lundi 22 août 2016

Lamentable Corbyn-basher refuses debate

I felt moved to offer a comment below this blogpost, which claims Jeremy Corbyn is "unelectable" because of his positions he has struck in the past on matters Irish:

Classifying Corbyn's statement that he would commemorate all those who have died in the cause of Irish independence as "support for the IRA": just a tad crude? Would there have been a Good Friday agreement without the left's recognition of the justice of the republican movement?
Of course, that doesn't stop anyone misrepresenting Corbyn's views in the way that you suggest. But it would still be a misrepresentation. The English electorate may well be ignorant enough to find such over-simplification attractive; but that is hardly a recommendation. Fortunately the electorate has other sources of information than admen's billboards these days.
Neither would participating in a "minute of silence" (however convened) be equated with endorsement in most reasonable people's minds: politicians should pause for reflection more often!
I'm posting it here under the rule that it is rejected comments that are most interesting (the site, a standard WordPress design, is purportedly open to comments, but only one suspiciously unctuous comment has actually made it to below the line. Ho hum!). 

lundi 18 juillet 2016

Shock troops of the carbon liberation front

I get these YouTube genre crazes from time to time. One example: US truckers' dashcam footage. Allie Knight has an appealing personality, so it's nice to tune in to her doings for a while. Otherwise I just pick a road trip, and mix some music of my own choosing over the top.

Indiana Jack
Allie Knight

jeudi 11 février 2016

Obesity epidemic caused by sedentary living not diet

from the what-made-you-think-you-could-stop-using-your-legs? department

I took out a subscription to the London Review of Books a few years back, in the hope that some of its literary excellence would rub off on my translations. And to have something to read in the bath. My attitude to it is generally one of respectful awe at the elegant mastery of the canon displayed therein, but when finance specialist John Lanchester strayed into an ill-founded discussion of the current obesity epidemic, I quite naturally composed this grumpy letter to its editor. Unsurprisingly rejected, for its ill-tempered criticism of both the writer, and the editor who sent him thence, and its slight inaccuracy (he mentions inactivity twice, not once), it appears here, in suitable obscurity.
John Lanchester laments the ill effects of the general increase in occidental adiposity, but sadly, as is all too common of articles in the genre, he mentions 'inactivity' as a factor only once, discusses it not at all, then lapses into a contentious and unsystematic review of possible dietary factors.
But the average Briton walks on average eight miles per day less than they did fifty years ago. In 1949, fully one-third of all miles travelled using a mechanical mode of transport were by bicycle: by the year 2000 only 1-2% were [1].
It's quite simple. The scales do not lie. If you eat more calories than you burn off, you gain weight; if you eat less than you burn off, you lose weight. What's more, the relative error of the hypothalamic mechanisms that produce the sensation of satiety is greater when energy requirements are low.
I realise I sound like some ruthless P.E. teacher when I tell people to get out of their bloody cars and start using their legs again, but that is what is required. As for those poor little underage prisoners strapped into car seats everywhere they go, never getting to explore their world for fear of getting knocked down, I weep for them.
It is disappointing indeed that Lanchester aimed so wide that he missed an obvious target by a mile: the re-examination of the Fordist mode of revictualment represented by the private motor car and the supermarket car "park".

mercredi 13 janvier 2016

Rearranging the urban furniture

from the because-we-need-the-space-for-other-things department
The Bristol Traffic blog, which claims to be about "getting around Bristol", obviously got off on the wrong foot when it was named "bristolcars", so I suppose it was hardly surprising that it failed to publish this comment, beneath a post there regretting "the war on the motorist." They are, of course, under no obligation to publish any remark of mine, though their unwillingness to debate their ideas is duly noted. As ever, I offer it here instead:

"The car is a victim of its own success. Car ownership over the last twenty-five years has continued to increase linearly—see this RAC report for example on: Car ownership in Great Britain According to the RAC, there were 20 million cars on Britain's roads in 1991; by 2007 there were 26 million, with considerable growth in two- and three-car households. Whilst these might at first sight be considered figures in support of your argument for more parking and roads, the problem in town is that space is limited and choices have to be made. If every trip into the centre of town were to be made by car, congestion would rise. Consider the graphic attached to this tweet
which illustrates the amount of road space needed by 48 people using various transport modes: a car, the bus, walking, or a bike. It is clear that cars occupy a vast amount of urban space—and the faster they move, the more they need. This high requirement for space is to the detriment of all other modes, and choices have to be made. Presenting this as a war on the motorist is to fail to understand the impossible demands of the mode for urban space in any streetscape conceived before the 20th century. A streetscape designed for the car looks like Los Angeles, not Bristol, and if you want a city like Bristol to work for everybody, car use has got to be limited in some way."

mardi 5 janvier 2016

Elisabeth Carnall 17 July 1935 — 23 December 2015

Sad to report that my mother died recently. Apologies for the delay in announcing this, and any distress that may have been occasioned if you thus heard the news by a tortuous route. 
All who knew her personally are most cordially invited to her Memorial Meeting 2.30pm Saturday 30 January 2016, Quaker Meeting House, Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh.

Donations to Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre (online possible via PayPal button top right of that page). 

Memories and messages to

mercredi 11 novembre 2015

Is cycle infrastructure the new helment?

from the new-Fordist-distractions department

The open access arm of the BMJ has just published the results of an ecological study from Canada, where legislators have created an interesting natural experiment by requiring cyclists to wear helmets in some provinces, but not others. The authors claim surprise that they found no effect in either the overall injury rate or the head injury rate between the provinces, though those of us who have followed what BikeSnobNYC calls the helment (non-)issue are perhaps less surprised. Forced by their negative results to admit helmet legislation has no effect on the substantive issue--reducing danger for cyclists--the authors then proceed to claim that "more cycle infrastructure" is the solution. Although they review the literature, they themselves have no data to add, and as the issue of road design and behaviour is fraught with complication, conflicting interests, and perverse effects, I thought they weren't entitled to a free pass at their sweeping and not altogether well-founded discussion.
As ever when someone is wrong on the internet, I freely composed a comment for the delectation of both the authors and the public. This the BMJ have failed to publish, so, in the best traditions of this blog, it appears here:
These are valuable results and the authors are to be congratulated on their clear presentation.
Given the health and well-being effects of regular cycling, the overall risk of hospitalisation of 622/100 million trips is worthy of wide attention: a chance of ~1 in 160,000 that your trip will end in hospital rather than your intended destination is really rather low, even in the present motor-dominated environment.
However, the recommendation by the authors that more "bicycling infrastructure" is the answer to increasing modal share, thereby augmenting the "safety in numbers" effect is controversial, and is neither justified nor refuted by the evidence presented here. (Cyclists were asked about whether they used their bicycles, not about the routes they took).
My own view is that developed countries already have a highly developed infrastructure that is ideal for cycling called the roads, and that the real problem is negligent driving. Some design features that privilege more direct routes for cyclists and exclude excessive motor traffic (cycle contraflows, modal filters, bicycle boulevards) may be useful, but the real enemies remain excessive speed and drunk driving, and the newer menace of distraction by mobile devices.
Effective measures to reduce these, including stricter policing, driver education, strict civil liability for drivers who collide with cyclists, and proper accident investigation to ensure lessons are learnt, are more important elements for those who would emulate (and surpass) best European practice.
I shall footnote this comment with two more:
1) I am surprised and disappointed at the BMJ's failure to publish the comment in situ, though I suspect this reflects organisational failure to monitor the relevant disqus account rather than any conspiracy to silence me.
2) I suppose it is not surprising that people deluded into a focus on the victim-blaming issue that is cycle helmet promotion and compulsion, will, brought to their senses by the lack of supporting data, switch their allegiance to the unicorn of "cycle infrastructure," instead of the elephant in the room of much-needed motor traffic reduction, better driving-related laws, enforcement thereof, and driver education. These present real challenges of course: but addressing them is what's needed, not demands for a parallel reality of "cycle infrastructure" before cycling can be widely adopted.
And given that such infrastructure is often second-rate while delegitimizing existing cyclists' right to the road, they may be assured that this cyclist at least, will keep calling them out, until his dying breath has been finally drawn.

lundi 5 octobre 2015

Separate development? Or civilised behaviour?

I recently commented on a Guardian article discussing recent deliberate attacks on cyclists in the UK, which uncritically presented the statement:
building segregated bike lanes [is] proven to be the best way to prevent such deaths
 I reproduce it here, for ease of navigation:

Reference required? It is rather a controversial matter. It is true that the countries where extensive segregation of cyclists has long been practised (Denmark, the Netherlands) have markedly better safety records than their neighbours. They are no paradise though: there are still 200 cyclist deaths a year in the Netherlands, for example.
But their segregated networks have been obtained at a certain price: the exclusion of cyclists from many parts of the road network (and its superior surfaces and direct travel lines), and slow and complicated junctions.
A Canadian study has showed higher accident rates for cyclists who habitually use footpaths rather than the carriageway. Most collisions happen at junctions. Footpath (and cycle lane) users generally find themselves at a positional disadvantage with respect to the traffic flow just when they most need to be correctly positioned.
A pre-eminent Dutch road safety expert has just published a paper (paywall, sorry) admitting that, in part, his country's superior cycling safety record is because their cyclists ride more slowly. They have to, on often tight cycle paths. Waits at complicated junctions can be long too.
Building cycle paths does reduce the space available for other modes. Such paths are the cowardly choice of the policymaker too timid to confront head-on the reality that the private motor vehicle is a dysfunctional form of urban transport, but nevertheless would, understandably, appreciate less noise, pollution, danger and fewer parking spaces in their town centre.
It has little to do with increased road safety for cyclists though: in fact, life for the cyclist may well be more difficult after they have been implemented, though if this also means fewer motor vehicles in town, this may be nicer for everyone.

Here's a video from the UK of the kind of angry entitlement we can expect from motorists once a cycle path, however unsatisfactory, has been built alongside a main road. Talk about realpolitik! (Cyclists in the UK retain their right to ride on the road, and are not obliged to use any cycle path.)


Thanks to the authors of these tweets for inspiring this post: