Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year–although I am still catching up with 2012

Wednesday, 12th December 2012:I am getting to the end of 2012, just a few more posts to go, although it is now 2013 as I type this. I wonder if 2013 will be as wet as 2012 turned out to be despite the year starting with a drought. The end of the year has been anything but. I’ve has always been surprised that given we are in the flatlands and that we have several rivers – the River Cam and the River great Ouse being notable examples – we don’t get more flooding.

However these rivers have been around for a long time and one of the approaches taken when dealing with such things is to avoid building on floodplains – or washes are they are sometimes called around here. Examples being the Ouse Washes (which include the Welney Washes) and the Cam Washes which include Upware. Mind you even those washes need temporary help in the form of sand barriers sometimes.

The trouble is pressure on land means more building on the margins, including here near the River Cam in Cambridge which must be pretty awful for the people who live there. I guess one reason that things are not as bad as they might be is that the drainage of the flatlands has long been a managed activity – otherwise we would be living in a naturally marshy region. There are cuts and drains some stretching back to roman times along with pumps to move and manage water levels.  The pumps started as windmills, moved onto steam powered engines through to diesel pumps and now electrical pumps.

This seems to work for us, although you do get failures when pumps fail. The problem is  whilst the reliability of a pump might be pretty good when you have a hundred or a thousand then the possibility of failure somewhere becomes noticeable. 

For example if the pumps are well made, with a probability of failure of say 1 in 1,000 each year, then it sounds pretty good odds. Put another way the probability of working is 0.999 Mind you if you have two pumps then the probability of both working is 0.999 * 0.999 (= 0.998 or 2 in a 1,000) still pretty good. But if there are 100 pumps then the probability of all continuing to work is (0.999)100,  or 0.999 times itself 100 times. This time around the probability of none failing is 0.9 or a or 1 in ten chance of failure, not such good odds.  Here is a paper discussing pumps and mean time between failures.  Now I made up my numbers from the paper it looks as if pumps aren’t that reliable.

My point is that statistics can (and are) used to understand the issue. So it is with a heavy heart that I now come onto one attempt at localism, or local democracy. As an aside whilst I think a market economy provides a useful framework for building an economic structure it is nuts to blindly apply it all over the place. In the market place bad traders/companies go out of business – is that what we want happening to our hospitals and schools are we run them on market economy principles. I certainly don’t.

Is democracy a reasonable approach – well yes I think it is – but for everything – certainly not. It would seem that for the Flatlands of Cambridgeshire some of those chickens are coming home to roost sooner than we might hope. Here in Cambridge we seem to have an ex-MP (Conservative) – Sir Graham Bright. It says in that link he appointed his party and business colleague Brian Ashton as his deputy without advertising the post. Such actions give rise to concerns of ‘cronyism’ in the press. The dire turnout indicates that it was hardly representative of the people – here in Cambs the turnout was 14.77%, slightly lower than the average Ballot box turnout of 15.1%. An article here in the Guardian discusses concerns about the legitimacy.

What will they do – read this, what is our Cambs PCC (Police and Crime Commissioner) doing. Well ask yourself what are the real problems here in Cambridgeshire, where does the real danger come from, who gets hurt and who does the hurting. Well check out this useful analysis by the Cottenham Cyclist on Road Safety Statistics for Cambridge City 2009-2011. Or check this out in the Guardian - Road Deaths in Great Britain. Apparently 47% of cars exceeded a 30mph speed limit in 2011 along with 1,901 road accident deaths in 2011. This piece in the BBC reports that UK road deaths rise puts government under pressure indicates the largest increase has been among pedestrians.

So I will ask the question again – what is the data showing us – using the Cottenham Cyclists tables – in Cambridge city there was one fatal pedestrian accident cause by a bus, 25 serious accidents caused by cars and 3 by cycles, 62 slight pedestrian injuries by cars and 24 by cycles. Note my figures don’t include other motor vehicles. So I think the danger is coming from motor vehicles.  In a short journey yesterday we saw two motorists on the phone and two car-driving red light jumpers.

So local democracy in action – “Police chief calls for crackdown on “danger” cyclists”. Why – well he wants the streets safe for pedestrians encouraged by a recent royal visit. Now clearly this is such an important aspect of policing that it also “requires undercover police being used for the fist time in Cambridge”. I find that last bit hard to believe,

So PCC Bright – I would like to point out that if you really want the streets safer for visitors you seem to be looking in the wrong direction – but hey why let the facts get in the way of some good sound bites.

From the look of the picture in this link, Sir Bright may benefit from a bit of cycling himself – although he probably feels it is too dangerous. It would also seem that he has political matter in mind as he is forgone the new £5,000 office at the Cambridgeshire force’s operations hub in Hinchingbrooke and instead renting an office at South Cambs district Council office in Camborne. Which must be one of the more difficult places to get to if you don’t have a car.  Although the Daily Mail reports that families with four or more cars account for nearly one in 50 of all households. I reckon that is because the provision for non-car owners is next to abysmal.

The danger is predominantly from the motor vehicles – so perhaps the PCC ought to get the Police enforcing the bl**dy 20MPH limits. It is not just visitors who need safeguarding – what about the 80-year old pensioner whose leg was broken whilst walking along Mill Road in a collision with a car – just before Christmas.

And finally (before the actual stuff about my ride)I reckon the Guided Busway still gets reported in the Cambridge news because it is the CGB. There have been several incidents, including a car getting stuck and a man getting hit on the CGB between Oakington and Histon and a man falling as the bus pulled away from a stop.

I am not going to do a full review of 2012 so that is it. However I am still very annoyed by the actions of Sir graham Bright insofar as he does not seem to represent what I want for a PCC. I do not advocate breaking the rules when cycling at all, but I would prefer to see the resources targeted at the problems that have a cost to society.

I am not the only one annoyed – check out the Cambridge Cyclists post.

For my part I have become disillusioned enough to feel that whilst it is only a small minority of motorists who represent risk to me when cycling – the roads are becoming more lawless and dangerous – and that those in power don’t care.  Why else would the number of cyclists being killed have risen to a five year high?

So I tend to stick to the haphazard, narrow, shared-use paths around Cambridge – I am thankful they exist – although they are crap. All this furore about dangerous cyclists – if we are that bloody dangerous why are there so many shared-use paths. Because we’re not dangerous – certainly not compared with lorries and buses and cars.

As well as being a Mid-week ride I was also working in Cambridge and finishing after dark – which is not difficult in the Winter months. It was cold – but I went overboard on the clothing and in a short space of cycling was absolutely sweltering. I had also taken a bit of a circular route to ensure exercise and car avoidance. Note for politicians, just because I will take the long way to avoid riding on the roads does not mean that I want to.

Here on Ditton Meadows evidence both of the flooding and the cold weather – frozen flooding.

Frozen Floods on Ditton Meadows

When it came time to go home the interesting thing about cycling is when it is freezing  it becomes a bit of a game of chance. It is a bit like a Dirty Harry film – the first question you ask yourself is do I feel lucky?  Gritting is patchy on the cycle paths around Cambridge. How do I know – well I have fallen off my bike a couple of times on black ice. Yet after 30-odd years of driving I have never hurt myself (or car) driving on black ice. Luck maybe – or perhaps a reflection of the priorities of our Councils – protect the rich car drivers sod the rest.

One of the things you look for when cycling after dark and it has gotten very cold is the road looking more reflective than it should. Like Riverside did on my way home. If in doubt I tend to jab the back brake to see just how bad things are – I can cope far better with a rear wheel skid than I can a front wheel skid.

One of the other things about cycling after dark is you can do a bit of night-time photography. Now I only had my small Sony camera so relied upon resting it on railings to hold it still for the longer exposures.

Here is the bridge that was built which actually splits pedestrians from cyclists – the Riverside Bridge – thank you Tesco. The strange thing is that despite the scare-mongering about dangerous cyclists – pedestrians will still happily walk in the cyclist lane over the bridge.

the other thing to note is that although the bridge adheres to reasonable standards in terms of cycling provision you don’t have to stray far to find all sorts of poles in the road and various other barriers. If cycling were so dangerous then why are there so many barriers, lampposts and trees along cycle paths?

Riverside after dark – Cambridge

Here is the bridge a little closer – if you look you can also see a cyclist’s rear light as a line of red heading up the bridge. Yes I know that some might find it hard to believe – in my experience quite a few cyclists do actually have lights.

Riverside after dark – Cambridge

And just for balance her is a cyclists coming the other way off the bridge. Their speed was faster as there is quite a slope down, which is why the white line is longer.

Riverside after dark – Cambridge

This one shows another cyclists – this time with a rear flashing light.

Riverside after dark – Cambridge

Flip – someone must have flipped an Infinite Improbability Drive on everywhere I look there a cyclists with lights. This one is a non-flashing rear light.

Riverside after dark – Cambridge

Alright enough of the cyclists with lights pictures – here is a view back down the River Cam – I was resting on the railings, but obviously not well enough – which is why the lights have an “L” shaped kink to them.

Riverside after dark – Cambridge

Apparently these sorts of scenes might not be seen in Paris – well in the early hours as they want to save money and show ‘sobriety’.  And to finish some cute baby penguins and  a dancing leopard.


  1. Is the theme connected with your profesыional sphere or perhaps is it mostly about your leisure and free time?

    1. Mainly cycling, photography and the IT that supports it (or not).