Monthly Archives: September 2015

20mph limit is becoming city standard …

The Times, 29 September 2015, Graeme Paton

Research shows that the majority of councils in Britain are either lowering or considering lowering the speed limit in residential areas.

Drivers risk fines of £100 and three penalty points for exceeding 20mph, rather than 30mph, the default limit in residential streets, in cities including Bristol, Edinburgh, Norwich, Leicester and London. According to the study by Brake, a road safety charity, 21 per cent of authorities are introducing “widespread” 20mph zones and 36 per cent are carrying out trials.

However, motoring groups argued that blanket 20mph zones were often counterproductive. Edmund King, the president of the AA, said: “If you have such a limit on a road that clearly doesn’t need it then many motorists won’t slow down and this just puts the public at risk.”

Brake obtained data from 206 local councils about their attitudes towards 20mph zones. Extrapolated across Britain, it found that 43 councils operate or plan to operate blanket 20mph limits, and 74 are proposing trials.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “Research shows that 20mph zones can save lives and we have already made it easier and cheaper for councils to introduce them.”


Google’s robot cars taught to cut corners like humans …

The Times, 30 September 2015, James Dean, Technology Correspondent

It is not known whether Google’s self-driving cars are programmed to feel road rage — but they are being taught to cut corners, edge out into traffic and make other human-like manoeuvres.

Google’s cars are, according to one of their makers, too cautious. They repeatedly tap the brakes when they detect danger, affecting nearby human drivers who may stop abruptly.

Months of testing on the streets of Silicon Valley have forced Google to alter its algorithms. According to The Wall Street Journal, its researchers have studied human driving to find that we “cheat” when making manoeuvres.

Google’s cars make wide turns around corners to spot pedestrians more easily. This is not, however, what human drivers do, so the cars are being programmed to hug the kerb more closely, mimicking how we cut corners and, the company hopes, helping to settle the nerves of human drivers.

The cars also edge forward at T-junctions, waiting for other cars to move rather than taking the initiative. This habit is also subject to reprogramming.

Chris Urmson, who is in charge of Google’s driverless cars project, told a conference in July that his team was “trying to make them drive more humanistically” because they were “a little more cautious than they need to be”.

Since 2009 the cars have been rear-ended 12 times, according to documents filed with the California motoring regulator. In all, they have been involved in 16 minor accidents.


Symposium: The war of movement, First World War vehicles and their operation today, LTM, London 3 Oct 2015 …

The war of movement: First World War vehicles and their operation today.
Date Saturday 3 October 2015
Time 9.45–16.30
Location London Transport Museum Depot, 118–120 Gunnersbury Lane, Acton Town, London W3 9BQ
(Underground Acton Town)
Admission £5/£3 concessions
Registration By 25 September via email to

The First World War involved a military transport operation on an unprecedented scale. A hundred years on, some of the vehicles used during the war remain in operation in museums, heritage organisations and in private ownership. The aim of this symposium is to bring together delegates with an interest in these vehicles to share their experiences and to explore the history, operation, preservation and interpretation of First World War transport. The symposium puts vehicle restoration projects such as London Transport Museum’s Battle Bus into the context of the history of the war. The symposium is a platform for heritage organisations, vehicle operators and scholars to share their knowledge and to network.


9.45–10.00 Registration and tea
10.00–10.10 Welcome and introduction to the day
10.10–10.50 Horse Transport in the 14–18 War
Major John Butler, Royal Logistics Corps
10.50–11.30 The Great War Motor Lorry – From Western Front to Restoration
Tim Gosling, The Military Vehicle Trust
11.30–13.10 Guided tours and lunch (provided)
13.10–13.40 Hold tight please! – Restoring a vehicle to an anniversary deadline
Tim Shields, London Transport Museum
13.40–14.10 From the Strand to the Somme, Return Fare – Interpretation and
Operation of Battle Bus
Dr Katariina Mauranen, London Transport Museum
14.10–14.50 1916 Maudslay project at Coventry Transport Museum
Chris van Schaardenburgh, the Tank Museum
14.50–15.20 Coffee
15.20–16.00 Evaluation of Structural Failures Influenced by Corrosion and Wear
in Large Military Vehicles
Dr Adil Saeed, Bournemouth University
16.00–16.30 Panel and closing remarks


Roadworks must not last for more than two miles …

The Times, 22 September 2015, Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent

Long stretches of roadworks are to be banned from motorways and major A-roads in England under government plans to cut congestion on the country’s busiest roads, The Times has learnt.

Highways chiefs have been told to limit work to short stretches — usually up to two miles at a time — to prevent motorists being caught in extreme delays. The move is intended to stop contractors closing multiple lanes and imposing speed restrictions for up to 20 miles.

Ministers are believed to have demanded the changes after particular concerns over roadworks on the M1 and M3, which have frustrated motorists for years.

Major works on the M1 include stretches near Northampton and Chesterfield, as well as upgrades around Wakefield, Nottingham and Luton.

In all, a “corridor” of five sets of roadworks on the main north-south motorway spans more than 100 miles.

Disruption across England is likely to escalate in the coming years due to a £15.2 billion government plan to improve the strategic roads network. It will involve resurfacing at least 80 per cent of motorways and main A-roads and the creation of more than 1,300 additional miles of highways by 2020.

Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, has ordered Highways England to implement stringent new rules for its highways upgrade, likely to begin within a year.

In meetings with Highways England, which maintains the network of motorways and major A-roads, he has ordered that work is undertaken in stretches of no longer than two miles each. He has also requested better communication with road users to allow drivers to plan alternative routes. This includes explaining the reason for work and the length of time it will take.

His demands come after the publication of statistics showing that more than one fifth of journeys on motorways are subjected to delays and traffic levels have risen by 50 per cent in the past two decades.

A Conservative source said: “There’s a balance to be struck between our long-term investment programme, which will deliver economic growth, and minimising disruption to drivers.

“We want to see common-sense measures to keep the roads moving in the short term. To their credit, Highways England are listening.” It is believed that work on motorways and main A-roads will be limited to one or two miles at a time to minimise congestion, with a maximum of five miles of work carried out in extreme cases.

The move will result in engineers carrying out major projects in smaller chunks rather than one large-scale closure of lanes continuing for miles.

According to Inrix, the traffic information company, the longest stretch of roadwork currently lasts for more than 18 miles between junctions 28 and 31 of the M1 near Chesterfield.

It is followed by 15 miles on the M3 near Farnborough and almost 14 miles on the M1 at Northampton. Other major projects include upgrades of the M60 and M62 around Manchester, the M6 near Birmingham and Lancaster, the M45 near Rugby and the A1 at Gateshead. Many of the most disruptive projects involve the construction of “smart motorways” where the hard shoulder is converted into an extra lane and differential speed limits are imposed to keep traffic flowing.

Highways England, which took responsibility for the main roads network from the Highways Agency earlier this year, said it carried out most work at night and lifted many projects at busy holiday periods such as Christmas.

A spokesman said: “We want to provide a better, safer experience for road users on England’s motorways and major A-roads, including throughout roadworks where major upgrades are being carried out.

“We are committed to minimising disruption from roadworks even further and are exploring managing work in different ways while ensuring good value for money for the public.”


Measure allotments in ‘London buses’ …

The Times letetrs, 24 August 2015

Sir, I am increasingly confused by recent correspondence on the size of allotments which offers sizes in sq m, sq yards, acres, rods and perches. Could you revert to the more traditional unit of measurement — the London bus? I suspect comparison with the size of Wales may not assist.

David Staples

London N8


London drives (slowly) to record as Europe’s most congested city …

The Times, 24 August 2015, Kaya Burgess

London may consider itself to be the cultural capital of Europe, but it has also become the traffic capital, stealing top spot as the most congested city on the continent for the first time.

Drivers in London spend four whole days (96 hours) each year stuck on the capital’s traffic-choked roads — almost twice as long as the 52 hours drivers lose in Manchester each year.

London was ranked eighth in 2011, but climbed to third in 2012. It overtook Antwerp, in Belgium, in 2013 to take second spot, and has this year overtaken Brussels to top the list of Europe’s most congested cities, helping move the UK up to fifth place in the list of the worst affected European countries.

The five most gridlocked roads in Britain are all in the capital, with drivers on the A217 losing 139 hours, or almost six days, per year in jams. Motorists using the A215 and A4 in London also lose more than 100 hours a year in tailbacks.

Inrix, the transport analysts, found that London drivers spent an average of 14 hours more in traffic in 2014 compared with 2013. The worst areas in the UK after London are Greater Manchester, Merseyside, greater Belfast and greater Birmingham. Drivers across the UK lost an average of 30 hours in traffic in 2014.

Researchers attributed the rise in traffic delays to a growth in the economy and increased employment. Bryan Mistele, from Inrix, said: “The strong growth of the UK economy and rise in urban populations have resulted in an increase in the demand for road travel, significantly driving up levels of congestion across the country.”

Garrett Emmerson, from Transport for London, said: “We are seeing unprecedented increases in population and this, combined with strong economic growth and the consequent increase in building and construction, creates more traffic.”

Inrix’s report said: “Of the 12 European countries analysed in the report, more than half (53 per cent) experienced a rise in levels of congestion in 2014 compared to 2013, reflective of steady economic growth. Nations struggling with high unemployment and low or negative economic growth typically recorded lower levels of traffic congestion compared to 2013.”

Belgium ranked as the most congested country, with drivers losing 58 hours to jams each year. Dutch drivers lose 45 hours, Germans lose 35 and Luxembourgers 32 hours, the data show. London’s high level of congestion comes despite the fact that, in the 2011 census, London had the lowest proportion of people commuting by car or van, at only 26.3 per cent, a fall from 33.5 per cent in 2011.

Manchester ranks 11th in the list of Europe’s most congested cities, with Merseyside 22nd and Belfast 25th.

Analysts at Inrix said that Europe remains “on the long road to gridlock” and warned that the problem could not be fouight “by simply adding lane miles in the metropolitan areas”.

The authorities in London are building a series of cycle superhighways crisscrossing the capital to create a safe environment that will encourage more people to commute by bicycle.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said last year: “Central London is still dominated by motor vehicles . . . We are reducing that dominance, making the centre more pleasant for the vast majority and allocating road space to reflect the actual usage of central London roads.”


Boris drives through ban on unsafe HGVs …

The Times, 2 September 2015, Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent

New restrictions could be placed on delivery vans in London amid fears that cyclists are being put at risk by a boom in internet shopping.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said that more needed to be done to reduce the congestion they cause after figures suggested that the number of vans in the city would soar by a fifth in the next 15 years.

The measures could include those used during the 2012 Olympics, such as altering delivery times to avoid rush-hour traffic, rerouting vans away from congestion hotspots, marshalling deliveries towards special collection centres and encouraging the use of cycle couriers.

The mayor said that a similar crackdown was needed on minicabs, with the rise of Uber, the booking app, driving a sharp increase in the number of licensed passenger vehicles in the capital.

Mr Johnson made the comments as he introduced a ban on HGVs driving in London without safety equipment to protect cyclists and pedestrians.

In the first move of its kind in Britain, all lorries must be fitted with side guards that prevent cyclists being dragged under the wheels and large mirrors to give drivers a better view of the road.

Transport for London said that other measures were also under consideration, including forcing HGVs to have bigger side windows in the lower panel of the cab door to give drivers direct sight of any cyclists on the road alongside them. Electronic sensors may also be required, and HGVs could be restricted to the routes with the fewest cyclists.

The measures introduced this week follow the deaths of eight cyclists in London so far this year, seven in crashes involving lorries. Figures published in February showed an average of 12 accidents involving cyclists a day.

HGV operators can be fined £1,000 for each breach of the new rules and vehicles can even be banned from driving in London altogether.

Yesterday Mr Johnson said that a “very disproportionate share of cyclist deaths and serious injuries are caused by lorries” and that the scheme would save lives. However, he admitted that action might be needed to curb delivery vans, which have increased sharply in recent years amid an increase in people shopping online.

The changes follow the publication of figures from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency showing that almost 3.5 million small delivery vehicles were registered last year, a rise of a quarter over the past decade.

In London alone, 7,300 vans enter the city an hour during the peak morning rush period, and the DVLA predicted that the figure would swell to almost 9,000 within the next 16 years.

Mr Johnson said: “We think by 2031 there will be a 20 per cent increase in white van traffic just because of internet shopping. We need to do things to reduce congestion from commercial vehicles: marshalling commercial vehicles more efficiently, minimising the number of journeys.”

In the summer of 2012 delivery firms were encouraged to operate outside of rush-hour periods and to consider using more efficient loads.

Mr Johnson said: “You can do what we did during the Olympics, where we had a regime that tried to have specific marshalling points in areas where big loads are brought in and then dispersed in a more rational and efficient way.

“It is a big technical problem. Internet shopping is creating more traffic and we need to address it.”

He added: “We think there are too many minicabs that have been licensed — that’s adding to the congestion. We need to be able to control the number of minicab licences.”

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Hydrogen fuel station lands next to the M1 …

The Times, 14 September 2015, Robert Lea.

It’s all very Raymond Baxter, a Tomorrow’s World of driverless cars zooming around powered on hydrogen. The first part of that dream is the buzz of an automotive industry bringing together the next generation of sensors, onboard computers and pinpoint GPS. As for hydrogen — well, the future has arrived.

On Thursday a hydrogen refuelling station will open just off the M1, in Rotherham. It will mean that the first generation of hydrogen fuel-cell cars — the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai FCV ix35 — with ranges of 350 miles and more, the same as conventional petrol and diesel vehicles, can comfortably drive up from London, around the north and return home.

The M1 plant, barely the size of a couple of football pitch penalty boxes, also represents the future of hydrogen production. The South Yorkshire forecourt — you can spot it some way off because of its towering wind turbine — will be producing green hydrogen on site, taking power from the turbine or the grid, adding water, putting it through three stacks of electrolysis fuel cells and splitting the H from the O, the oxygen byproduct. The hydrogen is pushed into your car via high-pressure nozzle looking much like a petrol pump.

This is the brainchild of ITM Power, an AIM-listed, Sheffield-based company. Graham Cooley, its chief executive, calls is “a major turning point. This is the launch of a new fuel, one with no carbon molecules and located on the UK’s major highway.”

There are a few existing hydrogen fuel stations powered by industrial gases companies such as BOC and Air Products, sited mostly for bus and van hydrogen schemes. ITM is rolling out more publicly available refuelling stations: at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, west London; at the Rainham Centre of Engineering Excellence in east London; and at a garden centre at Denham on the M40 in Buckinghamshire. It has also signed up with Big Oil to put its unobtrusive hydrogen-making containers into three as-yet-unnamed Shell filling stations in the southeast.

Dr Cooley believes that the UK will have 65 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2020 and promises that when economies of scale arrive, the pump price will be significantly lower than petrol or diesel.

But he does have a beef with government, which “has not been a keen fuel cell supporter and needs to start putting its back behind it”.


Driverless cars arrive on British streets …

The Times, 15 September 2015,Graeme Paton

Britain’s first driverless cars will be revealed today as scientists prepare to start full public trials of the technology in the UK.

Two-person “pods” will run on pedestrianised areas in Milton Keynes as part of a £19 million scheme to develop autonomous vehicles. The electric cars, capable of speeds of 15mph, will be designed to travel between the station and a shopping centre.

Three vehicles will be shown today before being taken to the University of Oxford’s mobile robotics group to be fitted with autonomous sensors. Full trials will begin in Milton Keynes within a month.

Others will take place in Greenwich and Bristol.

Andrew Jones, the roads minister, hailed the trial as a key milestone. “Driverless cars will benefit our society, the economy and road safety which is why we are investing millions into research and trials,” he told The Times.

The development is being led by the Transport Systems Catapult, a government-backed research centre.


Single-lane A-roads far more dangerous than motorways …

Motorists are eight times more likely to be badly injured on single-lane A-roads than on motorways, research shows.

A new report found that the risk factor was significantly higher on single carriageways because of the lack of lay-bys and crash barriers as well as the presence of dangerous junctions.

The study found that 18 per cent of the busiest roads had an “unacceptably high risk”, up from 14 per cent a year earlier. Researchers also identified the ten most dangerous stretches of roads in Britain and found that all were single carriageway A-roads.

The A18 between Laceby and Ludborough, Lincolnshire, was found to be the most dangerous road, with 17 fatal or serious crashes between 2011 and 2013 on a 16km (ten-mile) stretch, up from ten in the previous three-year period.

The A36 at Totton, west of Southampton, was the second worst road, with 17 deaths on a 6km stretch, up from 12 in the previous three years. Other blackspots include the A44 between Llangurig and Aberystwyth, in mid-Wales, and the A532 in Crewe.

The Road Safety Foundation, which published the report, said that A-roads should be given a greater share of funding to address urgent safety concerns.

Lord Whitty, chairman of the foundation, said: “On many A-roads, the margin for human error is often small. The largest single cause of death is running off the road, where poor roadside protection can see brutal impacts.”

For motorways, 95 per cent of the network was deemed low risk and 5 per cent low-medium risk. For dual carriageways, 25 per cent were low risk and 75 per cent low-medium risk. No part of the single carriageway network was considered low risk.

The report comes weeks before Highways England, which is responsible for maintaining England’s strategic roads network, publishes a blueprint to reduce accidents. Its goal is to ensure that the serious accident rate on major roads is “close to zero” by 2040.

A Highways England spokesman said the organisation had pledged that 90 per cent of its roads would have the highest safety ratings by 2020, adding: “England’s motorways and major A-roads are some of the safest in the world but we are committed to improving safety even further.”