Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cambridge not a desirable place to live?

It seems to me that there are several reasons for doing surveys, one is of course in the pursuit of science, unfortunately another seems to be to generate publicity by association.  Now I have no idea which camp the annual Halifax Quality of Life Survey falls into. However Cambridge isn’t in the top 50. Whilst East Cambridgeshire has leapt from 22nd in the ranks to number 4.

Apparently scores are based up things such as jobs, housing, educations, health and crime and broadband and traffic. Which seems strange because I know a few people in the east who might be rather critical of their broadband provision. I think I know what must have been the decisive factor, or the swing factor as it might be known; cycling. 

Lodes Way – every desirable place to live should have one!

The East of Cambridge has gained the Lodes Way, good for health, education and traffic flow to name but a few things (and just general wellbeing). Whereas Cambridge can’t even sort out its 20mph speed limit, in fact the 20mph signs leave the good folk of Cambridge baffled. The power of the motor vehicle is strong still in the City. I wonder if North Cambridge has leapt up the ranking because of the CGB cycleway? (And here is a rather nice post from the Cottenham Cyclist on the joys of the CGB at night – check out his Christmas t-shirt at the end of the post) At this point I ought to mention I don’t actually know or care where the boundaries are – IMHO  they seem to be there more for the benefits of bureaucracy than people.

Pedestrian jumping out of the way Winking smile

However perhaps Wisbech is looking for promotion into the premier league of places to live which a new cycle shelter at the Horsefair Shopping Centre now another 36 cyclists can park there in comfort. Although Copenhagenize recently post some pictures of some rather neat plastic Bike racks.

The Bristol Bath corridor – a nice place to live it has a cycleway?

A rather more sobering piece in the Guardian “Cyclist deaths rise during recessions, figures suggest” reminds us that despite falls in fatalities for car occupants and pedestrians, cyclist fatalities has increased from 2007 and 2010 by 10%. This can be “explained”  pointing out that there are more cyclists and that actually cycling is safer in numbers. However as pointed out by Cycalogical in “a dangerous legacy” in London you law-abiding women seem to be disproportionately represented in the death toll.

Cycling has many benefits and leads to a longer life, however we have a right to be treated more safely by other road users and by the road design. It is not good enough to try to lay the blame at our door by demanding we wear helmets. We should be allowed to if we so choose, but the fundamentals of cycling are not and should not be so dangerous that they require such unproven protection. Yes we should be free to choose and I choose safer roads please. (Or should all pedestrians wear helmets?)

Helmets – a free choice (and sensible in India)!

And finally – a bus on fire on the A14 – a drastic way to keep the passengers warm. (Should bus passengers wear fire-proof jackets and why don’t they have seat belts?)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Build it and they come–but why stop there

I mentioned that I was starting a new Blog. Why you may ask, well for a number of reasons. I like cycling, it is energising and fun and practical and green and cheap and… Yep there are loads of reasons and we all have our own reasons. I guess the important thing is to maximise the pleasure and try not to become a slave to it. Whether that is cycling to work or doing a 24 hour time-trial or whatever it is you do.

There is no doubt that for me having some pleasant cycling facilities encourages me to cycle. Cycling around Cambridge for meetings is pleasant in all but the most foul of weathers because there are cycle routes and cycle parking.

However, even in Cambridge I come across cycling facilities that are really pretty pathetic, despite the best and excellent efforts of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. I also came across Crap Cycling in Bournemouth which reminded me of Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest. So as both an homage and just to remind ourselves that our best cycling facilities aren’t that good in comparison to The Netherlands, I created.

Crap Cycling in Cambridge

I intend to use it to put the pictures of the dodgy facilities that I come across in Cambridgeshire, yes I know – that’s what’s called feature creep. (County rather than City).

| also intended to try out Adsense  to see how that worked (sort of related to what I do). However with only one post so far I have been turned down – not enough material. I know I could add it to this Blog, which has over 700 posts, but it seems easier not to.

I have started with my pet hate the cycle parking facilities at the Cambridge Railway Station. I, perhaps in common with other men, had to do a man-dash into the city centre for some last minutes Christmas shopping. it got me thinking, there are bikes all over Cambridge, many of the cycle parking areas are full and quite a lot of fences as well. So clearly there is a demand for easy access into the centre, so why do they often seem to build something and then get annoyed when it overflows. Why not just build some more.

Cycle facilities are pretty cheap compared with roads, yet when they seem to work the powers that be seem to get annoyed. You can almost hear them in their Council Chambers – “harrumph – damned cyclists, just like rats and they get in the way of rich motorists who clearly buy more than those scruffy cyclists. Then when we build something for them they have the temerity to complain.”  Of course we know it isn't true.

So on that festive note – here is some cycle parking in the middle of Cambridge – I bet some of them are actually Christmas shopping.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, when it will be time for some New Year Resolutions.

Nerd smile

Friday, December 23, 2011

Preparing to Take Stock (me prevaricating really)

So much to do so little time. Well that is sometimes how it feels as we reach the end of yet another year. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, where does that flippin’ time fly to? Here we are already at the end of December.

The good thing I suppose is that there is nothing major to do, the bad news is that there are quite a lot of minor things to sort.  Most of them are quite pleasant, none of them particularly onerous and of course a few bills come in as well. One niggly thing is that the squealing pig (my name for my Landrover Discovery after it developed an intermittent squealing noise that did not diagnosed until the car left its warranty period) has now told me (via the dashboard) that the front parking sensors don’t work!.

I don’t do an awful lot of car mileage if I can help it. I have several bikes with significantly more mileage than my Disco, so, what I consider is a poor level of reliability irks me more than a little (and so does the cost of fixing it). I am not asking for sympathy, don’t buy something unless you can afford to run it is my motto. (Actually I’ve just made it up but it sounds about right.) I suppose that in this day of modern electronics at least the parking sensors have reported the error of their ways. You wouldn’t really want to find out they weren’t working by driving into (in my case) the back door of the house!

Of course there is also Christmas stuff to sort and it does lead to pleasant anticipation and no I don’t mean the presents I am going to get. The trouble is I do suffer from present-buying anxiety, trying to buy something that the recipient wants, but wouldn’t get for themselves is sometimes a challenge (and of course doesn’t cost an arm and a leg!)

I also need to tidy up some Blogging loose ends, like the header that says I want to cycle in Japan this year (2011). That definitely has to get changed, I’ve also decided that the bit about me could do with trimming.  I also have to tot up my distance for the year having come to the end of an experiment. I tend to believe that what gets measured gets done and so for the first time in years have not been putting my cycling stats into an Excel spreadsheet.  Previous years have seen me cycle around 10 to 12 thousand kilometres, without even thinking about it this year’s total will be less.

So I need to reflect on next year and given this years experiences that will mean one of several things. The first is to set a goal that I will need to prepare for, the second is to set some cycling (and weight-losing) targets and the third is to keep my cycling spreadsheet up to date.

I have also started a new Blog, don’t worry it will not replace this one, it will be more pictorial and as soon as I have created the first Post I will mention it and why.

So here is a quick round up of various bits and pieces that have ended up on my Internet Browser.  Starting with a report that the CGB (Cambridge Guided Busway) is expecting to carry its millionth passenger in Jan 2012 and they expect to have carried 2.5m passengers by the end of the first year and more buses are on order.  Although I have a soft-spot for trains I am pleased to see that the CGB seems to be a success in terms of bus passengers as well as for cyclists and horse-riders and walkers. It wasn’t cheap after all.

CGB Busses – you wait for ages then three come along at once

MikeC tipped me off about the excellent Wicken Vision blog – John’s Blog – it talks about the stuff that gets done in and around Lodes Way. It also mentions a local Blacksmith – Mike Overall of Twenty Pence Road, Cottenham. I used to enjoy metalwork at school, we used to make things like toasting forks on the forge as well as planishing copper and enamelling copper.

Talking about metal – here is one way to do it. “Scrap metal thieves cut hole in van floor to make it easy to swipe manhole covers”. I guess it is a combination of the rising value of scrap metal along with the difficult economic times.

Of course no cycling Blog would be complete without a gloating mention of car parking issues. Apparently there have been years of problems for St Matthew’s Gardens which means “Parking clampdown planned for Cambridge Housing estate”. The issue appears to be one of congestion. At the end of the day when all’s said and done parking is a game of two halves. We all want free, road parking for our cars but not for other peoples, parking has become a cliché of our age.

Mind you it isn’t just residents spare a though for the Police as there is “Nowhere to park for speed-check camera van” on Mill Road. It would appear that the issue revolves around whether to have visible of hidden police checks. Apparently the Cambridgeshire County Council’s  east area committee heard that casualty figures do not merit hidden checks.

This strikes me as being one of the issues we face in society, surely roads are not just about moving vehicles around as quickly as possible. Take Mill Road – this is a “shopping street” with interesting and quirky shops, many people live in the side streets around Mill Road.  So should this just be an issue of casualties, surely not, we should also consider the quality of life for the occupants and people who visit the area.  Having said that only a small number seem to be speeding, over 16 hours there were 27 drivers driving at 20-24mph and only 2 at over 30mph. There are other streets where on a short journey on my bike I see more speeding cars.

Parking rears it head along Riverside with a call for “yellow lines to help clean up Cam”. Whilst this might look a little like a NIMBY problem it arises from the rather love-hate relationship we have with cars (and motor vehicles) in general. We love or own cars and hate everybody else's.

Shared-use paths are for everyone – NCN51 in Bottisham

A quick bit of train news, the Queen has let the train take the strain, I wasn’t on the train this time but have been before and it creates almost no fuss.  It would appear that the freight link improvement between Ely and Bury St Edmunds might also boost chances for a Railway Station at Soham. The old one was levelled in a wartime explosion. Also a train has been named Ely cathedral, although it was only a second lass 379 train.

Ely Cathedral

We have also had an evolving story in which a 13-year old girl was knocked off her bike by a van driver suspected of drink driving. It was then reported that she was saved by her helmet and the van driver was banned for two years and find £250 plus £100 costs. The family were then reported to forgive the van driver. It is interesting to see how stories evolve and what elements of a story drive that development. The good news is that she is ok, it does add grist to the mill of those who feel cycling is dangerous though.

Also what worries me is that it promotes the idea that the only safe way to cycle is with a helmet and as reported in Cyclists in the City the WI have been discussing the idea of promoting compulsory helmet wearing. Which as the post discusses focuses the debate of cycling safety in the wrong direction. How do they manage to be safer in the Netherlands with less helmet wearing than we get in the UK? By focusing on the right issues.

In an old report in the London Evening Standard (April 2009) “Pedestrians more at risk than cyclists” – which just goes to show that being a pedestrian is no joke either. Perhaps they should wear helmets as well.

Some Pedestrians in Ho Chi Minh City – wearing their pedestrian helmets

I also read on a Forum of news reported by the Scottish Director of the Road Haulage Association. From the report I am not sure whether he makes certain remarks or is quoting others, including; “a public road with motor vehicles is no place for a cyclist” and cycles “be fitted with headlights that must be on at all times”. There also appears to be a whinge about cyclists with helmet cams reporting poor driving. As a cyclist I felt a little intimidated by such statements. Having said that for the sort of cycling I do and where I do it the brand name lorry drivers (Tesco, Sainsbury etc) are among the better drivers on the road.

Tail-gating Lorries on the A14 near Quy – surely not

I ought to also mention another fly-tipping success – “Man fined after dumping medication in the countryside” and another chap got caught a second time! There has also been a mistaken bicycle case as well – something along the lines of “I thought he was riding my bike guv”.

Fly tipping – between Exning and Burwell - NCN51

And finally some pictures; “red sky at night, starlings’ delight”, a world record Christmas display, some stunning pictures from the winners of the National Geographic Competition, amazing pictures from space (the Space Station actually) and some Altocumulus Lenticularis clouds in the UK.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I’m a wimp–it’s official

Friday, 16th December: Friday was going to be an interesting day, I had a meeting in London in the afternoon, but had to get back to Cambridge in order to pick up my daughter on the last plane from Edinburgh. The added complication was that when I woke up it was snowing, which is recorded as rainfall on the Cambridge DTG weather page. The graph shows quite a lot of rainfall which makes me wonder quite how that works with snow.

Now my original plan was to cycle to the station as the timings were fairly relaxed and it should have been easy to get back in time in order to drive down to Stansted Airport. My planning had even extended to clothing that was suitable for cycling and “relatively” smart – well proper trousers and a jacket.

The trouble is during the morning the snow turned to rain and then I had a decision, cycle in full weather gear (leggings and rainproof jacket) and pack my jacket and trousers or drive. The changing facilities (the Gentlemen’s toilets) at Cambridge Railway station are not that salubrious, in my opinion. Now there’s a thought – changing rooms. There is also the hassle of what to do with my wet weather gear if I do change. Ideally I’d want it to dry out, but if you have to wrap it up and carry it around then it can be pretty unpleasant to change back into for the journey home.

You can see where all this is going, I wimped out and decided to drive to the station. That of course leads to parking anxiety, so I had to allow extra time in case the car park was full.  It is all very well letting the train take the strain, but it is all the other hassle that gets me. As it happened there was quite a bit of space available on the Cambridge Railway Station car park – here are four spaces all in close proximity.

Despite dire threats about what happens to bicycles locked to these car park barriers cyclists still use them. What else can you do if you turn up to catch the train during the rush hour. They won’t let the bike on the train and you don’t want to be late for work. Sometimes just catching the train can be uncertainty enough.

As you can see cycle parking is in short-supply and so space is at something of a premium.

Presumably the cyclists feel that the risk if locking their bicycles up around that area is less than along the footpath barriers. One thing – the car parking was cheaper than first think in the morning.

There are premium spaces available for cycle parking, but a quick web search throws up little information on quite how you rent a space. I guess the signs on top say what to do – but it is too blurry to read from this picture.  There was someone unlocking their bike just after I took the picture but I thought it better to be on my way. As you can see yet more bicycles locked but not secured.  Although I struggled to find much about how to pay for a cycle space there are websites that offer parking space near to Cambridge station on private drives for a fee, such as this one, 4 minutes from the station for £20 a week, compared with the station car park at £33.20 per week. I presume that a space (at the Station) is guaranteed, but I am not sure.

This was the first time I had used the station since the opening of the new platform and as luck would have it my train was departing from one of the new central platforms.  as I walked up to the new bridge I was just in time to get a slightly blurry shot if this cyclist carrying his bike up the stairs. Why you might ask when there is a lift and a cycle ramp.

Well because they screwed up on the ramp up the stairs. The idea is that you can wheel you bicycle up the bit of angle iron – but the observant might notice how close it is to the handrail – the trouble is this wastes money and I bet it will still be closer to the handrails than the width of some handlebars (my Marin’s for instance). The modification process is one of those invisible ones, perhaps the elves come out at night and will move it millimetre by millimetre.

This chap’s bicycle looked like a light-weight racer, easier to carry up the stairs and perhaps too desirable to want to leave locked up in the cycler park.

This is the view from the new bridge looking back towards Carter bridge – for cyclists and pedestrians.

One of the new central platforms – with clearer electronic displays.

Another cyclist with her bike ready to catch a train.

As we passed Royston there was snow on the hills.

This is where you put you bike when travelling on the London trains – in the doorway. You also hope that it doesn’t fall over.

As you can see I used Picasa’s new frame feature for the last two pictures.

In the end I got back home in plenty of time to get to Stansted later – my daughter’s flight was delayed as the planes needed de-icing up in Edinburgh.

Monday, December 19, 2011

You shelter me from rain, but it is the bike that sets me free

Tuesday, 13th December: More meetings, this time out on the East of the city, and as is my custom, I tried to squeeze in a bit of extra distance. I must have been pretty sleepy that morning as I paid little attention, actually no attention to the weather.

It wasn’t a super-formal meeting, so I wore clothes that were perhaps more comfortable for cycling than smart – but I did wear long trousers and a yellow cycling jacket, although the trousers could be converted to shorts by un-zipping the legs. I also took with me my MP3 player so that I could catch up with a pod cast or two including – More or Less on radio 4, by Tim Harford.

My plan was to cycle out along the NCN51 and then loop back through the Wilbrahams and Fulbourn and back into Cambridge. My meeting started at 10am it was relatively easy setting off in plenty of time for my extra-curricular cycle ride, or so I thought.

Although it was quite cold (around 5 or 6C) there was some sun around and it felt quite blustery. Perhaps there was a clue in the blustery-ness and the dark clouds in parts of the sky. However, once I reached a reasonable cycling temperature it was very pleasant until I passed through Newmarket Road P&R site. Was that rain I felt, I decided to press on with my plans, but by the time I reached the A14 underpass my legs were soaked. So I stopped to take refuge and decide what to do next.

The trouble is when you are wet and it is cold then you end up getting cold. So O walked up and down a bit in the tunnel and took a couple of pictures. I know this underpass well, having cycling through it quite a few times, so it looks fine to me and is well lit. But it got me thinking, the underpass I used at Fenstanton looked pretty unwelcoming and I guess this one does look a little dark and damp at times. Whilst I appreciate that the intent is to keep the costs down and provide a route that is functional, it demonstrates how institutionalised the approach is  in terms of treating cyclists/pedestrians as second-class citizens by road planners.

The trouble is that this approach does not just save cost, IMHO it also increases the risks for those “vulnerable road users”. Successful transport routes seem to be measured in terms of vehicle throughput which of course skews things in favour of cars. You only have to look at the issues in London at the moment to see that there is an endemic problem with road planners seeming to sacrifice the needs of cyclists and pedestrians to the great goal of throughput. Although reading Cyclists in the City apparently Boris has claimed that there will be a “step change”. Why does the cynic in me think this will mean more bouncing off and on shared use paths with nasty kerbs to trick the unwary. Or as Vole O’Speed nicely puts it a London Cycling Superhighway is “rather an overpriced and massively engineered road sign for the benefit of those who choose to drive”.

Even worse a recent report has also suggested that there is also a huge North/South divide in terms of the spending on transport projects. In London the amount is "£2,731 and her in the East £43.   In the North-east it is £5. (Yes your read that correctly Five Pounds.)  Apparently this is due in part to spending on the Olympics, although in my mind that just makes it even more of a slap in the face to the North-east.

I wonder what the Dutch do to ensure that cars do not use their cycle routes. Here in the UK the approach is to put up poles, either concrete, metal or wooden as barriers. Fine in principle but I can’t help wondering why we put up with this approach. Am I the only one that thinks that there posts are dangerous for cyclists?  Or is the assumption that cyclists only go out during the hours of daylight. Or am I just being over-critical, in the case of this tunnel there is a kink in the path at one end and a T-junction at the other, so perhaps these posts serve to slow cyclists down. The trouble is they appear all over the place and whilst on a bicycle they might not be that bad you want to try them on a tandem (which I have) or with a bicycle trailer or a tricycle.

After some time stuck in the tunnel the rain dies down so I changed my plans and decided to cycle back and the down Airport Way cycle way to cut my journey short and hopefully avoid too much rain. The only problem was that this meant the wind was against me. For some reason I had not realised quite how bluster it was on my way out of Cambridge, perhaps because the cycle route was relatively sheltered.

Also have you noticed just how loud the tyre noise is along Airport Way, it is not the fastest bit of road, but quite busy and I guess cars and vans generally do 50mph+. The tyre noise on the wet road was awful, so loud I struggled to hear my MP3 player.

The good news was that my trousers started drying out in wind (they were designed for cycling), until the next shower and they were sodden. Fortunately the last bit of my journey was dry so I arrived dry and surprisingly comfortable I reckon that it helps if a cyclist’s short-term memory isn’t too good, that way you quickly forget any problems and just feel the buzz of a bit of exercise in the fresh air.

Since my plans to cycle a slightly longer route had been foiled on the way out I decided I would give it a go on the way home. I headed back through Fulbourn and the Wilbrahams. As I headed down into Fulbourn along Hinton Road I had the double benefit of both the wind behind me and a slight down hill, it only drops by 5m but that’s steep in these parts.  So I reached the bottom at over 40Km/hr without even trying. As I reached the corner the road I was on has right of way whereas the traffic coming from Fulbourn Old Drift (east) has to give way.

However if you are driving a white van then you are, of course, excused from such a minor technicality when it is only a cyclist who has right of way coming down the road. Of course being a cyclist you can’t afford to trust non-vulnerable road users and I was covering the brakes. Yes he pulled out in front of me and then clearly so stunned that I was travelling at more than a snail’s pace slowed down in order to straddle my lane for even longer. I’ve seen it quite a few times, they seem to freeze in my non-existent headlights and gawp out of their side windows at me. You can almost see the speech bubble above their heads “where the f*** did he come from”.

Modern cars and vans have quite large A pillars, to protect the occupants from poor driving skills and awareness. The trouble is it actually makes it means the side view is compromised and unless they look twice woe betide any  cyclist or motorcyclist – you are just another SMISDY.

Now like all good cyclists I have a bell on my bike, but it isn’t much use when trying to alert those poor motorists insulated from the nasty outside world. So I shouted, no words, just a shout. At least it made me feel better.

I have yet to listen to it but here is the Guardian’s take on “Are Britain’s road safe for cyclists?". I’ll let you know what I think when I heard it.

As the weather was unpredictable I kept going rather than take pictures. However after passing through Little Wilbraham by way of primrose Farm Road I had a choice to make safe-cut or short-cut? The clouds looked rather forbidding did I feel lucky, or did I feel lucky. In the end I took the slightly longer, but in my opinion, safer route via Bottisham and onto the NCN51. I didn’t get wet, the Little Wilbraham Road seems to be and out and out drag road for cars and although they have reasonable visibility I prefer not to have boy (or girl) races tear past me.

A quick round-up of some weblinks hanging around on my browser.  In what can only be described as a typical Daily Mail type of headline “Frankenmoth: Health fears over plans to release millions of GM insects designed to destroy pests”. Whilst I think that GM has a role to play in agriculture and does in many parts of the world, this type of experiment doesn’t fill me with confidence.

It also turns out that one of the Icons of a British winter the Robin Red Breast is in a battle to survive as population crashes by 88% in three decades.

And finally if motorists fail to notice level crossings what chance do cyclists have? (A crash between a lorry and train in Wales.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter–a time of sun and blue skies

Monday, 12th December: I cycle because it is fun, pure and simple. To be fair sometimes the pleasure isn’t always when you set off, but invariably when I reach my destination I feel good, I notice things. Generally cycling is also more reliable for getting to a place on time. Yes, you might have to start out earlier, although not as often as you might think around Cambridge, however you can take short routes and cycle pretty much door to door.

Now that is how we used to see the car, it gave door to door freedom compared with public transport and the opportunity to set off at your own convenience. The trouble is our friend the car has turned out to be a bit of a liability in its old age. In the UK we have more people, around when I was born the UK population was around 50 million people, this year the population is 61 million, a growth of over 20%. At the same time the UK GDP has grown from around $72B to a peak of $2.8T in ‘07 although has has dropped back to around $2.2T. So a “wealth growth” of nearly 40 times, but just recently with 22% drop.

So we have two factors. more people and more wealth which has caused a significant increase in the number of motor vehicles using the roads. From June 1994 through to June 2011 the number of licensed motor vehicles has risen from 25 million through to 34.5 million. This doesn’t tell the whole story though, as our cars have become more comfortable, public transport declined the number of motor vehicles out on the roads at any one time has also increased. For reference the number of licensed motor vehicles vehicles was around 8 million in 1960.

Apparently the average distance people travel per year has increased by 50% since the 1970s in the UK, although this is all types of transport including walking and cycling. (DFT Annual travel survey pdf.) Over that time the average occupancy of a car for commuting and business has remained pretty stable – it was 1.2 in 2010. Over the last 10 years the total road length been pretty stable it was estimated to be 245,000 in 2010 and only increased by 1% from 2000.

For reference in 2010 cars accounted for 243.8 billion vehicles miles, light van traffic for 41.8 billion and HGV traffic for 16.4 billion vehicle miles. And for good measure here is a blog indicating the in the UK the total cost of annual motor vehicle accident costs at approximately £18bn per annum in the UK.

This train of though arose from a report in Cambridge First that “A14 traffic to grow by 15 per cent over next decade”. Apparently the road has a peak capacity of 3,600 vehicles per hour on the two lane stretches and improvements to the rail freight link between Felixstowe and Nuneaton will only deal with the equivalent of one year’s growth in HGV traffic. There were also a couple of articles in the Daily Mail – “Fuel taxes are pricing motorists off the road, claim campaigners as car use plummets” and “Drivers hit for £1.3bn in parking fees as councils rake in record takings”.

The thinking and comments made in the articles tends to be very conventional – let’s face it this country does not have its own oil (for refining into petrol), so inevitably fuel prices are going to go up. It seems that we focus on peak oil as the issue (the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached). This allows the naysayers, and most of the rest of us to believe in the new sources of oil as easy fixes. However in reality the cost of extraction is going up, the number of sources is going down and demand is still growing (the world population is growing and economies such as China and India are enjoying rising per capita incomes).

So inevitably oil (and so petrol) prices rise. Forbes recently published an article highlighting the issues – “Bracing for Peak Oil Production by Decade’s End” suggesting that “global oil production will max out in the next 5 to 10 years”.  That is a scarily short timeframe. According to the Guardian Newspaper it turns out that “UK ministers ignored ‘peak oil’ warnings, report shows”.

So it seems to me that conventional ways of planning are akin to sticking our heads in the sand. Rather than piecemeal planning we need to acknowledge that a more strategic view of transport needs to be taken. On top of that problem we have of course the pollution issues and the space issues the cars also represent. Why shouldn’t councils charge an economic parking rate – although the challenge is how to does an economic price get set? The challenges are compounded by the high cost of real-estate (land) especially in cities and the planning restrictions.

Of course this is a big debate but it does not really seem to be played out. Just recently the Cambridge News reported on “Expansion of retail park gets go ahead”. This is a retail park long the Newmarket Road – one of the congested routes into Cambridge, one of the arguments against was that it would damage the economic prospects of the City centre by tempting shoppers away from the centre.  What sort of life and society do we want want?

There is still concern about parking whether it be from people who want to park in the city or those that live there and feel that they have a “right” to park  on “their” streets.  The decision to charge for the Park and Ride at Babraham has led to the concern that “Park & Ride charges will force cars onto neighbourhood streets”.  At it simplest roads are public and should be available to all, but does this mean that we should have a right to park on the street where we life? Does it mean that we should be able to exclude non-locals from parking on those streets?

The trouble is whilst we can build more roads and the A14 say could be improved we would then need to deal with the increase in commuters. This is a problem that needs a more radical view of how we might plan for the future.

Why do so many people in Cambridge cycle? Well probably for a whole host of reasons, but it probably reduces down to the issue that there would be nowhere to park and the traffic jams would be even more horrendous if we didn’t.

I was interested to see that Outspoken Delivery, a local cycling courier business is now also picking up packaging used in deliveries for re-cycling. There is another problem – what do do with the waste we create – it either uses land (landfills) or pollutes or both. I wonder if another way of looking at the problem is that we are just running out of space her in the UK, space for people, cars, roads, waste.

Space is at such a premium in Norwich that they have even had to paint short double yellow lines – 41cm long – was that to stop someone parking their skateboard?.

Now I would like to think that some somewhere is taking a long-term view – lets face it our kids are already thinking that our generation has basically enjoyed the best years, what with jobs, employment, house price inflation, free education. Now they will have to pay.

Why all these thoughts well I saw a lorry pass through a red light at a crossing, I’d crossed, there was no-one around, but the second example in two days that it isn’t just cyclists who “flout” the law. I also had a near miss with a car, I was on a shared path and it came out of a side entrance, we both had give way signs, it didn’t give way and I didn’t see it soon enough. I managed to swerve around it, and accept that we were probably both at fault. However I could easily have been killed and the car might have been slightly scratched.

To be safe I suppose I could have cycled along at a much slower pace, slowing even more at each such junction, or just maybe we ought to be re-considering the relative priorities of different forms of transport. After all  one more bike means one less car causing congestion.

The good news was that I had to get out and about in Cambridge and of course for me cycling is the best answer. I get some fresh air, I get there on time and generally there are far fewer issues with parking. I started off up at the Cambridge Science park and was pleased to see that the company I was visiting had recently installed some cycle racks. The science park is also well served by CGB (Cambridge Guided Busway), cycle routes and it even has the A14 nearby. The only thing that is missing is a railway station – and there is one in the plans for Chesterton.

I left via the CGB cycleway and saw a bus join the CGB from Orchard Park East for the first time ever. I wasn’t quite quick enough with my camera to get a picture of it turning onto the CGB but here it is a little way down the CGB.

I also took a picture of the SmartLife building that I had seen after dark during a recent ride.

I took another of the CGB and bus because I had thought that there was a cyclist coming through under the A14 bridge – but no it was someone taking a motorbike for a walk! 

I then followed signs for cyclists pointing towards the City Centre. Although first I stopped to take a picture (well two actually stitched together ) of the Orchard Park East CGB stop. There is a clue in the picture for the reason for taking it – yes, you’ve guessed it the bicycle. One observation I would make is that the combination of cycling and the CGB has been pretty successful, what is disappointing is that development of the CGB has not been even more bicycle friendly.

I think that there should have been more cycle parking at all stops. That there should not be short poles obstructing parts of the cycleway and there should have been a decent route through the town to facilitate CGB users commuting cross-town.

The route I took was not the most obvious to me despite knowing my way around Cambridge pretty well. It looks straight enough on the map, based upon Northfield Avenue, Roxburgh Road, Mere Way, Carlton Way, Stretton Avenue and Searle Street. On the current OSM cycle map it is marked as a planned route – although the map key gives no clue. However as the list of streets implies there are a fair number of junctions and speed bumps and the like to contend with. Just as car drivers tend to favour direct routes so do cyclists (well I do anyway).

I joined NCN11 as it ran alongside the River Cam. A quick stop at Jesus Lock to take a picture of the route plus two cyclists. There were quite a few apples on the tree as well.

It is interesting to see a cow trough in the middle of a city – albeit on a Common (Midsummer Common). I am convinced that the winter sun imparts a warmer look despite it being winter. I guess it is because the sun is lower in the sky.

Where I grew up in the Mendips it was mainly dairy farming and many of the fields had a cow trough, or quite often a cow trough would be found at the corner and shared by several fields. Every now and they they would flood or dry up and being fine upstanding citizens meddling kids we would fix the problem. It was pretty much always a problem with the ballcock.

I wonder when I will get to cycle on snow – we never get that much in the Flatlands,.  The bigger problem is black ice on the cycle paths and that has been promised..

Friday, December 16, 2011

The cracks of doom have been filled (mostly)

Sunday, 11th December 2011: A couple of days ago the Swaffham Bulbeck Cyclist (SBC) left a comment mentioning that the chasms along Headlake Drove had been patched up, so as it was the weekend and although grey and quite cold (less than 10C) it was dry so it was time to cycle out around Honey Hill/Snout Corner and then from Horningsea to Wicken Fen and back again. This is a regular route of mine, as quite a lot of it is off-road it is also means I can catch up with the weeks Archers podcasts (not forgetting Ambridge Extra). I am convinced that motor traffic noise (in particular tyre noise) has gotten worse than.

Even at this time of year it is possible to stay off-road on most of the route. I did cycle along the road to Upware and Wicken Fen though. These trees lie just off Low Fen Droveway, between the bit where it crosses the old Cambridge to Mildenhall Railway line and Snouts corner.

It was on this route a while back I noticed missing drain covers on the bridge over the A14, well the problem seems endemic now. The Cambridge News reported that “Thieves steal 96 manhole covers before crackdown”. (We seem to be in a world of sound bites and crackdowns at the moment.) Although the solution might well be plastic.

As it was a grey day it was a struggle to take many pictures, however after reaching Lode and cycling along the Lodes Way I cam across the road repairs on Headlake Drove – it looks like they are on going.

I reported the  problem twice. The first time was through the Cambridgeshire County Council website. Where I got back very little, very quickly saying that the problem was closed. My issue was really the total lack of information. Did it mean that the problem was going to be fixed, or was it deemed not necessary to fix, or what. So I re-reported the problem through the CTC fill that hole system. This through up a more considered response and I did add some pictures as well, but there was still no information communicated. If it hadn’t been for SBC I wouldn’t have known. Looking on the CTC website today there has been an update on the 15th December 2011. The CTC web details have space for adding a “planned fix date, but that is blank.

I have not received any e-mail update either. it seems that  the e-spirit is willing, but that the flesh finds it difficult to use. As you can see the repairs look pretty good, at the moment.

They have patched up chunks of the road, whereas I had assumed they would just fill the cracks.  I assume that one of the problems is that the foundations below the road are not consistent and so the surface bends. This bit of road was also widened and I thin that is also one of the issues. There are still a few cracks in places, but given the repairs appear to be on-going I didn’t look too closely.

As I passed through Upware the Birse Civils encampment was still in evidence and I even cycled down to the pub to see if I could spot what work is taking place. I couldn’t though. I did do another web search last night, but found nothing on the web either.

After passing through Wicken Fen and past Priory Farm there were quite a few cars parked up along the verge. Which made me thin I would see lots of bird-watchers. (Note as you might expect in an area with agriculture peaty soil does find its way onto the roads and can be quite slippery when wet, so pay attention.)

I took this picture from the far side of Burwell Lode to give you an idea of the number of cars. As it turned out I didn’t see any bird-watchers. So I guess that many of these were out for an afternoon’s stroll. 

The only reminder of the birds, apart from them flying around in the dusk was this notice on the field-lock (like an air-lock but with gates!) over at Newnham Drove/Lodes Way. The notice indicates that there are up to 15 short-eared owls and asks visitors to stick to the signed routs (sic). (I know I can’t talk, whenever I look at an old post it seems to be riddled with typos.)

I probably ought to have lined up my cycle light more centrally on the notice as well.

And that is it – a very pleasant ride, but not many pictures unfortunately.  I can recommend the Lodes Way for a pootle though. I also managed to catch up on listening to various Podcasts I had down-loaded through the week.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Optimism bias–I take the risk of your optimism

Friday, 8th December 2011: One of the pleasant aspects of working from home is that you cut down on the commuting. So when I have to “commute” it can make me a little crotchety.  Now one of the things that annoys me is when you can’t park – either bike or car depending upon my mode of transport. What also annoys me and frightens me is when I am cycling and cars treat me as if I was not there – either by getting too close or not giving way at junctions and roundabouts or Toucan crossings.

So I was surprised to see that according to an article in the Daily Mail: “Talking on your mobile while driving DOESN’T increase the chances of a crash (so long as you use hands-free)”. Apparently the previous methodology used to demonstrate there is a risk was incorrect. The trouble is having read the approach used I can’t say I believe the new research either.  When I used to have to do a lot more driving for a living I twice missed the M11 turn-off from the M25 when on a hands-free conversation. Yes I know that is not statistically significant, but there are times when common sense matters.

The challenge is that the chance of an accident is relatively small, even when the driving is poor. Consequently trying to assess the risks of certain types of driving behaviour is difficult and as drivers, in one study, more than 74% believed themselves to be better than average behind the wheel. (Here is an interesting article which discusses how “More than 50 percent can be above average” – it depends upon the distribution – but really bad drivers get selected out pretty quickly in real life.

Apparently the driver perception is coloured by optimism bias. This article discusses why optimism can lead to higher-risk behaviour in drivers. Indeed nowadays there is much more focus on teaching learner drivers to check in their mirrors when braking firmly (with the exception being a real emergency) just to check the person behind won’t run into you. When I learnt to drive the presumption was that the person behind had a stronger duty to drive at a safe distance. It is a subtle distinction but I think that cycle lanes “allow” car drivers to pass more closely than Highway code rule 163 would suggest, such behaviour then becomes the norm regardless of cycle lanes.

A search for Highway Code Rule 163 throws up this post from the Croydon Cyclist. The picture is what cyclists expect and anyone who has ridden a bike will know that there are some drivers that do leave space and a worryingly large number who don’t.

As an example of a bizarre way of looking at risk – apparently Texting while driving kills 6,000 annually in the US. The risk of collision is 23 times greater when a driver is texting. This came from “10 Incredibly Bizarre Death Statistics”, which also reports that 450 people are killed annually falling out of bed.

In the UK the response to these sorts of problems seems to be one of a crackdown – a Google search for “crackdown cyclists” lights threw up over one million results. Including this one in Cambridge. Do they work or do they make Mr Grumpy of Cambridge happy. The same is apparently also the case for phone-using car drivers as “Phone fines ‘fail to deter drivers’”. Mind you the rise in phone fines might simply be the fact that the police are making it a priority.

Whilst on the subject of driver inattentiveness the Cambridge News reports the “Hunt for lorry driver who smashed through level crossing” – this is the level crossing in Ely on the A142. There is a road under the railway lines for short vehicles and a level crossing for tall vehicles. Some tall vehicles have also be known to drive into the bridge. It looks as if things will change though as the “£28m plans for Ely southern bypass wins support”. It will entail a viaduct being built which will be 550yds long and 33ft high. (Curiously the article used imperial measures, perhaps that is how roads are still built?)

This picture is from Wikipedia – under these terms. Thank you HelioSmith.

I wonder what will happen to the NCN11 cycle route will it run under the viaduct – as shown on the map. I wonder what they will do with the current level crossing/bridge. It would make sense to remove the level crossing, although that would not stop tall vehicles crashing into the bridge. There are concerns about the habitat loss as well.

So what was all this side-track about. Well despite the fact it was pretty cold, it dipped to near zero around 8am it was a sunny day, with blue skies and only a few clouds. I had to be over on the East side of town for a “meeting” at a warehouse spent doing some moving of boxes.  The great thing about Cambridge is although we might have sub-standard cycle lanes and routes when compared with the Netherlands – at least we flippin’ well have them.

It means that you have the opportunity to avoid cars with their cyclist blind spots and noise and basically enjoy much more scenic views. Some would say that “cycle lanes” are more dangerous than roads and my own experience probably supports that view. In the last 10 years I have had one serious accident when I was knocked of my bike of the. All but one of the other tumbles have been on cycle-lanes or shared paths.

One fall was a slippery wooden bridge (cycle route)  – fortunately x-rays in casualty showed there were no broken bones. Another fall was when leaving a shared path on a slightly lowered kerb to get onto the road, my wheel caught the edge and I tumbled off. I fell off my bike when trying to track stand on a byway and I was blown of my bike along Headlake Drove (road) when the wind caused me to slip into a ridge and then as I tried to get back onto the road another gust caused me to tumble.

So there you have it more accidents off-road than on-road, although the on road crash was the most serious. But the off-road accidents were because of off-road paths were not very good. With only anecdotal evidence I believe decent cycle paths would me safer than cycling on the roads.

It would seem that there is support for Mill Road to be pedestrianised more often as well. You really can have too many motor vehicles. Except Addenbrooke’s Hospital site which will require three 1,000-odd multi storey car parks over the next decade.

So here are a few pictures taken after my warehouse work, near the Newmarket Road P&R. A fine collection of elderberries. the observant might have noticed that there is a frame around the picture. Well Picasa, which I use for the bulk of my picture editing has been upgraded from 3.8 to 3.9. (Note that link is the top one and will change – here is the article on the new features in 3.9) Partly I think to build support for Google+, but there are some welcome new features as well.

Look at the blue skies and green ground, with the last few leaves on the trees.

This was an accidental picture, I didn’t even know I’d taken it until I downloaded the pictures for the day. So it got a border and a cross-processing effect as well.

I have also noticed a less welcome change in the way that my pictures on Picasa Web get served up onto my Blog. Depending upon the circumstances the pictures that are displayed will appear with different resolutions depending upon the way in which they were called. There used to be an instruction at the end of the file link, but this changed to appear just before the file name.

Depending upon how my pictures were added to the Posts – anything from the Blogger on-line editor, through to Zoundry and now Windows Live Writer (with two different mechanisms) the pictures can appear at a lower level of resolution.  Especially when found by an image search.  The default size of an image served is to have a width of 512 pixels of no width is specified.  This improves how Google serve images globally – or so they say. There are quite a few disgruntled users who have commented. Don’t you just love the cloud sometimes.

Perhaps next time they could better serve my needs by halving the speed at which all motor vehicles drive on the roads (except my car of rouse!).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Supply and demand

Thursday, 8th December 2011:It was a day of meetings around Cambridge. The interesting feature of the timings was that it gave me a bit of time to cycle around between the meetings. It was not something I planned, but just how it worked out.  Mind you the weather didn’t look too promising, but in this part of the UK I don’t often find myself getting that wet. Although I suppose most car drivers never, ever get wet on their daily commute. So by comparison even a couple of days getting caught out in the rain on a bike must qualify me as being mad by most drivers.

As someone who counts photography as a hobby I was appalled to read about the way in which this young lad was treated by the police. I can only hope that we get a real change of attitude. The trouble is the Police have to pay compensation, but will that actually cause a change in behaviour – in some ways it is the taxpayer who is getting fined here. Do I have a chip on my shoulder or are photography and cycling both treated as second-class activities.

The wind did buck up a bit during the day though as the Cambridge University DTG’s weather graphs show, it swung about a bit as well. As it happens it did rain a little at the end of the day, but when you are on your way home that doesn’t count. It’s the sitting around in damp clothes I don’t like – getting wet is not a problem if you are warm enough and reconciled to the fact.

The reason for the title Supply and Demand – well my journeys got me thinking – there is demand for better cycle infrastructure – but where is the supply. When will the good citizens of Cambridge realise that “Cars cause congestion so one more bike is one less car”.

My first meeting was at Le Gros Frank on Hills Road, just where it meets Station Road. This is a great place to meet as it is convenient for the Station, (for the people I was meeting) and as there is cycle parking just opposite. The Cyclestreet website show the cycle parking on the inside of the Cambridge Botanic Gardens, but it turns out there are two bits of cycle parking on the outside as well. 

I haven’t included a Google Streetview picture, partly because it is out of date and partly because my computer is so loaded than it can’t take the strain of yet another open window.

You can just about see one bit of the cycle parking to the bottom right-hand corner of the picture. That is not my Marin though. As you can see the lights are red however I am pretty sure that the two cyclists you see across the junction went through after it turned red. Personally I prefer to see the laws upheld and have no sympathy for this sort of cycling.

The entrance to the Botanic Garden, open daily at 10am although they will close for a period over the Christmas Hols.

I had not met the two people I was meeting before and had a slightly embarrassing moment when I walked and someone said my name as I went over to introduce myself I found it was someone I knew who happened to also be in the Cafe. after a few more false starts I found them in the end.

Although it had started out somewhat damp it was not looking too bad  mid-morning so I cycled down to Trumpington to pass the time before my next meeting. This is the Trumpington P&R. According to their webpage there are 43 cycle racks and undercover cycle storage for a further 30 bicycles. Given that there are so many bicycles locked along the fencing you might wonder how many car spaces are there – 1,340.

This is the view looking the other way up the fence. Clearly there is a demand for cycle parking here. I am not quite sure why. It could be people working locally or near-ish inhabitants using the P&R but finding it much cheaper to cycle over rather than drive over. Although if I were to cycle this far I think I’d probably carry on into town.  However there is clearly a demand and yet insufficient supply.

I reckon there are at least 30 bicycles locked to the fence and there seem to be more over by the building locked to lampposts. I can’t help but feel that despite bicycles being a major part of the solution for Cambridge’s congestion problems they are either an after-thought or cyclists considered as second-class citizens.

Of course this might have been caused by a very recent uptick in cycle usage – well no. In an article in the April/May 2020 Cambridge Cycling Campaign Newsletter – My way: Fowlmere to Cambridge in which the author (Kevin Steinhardt) has captioned one of his pictures at the bottom of the article: “Trumpington Park & Ride where the cycle parking is full to bursting”.

Mind you it hasn’t taken our Councillors long  before “New charge agreed for drivers who park but don’t ride” over at Babraham Park and Ride. I am pleased to see that there are 126 cycle racks and uncover storage for 126 cycles, which I assume means cycle parking for 252 bicycles in total. There is also parking for 945 cars.  According to the article over 200 motorists (vehicles) park there and then walk or cycle over to Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Mind you the hospital is seeking planning permission for its own 1,228-space nine-storey car park as the first stage of their 2020 development plan. It will not provide cycle-parking though.

Apparently the Park & Ride runs at an annual loss of £700,000. (Note here is a dissertation by Martin Lucas Smith – Park and ride – sustainable transport or expensive white elephant? with some interesting conclusions. It was finished in May 2000 so time has passed since then. But I will quote one of the conclusions “… Cambridge park and ride is merely displacing and increasing rather than reducing car traffic,… We should be under no illusions, the old adage build it and they will come appears to be true, unfortunately building better car-parking facilities will attract more users – which means vehicles. Conversely charging those Addenbrooke’s users of the Babraham P&R will probably also mean that some park out in the streets.

The trouble is that there are economic advantages from  concentrations of employment such as the Addenbrooke’s site or of shopping areas such as large Supermarkets or the Grand Arcade in Cambridge. The advantages seem to accrue to the organisations whilst the costs seem to fall to society in terms of getting people to and from those sites. Our current approach based around the motor car means that parking can be a significant cost. Indeed for some it is virtually impossible to travel without access to a car.

I guess the question it raises in my mind is are we apportioning the costs properly. If land is at a premium then why shouldn’t all on-street car-parking have a cost? Why shouldn’t there be a cost for people parking at their place of work? I would consider it reasonable to have thresholds. After all bicycles take up so much less space they ought to be free.

Winking smile

I suppose it comes down to what are we trying to achieve. At one level by making personal transportation cheaper and faster all we do is increase the number of miles driven, we reduce localisation and inevitably increase pollution. On the other hand if we suddenly charge for city parking and city congestion then politicians don’t get voted in. People who live in cities find themselves less well off . The poorer sections of society probably lose out disproportionately. 

The trouble is you have to start somewhere which means trends towards localisation, more working from home and better public transportation corridors. However everything I read suggests that our current approach is one of short-term tactical management rather than taking a more strategic view.

I think I got a bit side-tracked there back to my ride. As luck would have it I cycled up from the Trumpington P&R along the route of the CGB (Cambridge Guided Busway) past Addenbrooke’s hospital site. There is quite a bit of development going on around here. I hope they make it a pleasant place to live.

One of the rather odd things about cycle routes – or shared-use paths is haphazard nature of the route. With so much housing being built and the development of the Addenbrooke’s site just nearby I would imagine that this will become a well-used way in to work. Yet the path has short poles  acting as constrictions and hazards. They appear to have been given an extra dab of green paint. Have they already been causing problems? I wonder whether road planners, who then turn their hand to busways and cycle routes understand just what cycling is all about.

I am no spring chicken, I don’t consider myself very fit and am certainly not a racer, yet there are times when I will cycle along at 32Km/h / 20mph. The only saving grace about this junction is that at least there are streetlights (or should that be busway lights). Given all the attention to health and safety how do these sorts of routes get constructed?

In fact what are those ankle-breakers for? I assume they are to stop cars driving along the shared use path. As a cyclists I am not sure the benefit outweighs the risk.

And here is one of the new buildings on the Addenbrooke’s Site with a CGB spur heading into the site. The bridge takes it over the railway line.

As I mentioned even a slow cyclist like me can pick up a bit of speed. Heading back into Cambridge the wind was behind me. The two cyclists still managed a chat whilst keeping up a good pace.

As you can see in two consecutive pictures they had travelled a reasonable distance. I should also mention that I saw some buses on this bit of the track. Look a this bit of the cycle way – not bad eh.

When I reached the station as I cycled over the Carter Bridge (opened in 1989) I stopped to take a picture on the new central platform, which is now open. Apparently they have put in channel on the new new footbridge to help cyclists get their bicycles over.  If you check out this Cyclestreets picture then you will see that it is sub-optimal and will be modified. Perhaps that is what you get when you cut back on Cycling officers. Still cyclists are second class citizens aren’t they.

Let’s hope they don’t make the same mistake on this possible “shortcut to path beside busway” at Hills Road where they have not got enough room to build a ramp. What about wheelchair access though?

At one point I stopped a some traffic lights, along with two other cyclists. The old boy turned round and commented – a nice bit of wind eh. It was at our backs. Unfortunately I was going to have to cycle back into it at some point.

Am I being oversensitive or should this council lorry have parked on the grass rather than in the middle of the shared use path – the left fork after Oyster Row towards Riverside. (Second class …)

As most people in the UK are aware it has been quite windy. For a change when I parked up at the Judge Institute there were quite a few empty cycle racks. Strong winds can be very off-putting. The winds seem to have shaken a few bikes out of the racks as well.

As you can see I followed the age-old parking principle of parking well away from other bicycles.

I have to say it was a most enjoyable day, cycling around having meetings and getting some fresh air. It was a little more damp at the end of the day which is why the pictures stop here. But as I said at the start getting wet on the way home doesn't matter quite so much does it.

And almost finally I loved this article in which a rocket car was built and powered by Mentos and coke. According to a comment as it managed to cover 239 feet using 54 bottles of coke that is about 0.002mpg, mind you don’t blame me if the maths is wrong I didn’t check it.

And really finally – a picture of Glastonbury Tor meeting Independence day. When my kids were small and we were visiting Grandma and Grandad, who lived in Somerset we took a bottle rocket with us and set it off down at the bottom of Glastonbury Tor.  We had  a surprisingly large audience gather around us.