On Bill Hamilton

Flicking through a 10 year old notebook, one of those ones made from paper and everything, deciding whether to keep these things cluttering up the place or not. Friday 16 January 2004:

Martin Birch reports that he met Bill one day in the department of zoology, and apologised for forgetting to go to Bill’s research seminar the day before. “That’s alright,” said Bill. “As a matter of fact, I forgot it myself.”


On following rules

After suggesting to twitter that somebody who hangs out on a forum called “Bicycle Driving” might be beyond parody, I stumbled upon John Forester’s recent speech given to a Dutch conference — written up as a pseudo-academic “paper” and posted as a PDF (if ever you needed proof that this is a man who won’t be taking to twitter…).

As usual, the paper provides quite an insight. I particularly enjoyed this insight into the vehicular cycling belief system:

My discussion takes it as proved that if all roadway users obey the same rules, they can all use one set of facilities, while if there are two groups of users who obey conflicting rules, they must each have their own facilities.

Leaving aside the exuberance of ways in which this is obviously bollocks, the bit that tickled me most: if users obey rules. That’s quite some if.

Again, amazing how people have this bizarre idea that, unlike big and expensive and difficult engineering solutions, human behaviour is simple and easy to control and change.

Ten baby names to watch out for in 2014

Way back when I worked in academic publishing, assessing newly submitted papers and finding suitable people to peer review them, I encountered hundreds of weird and wonderful names every day. And kept a list of which most amused. Which never got published because, well, it would be mean. But… the work of Dr Armbuster came up on twitter, and… I’m so sorry, all of you, I just couldn’t keep it in.

10. Sadly the legends are not true: Flaccid Trunk Paralysis in Free-ranging Elephants was not written by the legendary veterinary scientist, Everard Koch.

9. Scott H Long. S.H. Long. Heh. Anyone? Hehe. No? Oh well. Next.

8. This paper was written by Jolly & Rogers. Arrr.

7. I love the name Quackenbush. Better even than Hackenbush. I named a fictional character Quackenbush.

6. Professor Richard Titball. Heh. Sorry Prof, but… Heheh. Dick. Tit. Ball.

5. Sadly, Google Translate is now too clever to try to translate Ferdinando di Cunto‘s name. It used to give exactly what you’d expect di Cunto to translate to.

4. It’s Wei Ning Chen. Hallelujah.

3. Rabuesak Khumthong.

2. Riccardo Wanke. Heheh. Dick Wanke. Heh.

1. Post coital aortic dissection: a case report. By Morris-Stiff, Coxon, Ball, and most hilariously of all, Lewis.

Cycling doesn’t have a “very high modal share” on Thames crossings

A quick note on something that keeps popping up and bugging me — a factoid that has been passed through Chinese whispers to become something entirely different, and entirely incorrect. Triggered on this particular occasion by reading The Ranty Highwayman’s account of a talk by Phillip Darnton:

He went on to suggest that we perhaps need to get away from looking at average modal share across the UK as a measure of success and concentrate on areas which are doing well as our base. For example, he cited Cambridge has having a cycling share of 23% for all urban trips and picked central London’s bridges as being places with very high numbers of modal share for cycling.

The original fact comes from 2011:


The original fact was that a quarter of vehicles crossing the Thames on road bridges in Zone 1 during the morning rush hour are now bicycles, and bicycles outnumber cars in that place and at that time. This is determined by manual traffic counts made at specific locations around the city — including each of the crossings — conducted periodically by TfL.

The original fact was promoted by campaigners who suggested that it highlights the need for authorities to be providing space for cycling — and highlights that some of the space could be reallocated from the private car, use of which is in decline.

The fact has been mangled into something about modal share, which is not even slightly the same thing. To suggest that 25% of vehicles on Zone 1 bridges amounts to a 25% mode share for cycling is obviously absurd. TfL rush hour screenline vehicle counts differ from mode share in failing to take into account any of:

  • Pedestrians crossing the bridges (and entirely ignore those traffic-free (and always packed) bridges, like Millennium and Jubilee)
  • Loading on the buses – every bus is One Bus in a vehicle count, regardless of load
  • Passengers on the railway bridges
  • Passengers in the tube tunnels
  • Passengers on the waterbuses
  • Motorists who are making a journey into Zone 1 but doing so by detouring through higher-capacity Zone 2 bridges and tunnels like the Blackwall Tunnel
  • Non-rush hour traffic, which always has a lower share for cycling

Most people get into Zone 1 by public transport, and get around inside it by walking. So screenline vehicle counts entirely ignore what are by far the main Zone 1 modes, and so bear little resemblance to modal share.

That’s not to say the screenline data isn’t useful. But it’s not what people are saying it is, and given the very specific limited methodology, it has very specific limited uses.

I’m reminded again of Dave Horton’s comments:

there are two clear and present problems which bedevil UK cycling advocacy: one is the requirement to trumpet any and all gains, however minor or potentially imaginary, in order for us to legitimate and reproduce ourselves as advocates; the other is a rush to interpret any sign of growth in cycling as both ‘good’ and a clear sign that investments in cycling are paying dividends, when a wider and more critical analysis might concur with neither.

Incidentally, official traffic counts in other places can just as easily give a deflated as an inflated picture of cycling. The DfT counts, for example, focus on busy main roads rather than the sort of "quiet routes" that cycling has been pushed away to over the years. And they completely ignore off-road paths. So in the rare examples where a passable Sustrans rail trail provides an alternative to a main road — between Bristol and Bath, for example — traffic counts will present a massive underestimate of bicycle share.

But this is all getting too far into tedious details for what was meant to just be a quick cautionary note.

On the road haulage lobby

The road haulage lobby briefly grabbed a bit of attention last month when they blamed the victims killed by their industry: http://beyondthekerb.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/cyclists-go-truck-yourselves/

But really, the history of their practices is worth looking at. Mick Hamer (yes, this Mick Hamer) in Wheels Within Wheels reviews how the road freight industry has a history of widespread lawbreaking, lobbying to legalise their behaviour, then afterwards stepping up a gear to break the revised laws — on speed, size, weight, and everything else. Like the boiling frog, we’ve barely noticed as trucks have got bigger, faster, heavier and more destructive in small but frequent increments.

So I noticed in the Stuff Pile these cuttings and site records from 1998, when my father was making the county safe for the last-but-one incremental increase in truck size…

Travel to work in Stevenage

Given that Stevenage seems to be the exemplar du jour of the UK’s unique culture, wedded to the motorcar and impossible to persuade to use a bicycle — a representative sample of the English attitude and environment, and definitely not just a self-selected population of suburbanites in an anomalistic mid-20th century planned-for-cars high-capacity motorway town — I was curious about just how well its transport culture compared to the rest of England, and particularly the places with the greatest potential for cycling: its cities. So I took a quick peek at the 2011 census data, to make a change from using the NTS in these things. Turns out that Stevenage is perhaps representative of the top quintile of most car-dependent districts — and even then, probably only really the Milton Keyneses, Swindons, South Gloucestershires and Bracknells. Local cycling campaigns can perhaps make up their own minds whether their town, or the people in it, is really anything like Stevenage.

Fwd: Barclays and SportsDirect team up to offer discount on helmets

Everyone point and laugh at Barclays and their latest risible contribution to cycling safety PR stunt…

From: Lauri Beecroft <lauri.beecroft>
Date: Mon, May 20, 2013 at 3:45 PM
Subject: Barclays and SportsDirect team up to offer discount on helmets


How are you?

Just wanted to get in touch as Barclays and SportsDirect have teamed up to offer a discount on helmets and thought it may be of interest.

With cycling safety high on the news agenda, Barclays wants to encourage more cyclists to consider wearing a helmet by offering 10 per cent off an extensive range of helmets at SportsDirect.

Please see below for more information, and I’ve attached an image.



Barclays wants to encourage more cyclists to consider wearing a helmet with a new and exclusive discount with the UK’s number 1 sports retailer Sportsdirect.com

As more and more people get on their bikes, whether on their daily commute or enjoying leisurely weekend rides, Barclays, sponsor of Barclays Cycle Hire and Barclays Cycle Superhighways, want to make it as affordable and easy as possible for all cyclists to access a helmet, should they wish to wear one.

Cyclists can receive 10 per cent off Sportsdirect.com’s extensive range of helmets across brands such as Dunlop, Muddyfox and MFX at Sportsdirect.com

Christine Bleakley, Barclays cycling ambassador and keen cyclist, said: “I wouldn’t feel comfortable cycling without a helmet and hope the offer will encourage more cyclists to consider wearing a helmet when on the roads.”

The offer is available until 30 June 2013 and can be redeemed online at www.sportsdirect.com and in over 400 Sportsdirect.com stores nationwide.

Visit www.facebook.com/BarclaysBikes for more information


For more information please contact:

Natasha Lytton


020 3451 9423


  • Barclays is the exclusive sponsor of Barclays Cycle Hire and Barclays Cycle Superhighways in London. The sponsorship is worth up to £50m and runs until 2018.
  • Barclays is committed to supporting local communities and providing a sustainable and positive contribution to London through the sponsorship of Barclays Cycle Hire and Barclays Cycle Superhighways.
  • In 2012, Barclays invested £64.5 million in community programmes globally with 68,000 employees providing their time, skills and money to charitable causes.