Monthly Archives: October 2016

Shared spaces for drivers and pedestrians ‘are causing chaos’ …

The Times, 24 October 2016,

Trendy shared space schemes that attempt to declutter streets by stripping out kerbs, road markings and traffic signs are causing “chaos and catastrophe”, ministers have been told.

The system — adopted by town planners across Britain — has created a “traffic free-for-all” in busy shopping areas, putting pedestrians and cyclists at risk, it was claimed.

The Conservative peer Lord Holmes of Richmond said that at least 14 local councils had scrapped shared space schemes by reintroducing zebra crossings and segregated cycle lanes.

He made the comments as experts prepared to publish a government-backed review of the system this year. The review, led by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, is expected to be critical of the process, saying that planners often fail to ensure an “inclusive environment” is created that benefits motorists and pedestrians at the same time. It suggested that the Highway Code may have to be rewritten to tell drivers how to approach shared spaces.

Shared space was developed in the Netherlands in the 1970s to declutter streets. It seeks to blur the lines between pedestrians and vehicles by taking out kerbs, surface markings, crossings and signs.

Drivers are supposed to reduce their speed because of uncertainty over who has priority. In some areas, zebra crossings have been replaced by “courtesy crossings” that have no basis in law and rely on the goodwill of motorists. About 100 roads have been adapted in Britain, figures suggest.

Safety groups have been highly critical of the development, claiming that it puts pedestrians at risk, particularly those with disabilities or sight problems. MPs from the Commons women and equalities select committee have begun an inquiry into shared spaces and other aspects of the “built environment”.

In a written submission to the inquiry, Lord Holmes, a former Paralympic swimmer, said that shared space had “absolutely failed to achieve an inclusive experience”. He added: “Shared space is not a safe place nor a pleasant place; it has turned high streets into traffic-free-for-alls; it has caused confusion, chaos and catastrophe.”

A number of deaths have been linked to shared space schemes. In 2012 David Thompson, a pensioner, died when he was hit by a bus while crossing a junction without traffic lights or road signs in Coventry.

Lord Holmes reported that 14 schemes had been scrapped in recent years. These included a zebra crossing that was reinstated at a cost of more than £100,000 in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Another crossing was reinstated in Bath after the council was warned that pulling it out had created a safety risk.

In its submission to the inquiry, the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation said that the Highway Code may have to be rewritten to make sure that drivers give proper consideration to pedestrians in shared space areas.

“There may be a requirement to consider how we balance the needs of people driving vehicles and other people in certain areas of our built-up areas, in particular where those needs interact,” it said. “There are a number of ways that this may be achieved, including changes to the Highway Code . . . or to primary legislation.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “We are absolutely clear that the needs of the whole community, including disabled people, need to be considered by councils looking to introduce shared space schemes.”

Sat nav will make sure you get the green light …

The Times, 22 October 2016,

The frustration of continually coming to a halt at traffic lights could be eradicated by technology that guides cars down roads without hitting red signals.

Ford is trialling an in-car system that uses information on traffic light timings to speed or slow vehicles well ahead of signals, making sure they always meet them on green.

The technology is being developed as part of the £20 million government-backed UK Autodrive project, which is also responsible for the development of driverless cars.

There is concern that a sharp increase in the number of traffic lights in towns and cities is fuelling congestion and increasing journey times. It is estimated that regular drivers spend the equivalent of two days every year stuck at red lights.

Earlier this year, a report from the Institute of Economic Affairs found that 80 per cent of traffic lights could be scrapped without making roads more dangerous.

Christian Ress, an expert in driver assist technologies for Ford, said: “There’s not much worse after a long day than to hit one red light after another on the drive home and be forced to stop and start again at every junction.

“Enabling drivers to ‘ride the green wave’ means a smoother, continuous journey that helps to improve the flow of traffic and provide significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption.”

The company is developing technology to be fitted to traffic lights that emits a wi-fi signal to show when signals are about to turn from red to green.

As part of the “green light optimal speed advisory”, this information would be relayed to the car’s inbuilt sat-nav. The driver would then be told which speed to travel at to maximise their chances of hitting green.

The system will also tell motorists stopped at a red light how long they will have to wait for green.

The company is also trialling a system to warn motorists of cars braking sharply ahead. The emergency electronic brake lights system uses wi-fi signals in cars that indicate when it brakes sharply. This can be picked up to 500 metres away so cars can change their speed in advance. Trials are taking place in Milton Keynes and Coventry over the next two years.

Older People Fit to Drive?

The Times leader, 20 October 2016

Older people who can safely get behind the wheel must be allowed to

Cars are heavy metal projectiles that can kill. They can also keep older people in touch with friends, family and work. As the government ponders how to promote the wellbeing of an ageing population it needs to do more to tackle ageism in the workforce. More specifically, it needs to ensure that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency does a better, quicker job of deciding which elderly people are fit to drive, and which are not.

These tasks are linked. New research compiled in part by Andy Briggs, the government’s new “older workers’ champion”, shows that people over 50 looking for a job are five times more likely to get an interview if they do not reveal their age than if they do. At the same time it is clearer by the day that staying in work beyond the statutory retirement age, and staying mobile enough to get to work, gives many older people an extra sense of purpose and belonging as well as money in the bank. It also helps the actuaries struggling to fund pension deficits and the NHS.

In these circumstances it is especially important that older drivers who do not present a danger to others are allowed behind the wheel, yet the DVLA is getting in the way. A detailed study of complaints to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman reveals that “lives have been put on hold for years”, and livelihoods lost, because of a flawed assessment process run by the Drivers’ Medical Group (DMG), a DVLA department.

All drivers over 70 must now renew their licenses every three years. Those with medical conditions are reviewed by the DMG, but too often it has failed to consult patients’ GPs or acknowledge when they have passed eye tests or recovered from illnesses or operations. Inadequate consultation has also been a cause of tragedies when those who should not drive have been allowed to. There is no excuse for it.

Sat-nav maps update aims to prevent stuck lorries …

A multi-million pound sat-nav project aims to stop lorries and other vehicles getting stuck in narrow lanes and under low-lying bridges on UK routes.

Ordnance Survey is creating a database that will contain information about 200,000 miles (321,869km) of roadways to prevent such accidents.

Read more –


Abandoned fire station basement in Dudley rediscovered …

A former firefighters station that has been mysteriously shut away for half a century has been rediscovered.

Based in the former national works in Dudley, it housed the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s company crew.

The station is believed to have been used until the 1960s before it was locked and left untouched for decades.

Investors fear China’s big bus is taking them for ride …

The Times, 11 August 2016,

A “straddling bus” that gained worldwide interest when it was road-tested in China last week may be just a fantastic scam, its investors fear.

They have demanded their money back after criticism of the electric bus’s performance and the discovery that its main production base was still an empty field.

The bus, which was given a brief 300-metre test run in Qinhuangdao last week, glides on rails over traffic jams like a moving tunnel.

Song Youzhou, its inventor, says that a four-car train of electric Transit Elevated Buses (TEBs) could carry 1,200 passengers and travel at up to 37mph over other vehicles.

His company has admitted that the well-publicised trial in Qinhuangdao was an internal test and not a formal road test because the city had made no commitment to the project.

Critics say that the giant bus may turn poorly, prove too heavy for the road and risk constant collisions with unruly drivers who routinely cut into bicycle and emergency lanes to get ahead.

Chinese media discovered this week that despite reports that the futuristic buses would be introduced across the country next year the main TEB production base was just an empty field.

Some investors in TEB, which were promised annual returns of between 10 per cent and 20 per cent, have turned up at its office in the capital demanding their money back, the Beijing News reported.

Huaying Kailai, a company blacklisted for illegal finance activities last year, has sold investment packages in the buses that Chinese media suspect is an illegal peer-to-peer financing scheme. Elaborate scams remain all too common in China.

Mr Song, who said he expected global demand of about 500,000 TEBs, rejected the barrage of criticism. “We haven’t done anything wrong at all,” he told the Shanghai news website Sixth Tone. “The latest tests show that the bus design is entirely possible.”

Mr Song said that the design was best suited to six-lane roads in big cities, where the buses can occupy two lanes in both directions while higher vehicles use other lanes.


Elderly ‘driven to early grave’ by giving up cars …

The Times, 7 September 2016,

Older drivers are among the safest road users in the country and making them give up their cars could send some of them to an early grave, an expert has warned.

“Giving up driving is associated with a huge deterioration in health and wellbeing and may even be linked to speeding up death,” Charles Musselwhite, associate professor of gerontology at Swansea University, said.

“Older people make up 5 per cent of pedestrian activity yet account for 30 per cent of pedestrian deaths and 18 per cent of [those] killed or seriously injured. Crossings are poorly designed for older people and do not allow enough time to cross for over 90 per cent of older people.”

Speaking at the British Science Festival, Dr Musselwhite also suggested that speed limits could be brought down to give older drivers longer to react and that overtaking on some roads could be restricted to designated passing places.

Dr Musselwhite said that old age brings with it deteriorations in eyesight, working memory and cognitive processing speed, and that older drivers often inadvertently break the unspoken rules of the road because of the extra time they need to make manoeuvres. The frustration this causes is a significant source of accidents.

The death rate among drivers in their 70s is lower than the death rate for drivers aged between 17 and 30, according to Department for Transport figures.

Yet in spite of their relatively good safety record, elderly drivers are more liable to make mistakes when they are put under pressure.

“What you get on the road is a bunch of laws, but that’s only one level of it,” Dr Musselwhite said. “Actually, what everyone drives to is a bunch of norms. These are unwritten rules that you only really learn after your test and which you pick up daily as you go about interacting with other bits of traffic.

“Older people often buck those norms, they do something a little bit different or unusual and that upsets people.”

Dr Musselwhite said there was a case for trying to manage this conflict because the number of drivers in their eighth, ninth and tenth decades was projected to increase dramatically over the next few decades.

There are presently four million people aged over 70 with driving licences on Britain’s roads. As life expectancies increase, 90 per cent of men in this age group are forecast to be on the roads by 2030.

Currently all drivers over the age of 70 must re-apply for their licences every three years and politicians frequently come under pressure to make them retake their driving tests.

The AA has published guidance suggesting that people should continue to drive as long as they feel able to do so.


Flat-pack van goes from box to built in 12 hours …

The Times, 7 September 2016,

The world’s first Ikea-style van that can be assembled in only 12 hours has been developed by a British entrepreneur to carry out humanitarian missions in remote parts of Africa.

The flat-pack vehicle can be shipped to the developing world before being put to use transporting food, building materials and people.

The all-terrain van, dubbed the OX, has been designed by Gordon Murray, a Formula One engineer who developed the McLaren F1 supercar.

It is able to be assembled by a three-person non-expert team, can seat 13 and travel up to 620 miles without filling up.

At just over four metres in length, it is far shorter than other pick-ups but can carry almost two tonnes due to its lightweight, super-strong chassis.

The project, which has been in development for five years at a cost of £3 million, has been led by Sir Torquil Norman, the former banker and toy manufacturer, who led the redevelopment of the Camden Roundhouse in north London.

Mr Murray told the BBC that the vehicle ranked “above anything else I’ve ever done”, adding: “Designing expensive sports cars; that reaches a few people. [If] this goes in to mass production, this will help thousands.”

Sir Torquil, who founded the Global Vehicle Trust to lead the project, said: “We believe that the OX has huge potential for charities, aid organisations and development programmes. My dream is to one day see an OX in every village in Africa.”

Three prototypes have been built so far and backers are now seeking funding to continue the development before putting it into mass production.


Angled bays put a new slant on the perfect car park …

The Times, 25 August 2016,

When most people arrive in a full car park, they see a parking problem.

When David Percy arrives in a full car park, he sees a geometry problem and, he says, most car parks have been offering the wrong answer.

Professor Percy, from Salford university, has shown that the conventional car park, with its series of rectangular boxes marked out by white paint, is an inefficient use of space. He found instead that with just minor tweaks you can improve capacity by more than 20 per cent without having to do anything other than use the same white paint to draw lines at an angle.

The inspiration for his research came from a sprucing up of his university car park. The standard rectangular lines were painted over and “this traditional conformity set me thinking”, he wrote in Mathematics Today.

What if the bays were at 45 degrees instead, angled towards the flow of traffic? While some car parks use this system, most do not. But does it have advantages? Might it ensure him more reliable access to departmental meetings?