Archive for the 'Journal' Category

URGENT: Say ‘no’ to a cycling ban on Oxford Street

TLDR: TfL’s proposals to pedestrianise Oxford Street include no provision for cycling. This will create a serious, permanent hole in the cycling network in the West End. Decisively reject the plans by replying to the consultation with a firm ‘No’ and giving lack of provision for cycling as your reasoning.

I’d like to coin Mustafa’s first law of cycle routes: if there’s a Roman road from A to B, that’s where the cycle route should go.

The Romans did not just have the foresight to build roads that were direct, and with minimal gradients. Two millennia of urban development has grown up around them and they now form the contours and skeletons of towns and cities across the country. Today’s Oxford Street is a key stretch of the Via Trinobantina – the Roman road connecting Calleva Atrebatum in Hampshire to the settlement that grew into Colchester. Development throughout the centuries, since, has taken into account it being there. Look on any street map and Oxford Street is, quite clearly, the main East-West artery through the West End (and more broadly part of the main east-west route through London). Although private cars have been banned from much of Oxford Street since the 1970s it remains signposted as the A40, precisely because there is no decent parallel route.

TfL’s plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street make no allowance for maintaining this ancient, and irreplaceable thoroughfare for cycling. They are proposing to ban cycling with only a vague notion of a “parallel route” some time in the future. Even if such a route was possible, without large scale destruction of private property to refashion the West End of London, it is scandalous that cycling be banned from Oxford Street before such a route be built. It is totally at odds with promoting the growth of cycling to require cyclists to go, literally, round the houses. Moreover, it’s a ban that is likely to be flouted causing unnecessary conflict with pedestrians and making more progress difficult.

It’s therefore imperative that the scheme be stopped. Some cycling campaigners seem to be under the illusion that if they respond ‘Yes but…’ that somehow they may be able to salvage something – they are deluded. Campaigners are always expected to say “Yes but…” because we always want to push the boundaries of what’s possible. A “Yes but…” can easily be dismissed. The only way to send a powerful signal that we expect the scheme to change is to confidently, and clearly respond ‘No, not good enough”. And that’s what I urge anyone who cares about utility cycling in London to do.

Below is a screenshot of my response. Respond by midnight on 3rd January 2018.


Changing a car headlamp bulb, or why sometimes reading the manual still beats the Web

Driving on Saturday afternoon I suddenly became aware of a dashboard alarm that I’d never seen before. Apparently the right-hand side “dipped beam” bulb had blown (and I verified this by getting out and inspecting the car in a car park). I’d never had to change a car light bulb before, so some research was required and I instinctively reached for the smart phone… and ended up teaching myself a valuable lesson.

After about 15 mins or so surfing I couldn’t find any clear instructions on how to change the bulb. Worryingly I had come across a number of forum posts suggesting that the Mercedes W169 is not the easiest car when it comes to changing headlamp bulbs and that some disassembly of the various bits and pieces such as the windscreen wiper reservoir and front/wing bumper, would be required. Ostensibly savvy owners had apparently found themselves with no alternative than paying £100 or so for a bulb change at a dealer or independent garage!

I was horrified. To me, it is completely inexplicable why a car should not have easily replaceable light bulbs. I found another forum posting suggesting that a new EU directive is on it’s way to ensure all new cars have user-serviceable light bulbs but that would be too late for me. I would expect that a premium German manufacturer would not need an EU directive to force it to not have an idiotic. I must confess that I began to feel some sympathy for those drivers I occasionally see driving around at night with only one functioning headlamp: not condoning this of course, but understanding that if it’s such a pain to change a light bulb then not everyone’s going to be able to do it promptly.

Having (very) briefly considered whether to drive into a fast fit garage and empty I my wallet I ruled this out on the grounds that this would be personally humiliating, let alone the potentially extortionate costs. More practically it was too late in the day to find an open garage. So I spent more time surfing, this time on YouTube, where I had more joy. I found some videos showing me the disassembly steps required and it appeared that I only needed to pull out 3 bolts. Opening up the bonnet I found the bolts but I didn’t have the right size tool in the boot to open them so went home to find something. On the way I found the correct replacement bulb at a petrol station shop. Sadly whilst petrol stations stock consumables they

Having found a suitable spanner, I proceeded to remove the retaining bolts around the headlamp assembly. So far so good. However, whilst the assembly was now loose I couldn’t figure out how to remove it – and I could no longer find the video on my smart phone (perhaps, in hindsight, I’d actually looked up the video on my tablet which was no longer with me). After half an hour so I finally gave up and dug out the car owner’s manual. It took me a few minutes to decipher the spartan instructions but, as it turned out, there they were. No tool(s) were required (other than gloves for handling the bulb, which were part of the stock car toolkit in the boot). Replacing the bulb took under a minute as an easy user-serviceable activity.

So what did I learn from this episode?

  1. The Internet may be the greatest repository of human knowledge but it’s also full of rubbish and shouldn’t always be the first port of call.
  2. Look in the German car owner’s manual first.
  3. Ostensibly savvy people on internet forums may be anything but – even (or, perhaps especially  when they’re all spouting the same expert insight).
  4. Whatever temporary sympathy I had for drivers going around with a blown light bulb has now turned into even more uncompromising lack of sympathy than I had before.

Perhaps less importantly, I found that the replacement light bulb (a Halogen H7 type, if you care) was 30% cheaper at a 24-hour Shell petrol station shop than at Halfords online. Not what I would have expected, but a pleasant surprise when caught out in this way after shopping hours.

How dangerous really is cycling?

Here are some interesting statistics that came through my email today.

Risk relative to cycling: fatality rates per participant
Relative risk per participant
Less safe Airsports 450
  Climbing 137
  Motor sports 81
  Fishing 41
  Horse riding 29
  Swimming 7.0
  Athletics 5.7
  Football 4.9
  Tennis 4.2
  Cycling 1.0
Safer Golf 0.83
  Rambling 0.06 

Source: Lunch hour lecture on risks and benefits of active transport by Dr Jenny Mindell of UCL.

So there you go: cycling may not be as safe as playing golf, but it’s 41x safer than going fishing.

This is not to say that cycling safety is a non-issue. The (lack of) attractiveness and (perceived) danger associated with cycling is a major deterrent to more widespread cycle use in London. And far too many cyclists are unnecessarily getting hurt, but we must maintain some perspective.

Social media: mixing business with pleasure?

The other day I created a facebook page for aQovia. All well and good, the functionality is a little basic but it ticks a box that technology companies seem to need to fill in these days. For me this is the first time I’ve mixed things up…

I’m not new to social networks. Whilst slow (amongst my university peers) to join Facebook – I was partly jaded by the fact that I’d been on so many of them before. I was a member of SixDegrees back in 1997. I’m not sure we called them “social networks” back then. They were more of a crowdsourced “Bacon number experiment” – though again I don’t recall “crowdsource” being in lexicon back then, and the Microsoft Word 2008 spell check doesn’t know about it either. Anyway, my point is I’m not a luddite when it comes to online stuff…

What I find difficult is the conflation of space: personal vs work, school, or whatever. People vary. Some of us like to keep our lives neatly partitioned, others prefer to see it all as one spectrum. Me, I’m the former: Not only do I keep things apart but I have multiple circles of friends (originating from different phases or places in my life) which I have no desire to bring together. For me it’s a way of maintaining the variety of life.

This is what riled me about creating a company page on facebook that wouldn’t have done if I was creating aQovia’s LinkedIn page. I see facebook as part of my personal space, whilst LinkedIn is professional. I don’t want them merged.

Ofcourse, this feeling is ridiculous and not just because, I could have, if I wanted to, used an anonymous profile (and I know plenty of people who have multiple accounts on facebook thinking one or more of them is anonymous…). No, it’s ridiculous because the nature of the Internet is such that everything is public. And more so because I have actually benefitted from the fusion – it’s amazing how a quick tweet or status update can get an unexpectedly useful response from someone you know in a different capacity.

The Internet has forced a change upon me but one, now that I’ve noticed it, is one that’s actually for the better. Will it affect me “offline”? I guess in some way it must have and will do so. Yet as we learn to identifiy and distinguish between the intimate and superficial – and recognise that it’s a potentially a perpendicular axis from online/offline, perhaps it’s better to maintain a spectrum of approaches.

Upon reflection I’m moved to wonder if I’m still a digital native. I’m certainly not a digital immigrant but I think I can now only claim to be a native if the classification is purely binary. With the pace of technological change and the emotional impact it can have I propose that digital generations, if there is any use for them, should now be measured in years or perhaps even months but certainly not decades.