21 September 2013

Minutes and Metres

I find it particularly annoying when finger posts, directional signs and maps quote distances in times instead of actual measurements. Saying that Westminster Cathedral is 4 minutes away by foot is a little bit idiotic. What if I don't have a watch? What if I walk substantially slower/faster than everyone else? 

This problem is particularly acute in London, where many maps encircle areas that are within a particular distance – quoted in minutes of course. 

The problem with using minutes on finger posts and directional signs is simple: a minute is not the same to everyone. An elderly person may cover 40 metres in a minute, a short person may cover 60 metres in a minute and a tall person (like myself) can easily cover 120 metres in a minute. 

To make matters even more confusing, there is no record as to what speed one is expected to walk at to match the times posted on these signs. So pedestrians are left completely in the dark about the actual distance they actually need to travel to reach their destination. 

My opinion is very simple. Get rid of the minutes and use metres. It makes sense. A metre is te same to everyone, everywhere.  I'd even prefer yards to minutes – and that says a lot. 

In Leyton, it seems like Waltham Forest council have made a feeble attempt to  reduce the ambiguity of 'minute' sighs by also including metres. Whilst I am happy that metres we're chosen in place of yards, the signs quote metres as an abbreviation 'mtrs' instead of the approved symbol 'm'.

When will they learn. 

11 September 2013

Metric Signs in Islington

A few years back, I recall there being an uproar spurred on by the BMWA over Islington Council's decision to use exclusively metric units on some road signs. These included height and width restriction signs, as well as speed bump warnings. 

The vandals removed and defaced many of the signs and mounted pressure on Islington council to replace them with imperial-only signs.  This has left the borough with a series of width restriction signs that are labelled as  6'6" , when in fact they mean 2.0 metres. (In most other places these are dual-unit signs) Considering that vehicle dimensions are specified in millimetres in manuals, anyone without a calculator is at risk of doing damage to their vehicle. 

I managed to find one sign (see below) that escaped the ravages of the BMWA. However, this sign is not without its flaws. 
The sign states Humps for 600 mtrs. 

According to the BIPM, there should never be any abbreviation for the metre – or any metric unit for that matter. Only the whole word or the SI symbol (m) should be used. 

Therefore, the sign should read: Humps for 600 m

Nonetheless, it's always a pleasure to see metric signs on our roads and this is evidence that they pose no danger to road users, who generally speak in metres anyway. 


05 June 2013

Heathrow Airport: Another Classic Example of British Pussyfooting

This post departs slightly from the core theme of the blog. However the airport capacity crisis faced in London is a result of the same problem: The the government's inability to make quick decisions on the matters likely to have a considerable impact on Britain’s future as a modern, strong and growing economy.

The DfT published their strategy with the vision for expanding Heathrow airport back in 2006 and announced the expansion three years later. The expansion project would have consisted of a new 2,200 metre runway, a sixth terminal and a high-speed railway hub. Local residents and councils opposed the plan on the grounds that it would destroy local communities. The expansion would require the demolition of the village of Sipson and over 700 homes. In addition to this, the local residents who would not have to forego their homes would then have to endure more noise pollution and poorer air quality due to the increased air traffic.

Upon being elected in 2010, the Conservative-led coalition government scrapped the expansion of Heathrow Airport amid to protests from environmental groups and local residents. Now, as Heathrow is running at 99% capacity and many analysts envision an imminent airport capacity crunch for London and the South East, the debate has risen from the ashes. The government have reversed their position on the issue and commissioned a report to assess airport capacity in the South East. A decision will be made after the 2015 general election.

With aircraft currently landing and departing every 45 seconds at Heathrow, landing slots are costly relative to comparable airports in Europe. This also leaves very little slack in the event of extreme weather or a mishap on the runway. This lack of spare capacity has put significant pressure on Heathrow being a global hub. Many airlines prefer to use airports in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris and Madrid due to lower costs and more landing slots. Between 1990 and the present, the number of destinations served by Heathrow has declined from 227 to just 194. Frankfurt Airport serves 307 destinations in 94 countries, Amsterdam Schiphol serves 281 and Paris Charles de Gaulle serves 292.

This has a profound impact on the economy. A number of empirical studies have shown that investment in transport infrastructure has a positive impact in GDP. This supports historical data which show that improvements in transport connectivity have been pivotal in supporting the rapid growth of economies. The data also reveal that transport improvements have been a critical driving force in past phases of globalisation.

Although transport infrastructure has a profound impact in rapidly developing countries, its effect in developed countries is more incremental. In spite of this, a lack of capacity has been shown to constrain growth. Frontier Economics, a consultancy, has predicted that Britain could miss out on £1.2 – £1.6 billion of trade a year if capacity continues to be constrained. Colin Matthews, the CEO of BAA, Heathrow’s parent company said, ‘if Britain is not to lose out to international competitors, we need an aviation policy that recognises the role of a hub airport in supporting growth – and we need it quickly.’ Better connections will be needed as emerging economies continue to grow and increase trade with the West. It is expected that by 2021, if Heathrow remains constrained, it will only account for 21% of the seats booked to the 8 fastest growing economies from the five European hubs compared to 35% if it were allowed to expand.

Boris Johnson, London’s Conservative Mayor, has proposed a new airport in the Thames estuary to replace Heathrow as a hub. This is not a new proposal, the first plans to construct an airport in the Thames Estuary date back to 1943, just a year before Heathrow was upgraded from a small airfield, to a larger airfield to cope with larger aeroplanes destined to the Far East. The airport in the Thames Estuary would be a purpose-built international airport of four runways, and due to its distance from most settlements, would be operational for a full 24 hours a day.

The idea of a brand new airport may seem rosy, but the Thames estuary is a habitat for many endangered species of birds. Building an airport is likely to upset their habitats and endanger them further. Furthermore, the airport will have to be built on an artificial island or on reclaimed land. This means that it will be at least a generation before the airport comes to fruition. The airport itself would cost £20 billion, but due to its location an additional £30 billion would have to be spent in order to provide the infrastructure necessary to support such an airport.

At Heathrow, this infrastructure already exists. It is well served by National Rail and the London Underground, and will also be served by Crossrail and HS2. Heathrow is also not as old and dated as many like to think. Terminal 5 is just five years old, a spiffy new Terminal 2 will open in the coming months and there are plans to modernise Terminals 1 and 3 in the near future. Expanding at Heathrow is the quicker, cheaper option, but the government are determined to explore all the alternatives.

Though expanding Heathrow makes economic sense, a third runway is not the answer. For Heathrow to keep up with other hub airports, four runways are needed. This could be achieved with less disruption than the third runway proposal. Tim Leuing, an economist, proposed that by expanding westwards, where the land is less densely populated, four runways could be added with relative ease. His proposal is an example of sheer brilliance. Instead of demolishing hundreds of homes to cram in another runway and terminal, extending westwards requires covering over a 2 km stretch of the M25 and filling in some of a large reservoir.
Source: libdemvoice.org

There are various other advantages to this expansion project.
• It can take place gradually, as demand grows or as time allows
• No need for businesses or workers to migrate to another airport
• More of the final approach will be over airport buildings than residential areas
• Facilitates construction of more terminal buildings without additional extension of airport boundary

 The fact is simple; Britain needs a modern, fit-for-purpose hub airport. Leuing’s proposal for four runways at Heathrow is the most prudent. The government needs to come to a conclusion and make a decision quickly otherwise Britain will run the risk of being left behind once again.

30 April 2013

Birmingham's Waterways

Before my most recent trip to Birmingham, I was told that it is an architecturally uninspiring and characterless city. However, it seems that the city is highly undersold. Admittedly, there are parts of the city which are dingy, but it is evident that a lot of investment has gone into the city in recent years.

Shiny new buildings dot the skyline and complement the historic baroque buildings, to some extent even allowing one to overlook some of the less attractive edifices from the 60s. One of my favourite things about the city is how car-friendly it is in comparison to London. With wide roads and lots of affordable parking, it's a stark contrast to London's narrow and winding streets, but it still maintains pedestrian-friendliness.

As I'm not an employee of visitbirmingham.com, I'll get to the point of this blog post: signs on the canal.

Upon descending from broad street to the canal, I was met by a sign showing all of the landmarks from that point specified in metres and kilometres (see the photo). You'll also notice that these are not, by any means modern signs. I am by no means an expert on the history of Birmingham, so if anyone knows how old these signs are, I'd appreciate if you let me know.

All the signs that I saw along the canal were specified in metric units, unlike the mish-mash of metric and imperial units on the waterways of London. Even my friend (who is not as favourable of the metric system as I am), appreciated the consistency of the signage and got to grips with them quite quickly. My friend even said that it's so much easier to work in metric because you can compare a distance in metres to one in kilometres so much more easily than one in fractions of miles to yards.

This just goes to show, metric signs make sense and it defies the argument that imperial units are 'natural'. They are dated and belong in the past.

09 April 2013

Metric Directional Sign at Putney Station (imperial finger post outside)

There is one thing that I like to do when I get bored. This is usually get on a bus or train and venture to some far-flung place.

My most recent adventure only took me as far as the opposite side of London, but I came upon a discovery that would please the few readers of this blog that are out there. A directional sign at Putney Station, which used metric units. (See photo)

The sign was directing commuters to East Putney underground station, which it mentioned as "1 kilometre" away. Besides the fact that it would have been preferable to use the international standard symbol (km) rather than the whole word, it was still refreshing to see.

My feeling of excitement subsided immediately after leaving the station. Right outside the door, there was a large finger post stating that east Putney was 2/3 mile away.

This is yet another classic example of the British metric muddle.

28 February 2013

Metric Finger Posts

The people on the other side of the metric spectrum have had a tendency to deface metric signs and replace them with archaic measures (miles and yards and all that rubbish)

I've already posted about this in Lee Valley. However, I've found somewhere where signs (exclusively) in metric units exist that has not been struck by the antichrist.

This is in Maritime Greenwich. Whilst knots and nautical miles may be preferred for ships, ( I have my personal opinion on this ) finger posts in the area— well known for its nautical history— seem to prefer the usage of metres to archaic yards.

Quite frankly, the majority of people alive in Great Britain understand a yard as a metre and have been educated in the metric system, so it seems a joke that maths classes feature almost exclusively the use of metres and km/h but we're stuck with miles per hour and yards in street signs and finger posts.

It's quite clear that none of the political parties has any intentions of changing this, but maybe the UKMA should get more involved and lobby parties for change – possibly with the backing of scientists and leaders in the business and trade sectors.