Friday, 10 March 2017

Proposed: tax vehicles based on their width

A quick trip through the capital of 4x4s that never see mud in our city, Clifton, makes it clear that even here we don't have space for such fat vehicles. Even the parked ones like that silver mercedes is wider than the parking bay -and that's with the bonus wide Clifton bays.

It really becomes clear following the BMW X5 across the suspension bridge. The thing is simply too wide. Why is it so fat? It's to compensate for the fact that it's centre of gravity is too high on account of the raised suspension: this is a land-barge which would topple over on bends otherwise, as Ford Explorers turned out to do. The X5 is so fat that when it meets and oncoming Landrover Discovery, they have to slow down to negotiate passing each other.

In other bits of the city, in everyday cars, drivers would go past each other without even looking up from their
phones. Yet all it takes is one or two selfish drivers thinking "hey! an SUV would be cool!" and our city is brought to its knees.

Hence our proposal: make the VED of a vehicle proportional to its weight and width. The weight: the maintenance cost of our roads. The width: how much they inconvenience everyone else.

Without this, there will be no way to stop this plague of overweight barges on our roads.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Bristol Post: cut and paste journalism? Share the data

There is one news outlet in the city whose coverage is insightful, cuts to the core of the city's problems and of whom every article is worth a read.

Yes, we refer to The Bristolian. Being ad-free there is no need for central-HQ agendas to be pushed; no need to try and generate click-bait content at the lowest cost per article, and so instead they can write independent content.

There is also another news outlet in the city, The Bristol Evening Post, which is part of The Trinity Group, as is the

We've been avoiding covering the Bristol Evening Post since it's "witty" Bikes and Lorries April 1 2015 article. Every link we make to a low-value web site devalues our own rating in google's PageRank algorithm, and since most of their coverage is bollocks there's no real point.

However, today it's time to link to an article, albeit through a nofollow marker: Revealed: The number of cyclists involved in crashes while undertaking other vehicles, covering the 5-6 cyclists hit a year by going to the left of cars in those little painted bits of bollocks on the road.

This turns out to be a seminal piece of work

  1. Because it appears in[Cox17], Tara Cox, Revealed: Hotspots in Cambridge for accidents where cyclists undertake other vehicles, Trinity Group Cambridge News , 2017, where 4-5 cyclists are injured/year.
  2. And in [Grant17] Rob Grant 2017, Dozens of cyclists have been involved in collisions while undertaking, new figures show, of the Manchester Evening news, where the collision rate is 11/year, no variance/stddev supplied
  3. and [Grant17a], Rob Grant, How many Birmingham cyclists are involved in accidents while undertakingBirmingham Mail,  2017. Here the collision rate is "an average of 8/year", again, without any variance.

As a news outlet that believe in weakly-defensible data to back up all our ill informed opinions, we are always pleased to see our press outlets following our strategy of "have an opinion, grab some meaningless statistic and then turn into an article defending our prejudices. Which as our detractors will point out, we do all too often.

But we do like to see that weakly-defensible data. Indeed, we're happy to critique the DfT's data gathering processes as a relic of the twentieth century, and suggest modern, big data alternatives.

Which is why, given the broad covering of this seminal piece of work, we'd really like to see the data.


  1. The cleaned up DfT data, either in the painfully generic CSV format, or something more efficient and with tighter typing, like Apache Avro.
  2. The data science notebook used to take the data and produce the numbers which got published. A Jupyter Notebook pushed to github would be fine.
Reproducible analysis of the results of an experiment is something which is becoming a big issue in science: given the same data, can different scientists come up with the same answers. Publishing the data and the analysis code is the foundation to this.

At least this dataset is going to be small, it's not like the datasets lurking in CERN CASTOR , or worse, the feed expected to come off the Square Kilometre Array, a feed that has everyone fucking scared right now. 

So to the Evening Post, as one datascience organisation to another,: if you are going to write articles on traffic issues in the city,  even if they are copied and pasted from the same piece of tier-2 prose seen in Manchester, Birmingham and Cambridge: show us the data, or STFU.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

A letter to Smiths of Gloucestershire, re the blind overtake of their van VE08NKX


I'm the cyclist the driver of your van VE08NKX chose to overtake on a blind corner on Belmont Hill, Somerset, at 15:46 on 25 November.

I'm the cyclist who shouted a warning to your driver that there was an oncoming car —a warning he chose to ignore:

And I'm the cyclist who videoed your van nearly hitting the oncoming car.

That car braked to avoid a collision, incidentally, and we both waved an acknowledgement to each other of how close it had been.

I've not got in touch before; I was waiting to see how Avon and Somerset Police were going to respond to the complaint that I'd filed online with them. As the time limit for them to file a Notice of Impending Prosecution has expired and they are yet to get in touch, the answer is: nothing.

Your driver has to consider themselves lucky to have not only avoided a head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle, but to avoid any form of punishment from the police for nearly doing so. That is despite the irrefutable video evidence showing them ignoring a shouted warning and overtaking where they had no visibility. If A&S Police were to adopt the prosecute-on-video-evidence policy which the Central Midlands Police are now operating, they would now be facing a choice between prosecution to Dangerous Driving or pleading guilty to the lesser offence of Careless Driving.

As it is: no prosecution, no pleading, no penalty, no points on their license, and no insurance premium.

That fact reflects as badly on our local police as it does on your employee.

Given the police's utter inaction, you can report to your driver that this particular near-crash won't result in any prosecution.

However, you do need to consider your brand tainted. It's clear from your website that you take site safety as seriously as it needs to be —but it's also clear from the video that your staff are treating off site safety with utter disdain. This driver endangered other road users in a van with your business name and telephone number painted on three sides of the vehicle, making identifying this employer trivial. The more incidents like this, the more videos of your drivers will go online, the more that safety theme gets devalued.

Please: tell your driver that in a world of helmet cameras and dashcams —the era of "getting away" with dangerous driving is over. If they drive dangerously in their free time, it is only the lives of themselves and others and their own driving license which they endanger. When they do it in company vehicles, it is your vehicles they are also threatening, your insurance premiums they are risking, and your brand that they are destroying,

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Psychology of Overtaking and VE08NXK

There is surprisingly little literature available online on the topic of The Psychology of Overtaking.

One paper you can find dates from 1997, Overtaking Road-accidents: Differences in Manoeuvre as a Function of Driver Age, by Clarke et al, of Nottingham University

Without going into the details, in particular questioning whether there's enough information on the general population of drivers and overtakers to reach conclusions about age, it does contain a good introductory summary of past work.

One quote in particular stands out
Wilson and Greensmith (1983) returned to the theme of the ‘‘inertial driver’’ in their multivariate analysis of drivers’ accident status in relation to observed driving patterns, gender and exposure. They report that accident-involved drivers drive more quickly ‘‘...and move around continually (especially overtaking) in traffic’’. The typical inertial driver differs from his high-exposure accident-free counterpart, in that he seems unwilling to change speeds in response to conditions by using gear changes, deceleration or braking.
This is interesting, as it does document a common behaviour you encounter on a bike: the driver willing to endanger themselves and others rather than tap on the brakes.

Here is a classic example on Belmont Hill, N. Somerset

Although it's a sharp bend, the gradient of the hill means that you can see oncoming traffic, especially when they have their lights on in the late afternoon. Look up to the top right of the picture and you can see a car coming down the hill. Bear in mind, it is still daylight, there may be an unlit vehicle or cyclist, and they would not be visible.

The presence of the car hasn't stopped the van VE08NXK from choosing to overtake precisely at the corner, going round the bend on completely the wrong side of the road. Either they hadn't looked or they didn't care. The driver coming down the hill was distinctly unhappy.

It would be really interesting to see what the reasoning of the driver was here. We cannot but suspect that it would be a "the cyclist forced me to make a dangerous overtake" claim, when really it was a "I was unwilling to adjust my speed in any way". Maybe we shall find out, having just reported them to A&S police as part of "Grass a Driver week".

Monday, 28 November 2016

Grass a driver week: MK59USB, texting across a junction

Apparently some police forces in the country are now rolling out enforcement of driving too close to tax dodgers, maybe even section 59 ASB orders, which are interesting as there is a lower burden of proof. It doesn't impact penalties or insurance, simply threatens to take the car away.

We watch these experiments with trepidation.

Meanwhile, Bristol has a page to report incidents for their records alone.

This week we are conducting a small experiment to report a few dangerous drivers to this site, to see what happens. Expect followups if there are any results.

First, MK59USB on Tyndall's Park Road, crossing Whiteladies Road while reading their phone.

There are now pedestrian crossing lights on some of the arms of the junctions, specifically Tyndall's Park Road has a walk and ike one (a small dip in the kerb allows the bikes over); Whiteladies Road inbound also has green. These require left-turns to be restricted, which has long been a rule more ignored than observed. The council has recently done some raised corner sharpening; be interesting to see what's happening.

Where there is not any pedestrian crossing is on St Pauls Road —the Clifton Side— people run across when there is a gap, such as when vehicles heading inbound are waiting to turn right, and in that little gap between Whiteladies Road going read and TPR/St Pauls Road going green.

Which means this mercedes is about to head towards a junction where there are likely to be people sprinting across. Will they put down their phone?

No, is the answer, they keep on looking at it, going down to one-handed so they can hold the steering wheel with the other. About half way through the junction, they look up, notice the cyclist, and hold the phone down out of sight.

Interesting question: what would have happened if the tax-dodger hadn't been there?

The experiment begins, then, by filing this on the A&S police site, see how they react.

What about the full report an incident process? Too much hassle given its inevitable that nothing is going to happen. If they don't act when you go to the station with a CD of a video and a complaint, it's unlikely that they will react to a youtube URL.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Metrobus on the railwaypath? Again?

the West of England partnership, henceforth known as the Bringers of Woe, have a consultation on a transport vision for the future.

Key points
  1. More people are going to live in Bristol
  2. More people are going to live Weston Super Mare, despite evidence to the contrary.
  3. More people are going to live in middle of nowhere dormitory towns near bristol, and hold unrealistic expectations about being able to commute into the city 
So, they have come up with a vision. That's a sort of a value between "no idea whatsoever" and "have a clue". Interesting to read, and so derive goals not just of Bristol, but the Outer Wilderness

North Somerset doesn't want anyone cycling to Bristol. We knew that, but their map doesn't even show the existing Festival Way as "a strategic cycling route", let alone propose it actually continue the extra 1-2 miles to reach as Nailsea. Instead they want an uprated A38 and a few tens of millions making the M5 more dangerous by turning the hard shoulder off at peak hours. Most interestingly the A38 to go to the M5 in a new junction. It's not clear what that will do, but apparently "This corridor experiences severe congestion ". If that statements is true, then the adverts for the Junction 21 Enterprise Zone you see while wasting hours at passport checks at BRS are lies. The advert? "15 minutes to Bristol". The reality? Not a chance. Yet here we are, with North Somerset saying "good transport links" on the J21 site, yet "experiences severe congestion" in another. One of those two statements is false —and if its the advertising, someone may want to complain.

Suggest: N Somerset consider alternative transport options to sitting in a traffic jam on the M5, and be open about its issues in the J21 site.

South Bristol doesn't get a callout of its own, just coverage in Bath to Bristol corridor. There's a small problem here in that the key public transport route between the cities is the train —and central government have removed electrifying this stretch of line from their "vision". That is, not even on some random future deadline which they can postpone, it's an outright "we don't plan to do this". Which means that the one change which would have really improved carrying capacity on the line, reduced transit times and pollution from trains in the cities? Gone.

Saltford is promised a bypass.

They also discuss LRT -Tram- along "the A4 Corridor". That's an interesting term there, as it doesn't mean "Along the A4", it just means "along the Avon Valley". There are two other options there (ignoring tarmacing the river). There's the train line, and then there's the Bitton-Bath stretch of the Railway Path, the stretch which has the steam trainists practising their hobby on a weekend. Could this be time to reinstate steam trains between Bristol and Bath? Brunel would be proud —they didn't have electricity in his day, after all.

Suggest: residents of South Bristol may have transport issues of relevance too. Anyone who cycles in Bristol might want to look more closely at the LRT routing.

Avonmouth, Shirehampton and Clifton Villages

Still a vision of getting the Henbury train loop in; still a vision for some more stations. Gloucester Road to Filton  and beyond and Whiteladies Road/A4018 to Cribb's causeway down as Strategic Cycling Routes. We have no idea what that means, and suspect the WoEP don't either, other than it means "no need to care about it anywhere else". Not that being a strategic cycle route will stop anyone painting out the bike lane.

Other points
  1. "enhancements to the public realm". This is planner-speak for spending money on brickwork rather than functional transport systems.
  2. There's not a single mention or illustration, anywhere, of people walking other than the phrase "cycling-and-walking" where the money will be split and each group will get their half of a pavement which will now have a white line down the middle. Yet for the inner core of Bristol and Bath, walking is the primary transport option. (we have no idea what it is for W-s-M, it probably involves riding a goat). 
  3. Page 14, or "other charging mechanisms.". That's either a parking tax, Low Emission Zone tax, or a c-zone charge.
And finally, a look to the north east. That dashed green line? "Light Rail Transport —Route to be determined"

Unless you are going to build a tram line down up Fishponds road, there is only one place to put anything in there: the Bristol to Bath Railway Path.

The last time the WoEP wanted to put a bus down there, there was a mass uprising of inner Bristol, with some support from outside. Doe they really think things will have got better now? Do they not realise that killing the path for the sake of a slightly faster commute to/from Emerson's Green is going to be acceptable? Not a chance.

Suggest: recognise that the traffic volume, walking and cycling, down the BBRP is higher than any tram can achieve, and doesn't cost £2.6B. Council would be better off filing plans to run trams down there into the box of "stupid ideas we will pretend we never considered".

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

We say dust off and nuke the car from orbit

People have coming up to us recently and been asking questions on our apparent lack of driving. The recurrent queries are
  1. Why haven't we seen you parking badly?
  2. Why haven't we seen you driving badly?
  3. Why haven't you driven right behind us in the fast lane of the motorway at 90 mph, flashing your lights at us?
For reasons which may be covered in a future post, the Bristol Traffic Important Car for Important People has now been officially written off; the insurers of the Important Car for Important People providing a rental car until a settlement is reached. The answers to the question are thus:
  1. We have —just in a Vauxhall Corsa 1.4
  2. We have —just in a Vauxhall Corsa 1.4
  3. We can't, it's a Vauxhall Corsa 1.4
Here it is in all its glory, just after stocking up on marmite at Sainsbury's Brislington.

Compared to a team member's MkII Astra 1.4L of many decades ago, the Corsa isn't that bad for luggage room, but manages to be tangibly slower. All the weight of modern safety equipment like airbags and ABS, along with power steering, electric windows and the like have made for a vehicle which struggles to break the 20 mph limit. Our urban speedo watching is now one of looking down at the mph dial as it gets into the late teens, muttering "go on Corsa, you can do it!".

Unfortunately, free vehicle that it is, it comes with a fundamental flaw: a £500 insurance excess and undamaged bodywork. It has both wingmirrors and the alloy wheels lacking those scrapes which mark a car christened for use in urban Bristol.

It's not a matter of whether the car is going to end up with a wingmirror held up with duct tape, wheels documenting the kerb heights parked against, or graceful scrapes aquired on daily use. It's when. It even constrains parking choices: you start worrying in the night about what it will look like in the morning —that maybe you shouldn't have parked sticking out quite so much on that corner.

Accordingly, rather than await the day when the car is returned and a large bill for damage presented, the team decided to return the car early, and borrow a parent's '53 reg Peugot 307 HDi. The parent in question had a little medical incident in August, their car parked up since then. Taking it away from them should help get them used to the post-driving lifestyle, which, in Portsmouth, "city by the sea", means getting used to FirstBus coming by once an hour, except on Sundays, when it drops to "who knows"

Vehicle collected, successfully driven to Bristol. Compared to the Corsa, it's stable, and it's manual transmission and the minimal turbocharger give it a better 0-20 number —still not great for getting on the M32 from the secret Mina Road access point. With the changes there, you can't even be at 15 mph before you approach the merge point.

But it's stable, and pre-commissoned for abuse in an urban environment. All it needs is cleaning up, the parent being one of those who like to hoard things in their vehicle.

All goes well, the interior binned; time to go to the boot. Four cans of WD-40 and three de-icers seem overkill, but as a Glaswegian who used to own a Mini, the owner no doubt had picked up some habits they couldn't get rid of. That's not the issue though, the issue is what turns up once the boot contents are purged, and the layers underneath explored.

What's there? Moss large quantities of it. Enough that you have to look for David Attenborough and his camera crew.

And under the moss? Water. Large quantities of water.

The entire spare wheel compartment has about 2-3 cm of water in it. This is, well, unexpected, and best accompanied with the expression "What the fuck?"

Now, Pompey is a coastal town, and it could be that there have been some high tides flooding the streets —tides covered up by the Portsmouth Tourist Board. This is unlikely, as the loss of the city to climate change is something that UKIP would be highlighting as a positive outcome of climate change.

Discounting that, and deliberate human action, the other key hypothesis has "it's been collecting water from rain". With the car unused for a few weeks (this photo was taken early October), water could easily have seeped in to the stationary car.

Except: it's been a really dry Autumn. Has it really been long enough for the spare wheel bay to fill with water and plants to start growing?

No, this car has been collecting rainwater for some time.

For anyone with ageing parents, there's always the question "when should they stop driving?" You always hope that they stop before they end up in a serious crash, maybe just a small one involving a bollard where the police suggest politely to put away the car keys.

Maybe, just maybe, the fact that you've clearly been driving around not noticing the strange slushing sound coming from the back, or the odd fusty smell. One can but hope. That or bribe the garage doing the MoT to make sure the car fails.

The wealthy in society, the Camerons, the Rees-Moggs, they look forward to inheriting the family estate, what with its greenery and lakes.

Us: we fear the family hatchback.