Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Results of my Southampton Driver poll

Its a bit of a shame that I could only get 79 responses, however I can understand why people would be reluctant - unless they know the blogger it might look a little odd that an individual would run such a poll. Given that this is a small poll I have to first mention the caveat that it may not be representative of locals. I'd like to see with the Daily Echo or Southampton City Council do a more in-depth survey as they have the power to extrapolate as well as reaching a higher number of people.

The aim was to determine distance, area, and if the driver in question had considered alternatives such as buses or cycling. The majority of responses came through Twitter. I know this due to the many retweets I got thanks to the likes of Edmund King (head of the AA - who very kindly also retweeted my cycling poll), and many people who replied to me via the site. I also managed to get a few from Facebook to join in, yet Twitter users seem more involved with research, surveys and petitions I notice.

The majority of people were what you might call "young", being under 35
Odd that more didn't class themselves as Pedestrian... a reasonable amount admit to car-pooling, too

I asked drivers what distances they drove if they commuted to work via their car. 29% drove a distance that could easily be done by bicycle (disability is an obvious exception). If the buses were cheaper I could see many more using them for the longer distance.

Only one person responded that they drove over 30 miles. 23 people using alternatives to the car is still pretty good however. I also asked motorcyclists what their commute distances were, but so few responded its not even worth putting the pie chart up.

Free parking might be a reason so many people still drive. Despite the many articles in the press stating parking issues it seems possible to me that much of the parking available to motorists is still free. 45 people have access to free parking provided by their employer. Parking, in theory, makes driving easier, and that dissuades bus use and cycling.
Its encouraging that people, no matter how small a group, have considered the alternatives. But its clear to myself and others that things conspire to stop people taking these. I know for a fact that the buses are expensive in Southampton. Even with monthly tickets you're still talking £56. That is over £600 a year.

Cycling is free (once you've acquired a bike obviously). So what are the reasons people give for not riding a bike to work, or a friends:
You have to admire people for admitting they're a bit lazy. 
Regards cycling - in the "other" category:
- one person suggested "bicycles are for children" (tell that to Bradley)
- one person said they need to travel with children
- "Bad experience previously, Saw an accident once involving a cyclist and a bus. It put me off cycling on the road"
- Traveling in from out of town (this is fair enough)
- and one person said they're a disabled driver (again fair enough)

Why don't people take the bus? In the other category:
- "smelly people with colds" (I had to laugh, same respondent who said "bicycle are for children")
- Another person also said "passengers smell"
- "Interchanges are poor, journey via public transport to work would actually be quicker but involves 2 trains, both of which run hourly, and miss each other by 5 mins so results in waiting at soton central for 55 mins each way!"
- "My ex is a bus driver crazy bitch who i never want to run into"
- "Got to take a lot of kit with me" (again this is fair enough!)

The joke responses aside (they still answered the other questions) perhaps there is still opportunity in the alternatives - even motorcycling as an option to reduce your fuel consumption and mitigate parking issues. But we will never know until someone with clout asks, and then more importantly acts.

The rest of the responses are available to view in summary HERE if you're interested.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Solar is an option to limit the need for fracking

It seems clear to me that unless Hampshire and Southampton adopt a more inventive approach to energy demand that fracking could very well happen in the New Forest. Campaigners are now frankly shitting themselves.

"How could the New Forest, a beautiful National Park, be so at risk?!"

Well the answer is complicated yet worrying. Firstly we have seen companies apply for drilling and exploration in other, similar areas of beauty - most obviously in Sussex. Add this in with a constant media message from The Sun and other newspapers about how we "need this to happen!" Someone left a copy of (I think) wednesdays Sun tabloid at work, and ever being interested in what people think I turned to the letters pages - the whole page was devoted to people who babbled on about "green agenda" and how "fracking will make this country rich again".

I fear the truth is this wont happen. Energy prices wont even drop - even Lord Browne has said so. We also have to be suspicious as to why The Sun doesn't print any strong objection to fracking, either in articles or the letters... for example - is there actually enough accessible gas?

For this reason I have sent a letter to the local newspaper. There is opportunity as well as risk but it will take a group effort to stop this by making the alternative far more viable. That letter:

None of us really want to see fracking set up in the New Forest, but the pernicious way in which these companies operate, and the influence they have over the media suggests there is little campaigners and home owners can do to mitigate.

Looking at Google Maps it is clear to me however that there IS space for an alternative: solar power. The mistake made until now is to attempt the same approach as the "Frackers" and place panels in fields. The Google Maps tool allows us to zoom in on our city of Southampton. It becomes obvious there is a heck of a lot of unused space.

Several examples include the buildings that house Decathlon, Argos, Staples and Halfords over by West Quay Road. Ikea who sell panels, still has much wasted space, on the sides and roof.

Toys R Us on Western Esplanade. Vast potential for Solar, even a small wind generator. 

Even the Civic Centre, with its iconic copper roofing has space for unobtrusive solar power. Instead of fracking all public bodies, businesses and their building owners need to get together to thrash out a joint scheme whereby they can buy at discount, install and utilise solar to reduce not only our/their need for fossil but also save themselves on future energy bills.

Only then will the countryside be safe from fracking development.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

How long should you let a cycling poll run (or indeed cycle)?

I think I came up with a slightly unique cycling poll to run. Everyone asks the usual questions, and yes whilst I have asked a few I have noticed how many riders use the internet now.

Whether you're discussing the Wiggins-Froome situation, or how much someone hates Armstrong since he admitted to doping, right down to discussing urban cycling and what bike to commute to work on - the internet has become central to discussing all things cycling.

I took about a week to design the poll, and a few errors noted and corrected (thanks to a couple of twitter and cyclechat users) and its been properly collecting data since Sunday. The most striking question I find myself asking is whether cyclists are more ready to participate than  non-riders? My Southampton Motorists poll has not done as well. Its been online twice as long and yet has a fraction of the responses the Cycling and Social Media poll has.

At face value it would appear to some that motorists wont engage as readily, however I think there is possibly the fact that my tweeting from what appears a cycling user account might put some off. Initially I'd intended it to be Southampton only - I'd like to know more about local drivers, but in hindsight including an "other" category makes sense.

A blogger like myself has limited appeal most probably from others, so I can't really suggest its full-on research. The numbers will be too small, and the controls too limited (market research and academic surveys have strict controls to make sure people don't submit more than once, etc I'm not sure if/how Google Docs limits that). What it is doing already, however, is providing a rough picture.

People use twitter to talk to bicycle manufacturers. They facebook their council and the police. And the people cyclists ask questions of do reply via these means. So far I am only seeing 1% of participants cycle less than 5 miles a week. "Old fashioned" web forums are still popular, but twitter and co are perhaps taking over. 107 people say they use twitter. 55% say its their main choice for cycling talk (so far)

All I have to do now is figure out how long I should run these before I close it to responses? I note that the IAM run theirs for about a month. Up to 1000 participants join in on theirs, but I must remember that they have a bigger and broader audience than a chubby bloke who rides around Southampton and sometimes blogs about it.


Thanks for reading, and most of all thanks for your participation!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Because nobody seems to be asking it - exactly what are the basics of local driving?

Its been a while. Too many distractions, too much stress at work, I just don't seem to get the time I'd like to dedicate to this blog or the other social media I use (eg twitter, flickr and cycle chat). Today was good though. I'd gotten into a discussion with someone recently about local drivers - nothing negative, just that nobody seems to have asked about their distances, parking or the impact on their health.

Its often easy for non-cyclists to assume that when cyclists discuss driving that it must be all negative, how bad the drivers are etc, and how we're all trying to convert you all to cycling. Well we would like more people to cycle, obviously, but without knowing non-cyclists better how can you?

So I created a slightly ramshackle poll in Google Drive: HERE!

I think the idea was that I wanted to prove to myself that a) I could create a survey myself (it seemed quite hard at first); b) that motoring was still needed in many circumstances; c) that there was potential to understand the impact the media has on how people see transport (though my questions are limited in many respects, I may expand things later in new surveys). There is also potential to understand how many people drive and how far through the city.

This poll is something I asked The Daily Echo and other news outlets to do a long while back. Most of the time when the media does discuss motoring it feels a little distorted, sometimes it even feels as if they're just trying to sell papers with the lowest common denominators such as women drivers, cyclists etc.

So if you're a Southampton motorist, please have a look. Tweet it, facebook it, mention it at work etc. I'd love to learn something from this, even if its how to lay the surveys out better ;-)

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Space Debris - a risk to NASA but there may be solutions

We as a civilisation have put a lot of rubbish into space - from discarded rocket shells, broken satellites and things lost from space missions it all ends up whizzing around in the near Earth orbit. Some of it is potentially very dangerous and the more its up there and the more of it we leave the bigger the risk to our satellite communications, the people on the ISS and future manned missions in space.

Previously I have seen on BBC2s Horizon program experiments with liquid metals where spheres filled with the material are used to generate electromagnetic fields. Typically material used has been softer metals like mercury, lithium and sodium, they are hazardous to handle, heavy to operate but do seem to produce remarkable simulations of the Earths own magnetic field.

Earths own magnetic field propels bodies and particles away from us. It propels certain radiation away from us too - cosmic rays in space are a massive risk to human life in space, if we could propel that away it could mean longer space missions meaning travel to Mars and further would be more livable for astronauts.

There is another application for a magnetic field generator often overlooked. It could be used to send the crap in space back down into freefall towards Earth, reducing the risk of space damage. Imagine the ball, if you will, being directed around the near Earth orbit generating the field just above particles and pinging it back into the atmosphere. Imagine it also travelling ahead of the ISS and generating a bow wave that protects the space stations orbit. Imagine it travelling ahead of a manned mission to Mars and leaving "clean space" in its wake for the astronauts to travel into reducing the risk of cancer from radiation. This could be as part of a dual space craft system (like the spitfire in front of the hurricane), or it could be like an antenna projecting out from the top of a manned space craft.

Universities and scientists are taking this idea seriously enough to play around with it and see what it does, I envisage that it wont be long before we see such an experiment happen out in space.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Weirdness of the week...

This week has been tough. I've had issues with my ventolin inhaler malfunctioning on me and have booked an appointment with my GPs asthma nurse due to something triggering me into attacks. As yet minor they've not been alleviated due to the inhaler deciding to spew its guts for no reason.

This week has also been tough due to work pressure - short staffed, a pay day week, plus many equipment failures have meant people like myself being run off our feet. A lot of effort for not much comeback. I leave work every day this week feeling like I've just run a marathon. Bruised, back pain and stressed.

So at the beginning of the week when I rode home through Southampton Common I noted a small group of people running towards myself and what I think was a lady runner. They came from the play park area of the green by the Cow Herders pub and on to the path as I attempted to pass said lady jogger. At first I thought it was just a gang of kids having heard one of them shout out to the young girl who appeared to have stormed away. Then I saw the TV cameras and the boom holding the mic.

No idea what was going on. I found myself commenting: "This aint Hollyoaks, is it?!"

Friday was also a tough day. To be honest I'd had "Friday Legs" since Wednesday and so the ride home was slow and tougher than usual. For 6 miles it shouldn't be that tough but it was. I passed a primary school and saw a ball bounce into the road. I even attempted to throw the ball back to the kids, merely hitting a tree and having it bounce back under a car.

The kids faces said a thousand words: "Can't you even throw a ball?!" Though they never said it allowed. I retrieved the ball and managed to throw it back over the fence and they played on as if I had never been there as I did the ride of shame away, "can't you even throw a ball" echoing in my head.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Average speed - 20mph on the Kinesis... and that's with Asthma problems

This weekend I have mostly been knackered from wheezing. I've said before that I'm pretty sure this is pollution related. If I go somewhere where there is no traffic, in fact a good example is in an indoor environment where the air is filtered (quite common in the industry I work in) my breathing eases.

I used the Cateye Strada and noted the general speeds I got up to.

Average for total 10 mile trip: 13.4mph
Maximum: 29.8mph
Average up the Itchen Bridge: 14.5mph
Average on the flat: 20mph

I'm quite impressed I managed these speeds given my asthma had been giving me minor problems this morning, plus the fact the camo shorts I sometimes wear tend to inflate around my thighs like mini parachutes.