Possible Changes to Cycling/Walking Provision in Northern Ireland:

From the Department of Infrastructure:

I am delighted to announce that there will now be a walking and cycling Champion within my Department. Our champion will ensure that we deliver our commitment to increase the percentage of journeys made by walking and cycling. Inspiring our communities, restructuring our spaces, changing forever the way we live – and changing it for the better.

“I want to increase the space available for people who want to walk and cycle by extending pavements, pedestrianising streets and introducing pop up cycle lanes. I have already identified some parts of Belfast City Centre and Derry City that can be transformed in this way

This is a fabulous opportunity. Northern Ireland missed out on some key legislation regarding eBikes. We are way behind the rest of the UK with this.

The UK legislation was harmonised with EU law EN15194 in April 2015. Your steed is an “electrically assisted pedal cycle” (or EAPC, or ebike, or Pedelec) if: the bike has pedals that propel it; the electric motor won’t assist you when you’re travelling more than 25 km/h (15.5mph); and the power doesn’t exceed 250 watts. In the UK you must be over 14 years old to ride an electric bike but you don’t need a licence, nor do you need to register it or pay vehicle tax.

The cycles that meet these requirements (which affect two-wheeled bikes but also tandems and tricycles) can be ridden on any cycle paths and anywhere else that bikes are normally allowed.

In all cases, these are pedal assist cycles and not “twist and go” throttle based solutions.

Either way the announcement from the Minister for Infrastructure could go a long way to changing the face of Belfast. Increasing mobility and reducing congestion are key to further health concerns both in terms of environment but also in the current pandemic. I’m excited about the possibility of cycle lanes that might, for instance, shadow the M1 into Belfast rather than track slowly along the Lisburn Road dodging buses and parked cars. Talk about an infrastructure ready project.

And while we are at it, the Minister may want to look at the York Road Exchange upgrade with a sceptical, future looking eye. Sacrifice a car lane for a bike lane all the way up to Mallusk and Jordanstown. Extend the bike courses out from Bangor and Lisburn. Make sure there’s a solid Bike access lane from West Belfast and the small streets of North Belfast.

And please, please, make the cycle lanes more than just paint on the roads. It’s bad enough that we sacrifice pavement for cars, but parked cars render cycle lanes utterly useless.

Don’t ban scooters. Redesign streets.

[Read the article]

Of course, some of us have been saying this for years.

Remember when the Segway debuted? There was a reported conversation that everyone derided. Apparently Steve Jobs, on viewing the prototype Segway with Dean Kamen, said that we would design cities around this thing. It was backed publicly and financially by Jeff Bezos.

How the media laughed.

And now the media are calling for us to redesign cities to cope with new PEV (personal electric vehicles) designs. Of course, all of this is a little moot for the UK as the Tory government failed to deliver an election promise on licensing for LEVs and PEVs and of course, our government couldn’t do it because we don’t have one.*

But watch this space because things are afoot. They’ve extended the bus lanes on one of the busiest roads in Belfast. They’re introducing a new bus called the Glider which will, like this recently multi-million investment in dumb ticketing machines at major stops, will be utterly underwhelming. They’re going to close the area around Belfast City Hall to private traffic. They’re going to invest massively in the Westlink-M2 exchange yet not actually address the cause of queues in the morning. But that’s because …. I don’t know. I’m sure they have great reasons.

*and do you ever notice that when change is needed, politicians decide on whether it’s a devolved matter or not depending on how close it is to lunchtime.

Sustainable Electro-Motive

I’m attending the Eden Project Communities Camp this May and that’s where I hope to talk about Sustainable Electro-Motive.

This project ties several interests into one whole. One part is working with my friend Stuart and his extracurricular work with GreenPower NI. One part is my interest in maintaining our way of life without necessarily increasing our impact on the environment (and ideally, reducing our impact massively). My other interests are social enterprise, the democracy of community energy resources, the digitisation of energy and transport (which is more about the change in the economies than any real addition of technology).

I hope SEM to be a great example of a social enterprise, of “altrupreneurship.

ESB Public charge point contract in violation of EU directive

Imagine having to have a subscription to a petrol station in order to fill up your car?

ecars

That’s what ESB, who now run the EV public charge points, are suggesting. The subscription when added to the costs for charging (which is calculated by time rather than kWs transferred) mean that EVs are not economical compared to high efficiency petrol vehicles. In essence an artificial tax.

Then there’s this:

Directive 2014/94/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2014
Article 4 Section 9 – All recharging points accessible to the public shall also provide for the possibility for electric vehicle users to recharge on an ad hoc basis without entering into a contract with the electricity supplier or operator concerned.

So the ESB subscription contract, North and South of the border, is actually in contravention of an EU Directive. It will be interesting to see how this progresses.

Solar…portable…renewable

Anyone who knows me will know that I’ve always been a fan of solar (photovoltaic) energy production. This goes from tiny little solar panels that I used with Coder Dojo to wire up fans and LEDs to larger scale panels that are used to keep my phones and other devices charged when out and about.

My latest purchase is the Anker 14W Solar Panel Foldable Dual-port Solar Charger.

I was pretty pleased with the package – it was smaller than I expected and seemed sturdy enough. It fits neatly into my hiking backpack when I’m not using it and when I am using it, I’ll tie it using cords to the back of the back – the built-in rings seem very resilient. The company advises using the included pockets for holding devices you’re charging (to keep them out of the direct sunshine). I’d like them to be a little bigger but that’s only because my devices are a little bulkier.

Anker14WSolarCharger

I tested this during the week in some weak summer sunshine here in Northern Ireland and I was able to generate nearly 7 Watts (5.09 Volts, 1.35 Amps). That’s about 50% of the potential output of the panel but considering I was just sitting in a park with plenty of surrounding tree cover, no effort being made to optimise the angle and a little bit of cloud cover – coupled with the weak Northern Irish sunshine – I was happy to see I could easily power and charge a phone.

IMG_2231

Your phone likely needs 5 Watts of Power (5 Volts, 1 Amp). The average PC USB port outputs 2.5 W (5V, 0.5A). Your iPad needs about 12 W (5.1V, 2.1A). The device I’m using to measure this is a pass-thru USB power monitor by PortaPow. It can check any USB port for power output and is cheap as chips. For the aspiring geek it’s a useful informational tool.

I’ll be using this panel to charge an Anker 13000 mAh portable battery (superseded by newer models like the Anker Astro e7 with double the capacity). 25600 mAh seems like a lot but the iPhone 6 has a 1810 mAh battery and therefore I’d expect to get 10 charges out of this. Which should be good enough for a week of outdoor usage (assuming I’m using the screen a lot).

Next week I’ll be testing the charger in Southern Spain. I’m interested to see what the difference in throughput will be and how fast it will charge my external battery.

The Verge just disproved a claim that no-one was making…

Much has been made of the Tesla Model S P85D (all wheel drive, 691 hp, 0-60 in 3.2 seconds and still seats 5 people) being compared to the sports cars of the day, such as the Verge making play with the Ferrari F12berlinetta.

Apparently there are still cars that can beat the Tesla in a drag race?

But no-one was really mooting the comparison. The videos on YouTube really show the Tesla showing off immediate acceleration and the video on The Verge is no different.

The Tesla plainly moves quicker from a standing start and it takes a few seconds for the 2 seater Supercar to overtake it. In a Bond movie, the F12 would be behind because due to the laws of scriptwriting, the road would have narrowed.

There’s also the issue that to achieve that sort of acceleration, the F12 has to be handled by an expert driver and it’s conceivable that multiple takes are needed to get the best possible result out of the supercars. The Tesla could be operated by my Mum (who is a confident but cautious driver). Just push the pedal and feel the seat leather envelop you.

No-one is really claiming the Tesla Model S, laden down with 5 seats and a roomy trunk, can beat an Italian-designed 2 seat supercar that costs 3 times as much. But the video shows that the Tesla has one great strength in being first away from the lights every time.

The Transport Singularity Approaches

Some people will view the release of driverless cars as a new step in the eventual progress of humanity while others will be horrified. Some people value the freedom a car brings while others love the mastery of the machine.

I would have to say my only real concern is that I’ve seen the software that most developers write and while that’s fine for apps and games and even trains that are restricted to rails, having them on roads is a different challenge. And we haven’t yet established whether the Google Car will interface with the Apple iCar or whether the latter will “Go Thermonuclear”. And I’m only half-joking.

Billions will be spent developing better intelligence in cars and every company will end up re-inventing the wheel again and again as they approach their end goal. Investment from governments will need to be made in homologation of car intelligence and not just in wheels, suspension and other controls. Some manufacturers will wait and just license the Google Car software which, on the face of it, is probably smarter.

But driverless cars will bring about a huge reduction in the number of cars required on the roads. A family may ‘subscribe’ to a car service rather than owning a car (which is just one step further than today’s hire-purchase leasing). Most of us don’t need a car to sit idle outside our house at night and idle outside our workplace during the day – our car can be out helping pensioners get their shopping or driving government workers to perform site inspections while still managing to be outside at 5:30 to drive us home. And there will be a knock-on effect on the ‘taxi’ industry.

The interesting point though is that I foresee a singularity in this sector. At some point, probably twenty years after the first commercial release, there will be a sufficient mass of intelligent cars for governments to ban human driving from public roads. By that time no-one will be producing ‘feature cars’ in any volume and no-one outside of specialist collectors will even own them.