Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Under Siege

Imagine for a minute, that you run your own business as a sole trader. Imagine that your chosen business is under threat by "the powers that be" because the conditions under which you operate are being changed. Imagine also, that the specialist equipment you have spent a small fortune on is obsolete and your regulator will be changing the rules so you have to invest in a new set of equipment.

If I were a cabbie in London, I would be a bit worried and possibly quite annoyed at the moment. The Mayor of London has decided to press ahead with the North-South and East-West cycle superhighways and diesel engines which power the taxis are helping to ruin our health and so controls may well be on their way. Not only that, there is competition to contend with and so perhaps we might forgive them for being prickly.

I have been inside a black cab twice. Once as a punter years ago and once "on the job" going round with the local LTDA rep to look at what improvements could be made to some taxi ranks. My other experiences with black cabs have been when riding my bicycle or walking. This has varied from the drivers being utter tools by not giving me room when overtaking or bullying when I'm crossing the road to being the absolute height of courtesy. Do you know what, yes, they are people too!

In the last day or so, we have had rumblings from the LTDA (Licenced Taxi Drivers Association) that they might be seeking a judicial review on the Mayor's decision on the cycle superhighways. Unsurprisingly, the LTDA don't have much sympathy from many people who cycle in the Capital. Their Chairman, John Thomas, went into a demented rant back in March last year with this gem spotted by Cyclists in the City - have a read, it really is entertaining. My favourite bit (naturally) is this;

"the ‘experts’ in traffic, who are so cycling centric that they are blind to the consequences of their actions. Or is it that they just don’t care?" 

Really? I think 'experts' in traffic have been anything but cycle-centric for decades which is why our urban areas are just hell-ridden traffic sewers. I am pleased to report that bit by bit, my profession has woken up from its slumber and is rubbing its eyes. 

The LTDA has form of course, in this 'expert', 'scientific' observation, they were able to conclude that 53% of cyclists ignore red lights or that 'marshal law' was imposed in London for "Ride London" in 2013. Yes LTDA, we get it, you don't like cycling or people who ride bicycles and are happy to lump us in a group. Over on Twitter, I did my own little bit of gentle baiting, including calling for a boycott of black cabs. Actually, I was being daft, I don't use them. Perhaps some of the big businesses who supported the superhighways might rethink their custom?

In the final analysis, I don't really have an axe to grid against the cab trade as a whole; after all, I am the first to moan about being lumped into this group called "cyclists" (see above). I think the LTDA are being stupid and if I were a member, I would be questioning their motives. Cab drivers don't have anything to fear from providing for cycling and they are attacking the wrong targets. They should be questioning why we allow unrestricted (Congestion Charge acknowledged) use of private vehicles in the centre of our City taking up valuable capacity.

Taxis provide a service to people who are willing to pay for it (and it is not cheap) and for people who rely on them for their mobility as they are unable to use buses or other modes. This does not have to change and I cannot see people switching from black cabs to bikes. But, things are starting to change and those who cannot adapt will ultimately slide the way of the dinosaurs, possibly into a diesel-chocked tar pit.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Thinking Outside The Box

While catching up on Facebook last night, I came across a link posted on the Stop Killing Cyclists' page relating to a box junction in Hackney which, according to a story on the website of the London Evening Standard, "rakes in almost £1m each year".

I reposted the link on Twitter with my rather flippant take and with my tongue (slightly) in my cheek (hey I only have 140 characters). There were a couple of responses which had little sympathy for those being caught out and a reporter from the invited views by email for the letters page.

The offending yellow box is outside Homerton Fire Station on the A102 Homerton High Street, a road controlled by Transport for London. A yellow box outside a fire station is pretty important I would suggest and yes, there is a camera being used for enforcement. 

Now, I confess that I don't often read the papers, although I do pick up quite a bit online. I certainly don't write letters to the papers as the letters page is normally guaranteed to send me whirling off in a rage at other people's stupidity (yes, it is arrogant I know). But, I was up early and had a few minutes to kill, so I put fingers to keyboard and wrote this and emailed it in (I have added a couple of links which might be of interest which were not in the email). I don't know if my letter reached the paper and it is not on the website at the time of posting this, but here goes;

"Yellow boxes are a symptom of motor-traffic congestion and the selfish attitude of some drivers who think their progress is more important than that of other people; and in this case, the London Fire Brigade. Yellow boxes are provided to keep traffic flowing and if someone "accidentally" rolls into one, then they are driving too close or not paying enough attention.

In a crowded city such as ours, we should question the sense of many who choose driving in these congested areas, accepting of course there are people who need to drive (and I put the London Fire Brigade way up the list). As long as the restrictions are properly and lawfully deployed, the majority of us should not lose any sleep over people getting caught out - I would rather that than someone dying because a fire engine was stuck.

There may be a wider debate to be had about the level of fines (which are set by London Councils' Transport & Environment Committee on a city-wide basis), although my view is that they have to have a deterrent effect and penalties for more serious offences are nowhere near high enough. All those crying foul can of course raise the issue with their local councillor or GLA member who can ask if that yellow box is really needed, but it requires personal effort which is in short supply these days.

So, moan and whinge about getting caught all you want, in the bigger picture of things, there is not much sympathy for you and in the case of a yellow box outside a fire station, it is because there are some journeys which are far more important than yours."

The Evening Standard's story also has a little film to go with it with the usual talking heads who take a hostile view (on the whole) to the yellow box and one of the people interview clearly hasn't a clue about how yellow box junctions work. There are also comments at the end of the story which miss the point in my view.

Of course, I always like to dig deeper. The story reports that after a Freedom of Information request;

"between 1 February 2013 and 31 January 2014 TfL issued 14,412 penalty charge notices from the camera, collecting £989,533 - an average of around 40 motorists fined every day and a daily revenue of just over £2,700."

Yes, the maths is spot on, but of course it is all averages and so I would lay odds that most fines are at busy times as when it is quiet traffic is moving! Minor moving traffic offences (which I think covers yellow boxes) is set at £130. The average fine based on the figures is £68 a time and so this indicates that the vast majority of people are paying the fine without argument and quickly as there is a 50% discount (£65) for quick payment.

The other bit of interest for me is that as the street is the A102, there is some very convenient traffic flow information available from the Department for Transport (site 8064) and the count point is really close to the fire station! In 2013, there was a total of 20,853 vehicles a day at this location. This is estimated and averaged, but in the one direction the yellow box operates, we are talking 10,426 vehicles a day. 40 fines per day are being issued which is less than 0.5%. Clearly, 99.5% of people driving past the fire station manage to keep it clear. Yes, I know I am using not getting caught as a proxy, but it puts the whole thing into perspective and I for one am entirely comfortable relieving these people of their cash to help fund other transport projects!

Update 21/1/15
It turns out my letter was published, but I didn't see it. So, if you have a copy of yesterday's paper, be a sport and post a scan or photo :)

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Not The Hole Story

Potholes are always in the news somewhere, but they are merely a symptom of much wider problems with UK infrastructure and that is sweating our assets until they collapse.

Tomorrow is (15th February) is National Pothole Day (#NationalPotholeDay) over on Twitter) organised by the lovely people at Street Repairs which is has a website and app which allows you to report (yes) potholes and other street defects, and why not. You can also follow them on Twitter @StreetRepairs and Facebook if that's your bag. A big Hat Tip to Mr Pothole for alerting me to the event!

Right, plug over, back to the post. You don't need me to tell you what potholes are, but suffice to say, they are symptom of the state of the UK roads. I am also not getting into the debate about who pays for the roads as the answer is clear - we all do; and we all pay when they are not maintained properly and someone gets a claim paid out.

At least for individual council's, the road network is their largest asset. The Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) process valued the country's highway network at £275bn (p209) in 2012/13, although public infrastructure assets are thought to be undervalued by some £200bn and so the figure for the highway asset will be higher. We also have the current ALARM survey which puts the road maintenance backlog at £12bn for England and Wales, but this is just carriageways and doesn't count footways or bridges for example.

Of course, these figures are often educated guesses (with a lot of work to get to them) and so we cannot be completely sure, but clearly, we have allowed an extremely valuable asset to deteriorate through decades of neglect and underfunding. An exercise in work had us value the replacement cost of our entire network at a trillion pounds (digging out and completely rebuilding).

Everyone who travels on the highway network will have their own ingrained locations for road defects on their regular journeys (and if you travel on two-wheels, it is pretty important that you are not thrown off - engine or leg powered alike). The term "pothole" is a proxy for poor surface conditions and there are many theories for the origin of the term - I like the idea that it comes from potters nicking clay from dirt roads to make pots, but who knows for sure. Roads have a history of eons and you could do far worse than reading Carlton Reid's Roads Were Not Built for Cars which has a great history on road construction from animal trackways to more recent times.

For modern roads, we are concerned with supporting the loading from vehicles. We have relatively weak subsoil upon which we (scientifically) pile layers of different materials which get comparatively stronger, thinner and more expensive as we head up to the road surface. For example, a basic residential road is likely to have a layer of pretty course crushed rock, brick, concrete or other materials being relatively cheap. On top of this, a more finely graded layer of crushed rock (up to 75mm in size) and then 2 or three asphalt layers, with the most expensive and thinnest layer being the surface course (concrete is also used of course and also composites of concrete with an asphalt overlay).

I am using fairly general terms here and so for much more detail on everything, I highly recommend the Idiot's Guide To Highway Maintenance for everything you could ever need to know on the subject. The layers of a road is collectively referred to as the "pavement" which shouldn't be confused with the popular term for footway (in the UK, sidewalk elsewhere). The job of the pavement is to conduct the loading from millions of standard axles (a design parameter) down into the subsoil.

For other areas, such as footways and cycletracks, we don't generally need to worry about traffic loading, but the thickness of the "pavement" needs to take into account the methods by which they will be constructed and maintained. In my experience, people are reluctant to construct footways and cycle tracks thick enough and they end up moving and settling with the ground - they need to be as engineered as the bit vehicles are driven on. In terms of "damage" to roads, it is the HGV which does the most - pounding the layers of the pavement. Cars don't do a great deal of damage, but they wear out the surface and of course people walking and cycling don't cause any appreciable damage.

The greatest enemy to the highway engineer is water and we go to great lengths in getting it off the road surface and away. In some cases, we use sub-surface drainage to keep water away from the engineered lower layers of the pavement. Water is a funny substance. You can't compress it and when it freezes, the volume of the solid (ice!) is about 10% greater than the liquid. For roads, this is a problem. If water gets into minute cracks in the road surface and freezes, the expansion will start to fret the edges of the cracks, making them larger and therefore letting more water in. 

The delightful term "mud pumping" is another failure mechanism whereby water in cracks (and joints in the case of concrete roads) displaces fine particles from the underlying pavement materials and the action of the traffic above compresses the road surface (by a small amount). As the road is compressed, the water is squeezed and forced out of the road, carrying fine material because water is not compressible. Over time, the action of the traffic and water can create voids underneath the road surface and we start to see a break up. 

The mechanisms can work together of course and in the case of asphalt layers ("tarmac") if they are not properly bonded, then water slides in between the layers and the traffic action helps to life the surfacing. There are many maintenance issues, but keeping highway drainage clear and free is extremely important. If the water is not draining away, it is helping to destroy the road. If the road surfacing has not been laid properly and puddles are collecting, that is helping to destroy the road - resurfacing to the same levels won't deal with the problem. 

One of the big problems we have is that road drainage is often split between several responsibilities. In urban areas, the gullies and pipes to the main sewer will be managed by the highway authority and the sewers by the sewerage undertaker. In London (for example) this will be the boroughs as highway authorities and (mainly) Thames Water. If the gullies and highway drains are clear, but the sewers are not, we will get flooding and this is a common cause of complaint from local authority staff who know "their" bit is clear.

In rural areas, we can still have highway drains and sewers, but we will be dealing with ditches along the sides of roads in many cases. The highway authority has the right to drain into ditches and to maintain them, but it is quite common for roadside ditches to be part of field drainage with the landowner having responsibility for cleaning. The old fashioned job of "lengthsman" was a highway operative who patrolled a patch undertaking all sorts of minor works which prevented larger problems. For drainage, it could be something as simple as hoicking out something blocking a ditch or clearing grips (little ditches to let water run into bigger ones). Of course, government cuts have seen the demise of this important local highways person.

In trying to keep water out of the surface, we can resurface a road completely which will provide new "waterproofing" for the lower layers (the surface also provides skid resistance for vehicle tyres, especially in the wet). We can surface dress (hated by many bicycle riders) which uses a bitumen binder to seal the surface, prevent oxidisation of the materials below and to provide grip with chippings. Actually, if designed and installed (and cared for afterwards), surface dressing remains an important maintenance technique - it is not surfacing on the cheap as often reported, it is something different.

Of course, if a road becomes so damaged that it is not safe to use, we have powers to place weight restrictions and eventually close it for safety purposes. That is the nub for me really. I have been in the highways game in one shape or form for nearly 20 years, starting out in maintenance as it happens. Maintenance is the Cinderella of highways, but there is tremendous skill and ability out there in keeping our crumbling network together. But miracle workers we are not. Like any maintenance work, if we don't keep at it, then our assets start to break up, we need to invest in our people (both training and paying them fairly) to get the best out of them. 

Despite the promises and the continued funding announcements, are roads are failing with local roads failing most as authorities struggle with the huge level of cuts being made. For our roads, the humble pothole is just the tip of an underfunded iceberg.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Parking Mad

I know I give the impression that I am not fan on the Conservatives, but they do spout some nonsense when it comes to transport-related matters.

This week, I thought I would return to the musings of the Greater London Authority Conservative Group (yes, sorry, London-centric again). Last year, I criticised Richard Tracey's paper on switching off traffic signals (I never did get a response). I will now take a look at Andrew Boff's paper on parking at London's hospitals "Pay and Dismay - Parking at London Hospitals". 

Boff is leader of the GLA Conservative Group, deputy chair of the GLA Health Committee and a "Londonwide" member of the assembly. I don't know, but I assume the "hook" for the paper was from the health side of his GLA activities. As ever, please read the paper for yourself as I am an armchair critic and I don't expect agreement with my own personal views - but at least have a think about the issues (experiences may vary outside of big cities).

The paper is relatively short at 4 pages (of actual text), but it goes straight to the point in the introduction;

Many London hospitals now have special parking schemes for Blue Badge holders, patients undergoing cancer treatments, dialysis and other on-going conditions, but for the patient or visitor attending on an irregular basis there are no such concessions. While it is true that because of the lesser number of visits involved, the overall expense is correspondingly less, hospital parking charges, even for occasional visits, can prove onerous particularly for those on limited incomes such as pensioners and the unemployed.

Where hospitals have a pay-and-display car park system, the problem is exacerbated by visitors overpaying because of the fear of overrunning appointments or the unknown waiting times in Accident and Emergency departments. A parking charge of £3 for one to three hours, such as that levied at Barnet Hospital[1], may not seem extortionate but taken in the context of the Basic State Pension of £113.10 per week it amounts to quite a large proportion of the £16.15 per day that the pension provides.[2] 

So, we have the automatic assumption that everyone who goes to hospital drives - although I think the title of the paper rather gives it away. Actually, the paper is not an objective analysis about parking at hospitals, rather it is about the cost of parking at hospitals, the unfairness of pay and display parking and the lack of public parking spaces.

where there is some uncertainty about how long an appointment will last, the safest choice for the patient is to overpay; if the patient has not paid for sufficient parking and their appointment time overruns, they will be unable to top up the payment and may incur penalty charges. This can prove costly and unfair. The situation is the same for patients and those accompanying them to Accident and Emergency departments. where waiting times can be long and impossible to calculate. Pay-and-display systems are inherently unfair as they encourage people to pay more than they need whereas a pay-on-exit system would mean that people will only have to pay for the time that they have actually used.

Actually, for those parking at a hospital (and indeed any off-street location), pay-on-exit is an easy way charging for time (nobody needed to patrol and check tickets) and of course you don't have to guess how long you will be somewhere. Yes, I have some sympathy for the approach in terms of car park management and certainly, that's how my local hospital charges.

In terms of charges, some examples are given;

There are links in the paper to the hospitals quoted, but they all state that parking on their sites is limited and people would be better off using other means. It is always impossible to have a discussion with anyone about hospitals without using anecdotes and I will be no different here. On travel costs, my son had a couple of appointments at Moorfields Eye Hospital last year (nothing serious, thankfully). The hospital is just off City Road, just inside the London Borough of Islington and it is nowhere I would even think of driving to.

His appointments were at 10.30 which gave just enough time to get there using an off-peak railcard (Zones 1 - 6). Last year the railcard was £8.90 for me and £3.60 for him. The same fare is now £12 for me and £6 for him, although I need to get to grips with the capped fare (which is only for adults of course). So last year, a trip to the hospital with my son was £12.50. The same journey will be £18 this year (I think the capped adult Oyster rate is 30p less - £11.70 a day off peak). Already, parking for a hospital appointment starts to look like good value for money.

We did have the option of our local (regional and out-of-town) hospital which is a 4 mile journey, but appointments were months away compared to Moorfields. I would (and have) cycled to our local hospital myself, but not with my son, the roads are too dangerous. Our options would have been to drive, get the bus or walk-train-walk. Driving would have been relatively easy, but unless the appointment was going to be at a weird time of day, then the place would have been full up and we would probably have had to park elsewhere and walk. 

Actually, bus would have been favourite as we have a pretty direct service into the hospital which we can get 3 times an hour with the stop a 2 minute walk from home. My son travels free on the bus with his Zip Card and I would have paid £1.45 each way on Oyster or contactless card (now £1.50). So, a cost of £2.90 by bus compared to £3.60 for 2-3 hours parking at the hospital. Of course, I happen to be able to get a direct bus. 

Being a regional hospital, there are people needing to get 2 or more buses to the hospital which rather racks up the costs (although there is a £5 one day bus and tram pass which you need to go and pre-purchase). If you are elderly (one group Boff is concerned about in his introduction), you get free public transport anyway with a Freedom pass (subject to certain restrictions it must be added).

Car ownership in London varies between inner and outer London, but there are an awful lot of people who will not even consider parking costs because they don't actually have a car (reasons of course vary). TfL suggests that 46% of households don't have a car (2011/12 figure on p2 of the link). Plus, having a car in the household does not necessary mean all people in that household are able to drive it either because of lack of licence or it is used by one member of the household and simply not there for others to use! (actually, read the TfL note, it is interesting).

I did have a couple of exchanges on Twitter about Boff's paper and it was suggested that in the case of an emergency (potentially seriously ill child as an example) that being able to rush someone to the hospital by car is clearly an advantage. Of course, I would be the same if my car and I were available at the time of the emergency (and I know people can be reluctant to call an ambulance), but what if there were no car and driver available?

Boff goes on to look at parking for staff at London's hospitals, suggesting that many workers get subsidised parking. He alludes that spaces reserved for staff is a subsidy (yes, it can be) and that as the parking is cheaper for staff than punters, then it is subsidised (which it is based purely on the difference between what staff and punters pay). He doesn't actually suggest how much a car park space "costs" and whether staff use covers the costs (if they are charged). Of course a tarmac square is cheaper to maintain than a multi-storey car park. He essentially suggests that staff parking should be reduced in favour of providing more and cheaper parking for patients and visitors.

It is a loaded point of course, taken as land costs, each space could be "worth" thousands on the open market (if sold as part of a developable lump of land). It could be that a hospital sells off a car park for a one-off income hit, although at the prices charged (if going back to the hospital and not a company), the income should more than cover the cost of maintaining and "replacing" the space. It could be that the land is better used for more services on the site, rather than parking. There is an argument, the, that all those not driving to hospitals are subsiding those that do (in addition to the external costs of motoring).

Of course, there will be staff who work unsocial hours and live where they cannot get to work by alternatives (no/ poor public transport, dangerous roads for cycling, long distance from work) and I don't mean to wish further problems for people who may not be well paid or have personal circumstances which lock them into their travel patterns.

For those visiting people in hospital it can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive, no matter how they travel (plus the worry about the person they are visiting of course). If it is to visit people in inner-London hospitals, they will be saddled with the high cost of public transport, especially if they are coming in from outside London. In outer-London they may be able to find a parking space at a hospital.

So, what are the recommendations of the paper?

1. London hospitals that use a pay-and-display system in car parks should move to a pay-on exit system. This would avoid overpayment by car owners unable to calculate exactly how long their visit will last and also reduce the stress associated with delays to out-patient appointments. In the case of parking payment machines malfunctioning, this would decrease stress for those fearing missed appointments as a consequence of delays while finding alternative machines or other payment methods. Pay-on-exit systems would also be fairer, as people would only pay for the time that they have actually used.

2. London hospitals should examine the possibility of siting some car park payment machines inside adjacent buildings in order to reduce the possibility of vandalism and to serve as a back-up for payment when machines inside the car parks are broken.

3. London hospitals should look to increase the proportion of car parking spaces that are available to patients and visitors, and pass on any reductions that they are able to make as a result of the increased supply of available public parking spaces.

4. London hospitals should work with Transport for London to produce robust staff travel plans to reduce car usage, including measures to promote public transport, car sharing and other alternatives. These travel plans should include measurable targets and be regularly monitored, with the results published on the hospital’s website. Hospitals and Transport for London should also examine where it would be possible to provide additional public transport links to hospitals in order to reduce car journeys by patients and staff.

Groundbreaking be sure. Central London is well served (possibly overserved in some locations) by public transport and so the only recommendation which even sniffs at the answer is (part) of the fourth one. Travel plans are all well and good, but unless, cost-effective, safe and reliable alternatives to the car are provided, then how will people make the switch? This applies to any workplace. Those on the highest salaries will continue to pay for parking and those who cannot afford (and have no alternatives) can be damned - not the way to run staff relations.

Hospitals and Transport for London should also examine where it would be possible to provide additional public transport links to hospitals in order to reduce car journeys by patients and staff.

Well yes, good point. Except this is exactly what happens now (did he speak to TfL?). The provision of "additional public transport links" is a proxy for buses (nobody is planning railway stations at hospitals) and a great deal of work is put in to get bus routes into or near hospitals. As with any planning, this takes time and often has to align with operator contract renewals. Diverting buses into hospitals is an issue for those going on somewhere else and so route terminations in hospitals might be the answer, although this needs space for bus stops and stands - repurposing of car parks anyone?

No, what we have here is a narrow issue paper coming at a much wider problem with no sophistication. The solutions are, as ever business as usual, and this means thinking about and providing for those with access to cars, rather than providing for mass transport. When people such as Boff start campaigning for free Oyster credit for those with long-term medical needs (rather than free parking); for protected, direct, pedestrian and cycle routes serving hospitals so those who are able travel under their own power can and perhaps a stop to NHS closures and sell-offs (and out of town hospitals) so more services can be provided close to where people live and where they can get to; then I might start taking papers as this more seriously.

As ever, the right of (polite) reply is available and I will be tweeting the link to this post to the GLA Conservatives in case they would like to add more - and I mean something of substance, rather than this being an issue raised by constituents, I want facts and figures. If you have any other current transport thinking from other GLA groups, I should only be too happy to give my opinions ;)

Update 9/1/15
Thanks to Robbob for clarification on the Oyster costs - it is clearly too complicated for idiots like me. Looks like a little cheaper:

Just a couple of corrections to the public transport costs. Capping is available on child zip oystercards (£1.50 for a daily cap). It is also impossible to hit the £11.70 cap for a single off-peak return journey (£10.40 is the maximum possible off-peak fare for a combined national rail/tube journey from zone 6), so the fare would be considerably less than £18.00. Also a 1 day adult bus cap is £4.40 (available on oyster or contactless cards) so there is no need to pre-purchase a £5.00 bus pass.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Looking Forward

Last week's post was a lazy and predictable round up of my 2014 and this week is just as lazy and predictable: things I am looking forward to in 2015.

For those of us in London, we are waiting to see what the outcome of the consultation for the Mayor's North-South and East-West cycle superhighways will bring. I hope they go ahead as consulted, as even with flaws, they are the projects to show what can be done in the UK. I know other places have been quietly getting on with it, but like it or not, the London bubble is high profile and this will really raise the game. Of course, they could be massively watered down and this will be a huge blow.

Closer to home, I am working (with others) on a couple of modest little projects which should at least see the light of public consultation in the next several weeks. For those who know me, they will understand why this is such a hard slog, but as I often say, the small, local wins are just as important as the large in helping to make the bicycle a normal transport mode; make no mistake, it is about infrastructure and changing streets as far as I am concerned. Despite practice from around the world, we just can't seem to push on with things that work here.

I am also going to try and spend more time on walking issues, which was something I spent a fair bit of time looking at before I got interested in cycling infrastructure. Expect to see posts on zebra crossings and shared space in the coming weeks!

We have a general election on 7th May where I hope the chickens come home to roost. It has been 20 years this summer since I left academia and headed off into the world of Civil Engineering; specialising in the highway design and construction in the last decade. An interest in the politics of transport has always been there, but now more than ever. 

We currently have a government which nobody voted for (argue semantics if you like) and who are systematically dismantling our public services and this includes both the public sector and mass transport - and I don't mean private motoring! That is not so suggest that the previous government were that much better and the current opposition has already fallen back on the old "war on the motorist" cobblers because they perceive it to be populist. Interesting times as they say.

I have really enjoyed writing this blog and more recently, my column in Highways Magazine. I am hoping to revisit some of the issues I have written about with the aim of producing some standalone guides which may be useful - there might even be some collaboration to be had - who knows!

I am also working with others on something a little more formal, but can't talk about it just yet - watch this space as ever!

Of course, feel free to suggest topics for blog posts, some of my favourite issues have been suggested by others and it gets my brain working!

Riding my bicycle
Yes, I will be starting my 5th year commuting to work by bicycle on Tuesday. I will also be trying to do as many site visits as possible by bike and I will be getting out to look at new street layouts as often as I am able (they give me lots of blog material of course). I am also looking forward to getting out with my family on 2-wheels in the coming year (logistics depending!).

So, I enter 2015 with optimism (which will probably take a kicking as the clock ticks by). See you in the saddle (and perhaps on foot a little more!)