Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The M32 shutdown: a preview of the Zombie Apocalypse

Most films and TV series about some zombie or apocalypse or similar generally have some common visual motifs
  • A city partially destroyed.
  • Wild animals reclaiming the land. (example: 12 monkeys)
  • One or two survivors pushing shopping trollies. (Denzel Washington: The book of Eli)
  • Wide empty roads where the main protagonist can drive round fast.( Will Smith: I am Legend; the Walking Dead,...)
It's the latter that interests us. After the fall of civilisation, you will never be stuck behind a bus or or a Renault Clio veering from lane-to-lane as their satnav gives last minute directions. There's obvious question: why did everyone die in a way which left a fast route through the ruined city? For that to happen, everyone in the last 30s of their life would have to get off the M32, pull to the side of Stapleton Road, then die. In doing so, they leave a nice through route for drivers, albeit for those few survivors trying to push a shopping trolley down the pavement.

But an empty M32? It's almost worth starting a zombie plague just for that experience they promised us: centre of town to M4 in under seven minutes.

Last weekend the M32 was shut down to put in a bridge —that is, local government funding for P+R commuters from the wealthy suburbs of S Gloucs, for students at UWE (more diverse than Bristol Uni), and the affluent staff of the North Fringe —the latter with a bias towards men in the engineering/tech career path.

A whole section of the city —less affluent, more diverse and more interesting than Clifton— breathed a sigh of relief and a lungful of air that didn't taste of second hand turbo diesel. A weekend off. Something they haven't known for decades.

For us, we got to experience something similar: being the only car on the M32.

Driving down the M32 late Sunday evening, there are signs warning of the M32 closed at the Stapleton/Muller Road junction, or, to the affluent of the city, "the IKEA roundabout", that being the sole reason they'd ever get off here.

As we prepare come off, bringing up the phone to tell us how to get to Clifton without having to make eye contact with anyone, we see the flyover "40 mph limit due to faulty barriers" section. Some of the cars come off before it, a few stay on.

The first sign of an unusual situation is that the outbound lanes are empty: there is not a single vehicle leaving the city.

The sole car in front pulls off at St Pauls, leaving an empty road ahead.

This is then: the first time that we have ever seen the M32 without traffic. Those vehicles opposite? Parked. When the Zombie Apocalypse comes, people will be required to pull over to the hard shoulder and put their hazard lights on —either as their last step of being human, or their first step as a zombie, before running up the exit and trying to eat anyone sitting in Mina Road park.

For all those people who missed it: going down an empty M32 is not so much a discovery of what those builders of "the M32 parkway" imagined the experience to be, it's actually very unnerving.

All motorways in the country are full of traffic, weekends as well as weekdays. That traffic actually provides cues. If the brake lights come on in the distance, something is up, time to start coasting down. If everything is going along at different speeds in each lane; all is probably well. And if all lanes drop to about the same speed, it's busy. Pick the lane with the best stopping distance in front and be calm.

Most importantly, the other vehicles provide speed information. Because if there is one place where you do need to keep checking your speed on the dial, it's not the 20 mph zone. It's the motorways. Once you are going at 75, the vehicle noise going up to 85 is generally the same, and from there, 85-90, 90-95, easy to pick up if you get into the fast lane to pass things, then, while speeded up, start going along with the other vehicles in there. Motorways are where you do need to keep an eye on your speed. Which is what the other cars help do.

Ignoring rain/fog/snow, when you should be making decisions based on stopping distance alone, you can generally benchmark your speed relative to other vehicles. If there are trucks going past you: either you own an original British Leyland Mini 850cc —or you should speed up. In the middle lane, going along with the Astras, the Golfs and the Zafiras: you are in the 70-80 zone, where generally most people sit. If you are in the outside lane going past those vehicles, maybe you should think about pulling in once you get past them. And if you are in the outside lane and there isn't an Audi Q7 driving so close to the back that you can see the nasal hair of the driver, you are going at less than 90 mph.

In the absence of those vehicles, you have no idea what speed you are going. Instead you are too busy looking round, going "ooh, there isn't anyone in front; where is the car right behind me, the one in the slow lane about to swing past the HGV? And why isn't there someone sitting in my driver-side blind spot?". It's fundamentally unnatural —like nothing you have ever trained for. We ended up spinning up the motor to 40 mph and trying to cherish this odd event for as long as we can.

Like Halley's Comet: We shall never see it again in our lifetime.

Monday, 13 June 2016

FirstBus: don't make it a class thing: the M32 commuters would never forgive you

A PR group funded by FirstBus and other bus companies have just published a "Dodgy Dossier" on why their buses suck.

The Bristol "dead" post went for it, but chose to blame 20 MPH and RPZ zones, that is "max speed between queues" and "limit on number of vehicles that can park for free in the inner city".

In doing so they made a couple of mistakes

One: In their claim "bristol is the slowest" they forgot to say "except Reading, which the graph clearly shows is slower"

This is one of those things that the less mathematically inclined (i.e. the Brexit leadership) get wrong all the time. Smaller numbers mean "less", bigger numbers mean "more". According to the shiny graphs this PR agency made up, it takes longer to get round Reading. What's worse: you're in Reading.

Two: They missed the key scapegoats of the bus companies: the cyclists.

This issue has been picked up, along with the brazen attempt by a media relations group to appear vaguely independent.

As for the congestion, well, looking at this video from RedVee of the Centre, you can't blame the cycling infrastructure —none— for the multiple lanes of stationary traffic

What's causing this? The combination of (a) too many people trying to drive and (b) The Centre being ripped up for Metrobus. Does the bus marketing document note that? complain that "bus passengers are being held up by the millions being spent in the city for bus passengers?". No: they pick on the noisy ones who make lots of noise but don't get dedicated lanes down the M32.

And how do they do that: by calling out the cylists in London of being "wealthy" white men
What is less well-known, is how relatively affluent cyclists in London are compared with bus passengers. Transport for London describes the London cyclist as typically white, under 40, male with medium to high household income. [Further] A report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Transport & Health Group (LSHTM) in 2011 describes cycling in London as disproportionately an activity of white, affluent men. Only 1.5% of those living in households earning under £15,000 cycled compared with 2.2% of those living in households earning over £35,000’.

This is something the cyclist campaigners have torn into for being bogus —but we aren't here to argue that. What we are concerned about is that they are using "benefits wealthy white men" as an argument against a transport option.

For if we were to make a list of transport-related work going on in the city which would appear to disproportionally benefit the wealthy it comes down to: anything which makes it easier to get between the more well off parts of the region and their places of working, shopping and leisure.

  1. Metrobus to Bristol International Airport connections
  2. Metrobus as a P&R alternative for most residents of North Somerset and S Gloucs.
  3. The Managed Motorway work on the M4/M5
  4. Bristol mainline train electrification

And. let's be honest: the entire M32. The people living down alongside the Frome River weren't wishing they had a flyover at bedroom window height: they believed the same bollocks that politicians always say "yes you will suffer, but it will be better in the long term", and so a motorway went in to aid the people from Clifton to head to London; to help the people who moved out of the city to live in the rural wastelands past the ring road and their ghettos of boredom around Emerson's Green. And the inner ring road work started, thankfully never completed: But notice which parts of the city came out worse. Not the bits with money.

We say to FirstBus —who also own FGW railway line—: don't make your war on cyclists a class one. Because that will call into question a lot of the infrastructure you are having built for you by local and national governments.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

There is nothing erotic about a naked man on a Brompton

Being as the Bristol Traffic HQ is an open air drinking establishment in Stokes Croft (the wall on Turbo Island), we are used to the sight of nudity.

Even so, our encounter with the Bristol Naked Bike Ride was such that we had to delete our videos for the sake of humanity.

If you find yourself getting excited about the sight of a naked man on a Brompton, well, based on the participants of the local naked bike ride, you've got a bit of an obsession with folding bicycles that you should either get looked at, or at least get in touch with Brompton for a printed catalog.

Can we also observe that this image exposes the lie that "cycling is good for your health". Do these people look healthy? We think not. And as for the claim that Brooks saddles are comfy? There's nothing to say there except look at the expression on some of these people's faces.

For next year's ride, we propose having a review board deciding in advance who gets to ride. We will volunteer our services —provided nobody sends their nude selfies with them wearing nothing but hi-viz and a helmet. You know who you are.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Rejoice: we have a new mayor!

So: we have a new mayor.

What's interesting about the results is the sheer number of people who turned out to vote -and the proportion of those voters who came out to vote out George. Given one of the aims of the mayoral program was to "increase engagement in local government", it has certainly met that goal, one way or another.

A lot of the city are clearly glad to see the back of GF. The big question is: which specific policies got people voting him out -or whether it was his general style of working: Unitarian decisions and dismissal of dissent- which got to people.

Marvin may end up following the Labour Party line -but that party does have a local organisation and many councillors -so there is a structure for propagating the issues and desires of part of the electorate up to the mayor's office.

He's promised to focus on those parts of the city which felt left behind, and address problems such as housing. Given the need to be seen to immediately fulfilling those promises, to deliver, expect work to start there. But given the lead time for such work, expect them to look for some low-hanging fruit elsewhere.

RPZ and 20 zones are in an interesting place here. They have proved controversial, especially the way the RPZs were rolled out. But at the same time, a lot of people in the zones are happy with the idea, albeit not the details: charges, times, disabled access. Tuning those is a simple way to be seen to be listening, without risking upsetting those in the core who are happy with them.

20 mph is also under threat. As with RPZ, the CAPEX is done: the signs and the paint. MR was not elected on a pro-speed platform and, with a large electorate within the inner city air quality "management" area, may be reluctant to upset those who see the benefit. Maybe he even recognises that trying to blame 20 mph for the city's transport woes is ridiculous. At the same time: the anti GF voters view it as part of the "war on motorists", and they will expect something in exchange for their vote.

The often cited proposal "make it purely round schools, hospitals and residential roads" will resurface, even if it misses out that most roads have residents, a continually jittering limit its actually harder to comply with, and that children walk and cycle to school on main roads too. Oh, and any changes to signage means more capital spending.

One tactic the mayor may try here is a discreet rollback of enforcement, though with the PCC being independent, that'll take negotiation.

The other pet peeve of the anti GF voters is all that money spent on cycling. Good news for them there: he didn't spend much. If you compare what Boris did in London over the last four years —the embankment, the bridges, Elephant and Castle— what Bristol got for their money is laughable. What is there? a segregated path that stops half way down Baldwin street and the continuing fiasco of that path near Bemmy.

The money, the effort, the time -and the road space- has gone into Metrobus, not bicycles. It's hard to see what worse MR could do here, short of taking away more space for BRT. We know someone still has their eye on the BBRP —fortunately the people of Easton love it enough to keep the buses out: if it was just the cyclists, it'd look like the M32, the centre and the Festival way do: roadworks for BRT.

Metrobus itself? Marvin supports it. Anyway, given how far it has gone, the current BRT fiasco routes may be considered too late to kill. All future work could be put on hold until it's seen how well it works out in budget as well a use. It would also have be on how well the Elf kingdom of Somerset and the Dwarf Mines of S. Gloucs step up to their bit. About what FirstBus and Wessex Bus deliver. And about whether well a transport authority spanning the CUBA region can kick FirstBus into the 21zt century: contactless payment for all journeys, tickets interchangeable with Wessex bus. It's even about FBus having buses waiting at Templemeads and Parkway for GWR trains from London.

Let's wait and see.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Where is our election coverage?

People come up to us and ask questions. Usually we like them to say "would you like some more beer?", rather than the more frequent question, "Are you aware of the national speed limit in this country, sir?".

Most recently, people have been asking: "where is your electoral coverage?"

Well, we've been primarily leaving it to other reporting outlets, specifically the Bristolian and Bristol 24/7. If people are putting effort in to analyse voting records, do interviews and organise hustings, that's enough.

A more relevant question people ask us is: who should we vote for?

As the people printing the ballots, we can say "you can't vote for UKIP on our photocopies as he falls off the end". Which is ironic as the spherical model of the earth is one of those sciency-things that UKIP candidates argue about, along with Climate Change and Newton's Laws of Motion (especially the bit that says the kinetic energy in a collision goes up with the square of the velocity).

Instead you get to make your mind up, noting that as Tony Dyer is the only one ever to have bought team members (including the late Chris Hutt) beer, he's got a head start.

What we recommend is you, the voter, place the following items in the order you feel is most important.

[ ] Right to speed at 35+ mph through the inner city
[ ] Right to park where you want in the city
[ ] Fundamental issues in society

The Fundamental issues in society box can include: education; housing; the central-government imposed austerity program and the fact that it will get worse; how and why so few people brought up in Bristol are in science and engineering jobs in north fringe technical companies, Bristol's Air Quality Management Area and other environmental issues; Firstbus & Metrobus. All the things that matter to those people who don't recognise that the choice between 20 mph and 30 mph is the most important issue facing the city today.

Then choose a politician that appears to prioritise issues in an order closest to your own. That's your first vote.

For the second vote you decide who you don't want in: Marvin or George —and vote for the other. Clear?

Saturday, 9 April 2016

The M32 picnic area

A known subversive, "Analogue Andy", has been praising the Frome Valley cycle route, saying it joins up communities where the M32 divides them.

Well, if the valley cycle route is of social benefit, it is purely because of the infrastructure improvements the M32 added

Look at this

An all-year, all-weather, family picnic area.

Not even the bearpit benches offer such a sheltered area to take the whole family, park near IKEA, then walk over here to enjoy the afternoon.

We would love to see any photos people have of this area in its heyday, when there were, presumably, many families, laughing kids playing, happy parents bringing flasks of tea from their Austin Morris cars to drink here.

Sadly, even this photo is a relic: the benches have been converted into a skateboard park. The right to have a picnic under the M32 has forever been stolen. Well, unless you have a tartan rug in your Austin Morris.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

CS11, the London Ringway and Hampstead

People paying attention to videos may note that more than one of our contributors have London accents. One actually has a South London accent, which is pretty shocking, but they've lived in the city long enough for it to no longer be something to apologise for. Another one of our team has a north-west london accent, the kind you'd get growing up in Camden and Brent. Their dark secret is even worse than having lived south of the Thames. They first went to school in Hampstead. (For locals, that little one opposite the tube station, under the everyman cinema, the one that still believes in hymns and things).

Eventually their parents saw the error of their ways and moved into West Hampstead, making their children walk to nearby ecoles. Under the gentle hand that was the Inner London Education Authority, swimming was taught at the nearest council pool: in primary school you got a coach. Come secondary school, they'd worked out a better solution: the kids were given the money to get the tube during lunch; if they made it to the swimming lesson they'd get the money to go home. This presented the children with two choices: take a tube from Kilburn to Swiss Cottage, or walk to the pool eating the bag of chips you'd just bought with the fare. Tough decision.

What was never considered was cycling from the school to the pool. Because that would involve negotiating the Swiss Cottage gyratory, a multilane mess which you had to cross to get to the pool or library, getting there along Finchley Road, the "A41" coming down off the M1 by way of Staples Corner and the North Circular. It was tube or foot.

In London: the tube is the mass form of transport for anyone near a station. It's why what zone you are in is a marker of house prices, "They can afford to live in Zone 2!"; distance from tube station advertised because it makes such a difference on your daily commute. Off-street parking? Maybe for those few houses that have it —but it's not useful for commuting anyway. Not only is there nowhere to park, and congestion fees to worry about —it's significantly slower than the tube.

Driving to work, at least if you work in Central London, is a minority form of commuting. That's even if you have a fancy job in the city: it's not that likely to have a parking space.

This is perhaps a reason for the volume of taxis in London, they're an exclusive form of travel for people who don't have parking spaces but can afford to sit in traffic jams. By outsourcing the sitting behind the wheel swearing to people from Essex, you can check emails on your phone, only at the cost of many pounds per journey.

The rise of cycling in London, then, is arguably a consequence of dissatisfaction with an overcrowded, expensive and unreliable tube, recognition that the bus service was worse, driving even more stupid and getting in a taxi a transport for the wealthy people with time on their hands.

Nowadays central London has a massive proportion of cycle commuters, those who are happy with a city worse to cycle in than Bristol, those who have learned all the back ways which are mostly survivable. When the new embankment and bridge segregated routes open, central London will show the rest of the UK cities how far they are behind, even Bristol, so proud of itself, can't do a pedestrian crossing of the Bearpit in less than a year, the Templemeads to Bemmy path is missing-considered-deceased, BRT2 has stolen bits of path and parkland, and then there's the centre and Baldwin Street. London is leading in both vision and execution. Which, when you consider the wanker in charge of it, quite saying something.

What London is doing is setting a baseline for the rest of Britain, for cycling and even, with Crossrail, what you can do for public transport. Bristol now needs to step up, making it pleasant to cycle across the city centre without you having to rehearse in your head a safe route and factoring in you won't have a clue what to do by The Centre, and that Templemeads hates cycling.

London needs to step up by moving out of the centre, to make it survivable to get in to the city, to make walking and cycling an option for people who live outside Zone 1. For a hint of the difficulties here, look at Vole O'Speed's coverage of Brent. As visitors to Brent with the "Love Bristol, Go Brent" campaign, we can assure people that he's actually upbeat about the prospects for cycling in Brent.

And Hampstead? With its primary school off a traffic jam of taxis? What hope does it have?

In CS11, it has the chance of a safe route to cycle from Swiss Cottage to the city centre, a feed in route for everyone in north west London. If you can get by bike to Swiss Cottage, you can carry on to your destination know that you'll be alive when you get there. Instead of having to text your loved ones "I'm at work, I'm fine!", you'd be able to text them "I'm on CS11, I'll live today!".

Except of course, the residents of St John's Wood don't want it, as it will make driving to Hampstead harder. And they are leading Britain's Backlash.

The comments are absolutely worth reading. Take this one from "Craig", resident of Hampstead village for nine year.

He is complaining that a cycle lane a mile away will devaluation the properties in Hampstead. That's an area where they are asking for £1.7M for a a flat, £3M for a house. So Craig, nine year resident, is worried that the resale value of his house will drop, by, what? a thousand pounds? Ten thousand? Because really it'd have to be a couple of hundred thousand pounds worth of devaluation.

And here's the irony. The sole reason that he has his £3.5M house is because in the 1970s, people fought to stop it having a motorway over it.

If the GLC had got its way then, the quaint little houses of Craig and others would be in the shadow on a par with London's Westway, a faint miasma of NOx and diesel particles infiltrating the house, adding extra flavour to the coffees their Nescafe-coffee pod cafe macchiatos, creating more traffic on every single road, and generally making the area even less pleasant to live in —as if having it full of people like Craig wasn't bad enough.

That was what London dodged: The ringway over Hampstead. Instead they got the status quo, which, with the vast cross-london school run, the emergence of diesel as the fuel of choice, killing those kids from NOx and lack of exercise. And yet these people don't want change —they expect to be able to drive round the city. First the school dropoff then on to the underground parking at Waitrose John Barnes, on to the gym for your spin class, up the road to pick up the children (Walk to school! Have them use public transport! Never!), then nip down to central london for a play or two, parking at westminster being outrageous, but well, so's the mortgage on a little Hampstead mews house, as is theatre tickets, what's another £30 on the evening —why, it's the amount of tip the au-pair would expect, isn't it?

Apparently there's a demonstration of support for the proposal on Friday, March 11. Us: we'd be more tempted to head to the anti demonstration to see who it is arguing against them —because they sound like the Donald Trump supporter of transport.

To close then, one last opposition comment: we can't have cycle paths in our cities because we have road, not canals.

If CS11 gets stopped, it'll because of people like this.