The sad reality of cycling in London

As a cyclist living in London I’ve watched the last few days of Olympic competition with great interest. Before the track events even started Team GB knocked up an impressive performance in both the road race and time trial events, culminating with Bradley Wiggins’s impressive win at Hampton Court yesterday.

But we were all brought back down to earth following the tragic news from last night of the young man who was killed last night on one of the roads around the Olympic park.

I first heard the news this morning, while driving into work. The reality was illustrated to me a mile or so further down the road.

Driving up the triple-lane westbound A4 from the Chiswick roundabout, I saw a cyclist on the road a hundred yards or so in front of me. I was in the nearside lane, he was moving out towards the offside lane to get out of the two other lanes (photo) which lead onto the M4 elevated section.

Shortly after he did so two cars overtook me, and passed him simultaneously, one overtaking him in the offside lane, the other undertaking in the middle lane. He was left sandwiched between them, cycling along the white line dividing the two lanes.

I felt for the guy. Unfortunately it seems indicative of the sort of behaviour one often sees on the road, with drivers treating cyclists as if they were invisible. Thankfully he was alright.

Now, you might think ‘why was he cycling in the road?’. The pavement alongside the westbound carriageway is a good few metres wide (unusually so for London), with a two-cycle path running down its length, which nicely bypasses the sliproad leading up onto the motorway by skirting around and underneath it.

The problem is the state of the thing. Bus stops, lamp posts and other street furniture sit right alongside it and even straddle it in some cases. Side roads cut across it with no apparent right of way for cyclists proceeding along it. Worse of all, the surface is full of so many bumps and potholes it’s worse than the surface of the moon.

Unless you have a good mountain bike you’re better in the road. That is the sad truth behind the cycle infrastructure that we do have, that even where it does exist you are often better off ignoring it and cycling down a tree-lane dual carriageway with traffic coming past you at 40mph.

I agree with Bradley Wiggins that both motorists and cyclists need to give more consideration of each other. But more importantly we need to rid ourselves of this 1950s vision of urban planning that the car is king and start putting cyclists on a more equal footing. Only then will we start to see fewer deaths and injuries on our roads.

Ordnance Survey Consultation

I finally got round to completing some responses to the Ordnance Survey Free consultation being run by DCLG, which closed yesterday. Not that I like to leave things to the last minute, of course.

When I first signed up to the data.go.uk beta last year it was a pretty basic site and was password-protected. There’s been some amazing progress since then, but there is still work to be done in persuading public bodies like OS that they should provide their data on equivalent terms to the datasets already released.

I got an out-of-office auto-reply, which apparently constitutes acknowledgement that I’ve officially had my say.

Question 1: What are your views or comments on the policy drivers for this consultation?

As the Cambridge Study shows there are clear social drivers for releasing many of the ‘unrefined’ products. As noted, there is clearly a cost associated with making this information more widely available and in order to ensure that benefits are maximised it is essential that the OS engages with external stakeholders before determining the format and licensing applied to released data.

I strongly disagree with the suggestion that contributors to the mapping data should be charged in order to update geographical data, since this may act as a disincentive for providing this data which is so valuable for ensuring OS maps are up-to-date.

Question 2: What are your views on how the market for geographic information has evolved recently and is likely to develop over the next 5-10 years?

The arrival of the Internet as a mass distribution channel has fundamentally changed the way mapping information is accessed and has the potential to greatly increase accessibility to this data for a wider variety of purposes at a low cost. Therefore the changes that have occurred in the last few years have changed the way in which mapping data is consumed.

Although this trend is expected to continue as licensing changes accelerate the usage of data, the next 5-10 years will see bigger changes in the way mapping data is collected as the Internet moves from a model of mass publishing and consumption to a more collaborative model. This second model is generally referred to as Web 2.0 and heralds significant changes for any organisation involved in the collection and publishing of information.

Groups such as OpenStreetMap (OSM) provide a good example of this model in a cartographic context. OS should increasingly look to leverage external groups and individuals such as this in the collection of data if it is to lower the cost of data collection, which could offset any short-term loss of revenue caused by the proposed licensing changes.

The goal of OS from it’s conception was to provide a comprehensive set of mapping data for the United Kingdom and crowd-sourcing models such as this have the potential to significantly widen this coverage to cover the entire globe. Such a database would not be possible for a single organisation to put together, but the distributed nature of contributors in OSM has allowed previously poorly-mapped countries such as Haiti to be surveyed to the level of detail required to conduct relief operations, at zero cost.

However, in order to allow contributions from diverse organisations to sit alongside each other in harmony, changes are needed to allow a more permissive licensing arrangement.

Question 3: What are your views on the appropriate pricing model for Ordnance Survey products and services?

Generally, the existence of any price-based model for providing access to OS products acts as an inhibitor to innovation and maximising the use of those resources, since it not only limits their availability to those with the necessary financial capital, but also (even where a low price is charged) places additional restrictions on the reuse of products in order to ensure that future revenue streams to OS are not compromised.

The dilemma presented is therefore how to provide free access to OS data on reasonable terms, while continuing to retain a profit-making function in order to recoup the substantial costs of maintaining that data. Therefore in the short term at least a differential pricing model may provide the best way forward for all parties involved. Such an arrangement might perhaps provide free access to certain ‘raw’ datasets while continuing to charge for others, providing free data to any non-commercial entity while continuing to charge profit-making entities, or a combination of the two approaches.

Question 4: What are your views and comments on public sector information regulation and policy, and the concepts of public task and good governance as they apply to Ordnance Survey?

The regulations outlined provide a broad overview of the legislation affecting public sector bodies such as Ordnance Survey who produce data in the course of their day-to-day activities.

Increasingly regulations such as the IFTS are focussing on how maximum benefit can be obtained from this data through re-use by others. Since this affects data which has been collected using finances from the public purse, in my view this even places a moral duty on OS to make the collected data available to the entire public audience on a non-discriminatory basis, regardless of their ability to pay or otherwise. But the clear pragmatic argument is also made that wider re-use will produce larger incomes as innovative uses of data allow new businesses to succeed, who will in turn pay their own taxes and business rates.

On the question of Governance, a larger role in driving OS policy should be given to external stakeholders in the organisation such as those using the data. This could take the form of an elected advisory council, who are able to make their own recommendations to the board.

Question 5: What are your views on and comments on the products under consideration for release for free re-use and the rationale for their inclusion?

Providing access to gazetteer, boundary and postcode data is essential as no authoritative nationwide database exists at present to provide this information on an unrestricted basis for re-use by others.

Raster data should be provided at the outline level, as given the many different ways in which raster views may be generated from different data sets and layers, it may be preferable for OS to leave the diversity of such content to be defined to the marketplace. Provided that the raw data is available, others will be able to produce their own raster versions as required.

Question 6: How much do you think government should commit to funding the free product set? How might this be achieved?

In the short term, Government should commit to the necessary capital required to compensate for any short term fall in licensing revenue from Central or Local government departments. This can be justified by the reasoning that the extra costs are being offset by savings within those departments, and due to the reduction in administrative overheads would likely provide a net saving overall.

Government should also, as the sponsor of these changes, commit to providing any required funding to aid with the transitory period, such as new IT systems required to host the data.

Given the current economic situation, any costs met by Government should be costs that can be demonstrated will be paid back later down the line, either in savings in other departments, or as efficiency savings within OS itself.

Question 7: What are your views on how free data from Ordnance Survey should be delivered?

It is essential that the data is made available in open formats as electronic files in order to allow re-use by the widest range of individuals and organisations. Where a choice exists between providing information in a widely-used proprietary format and a lesser-used but open format, the open format should be chosen since it represents a lower risk to the publisher and ultimately will enable greater choice on the part of the consumer.

Data may also be made available in other formats such as DVD and a reasonable charge could be made for such formats.

As stated, it is essential that the OS engages with external stakeholders before determining the format and licensing applied to released data.

Question 8: What are your views on the impact Ordnance Survey Free will have on the market?

Providing some or all of OS’s data under a free license may affect other suppliers who have previously relied on such data being available at a premium only. However, Ordnance Survey, although still the dominant supplier in the UK market, is not the only supplier and other lower-cost or free data sources such as Google Maps, Bing and OpenStreetMap are already ushering in these changes and will continue to do so, regardless of what action OS may take itself.

Question 9: What are your comments on the proposal for a single National Address Register and suggestions for mechanisms to deliver it?

A single National Address Register is currently needed in order to ensure level access to address data by all individuals and organisations. Address data is becoming fundamental to many localised services being delivered via the Internet and many of these services do not have the means to pay for the currently available commercial alternatives.

At present access to this data is available only from a single commercial supplier and significant limitations are places on it’s re-use. It is not appropriate for such a valuable asset to be in the sole control of a single commercial entity with few safeguards to ensure that access is made available on reasonable terms.

Question 10: What are your views on the options outlined in this consultation?

A wide variety of options have been presented, but it is disappointing that no consideration has been given to the benefits to OS of making data more widely available, such as the increased ability for local residents to report changes to the physical landscape in their area or even to modify features themselves.

Question 11: For local authorities: What will be the balance of impact of these proposals on your costs and revenues?

N/A

Question 12: Will these proposals have any impact on race, gender or disability equalities?

N/A

A new look

I’m like a kid with a new toy right now. The new WordPress.com blog rocks a lot, but consequently I’ve spent more time than is healthy tweaking it this evening.

So far I have a custom header image which I’m pretty happy with and the layout of the four columns is starting to work. Honestly, I don’t know how I ever coped with just two. The CSS could do with some work, but apparently it’s $15 to change that. It can wait for now.

Now I just need to start writing stuff again. We’ll see how that goes.

Stop the rot

Various reasons. I’ve been busy at work, busy at Glastonbury, busy flying around various European countries. The usual. My absence from the blogosphere has not helped by the fact that Facebook has recently been giving me that quick fix of Internet-based broadcast expression but with a lot less effort than is required to actually sit down and write something. But it’s time to stop the rot.

For once, I’ve had a weekend that I actually want to pen something about – and enough time on a slightly grey-looking Sunday evening to do so. Last weekend was all about G’s birthday weekend, too much Pimms and recovering from the effects whilst paddling around Chichester harbour and beyond in a vessel clearly not designed for such purposes but which worked surprisingly well.

This weekend has been similar, but with the Saturday festivities and socialising having been moved 40 miles south down to Brighton and the Sunday paddle consisting of the slightly more challenging 18 mile Maidstone to Tonbridge marathon, the latter having been completed in 2 hours, 48 minutes and 26 seconds (though estimated to be some three and a half minutes short due to the closure of the river at the last portage 🙁 ).

Brighton was good. Sufficiently different from the last time round, a scary five years ago. There was still plenty of Park-based fun, the rather gusty yet still utterly fantastic beach – where fish and chips were eaten – a little bit of drinking, and plenty of meeting new people. My pictures are about to go on FB, which though no doubt missing a large part of the evening after I trundled back off to London I must say I’m still rather happy with.

Next time it won’t be so long 🙂

Employment

The acceptance email has been sent. As of today, I am offically employed once again! My new employers will be the lovely people at Alfresco Software, and I’m genuinely excited about the stuff I’m going to be doing there. I start on Monday.

It was worth the wait :-).

UPDATE: It seems I’m not the only one celebrating a new job. London in Janurary is going to be the place to be.

168

I’ve uploaded a ton more photos from Sydney, Melbourne, the Radio 1 Athlete gig and Dan’s Birthday to the Flikr page. The Thailand photos can wait til another time, as can a picture of me to add to my profile.

Apparently I have 168 photos up there now – not bad for a critic, eh? Either I’m going to have to upgrade soon or else progress on the new “regenero-wabson” is going to have to be speeded up…

Update: Did I mention I’m in London this weekend? Call me if you want to meet up! 🙂

The waiting game

Today I have been mostly…

  • Attending a job interview with a well-known Internet retailer – results tomorrow apparently
  • Talking to recruitment consultants on the phone to arrange the next round of interviews
  • Continuing to grapple with Flikr – more on that later
  • Ironing a shirt for tomorrow’s interview
  • Making cheese, ham and tomato toasties – perhaps I could get a job in a cafe instead?
  • Checking news and blog sites at regular intervals throughout the afternoon – you people need to blog more! 🙂
  • Reviewing my CV and spotting annoying mistakes that I can’t correct from here

So still I have no job and still I’m struggling to find things to do all day while other people around me busy themselves all day with paid employment. Tomorrow I’m buying the Guardian and scouring the jobs pages in there and by end of Friday I should hopefully have some feedback on most of the positions I’ve applied for.

If all this doesn’t work, then Plan B may need to be put into effect. But for now, we wait.

Flikr woes

After two hours of fiddling, I’ve finally managed to post about half of the decent Australia photos up on Flikr. I’ve given up trying to work out why it sometimes shows me my groups and doesn’t at other times, so I’m off to cook dinner, drink some wine and prepare for interview number three tomorrow morning.

Finding a job is hard work.