laughing as their petrol engine can work even less, and gain more regenerative braking from the gentle slow down.
  7. Keeping track of your speed? Third gear low RPM seems to work. If you feel the need to go to 4th, you are going too fast. 
  8. Does everyone follow 20 mph? 22-25 is more realistic daytime speed; at night the speed goes up to 30 until the minicabs come out, when it ramps up 40 mph just when the drunk people start walking home.
  9. Increased road rage? No obvious difference. As the average commute speed is < 20 mph in Bristol (TomTom's unverified data, not ours), it's hard to see how it could be made worse.
  10. Collapse of businesses due to increased white van journey time. Not obvious. Congestion is the limiting factor, not maximum speed.
  11. Passing Bicycles? No harder or easier. It's still irritating to be behind someone going along at 12 mph. But the speed limit doesn't make passing harder. We just want fitter cyclists out there.
  12. Then there's the "two shopping trolley" man wandering round the streets these days. We have no idea why he has two shopping trollies full of his entire belongings, but he does, he goes down the roads (not the pavements) at about 4 mph. Again, 20 mph doesn't make a difference.
So who loses? People who spent money on fast cars. You shell out all that cash for a nimble toy, for an extra digit or two at the end of your car brand logo —"i", "GT", etc—, tinted windows and some wheels that just scrape easily.  The key "performance" benefits are tighter suspension, and most of all the ability to accelerate better. 

Which is now utterly wasted, as most vehicle's 0-20 numbers are relatively similar. And pootling around at 20 mph means no need for suspension that lets you do 90 degree turns at 35 mph.

That's enough to drive you to road rage: not the fact that you are doing 20 mph, but the fact you spent a lot of money on your status toy and are doing 20 mph.  Even if you want to go faster, there'll be someone in front who doesn't, who appears to drive at exactly 20 mph on a fast ratrun road  like Ashley Down, Pembroke Road or Filton Ave. It's almost as if some people, on noticing an important person driving a high-end Audi or BMW SUV actually take their foot off the accelerator, dropping from 24 mph to 20. Which we consider unacceptable and strongly condemn anyone doing this.

For those people who have spent the money, they expect something in return.

Fortunately, every so often the opportunity arises. Here is one our instrumented tax-dodgers going down Nugent Hill, Cotham, using the bike contraflow to get to the Arley Hill evening traffic jam, and so on to Stokes Croft. As they join the Arley Hill queue, you can see a green light allowing some traffic to slowly get out to places more interesting.

And here you can see the BMW 3 series YF57KTE getting some return on investment. First they can come off the speed bump while accelerating (suspension), then put their foot down to catch up with the cars in front. Those cars in front who are going through on orange we note.  But as the BMW is now almost joined up with them, it can do the "part of the same group" gambit and carry on through on the red light.

That tactic has given them a bit more speed than the vehicles in front, forcing them to negotiate what is effectively a chicaned right turn fairly aggressively: that suspension at work again.

They then need to put their brakes on, not because of the speed limit but because they've caught up with the car in front.

There: 15 seconds of real driving, out of probably 30 minutes of suffering. Not much —but that's all a 20 mph zone offers, at least during the early evening commute.