Thursday, 7 December 2017

Breaking: cyclists using bridge intended to be cycled over

Here is a video of someone trying to cycle from one side of the Avon to the other.

You can see at the beginning of the video that they have to  is another bridge, the cheesegrater bridge, which, since they replaced its artistic metal surface with one which works in the wet and ice, can be used year round. Or at least could be, if a lorry hadn't been driven over it, destroyed the surface and still, two months later, not been repaired.

Here's a video of someone cycling over it again

Nothing unusual there, given it has been since its inception a walking/cycling bridge

Why our coverage then? Because on December 5, 2017, Alex Ballinger, Bristol Post journalist, published an article Cyclists ignore signs asking them to dismount on a Bristol bridge but warning isn’t mandatory. Where, shockingly,

Pictures show cyclists riding over a city centre bridge and passing pedestrians

That is the most undercompelling subtitle you can imagine, but it gets filled up with
Cyclists have been photographed riding over a pedestrian bridge near Bristol city centre despite the ‘health and safety’ warning signs, but there is no way of enforcing the rule.
That's because its a cycling and walking bridge. There is no rule to enforce. The fact that the owners don't want to people to cycle over is their problem. The fact that the "cyclists cycle over the bridge" story is a recurrent on in the Post is, however, the newspaper's problem.

Here's an article from April 3, 2017, How many cyclists do you think we caught riding over a pedestrian bridge in Bristol in just five minutes?, by one Tim MacFarlan.

This is the Bridge in question. Notice how the recurrent videos of cycling over this bridge is, well, repetitive. Not a coincidence.

From the article
when it comes to a pedestrian bridge, with signs at either end ordering cyclists to dismount when crossing, you'd have thought you could relax a bit if you're on foot. 
Not so with the Valentine Bridge in Temple Quay if our experience is anything to go by.
This is despite the fact blue and white signs are clearly visible at both ends of the bridge saying in block capitals, 'CYCLISTS MUST DISMOUNT WHEN USING THE BRIDGE'. 
we filmed 22 cyclists crossing the bridge in both directions - and just SIX got off their bikes and walked across.
Well, it is a cycling bridge after all.

Except, guess what:
Not a single pedestrian complained to any of the cyclists, despite the fact they should only have been sharing the bridge with people on foot - wheeling their bikes if they had them.
The writer almost sounds disappointed "everyone on a walking/cycling bridge coexisted happily."

And here, May 10 2017, by Alex Ballinger, Sign urges cyclists to dismount on Bristol city centre bridge - but is it against the law to ignore it? This covers the Prince Street Bridge, but it quite clearly covers the fact that no, you can cycle where there's a "cyclists dismount" sign.

Now, that's a bit far back for some group memory, but there's search engines to find this history. And the article from October 23, 2017, These are the rules for cyclists. The clothes to wear, can you ride on pavements, and must you adhere to dismount signs?, by journalist Emma Flanagan.
Q. Do you have to adhere to dismount signs?
A. No. However, not dismounting can cause tension with pedestrians who may not be aware it is advisory.
And the article has a photo of guess, what? Valentine's Bridge.

That's the one in this video with the dismount sign next to a barrier installed without council permission. We think the barrier is designed to force people off their bike, but really its like chicanes are to Astra drivers showing off to their mates: entertainment. The challenge is "can you get round without putting a foot down". (tip: put the brakes on lightly but pedal all the way through; gives you a bit of oversteer and stops you having enter too fast).

There we go then: four articles this year on cycling over bridges with dismount signs, three covering this bridge, with the most overblown the "we counted 22 people cycling over a walking & cycling bridge and nobody minded".

The issue is no longer "why are these cyclists ignoring the signs", but "why does the local newspaper regurgitate same variants on the same story 4 times/year", especially when the story is "why do cyclists cycle over bridges designed to be cycled over?".

Some theories

  1. Journalists are hard pressed to think up content, walking round Templemeads they see some people cycling over a bridge, see the dismount sign and think "that'd be something I could write up!", pushing out a story without bothering to search the archives or talk to colleagues.
  2. Someone looks at the hit counts for previous articles and yells out, taps into the team whatsapp group, Slack channel or whatever "whose turn is it to do the cyclists on Valentine Bridge story this month?"
  3. The bridge owners hate cyclists and every so often get in touch with the paper to say "we have a story!" And whoever writes it up doesn't bother to look through the archives. Or doesn't care.

We propose a sweepstake: when will the first 2018 article denouncing cyclists cycling over Valentine's Bridge appear in the Bristol Post?

Prize: a free cycle ride over the bridge

Rules: this competition is not open to Bristol Post staff or immediate family.

What's painful here, is not just the uninspired repetition of the same old story, a repetition which only increases prejudice and polarisation, but because we assume that the authors do have some ambition to really write compelling stories.

Yet there is an interesting one right in front of their eyes: the story about why a bridge built in the 21st century as a walking/cycling bridge has its owners trying to suppress cycling over it?

Here then, are our recommendations for the next Bristol Post journalist tasked with covering this story in April/May 2018.
  1. Ask the bridge owners whether or not this was commissioned as a walking/cycling bridge?
  2. Ask them why they unilaterally decided to add "cyclists dismount" signs?
  3. Ask them why they unilaterally installed barriers without council permission?
  4. Ask them why they get so worked up about cyclists exercising their legal right to cycle over the bridge?
  5. Given the stance on cycling, do you consider that as a walking and cycling bridge, the bridge is a failure?
If the answers to Q2-4 is "because the bridge is too narrow", then ask them: what traffic modelling did they do? Was it wrong?  If so; why? If not: why was the bridge inadequate for the predicted numbers. And, if they didn't do any modelling, that's interesting too.

If the answers to Q2-4 are "because the surface is slippery when wet", ask them "was the weather of Bristol taken into account when the bridge was designed and materials specified"

Follow this with: given the surface of the first bridge was failure, why was the second crossing also designed with a surface which doesn't work in rain and ice?

A cycling bridge you cannot cycle over is not a cycling bridge: it is a failed project.

As, for Alex Ballinger and colleagues: why are you recycling this?

If you look at the comments, articles like this are clearly reinforcing the opinion of the commenters that "cyclists are lawbreakers". Maybe, but not here. This article has the defensibility of a "shocking expose, people driving on the M32 flyover". You should have been embarrassed to put your name to it

Please: write a new story on the failure of the bridge, not how Bristolians are using it as originally intended.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

How does a big project fail? A day at a time

Bristol now has a new museum, Aerospace Bristol, which contains a documentary of the growth of the North Fringe Military-Industrial Complex, from WWI fighters to Polaris missile warheads.

It also has a monument to a classic project failure: Concorde.

Because, yes, Concorde is Bristol's most famous transport disaster. People admire the beauty of the plane, it's elegance, its unrivalled speed, but from a project perspective it failed.
  1. It came in years late.
  2. By the time it was ready, its economics had changed: the 1973 oil crisis had happened.
  3. And it turned out that mass travel was more profitable than premium travel for the elite, and that 747s fulfilled the role.
It was a disaster, but now there is a museum for it, rather than rows of Concordes at every airport. Off the new urban sprawl area of North Filton, east of the empty life wasteland that the Cribbs Causeway consumption complex. Not even on the Waze maps —whose postcode lookup directs you into the parking area of a Ford dealer. And in the museum, a plane, along with the other great innovations of the city.

The question we have to ask is: will metrobus join it? While it's not internationally renowed as beautiful failure, it has the "Came in years late" item checked off. Leaving only relevance.

Big projects go wrong. More specifically, they go wrong more significantly, more dramatically and much more expensively than smaller projects. And, of course, the cost of the failure is bigger: the time wasted, the money wasted, the lives frittered away.

So how do big projects fail? A day at a time.

Often its early up-front time which gets wasted the most. That is, with a two year project, the first 6-12 months are the most frittered away. Why so?

Unclear goals/Nobody knows what the fuck they are doing.

When they do start focusing on a plan, and make progress, management usually change plans, not realising the cost. "You've not built anything yet". Software gets this all the time, because there's nothing tangible, but you look at civl engineering projects and you get the politicans deciding to reroute buses and trains "its not been built yet", not realising the penalty of such a decision. Its political whims like that which make public projects worse than private ones. You get whims, but spreadsheets can usually steer them back on course.

People are over-ambitious about what can be done and how it can be achieved.

People just don't realise how rapidly that time gets frittered away. One of the worst troublespots is when the engineers give management a time estimate "it will take 24-30 months if we start today", the managers only hear the "24" , then immediately apply it to the current time "March 2017" + 24 months = March 2019. Then they fuck about talking and finally give the go-ahead after six months, but still expect that "March 2019" deadline to be met.

In a project with a deadline 2+ years out, nobody worries up front about making efficient use of their time. It's extended "what do we do" meetings, people feel freedom to think up "creative and imaginative solutions" to satisfy themselves: personal aggrandisement of their great idea, fashion over a exciting new technology not yet been shown to work, but which suits the project so well. six months to ship and all that stuff has been junked as unworkable and the surviving team members are scrabbling for proven technology with low risk, while cutting back on all the extraneous features "bike paths", "Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic"

At the same time on trying to crank back on the deliverables, the team is cutting corners, usually on quality. Deliverables may be "done", but that's an "unreliable piece of junk done". Which amplifies the problem, as instead of focusing on future deliverables, everyone is pulled into firefighting the short term problems.

The "little details" put off turn out to be big problems

On a really large project, you also suffer from a postponement of examining the "little implementation details" of the project, which turn out not to be so little. The only reason you didn't know they weren't little is that you didn't look in enough detail.

Examples: Discovery you need more of a bridge over a railway line, that you need more tunnels through politically sensitive regions, that you failed to survey the soil your project will be built over, or that there's a border between the UK and EU country where closing it to through traffic will upset local people and cause them to potentially overreact.

There's also one project killer which can happen even if the goals were right and executed properly: by the time you release the goals are no longer relevant. Examples: Nokia's Symbian OS, Blackberry 10 OS.

What are the warning signs?

Failure to define goals, even as project progresses. If its 12 months in and nobody can clearly define the project, you aren't 12 months in. You have just wasted 12 months and your schedule is still going to be "24 months from today".

New requirements being added. This is often a consequence of the delay and attempting to keep up with a changing world. You announce you will be 12 months late and management say "OK, but here's a new change we'll expect to make up for it".

Missing checkpoints. You miss an early checkpoint and you don't catch up. It's gone. When the goals are finally met, work out how much extra time it took above scheduled as a fraction of of the allocated time. and then multiply the deadlines for the rest. Example: if an 8 week milestone is met in 10 weeks, that's a 25% overrun: multiply the entire schedule by 1.25.

Low quality of intermediate deliverables, What does get delivered sucks. This shows a focus on timelines over quality, and will come back to haunt you as quality will only get worse.

Departure of senior staff tasked with delivering it. Especially those with no emotional commitment to the project. Not the visionaries with their grand plans who came up with it, not the people at the bottom for which "it's just a job". It's the more senior people who see the impending trainwreck and think "I have better things to do".

"Unexpected" increases in cost estimates. One or more of: increasing of timeline, increasing staffing, discovery of details they handn't reallised would be so expensive. There's often been a bit of preallocated overrun for "contingency costs", but if that gets burned up early then there'll be need for more.

Rapid changes in the environment which the project is to be delivered. For Nokia and Blackberry, they were: Apple iPhone redefining what a handset was; Google Android saying "in exchange for us collecting personal data from all your users, here's a phone OS and software to compete with Apple"

Now, given these warning signs, the exercise for the readers is to pick one of the following list of projects and see if you can identify all those warning signs.
  • Metrobus
  • HS2
  • Universal Credit
  • HMRC customs software needed for brexit.
  • Edinburgh Trams
  • Brexit
Same fucking signs, every single one of them.

Now, how are such trainwrecks avoided?

In software projects, the general strategy is "don't do this". Big "ocean boiling" projects are very much things to steer absolutely clear of. One or two software consultancies do get involved in them, but they take lots of money and somehow always managed to avoid the blame. Of course, when you are the consultancy wing of one of the big four accounting firms and your colleagues are also the accountants for the company, they'll look out for you.

If you are doing something like this: never say "we're committed now". Just because you've spent lots doesn't mean that the project will work, whether spending more money and time is the correct action. Sometimes it's best to recognise that the world has changed, and the ongoing project isn't relevant. Stop it: focus on something tangible and relevant instead.

That''s just how to get out the hole. The best thing to do is: avoid getting into it.

In software, "agile" development means you do lots of smaller bits of work, with a release schedule of 2-6 weeks, with the goal being "every iteration is a release which puts something into people's hands". There's no more giant release any more, just lots of incremental ones, where features could be some new thing you can do with the code, or just "faster" and "more stable".

With everyone working to a short cycle, there's less of the "three years to go, let's design something grand over many meetings" work, instead pragmatic solutions to current problems. And with that solution in everyone's hands, you can see how it is used and adapt.

As the environment changes, you can adapt on the next iteration, rather than struggle to redefine the grand project -or worse, pretend that reality hasn't changed, and that your work remains relevant.

Ignoring Brexit "don't be so stupid", how does it apply to transport, especially in Bristol?

A key thing: say no to grand metrobus-scale projects. That's underground systems, tramlines, cable cars, etc. They may get everyone excited, but they're risky and not so likely to deliver the benefits promised. And until they ship: useless.

Bike paths, for all their controversy, can be rolled out fairly rapidly, and, if new ones are added adjacent to others, build up an incremental network. That doesn't hold if you just put random bits of paint down where it was least controversial. You do need to have some joined up thinking wth an overall goal "every minor release expands the connected bristol cycle network by 500 metres", and some longer term plans which can motivate people and help define what you are doing in the first place "a way to cycle from Templemeads to the Centre which doesn't abandon you just when it gets scary"

The same for things like footpaths, zebra crossings & c. Pick a mid-term goal "children can walk to school with safe crossings", and work on it by identifying the riskiest crossings, funding zebra crossings, making sure the light timings work, that everyone is stopping for them (i.e. have some police enforcing gloucester road red lights for cyclists on intermittent weekday mornings), that the actions of others aren't hindering things (i.e. have police & council enforcing keep clear and double yellow signs by schools on intermittent weekday mornings).

Roads? Well, what to do? You could present some grand vision of the harbour where the A370 Brunel Way crossing is replaced by something further west, but that will hit up against the pressure to preserve the suspension bridge area, the demand for some for more lanes, for others for fewer, etc. Really, it's not going to satisfy people, so why not look for smaller tactical benefits. At this point some people will be thinking "lets get rid of the bike lanes", but if you look hard, it's often people parked in bus lanes "just for a minute" which cause problems. Special callout: parents doing Colston School dropoff on Gloucester Road. London has embraced the red routes for the "really no parking" roads...yet we haven't. Is it time

Otherwise, well: is it time to consider, if not a congestion charge, a Nottingham-style office parking tax. You can drive through town for free, but you don't get free parking at work. That has the potential to be more transformational to our core than the RPZ has yet delivered. Best bit: you don't need any new bridges or motorway junctions.

To close then: Metrobus is checking the warning signs of classic big project fuckup. Which is obvious to all of us. And so is Brexit. As for the software it'll need, like that HMRC stuff. They have had their deadline pulled forward, the scale of their workload massively increased and still, a year from delivery, nobody know WTF its meant to be managing. Not a chance.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Volvo bug reports, issue #2; SMIDSY

"Sorry Mate I Didn't See You", as uttered by driver to person they nearly just killed due to failure to properly observe/assess the environment so making a decision based on incomplete and invalid data. Saying "sorry mate" is a way to imply that it was something minor like "sorry I didn't open the door, I didn't see you there", rather than "sorry I almost added you to this years KSI statistics, but I didn't look or comprehend the situation properly".

In this instance the driver did actually seem pretty horrified that she'd nearly done it, and she wasn't on her phone. What could be the cause then, on a clear and quiet afternoon with no other distractions in sight?

Tyndall's Park Road; Highbury Vaults is at the end of it. Before they blocked off Woodland Road on the left side of the climb, you could drive straight over. That kept the road a lot more hazardous, as there'd be cars trying to sprint across. Here though, Woodland Road provides an escape route to the side, with the raised section of road some mild traffic calming of the main university halls of residence to study route for students on foot & bike.  Coming downhill would have been a serious issue.

The vehicle is on camera for 4s of visibility before pulling out, but she doesn't actually stop at the give way, just slow down for <1s and then continue. You have to consider whether the fact that the roads were so quiet got her thinking "these roads are empty" and failed to properly stop & assess the situation. Or she was only looking the right, pulled out and didn't do a second check to the left as she came around.


Saturday, 4 November 2017

Volvo bug reports, issue #1: MGIF driver

Given some of the Volvo self driving car developers are ex colleagues of Bristol Traffic team members, we get to file bug reports. Not some directly accessible issue tracker where you get to file stuff like "XC90 driver nearly killed me" only for tech support to close as a "works as intended", but at least get to give them cues about how their land-barges get used and abused in the field. Here's one of this week's

As promised, some videos of this week's Volvos. Mid-afternoon, not rush hour but within range of school pickup times. Sunny days to treasure before the miserable season settles in.

First: "MGIF" , "Must Get In Front"

Definition: A driver who is focused on overtaking the bike without looking ahead to consider "What happens next?

In AI terminology a "planning horizon of 1", usually loses to any computerised chess/draughts player with a horizon >= 2 unless the latter is awful about assessing the value of all enumerated moves & countermoves.

In this instance,
  1. the speed limit of the bridge and the rest of the city for the subsequent 1-2+ miles in any direction is 20 mph. You can see one of the signs at 0:01 in the video
  2. the cyclist she chooses to pass is doing 19-20 mph, still accelerating in their underresponsive steel-framed MTB.
  3. The car a safe stopping distance in front is also doing 20 mph
  4. And it'll have to slow down once it gets to the end of the bridge due to the road there (i.e it's 100% predictable, irrespective of time of day & pedestrian/traffic numbers)
  5. the oncoming cyclist is going 15 + mph
Which means that

(a) there's no defensible reason to pass the cyclist "I need to break the law to overtake a bike cycling at the speed limit to get behind the other vehicle going at the same speed before I get into the city proper and really have to slow down".

(b) she's failed to anticipate how long it will take to overtake the bike, even as she speeds up to 25-30.

(c) the closure rate with the oncoming cyclist becomes about 40-45 mph. If the oncoming roadie hadn't been keeping to the far left of the lane, there'd have been a collision.

Looking back at the footage, she's hanging back at the split to two lanes at the tolls to make a late-binding choice of which one to go through -a slight sign of impatience.  She takes the left one; the right hand one is occupied by an SUV whose driver can barely see over the wheel, which is why the cyclist chose to hang back and wait: didn't seem safe to go ahead. As the Volvo comes through fairly rapidly, it's probable she has one of the contactless cards which you top up with prepaid bridge crossing tokens; sign of a regular user. Given time of day, perhaps a resident of N. Somerset doing a late pickup of a child from somewhere in Clifton, someone who cannot afford to be held up by any vehicle doing the speed limit.

Now, what is he dev team planning w.r.t. oncoming collision avoidance, where it assesses oncoming velocity of the approaching vehicle, adds with its own and estimates time-to-impact, so perhaps suggesting some alternate actions? And what to suggest? There's the "massively accelerate, swing in hard and then brake" strategy, which is an extension of this drivers decision (and essentially a reward), the alternative is: brake, swing behind the cyclist they tried to pass, put it off. Which is safer, but not generally that common amongst "legacy" manual-drivers. There's some psychological "we're committed now" decision which interferes with the more rational "braking to survive is a good idea" strategy.


P.S. UK DVLA now gives MOT history over time: can see that GP05RZE used to be a 3K/y child seat equipped barge of Hendon, NW London, then over to bristol to do 15K/y. Where you can see from the repeated warnings "pitted/scored disks, front headlamp deterioration" that the owner doesn't actually do any maintenance. Probably not a good sign. Almost as bad as a MkI Golf GTi with the wheels coming off..

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Don't expect any sympathy from the council

Maudlin Street, July 2017. In the background you can see some old bits of the BRI being knocked down and replaced with premium student accommodation.

In the foreground, you can see a car diagonally across a (contraflow) bike lane.

Tax-dodgers often complain that enforcement of the cycle lanes in the city is as observed as enforcement of anticorruption rules in the Trump cabinet; our dataset does imply this.

This is possibly the only vehicle we have ever seen in a bike lane to have actually earned a parking ticket. Indeed, there wasn't even an index category in the blog, "parking-ticket", until this moment.

What has brought radical change in enforcement about? Clearly, a full diagonal parking with your front sticking out in the car-lane-for-real-people qualifies for a yellow label on your windscreen. That's despite the fact that it's got a disabled parking permit and its only inconveniencing cyclists.

Except it's not parked is it? There's some disabled parking bays behind our photographer, and this car is backed up against the kerb exactly as you'd expect a car to end up if it slowly rolled down the hill and came to a halt without getting enough momentum to get up on the kerb and/or cause damage. Lucky for the owners there. Because instead of repairs they'll only have that parking ticket to argue over with the council.

Monday, 16 October 2017

No idea whatsoever

These are from mid sept, just some photos of some vehicles encountered on a traverse of the city, from Monty to the Triangle.

#1: Upper Cheltenham Place 16:02, September 9.

There's a car in the middle of the road; it's go belongings in the back including a childs seat. A PCSO is looking in it. Left hand side of the vehicle is pretty bashed up. No other vehicles "unusally" bashed. No skid/ABS marks. Other than the PCSO, nobody is paying any attention.

@2: Nugent Hill, 16:15, September 9.

A car is on the pavement/build-out on Nugent Hill. Both sides of the car are bashed, the gap between them suspiciously as wide as the gap between the two cast iron bollards just in front of the vehicle.

Again, nobody around. This one looks exactly what you'd get when you were parked on the hill, the handbrake wasn't on (+wheels not turned, engine not left in gear), and the car rolled down the hill. If that' the case, at least it didn't hut anyone or any other vehicle. Provided the engine hasn't been damaged/pushed into the passenger compartment, then the VW polo should already be up and running by now.

Overall then: the background hum of bodywork repairs which keeps the city alive.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Field repairs

Can we observe that this is least competent bit of wingmirror taping we have ever encountered in the city.

It's barely held on with sellotape, they haven't even bothered to rotate the mirror for better aerodynamics. This mirror doesn't stand a chance of surviving motorway speeds. Which means first trip up the M5 & they'll be in Michaelwood service station buying some emergency insulating tape and some scissors. Do you know how much insulating tape costs on service stations? Do you know how much insulating tape it needs to hold the driver side window up after a failure of the electric window mechanism? Too much. And yet its not easy to drive to Birmingham "gateway to the middle" while holding the window up with your hand. That's why you should always fix up your vehicle parts with insulating tape *before* you set off, and keep some spare in the back of the car as the long-journey kit, along with the WD-40 and the hammer.

This car and its field repairs? Not a chance. You'd be embarrassed to drive round the core inner city with mirror repairs that bad. It says "we care enough out our mirrors to want to preserve them" (weakness) and it says "we're not competent enough to tape them down". That is, unless the real issue was they got fed up with the noise it made swinging into the dorr, and did just enough to shut it up.

Ripping the thing off completely would have been the better option : "where we're going, we won't need wing-mirrors!". But no: the owner of this vehicle tried, just failed.

We should really have a ranking scheme for wing mirror repairs. We'll give this one; 1 out 5