Azara Blog: March 2011 archive complete

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Date published: 2011/03/30

Cambridge Cycle Campaign's fantasy future (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Cycling enthusiasts have unveiled the transport wish-list they believe could persuade travellers to make 40 per cent of all journeys on two wheels.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign want the city's education, employment and retail areas to be joined in a "Cycle Super Highway" with the train station and argue a north-south track known as the "Chisholm Trail" is the missing link.

It would go from the junction of the guided busway with Milton Road to the railway line near Chesterton, which it would follow to the station and down to Addenbrooke's Hospital.

The campaign's Cycling Vision 2016, published this week, also calls for improved cycle lanes on key routes such as East Road and Newmarket Road - often at the expense of space for motorists - and argues riders need to be given greater priority at junctions.

Suggestions include creating two roundabouts at the junction of Coldham's Lane and Brooks Road, one inside the other, one for motor vehicles and one for cyclists, and turning Mitcham's Corner from a "racetrack" gyratory into a signalled junction.

Currently just over one in five journeys in Cambridge are made by bike but the campaign believes the target should be two in five.

It hopes 20 per cent of all journeys in the wider county could be made on two wheels. Robin Heydon, a spokesman for the group, said: "Our vision is that by filling in the gaps in the current network, and improving the existing road environment, we can all benefit.

"More people cycling reduces traffic congestion and brings economic benefits to companies in Cambridge and the surrounding villages."

The report calls for "blanket 20mph speed limits" to be introduced where there is insufficient space for a high-quality cycle lane, especially in residential areas. It also argues for many more cycle parking spaces, including an extra 5,500 at the station.

It concludes that Cambridgeshire "needs to invest in world-class infrastructure to remain the economic heart of the eastern counties" and Martin Lucas-Smith, the campaign's co-ordinator, called on Cambridgeshire County Council to include the proposals in a forthcoming bid to the local sustainable transport fund.

The council is hoping to secure up to £5 million of funding for transport improvements across the county from this fund.

Cllr Roy Pegram, the authority's infrastructure chief, said: "Cycle schemes in Cambridge are very likely to be part of the bid, but there are other equally pressing priorities such as community transport.

"We will be working with partners such as the Cycling Campaign to prioritise schemes, maximise our chances of funding from the fund, and to identify other funding sources."

The report says there have been significant improvements in cycling in and around Cambridge in recent years, including work on Gilbert Road and Hills Road bridge.

These have helped to push the proportion of journeys made by bike up from 18 per cent to 21 per cent.

But it says some schemes have been "compromised", for example, the absence of a signalled crossing of the A14 slip road on the link between Fen Ditton and Horningsea.

The campaign says the Madingley Road cycleway falls short of expectations, particularly because of missing sections, and complains councillors "succumbed to localised pressure" to remove traffic calming measures from the Gilbert Road scheme.

It is unfortunate that the Cambridge News continually publishes what amounts just to press releases for the Cambridge Cycling Campaign (CCC). Here the only commentary they have added is a (typically) feeble remark from Roy Pegram.

It is also unfortunate that the CCC are still whining about Gilbert Road. They were advocating that Gilbert Road should be demolished with speed bumps, and one of the obvious consequences of that is that drivers would have rat run down other, more minor, roads in Arbury, particularly north / east of Gilbert Road. Cyclists (including CCC members) who live in Arbury (unlike Lucas-Smith), and who also have some common sense, understood this, but unfortunately the CCC ruling elite do not. Or perhaps they just do not care, since, as with all special interest pressure groups, their only goal in life is to promote their own narrow partisan agenda against the interests of society as a whole.

As for Mitcham's Corner, perhaps the CCC has not noticed that there are already traffic lights there on the southern section. Needless to say you could add even more traffic lights. But halfway competent cyclists cope perfectly well with the system as it is and traffic lights would just slow them down. And incompetent cyclists can get off their bike and use the zebras and pelican crossings perfectly easily.

And needless to say, Cambridgeshire does not need to invest in cycling at all in order to "remain the economic heart of the eastern counties", that is just CCC fantasy talk.

As pointed out, only 1 in 5 journeys currently occur by bike and the CCC is arbitrarily pushing for this to be 2 in 5. Needless to say, they (and the rest of the Cambridge ruling elite) are already intolerant and obnoxious to motorists as it is, when they are a small minority. Imagine how intolerant and obnoxious they would be if cyclists became almost a majority.

And of course most of the people who currently do not cycle, do not cycle because they have no desire to cycle. But the academic middle class control freaks in the CCC think they know what is best for the "peasants", and forcing them out of their cars is evidently what is "best" for them, according to the CCC. Britain is not a nation of shopkeepers, Britain is a nation of control freaks, and the CCC ruling elite is a perfect example of that.

The CCC claim that "people cycling reduces traffic congestion" is obviously completely wrong if the way they want to achieve more people cycling is to reduce road capacity for cars, as they are proposing (that is what the phrase "at the expense of space for motorists" means).

Date published: 2011/03/29

Another pointless UN report on climate change, this one on cities (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Urban areas are set to become the battleground in the global effort to curb climate change, the UN has warned.

The assessment by UN-Habitat said that the world's cities were responsible for about 70% of emissions, yet only occupied 2% of the planet's land cover.

While cities were energy intensive, the study also said that effective urban planning could deliver huge savings.
Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat, said the global urbanisation trend was worrying as far as looking to curb emissions were concerned.

"We are seeing how urbanisation is growing - we have passed the threshold of 50% (of the world's population living in urban areas)," he told BBC News.

"There are no signs that we are going to diminish this path of growth, and we know that with urbanisation, energy consumption is higher.

According to UN data, an estimated 59% of the world's population will be living in urban areas by 2030.
Dr Clos told BBC News that while climate change was a problem that affected the entire world, individual towns and cities could play a vital role in the global effort to curb emissions.

"The atmosphere is a common good, which we all depend upon - every emission is an addition to the problem," he explained.

But, he added: "Consumption is carried out at an individual level; energy consumption is also an individual choice.

"This is why local governments and communities can a big role, even when their national governments do not accept or acknowledge the challenges."

Unfortunately the actual report is not available online and they want you to buy a paper copy (how green) for 90 pounds. All they have online are various press releases, which contain summaries but nothing about the methodology.

It is not even clear if they are reporting carbon emissions correctly. For example, the British government reports that British emissions are down on 1990 levels but one of the main reasons is that emissions have been moved off-shore, mainly to China, and so the emissions are not being counted correctly. It's quite likely that the UN report underestimates the emissions of people living in cities.

There is a growing trend amongst certain members of the academic middle class to claim that cities are much more environmentally friendly than suburbs and rural areas. The UN figures, even if they are an underestimate, make that claim evidently false. So 50% of the world lives in cities and 70% of emissions are due to cities. So although people who live in cities are generally more energy efficient (so have a higher GDP per energy input) this does not mean they use less energy overall, and indeed it usually means the opposite.

There are three main factors that determine how much you contribute to emissions, and none of these have to do with where you live, which is a secondary factor:

Needless to say, these factors are rarely discussed. Also relevant is the percentage of emissions you contribute to but do not have to pay the actual cost for (because that is equivalent to earning more money) but that is likely not to vary that much from person to person when calculated correctly, so is likely to be a secondary effect.

The remarks by Clos that "energy consumption is also an individual choice" is technically correct but completely vacuous. Clos is not poor. Clos is not young. Who knows how many children he has, but you can guarantee that Clos, like the rest of his class, is responsible for far, far more emissions than the average citizen of the rich world, never mind the average citizen of the entire world. Perhaps he should pause and reflect on his own energy consumption before he lectures everyone else in this way.

Date published: 2011/03/22

Law Commission believes experts can be vetted by non-experts (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Proposals to prevent people being wrongly convicted or acquitted on the basis of flawed expert evidence have been outlined by the Law Commission.

It says judges in England and Wales should be able to exclude evidence from experts such as scientists and doctors.

Evidence would fail a reliability test if an opinion was based on "flawed data", "unjustifiable assumptions" or techniques were not "properly applied".

In 1998, Mark Dallagher was found guilty of murder on the basis of expert evidence that he had left a unique ear print on a window pane at the crime scene.

After almost seven years in prison, Mr Dallagher was freed when DNA tests showed the ear-print was not his.

The Commission said the case demonstrates why courts should have a statutory power to prevent juries hearing unreliable expert evidence.

And the evidence of the paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow was used in the Angela Cannings prosecution, which involved sudden infant death.

Mrs Cannings was found guilty of smothering her seven-week-old son in 1991 and her 18-week-old son eight years later.

These convictions were later overturned.

The judges who released her ruled that no-one should be prosecuted solely on the basis of medical opinion which was disputed between experts.

There are plenty of reasons for flawed convictions in English courts. For example, you can be convicted pretty much just on circumstantial evidence and on innuendo spread by the police and prosecuting authority and the media. And, as this article points out, you can be convicted based on flawed "expert" testimony. But the idea that judges will be able to figure out that some "experts" are not so expert beggars belief. In particular, how in the world are they going to know if an opinion is 'based on "flawed data", "unjustifiable assumptions" or techniques were not "properly applied"'? Would any judge currently seriously allow testimony to be taken at face value if it were deemed "flawed" or "unjustifiable"?

Needless to say, all "experts" have a world view and a paymaster, and that will influence their expressed opinion. But it is extremely unlikely that any non-expert will be able to pick holes in the evidence of an expert, at least during the initial trial. Most people (including "experts" and lawyers and judges) do not even understand the rudimentary principles of probability, and that is the main issue in many cases (e.g. the Cannings prosecution).

Date published: 2011/03/11

Alan Johnson has no argument for the Alternative Vote system (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Alan Johnson has criticised trade unions planning to campaign against changing the UK voting system.

The former home secretary, who backs a switch to the Alternative Vote, said electoral reform was a "founding principle" of the union movement.

Reports that most union leaders would campaign to keep first-past-the-post were "depressing", he said.

Alternative Vote (AV) is a bodge created out of thin air by the LibCon coalition just to keep the LibCon coalition together. The idea that anyone should support this system just because they have supposedly supported some aspect of electoral "reform" (i.e. change) in the past is bizarre. Hopefully Alan Johnson has a real argument in support of AV and not just this pathetic complaint.

Unfortunately, the real argument of most AV supporters seems to be that although AV is not very good (and will unlikely have much of an impact at all on election results), once the voters approve this arbitrary change to the electoral system, they will presumably be open to further arbitrary changes in future, especially once they discover that AV has changed nothing.

In particular, what the Lib Dems really want is some form of Proportional Representation (PR). AV will not help the Lib Dems, and PR would, assuming they survive as a political party, that is.

MPs want to throw money at the so-called Green Investment Bank (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK could lose out on hundreds of billions of pounds in green investment and fail to meet climate change targets if the government compromises on its Green Investment Bank, MPs have warned.

The Environmental Audit Committee said the bank must be free to raise additional capital from investors.

The government has pledged to establish the bank with £1bn of capital to fund clean energy and low-carbon projects.

Concerns are growing the coalition could water down its plans.

These also involve placing unspecified proceeds from the sale of government assets into the bank.

The MPs said there have been reports of disagreement within the government about whether the Green Bank should be a fully-fledged investment bank, with the ability to borrow money and raise capital, or simply a fund.

There are concerns that if the Office for National Statistics classifies the bank as public sector it could undermine the government's deficit reduction strategy, the committee said.
Evidence given to the committee suggests the UK will need to raise between £200bn and £1 trillion over the next 10 to 20 years if it is to meet the government's climate change and renewable energy targets.

Traditional sources of private fundraising are only likely to deliver between £50bn and £80bn, accountants Ernst & Young told the committee.

"A proper green investment bank... is the shot in the arm the UK economy needs," said Ed Matthew of campaign group Transform UK.

"The only cost the Treasury should consider is the cost of failure to unleash this institution's massive potential to re-power our economy."

The previous Labour government committed the UK to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050, and for 20% of all electricity consumption to come from renewable energy sources by 2020.

The coalition government has said it backs the targets.

Most scientists agree that without dramatic reductions in carbon emissions, global temperatures will continue rising to dangerous levels.

The direct and indirect impacts of these higher temperatures, research suggests, could cost the global economy hundreds of billions of pounds a year.

Needless to say, the devil will be in the detail. But it is bizarre that MPs (and the other usual suspects, including BBC journalists, it seems) think that because something is called "Green", it is in fact "green". It is not at all obvious that this new "bank" will do anything one way or the other to really help the country or the world, environmentally or otherwise. If the government, or anyone else with political interests rather than economic interests, has any say in how the bank operates, then it can be pretty nearly guaranteed that what it will fund will be politically correct rather than sensible, costing the country billions of pounds.

And depending on how the bank is funded and its liabilities covered, then it is quite possible that the Office for National Statistics should classify the bank as public sector. One of the most ridiculous aspects of the Labour government was that it introduced PFI precisely to hide debt "off balance sheet", something for which the country will be paying through the nose for in the decades to come. That MPs still want to encourage this kind of sham accounting with this new "bank" is not a good sign that they have learned any lessons from the past decade.

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