Sunday, August 14, 2011

An “interesting” week

I am not going to discuss the recent riots, except for a brief reference at the end of the Post – suffice it to say we live in “interesting” times. It has been quite a busy week for me and the opportunities for cycling rather more limited than I would like. So I have had to turn to the infernal combustion engine for some of my journeys. Now I am not against motor vehicles but I feel we fallen into a way of life that encourages car ownership as a status symbol (consumerism – one of the issues mentioned as fanning the flames),  “punishes” non-car owners and yet we seem to be oblivious to the fact we are burning up our planets resources and polluting it at the same time…

I can’t blame other people for this, I drive a 4x4 (although not as much as I cycle). I enjoy watching Formula 1 on television. Although  when it moves to some strange hybrid of Sky and BBC I won’t be getting Sky and I can’t get enthused about watching half the races so I think I will just have to stop watching and boycott any brands than advertise via Formula 1. Although if I don’t watch it how will I know – humm there's a problem.

It would also seem that attempts to nudge us into different ways of travel are struggling. I was amused to read at review of the Nissan Leaf, an electric car, in the Guardian. It was a test car and was delivered on a trailer towed by a “huge gas-guzzling four-wheel drive pick-up truck”.  Why? Well to ensure it had enough charge to be tested by the journalist. that says it all really.

We do have charging points for electric cars in Cambridge, although they have only been used three times in the last year. They cost £22,000, of which £5,000 was donated by the Marshall Motor Group. Don’t get me wrong, I think that electric cars have a role to play, but perhaps we should be thinking much further forward. Rather than struggling to maintain the car travel system, we should leapfrog to a lest wasteful world.

It is not just the cars that pollute it is also the infrastructure as in the “city's worst eyesore junction” demonstrates. it is the site of a former petrol garage.  One of the ways I would like to see us change or thinking is in the use of the “internet” and broadband communication. I am not suggesting we stop people meeting and working together, but we should make it easier to work in a virtual office rather than waste time sitting in a tin box in order to get to “work” (and back). It has to be wasteful in many cases. Then the roads would be nicer for those who have to physically go to work.

Mind you I am not sure what to believe about the broadband ambitions of the UK  – “£70m plan to roll out superfast broadband in Cambridgeshire” seems to have a less than ambitious target of every home in the county have at least two megabytes per second by 2015. Phew perhaps we should also have someone with a red flag walking in front. To be fair it does indicate that they want 90% of properties to have 25mbps.

Whilst on the subject of noise pollution David Hembrow of “A view from the cycle path…” has done what I have talked about  - he has measured the noise pollution. Actions speak louder than words.  Perhaps I ought to get myself a sound meter and do some measurements around Cambridgeshire. I certainly find some roads incredibly unpleasant almost to the point of pain when I am out cycling. 

It would seem that the Dutch approach tackles the issue in several ways from sound barriers to speed limits. However there is no doubt in my mind that one of the most unpleasant aspects of modern life is that of the constant thrumm of traffic. Made possible in part by the huge amount of sound proofing in cars. Perhaps we ought to ban sound-proofing in cars, we might see more attention paid to making cars quieter for those around them.

Talking of speed limits, here is one such sign in Cambridge – the road is Trumpington Street, just next to the Fitzwilliam Museum. The good news is that this street now has a 20mph restriction. I is a shame just how much of the width of the street is given over to motor traffic and how little to pedestrians though. Especially when there seem to be more people than cars.

I started talking about infernal combustion engines, I used the bus.  One of the challenges of buses is knowing just how reliable they are. I don’t mean whether they are going to break down but in terms of how long the journey will take and will the bus arrive on time. The great thing about cycling in an urban environment is that your journeys are pretty much certain. There are occasional hold-ups but in the main the journey times are predictable.

One of the things I don’t like about buses is that my perception is that they are the most unreliable in terms of predictability.  At least in a car you can take another route if things look congested on the road. As a bus passenger you don’t have that choice. What I do like about buses, well double decker buses is that you get a good view from the top deck. So you have the bonus of not having to pay attention to the road and a good vantage point as well. The only downside is that the windows aren’t always that clean and the jolting can make it difficult to take pictures.

Here is the site of what used to be the Cambridge Fire station, the link is a Google Streetview around the corner on East Road – I was trying to get the tower in the picture. Unfortunately the Google camera was not as tall as the lorries passing by.

The Fire Station is being redeveloped and will look quite futuristic with an 8-storey residential tower on one side. I presume that by allowing the development of flats it will help pay for the work being done. Apparently hoardings were put up in May – as you can see apart from the tower it has been pretty much demolished and a big hole has been opened up.

The Fire station has temporarily been re-located to Coldham’s Lane.

The building next door is Parkside Police Station with its own communication aerials.

And finally, we were fortunate enough not to suffer from the recent riots here in Cambridge. I was pleased to see a cyclist in Bristol winning praise for his citizen journalism covering the riots in Bristol.


  1. Sound meters

    You don't need to buy a new sound meter, a smartphone will do, even my £80 Android cheapie has sound measurement and a choice of apps to present the data prettily. For reference, at home with a radio playing quietly registers 32dB, next to the A14 near Exning registers 65-75dB.

  2. Hi Mike,

    Despite me being involved in the IT world I have not got a Smartphone - I have an E66, which does some smart-ish things such as email acceptably well. It does some smart-ish things badly such as GPS. What it does have though is a good battery life (because of the small screen and lack of functionality). I have been considering getting a new phone for a while and an Android phone is top of the list - this might just tip the balance.


  3. I'm not an enthusiast for toys, but for tools, and
    the Android phone does does a lot of things that are useful on the move. The big(-ish) screen means that for example, the rainfall radar is worth looking at, as I did today. The wifi signal analyser has also been handy, and the spirit level too, for example setting camera tripod to a specific angle. One utility I though would be good turned out not to be. I wanted to use the accelerometer logging to see if I could look into the dynamics of bicycle steering, but the inherent noise in the signal is way greater than the movement I'm looking for. The GPS was very handy when the multi-thousand-pound unit in a friend's aeroplane failed on a cross-country trip. (Although I think the failure was in the supply of 12V to the GPS, rather than the unit itself.)

    And how could I forget the CycleStreets app....
    .... which has "interesting" routes on cross-county trips that involve crossing the River Cam.

  4. I must check out the Android apps - you've intrigued me.