Road Miscellany

05 June 2011
Transport Blog quote of the day
Patrick Crozier

Comparing socialism and capitalism:

It is necessary to compare the total costs and the total yields of both systems.  The fact that the electromobile needs no gasoline is no proof that it is cheaper to run than the gasoline-powered car.

Socialism, Ludwig von Mises p161 (in my edition).  First published in 1922.

11 March 2011
Japan earthquake news
Patrick Crozier

Rail up the spout. Roads unaffected.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

21 February 2011
Low-speed rail freight and the threat to it from high-speed passenger trains
Brian Micklethwait

Later today, assuming all goes well, I will be doing an interview with Sam Bowman, who blogs and is the blogmeister for the Adam Smith Institute, among other things.  During my homework for this interview I came across this blog posting by Sam, which featured this graphic:


As Sam says:

This is why we like deregulation.

This piece of graphics began life as one of the illustrations in an Economist report entitled “High-speed railroading”, and, more to my present point, subtitled America’s system of rail freight is the world’s best. High-speed passenger trains could ruin it.

Indeed.  High speed rail achieves little, in terms of speeding up rail travel by regular humans, and even less in terms of making money for any humans.  But if unleashed anywhere, a point I am reading here, there and everywhere is that its most significant impact is upon the one thing that long distance rail does really well, which is transport stuff over long distances at low cost, but rather (sometime very) slowly, for customers who value the cheapness and don’t mind the slowness.

The word “trundle” always comes to my mind whenever I observe some exotic cargo train … well, trundling through a passenger station I happen to be waiting at when this odd circumstance occurs.  But the real pay-off comes when goods trains trundle, not on the urban and suburban lines I travel on, but for hundreds upon hundreds of miles.  They become the sort of land equivalent of supertankers, another notably efficient form of transport that has been doing very well recently.

Superimpose on those same long, long railway lines trains which are very fast, and with the political demand attached that they run on time, bugger the cost and the havoc caused, and there goes your profitable and efficient freight network.  And it all then has to go by road.  There is nothing intrinsically wrong with roads, of course, but the kind of people who are most manically in favour of high-speed trains tend also to be manically against roads.  What the hell are they thinking?

Seriously, what is the lefty fascination with high-speed trains?  Is it just that the child in all of us loves fast trains that look and behave like rockets, and lefties are the people who are most inclined not to care about the cost of things?  Is it really that simple?

06 December 2010
So, the Transport Secretary picks the very day I swap my summer tyres for their winter equivalents to (wrongly) claim that they are bad for the roads.

I suppose, if we're going to excuse him we could argue that he was confusing winter tyres - which are just fine - with studded tyres - which aren't.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Miscellany
25 November 2010
Observations from a week spent driving on autoroutes, toll autoroutes and autobahns
Patrick Crozier

Lane discipline is much better even on French non-toll roads

There are an awful lot of lorries on the continent.  Seriously, much more than in the UK.

And they all seem to come from Slovenia.

Yes, that is an exaggeration.  But only just.

They are much hillier.  Michael tells me that this is because they are so old.  One of them even split as it went round a mountain.  One carriageway one side, one the other.

Most are only two lanes.

Autobahns and toll autoroutes are in good condition.  Ordinary toll-less autoroutes less so.

I much prefer driving on the toll autoroutes.  It was the only place I could set the cruise control.

Which is really nice.

Contrary to popular belief you can’t drive at any speed you like on the autobahn.  Sometimes you can but as often as not there are limits and these vary frequently.

Sat nav is both a god-send and a menace.

Driving as fast as you like is great until the car starts to vibrate in an alarming way.

I think one of the reasons lane discipline is so much better is because there are usually only two lanes.  These become a normal lane and an overtaking lane.  The flaw in this argument is Australia (isn’t it always?) There, according to Michael, they also have mostly two-lane highways and poor lane discipline.

Driving in a right-hand drive vehicle in a right-hand side of the road country is not nearly as difficult as you might think.  And it makes parking a whole lot easier.

Some Germans don’t half bomb along in the outside lane. 130-140 mph easily.  This is quite scary when they are coming up behind you.

Surfaces are not quite as good as in Britain.  Not even in Germany.  But some German surfaces are really quiet.  I think it may be some kind of experiment.

Slip roads and off ramps tend to be much tighter than in the UK.

Oh, by the way, whenever and wherever I hit an on-ramp, I floor it.  It’s the only way to get yourself up to the right speed.  I think that’s the right thing to do.

Autobahns are really busy.  So are France’s non-toll autoroutes.

Roadworks are everywhere on the autobahns.  And lanes alarmingly narrow.

The French have (how shall we put this?) a much more “relaxed” attitude to roadworks.  A sign, a few cones and that’s it.

23 November 2010
“There’s a horse in that car!”
Brian Micklethwait

Great news!  Carrying animals in vehicles that you would think would be far too small also happens in America.  (Via David Thompson.)

21 November 2010
A few rather ancient transport links
Brian Micklethwait

Some while back I started accumulating links to interesting transport things, concerning events during the recent spell of Transport Blog outage, by googling “transport” and ignoring everything boring, which is a hell of a lot.  (Mostly politicians moaning about how they aren’t being allowed or should be allowed to waste public money on transport crap of various sorts.)

But then I got ill and forgot about this.  Today, just to clear my decks, I give you this file of links.  There aren’t actually that many, but for what they are worth, click and enjoy:

Inside the world’s biggest private jet.

Is Google the most significant transport enterprise of twenty first century?

Passengers break out of train.

Germany gets across the channel.  It’s taken seventy years for the big arrows at the beginning of Dad’s Army to get here, but now they are about to.

The mobile web is bigger than transport.

Video of train spotter failing to spot the train.  It’s behind you.

Buy more salt.  I.e. for the roads this winter.

And finally, what with Michael’s recent writings here on the subject, a couple of motorcycle links: Motorcycles - miracle or menace?, and The tireless motorcycle museum curator.  Tireless.  Get it?  Oh never mind.

See also this excellent Vietnam motorbike picture.

Patrick: please feel free to re-edit the categorisations below.

LATER:  I also agree with the commenter who reckons that this bit of road building video is BRILJANT!!!

27 October 2010
Roller bus!
Brian Micklethwait

Without doubt the strangest transport related picture I’ve taken in London in recent months was this:


That’s a rather ancient Rolls Royce, not a bus!

Later, I took a closer look at what it says on the door there:


And all was revealed.  Here‘s the website.  Recommended to all who like ladies in stockings and suspenders.

Is there a serious point to this?  Any serious point?  Well, perhaps that “transport” doesn’t just mean enterprises that are devoted wholly to transport, but also enterprises whose main focus is something completely other than transport, but who nevertheless get involved in transport, as part of the process of creating a satisfactory package-product for their customers.

Or maybe: that vehicles are increasingly being used to advertise such mostly-not-transport enterprises.  There’s nothing like a seriously weird vehicle meandering around its native city, with a big sign on it that makes little immediate sense but which sticks in the mind (while also making sure to include mention of a www dot something), to get people talking, and googling, and even blogging.

In this connection, I don’t think that me being able to photo this weird contraption is incidental either.  Cameras are not just things to snap pretty and artistic scenes with.  They are machines for taking notes, quickly, in a way that wouldn’t work nearly so well with pens and notebooks.  Moving vehicles, by their nature, are come and gone quickly.  Typically there isn’t time to read what they say on them, let alone identify the salient bits and write them down.  But there is time to photo them, and read about it all later.  It’s not just the internet.  The internet combined with cheap cameras, especially cameras in phones of course, have also helped to change how advertising works, and in particular how adverts work which are on the sides of lorries or vans or cars.

26 October 2010
Amphibious tourist buses ancient and modern
Brian Micklethwait

It’s good to be back.  I don’t really want to be muggins for Transport Blog, the one who is still posting when every one else is taking a holiday, but now that others are back posting, I am delighted to join in.  This first posting, i.e. this time around, is really just me checking that I still know how to do it.

And checking out also that I can still stick up pictures.  So, let’s see about that:


That’s one of my favourite items of London Transport, namely one of the fleet of yellow amphibious buses, for taking tourists both along streets and along the river.  They are named, as you can see, after Shakespearian heroines.

While googling for further info about these yellow ladies, I came across this blog posting, which reveals that a brand new design for a yellow amphibious bus has now been contrived:


This I did not know, until now.  Blog and learn.  This started out as a posting called nothing more than: “Good to be back”.  But it has turned into a real blog posting and now has a real title, about something.

I find myself pondering the economics of tourist vehicles, as opposed to regular A-to-B transport type vehicles.  I can’t believe that it would ever make sense to put commuters in a thing like this.  Commuters resent paying an extra few pence per journey, because, day after day after working day, that still adds up to a fortune, and because any fun would soon fade.  But tourists are happy to pay an extra few quid for the fun of travelling in a bus that can swim.  Just the once.

Which, come to think of it, makes tourism a massively important thing, transport-wise.  Tourists will pay for vehicles to take their first rather faltering and expensive steps, vehicles which may not have much of a present, as serious contributions to transport, but which may just have one hell of a future.

10 October 2010
30 August 2008
In which I decide to buy a car
Patrick Crozier

For six years now I’ve been a member of the great unautomobiled masses.  It hasn’t been so bad but living on the outskirts of London (as I do) there have always been minor inconveniences: having to plan late nights in London, having to think twice about what to buy in Tescos because I might not be able to carry it home etc.

And then I got a new job.

Which was fine.  It was further away but I could commute.  The trains in my corner of south-west London are a joy being both punctual and clean.

But as Alan Clark pointed out trains never start from where you want to start and never take you where you want to go.

(Actually, in my case that’s not quite true - at one end of the journey the station is nearer than where I can park but that’s another story.)

The real problem was time.  Even with the trains running perfectly my commute would take an hour and a bit.  The equivalent car journey would normally take 40 minutes and sometimes as little as 20.

Worse still, there was no train or bus at all that could get me to work on time on a Sunday.  I quickly tired of taking taxis.

So, I did some sums and drew up a budget.  And then threw it away.  Sure it would end up a bit more expensive but (apart from the time-saving) it would give me something else.  Call it freedom, call it responsibility - but it would be that whole adventure (even the boring and expensive bits) of owning a car: buying insurance, getting it serviced, deciding for myself when to go, seeing what repairs/modifications I could do myself, going for a drive, getting lost…

So, a car it was.

24 December 2007
Communist Transport
Rob Fisher

The Sunday Times travel section has an article about the splendour of the stations on the Moscow subway.

Komsomolskaya station, to the northeast of the city centre, was opened as part of the first wave in 1935. Its atrium is one of the most beautiful: luxuriously decorated with heavy chandeliers, arches made from three types of marble, and granite floors.

On the ceiling and walls are depictions of Russian leaders and civilians, the former heroically leading forces into battle on horseback, the latter with sleeves rolled and backs breaking in honest toil.

All this reminded me of some photos I’d seen of the Pyongyang Metro.  That website is run by someone who thinks Pyongyang’s metro has military uses, but it seems that communist transport infrastructure has propaganda uses, too.  Sometimes that’s the only use, as in the case of a ten lane highway with hardly any traffic.

14 November 2007
This is fun. The Japanese have invented a road that plays a tune. It's all to do with etching grooves into the tarmac, apparently. Only one question remains: what tune should they use, Driving, Autobahn, Cars, Leader of the Pack? What tune would you like to have transmitted into your cabin by the magic of rubber on asphalt?

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (3)Road Miscellany
01 November 2007
Well, it’s one way to get around…
Patrick Crozier

...dressing up in a roller suit and throwing yourself down an alpine pass.

Watch out for the bit at the end where he overtakes the motorbike.

(Hat-tip Theo Spark)

Served as a reminder of the impossibility of using roller blades as a means of transport.  You can’t use them on the road and pedestrians get in the way when you are on the pavement.  I wonder if things are any better in Drachten.

21 August 2007
Rather him than me…
Patrick Crozier

(Via English Russia)

15 August 2007
Lower lead, lower crime - paper argues that crime rates follow lead levels with a 20-year gap. Less good on how the lead gets into the bloodstream in the first place  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Miscellany
25 July 2007
Better than a Veyron?
Patrick Crozier

Well, if the asking price of £1m is anything to go by.

La Marquise - built in 1884
28 June 2007
Holy Rollers
Mark Holland

The Pope obviously has friends in high places.

Watch out for his (His?) car driving edicts which Brian mentioned the other day get a boost from our new Transport Secretary: Ruth - Holy Moly - Kelly.

Related exit thought: Heathens are surely going to be safer drivers than believers in an after-life for whom a fatal crash is merely a stepping stone rather than a full stop. No?

09 June 2007
And that’s only the nose
Brian Micklethwait

Definitely my transport photo of the week:


That’s from here, but if it gets forgotten about by and unlinkable to at the BBC, at least it will remain here.  I first saw it at Gizmodo, which is also a fast-moving ever-changing site, where things are hard to find later.

This is what it is:

The nose of a UK Astute class nuclear submarine rolls through the streets of Barrow-In-Furness, Cumbria. The first 7,000 ton behemoth will be launched in early June.

Good to know that the UK can still do big bastard type war machines.

26 April 2007
Highway Engineer Pranks
Andy Wood

Just thought I’d bring everyone’s attention to the comic genius that is Randy Munroe.

Funnily enough, we had one of these pranks for real, up here in Scotland last week. At least I’m betting it was a prank.

I shall refrain from the temptation to treat you all to a lengthy sermon about why such pranks are more likely under our present, state-controlled highway system than one run be profit-seeking entrepreneurs.

30 March 2007
BMW drivers are people too
Patrick Crozier

But sometimes you wonder.  The good news is that the indicator problem looks like being sorted out.


(Hat-tip: Carpundit)


18 March 2007
Strange transport at my place
Brian Micklethwait

Quite aside from my obsessive fascination with bridges, I regular feature transport matters at my personal blog, often in the form of the peculiar vehicles and transport methods I sometimes observe when wandering around London taking photos.  My two most recent recent transport-related postings have been one about people wearing bouncy boots, and one about a freight tricycle.  Tricycles to transport tourists around central London are a regular sight, but rarer are trikes used to deliver stuff, in this case, I think, meals.  Trikes?  Bouncy boots?  Does this all reflect the impact of the Congestion Charge?

And did I ever mention an earlier posting I did about a car covered in grass?  If I (or somebody else) did, please pardon the repetition.

06 February 2007
A big lorry load of little lorries, in China. Big Lorry Blog, which is run by a bloke called Brian, reports, with pictures.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (1)RoadRoad Miscellany
03 February 2007
Another flying car!
Brian Micklethwait

Inevitably the YouTube promo for this gizmo concentrates on its public service abilities.  It can rescue people (but only one at a time) from burning skyscrapers.  It can be an aerial ambulance, even if there are traffic jams.  It can catch criminals.  There’s no mention of air jams.  But that last bit got me thinking.  What this really is is the perfect getaway car.

Thank you Gizmodo.

Basically, this is a couple of small person pods attached to about seven fan heaters without heating of various sizes, and pointing in various directions.  A helicopter for dummies, you might say.  It reminds me a bit of a lawnmower, of the sort that has a big fan for chucking the grass cuttings into a big bin, or just elsewhere.

01 February 2007
Cars – parking them by robot and towing them with a motorbike
Brian Micklethwait

Some are trainspotters.  I am a carparkspotter.  Well, virtually speaking, and provided they are interesting, which they mostly aren’t of course.

See this, today, which links to this, and also back to this, also by me, from 2003.  I agree with myself completely.

In other car news, here is a YouTube snippet about a motor bike which will tow broken down cars.  My first thought was, yes, it can get to the car quickly, by wizzing through traffic jams like a motor bike, but once it has hooked itself to the car it becomes as wide as a car and is stuck in the same jam with everyone else.

But then I thought, what if the immobility of the car it is seeing to is what caused the traffic jam, and as soon as it gets to the car and hooks it up and starts to move, the traffic jam as a whole starts moving again, and the motorbike with it?  So it does actually make quite a lot of sense.

I’d love to tell you how I got to “Motorpasion”, which is the Spanish or Portuguese or whatever for “Motorpassion”, but I can’t remember.

17 January 2007
Now that’s what I call a pothole!
Patrick Crozier


From English Russia.

08 January 2007
Larry David car pools
Mark Holland

Patrick’s thoughts on not being able to charge passengers to car share reminded me of the fabulous other way around arrangement Larry David stumbled upon in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The deal goes something like this.

“Hi Geoff, yea I want to get over to the game but the traffic is all clogged up.”


“No of course I’m not going to use the car pool lane. Why not? Because I’m just not okay.”


“Hey baby, you wanna go have some fun this afternoon?”


“No it’s alright thanks, I’m going to watch the Dodgers.” Thinks…


“Yea, sure, hop in.”


“So what do you want to do baby?”


“No really, we’re just going to watch to game.”


Zips past the snarled up non car pooling traffic.


07 January 2007
Patrick Crozier

Is it me or have there been all sorts of schemes down the years to get people car sharing? of which, this is just one such example.  I can just about remember it being murmured about during the first oil crisis.  Back then, I seem to remember asking why car drivers didn’t just charge people, to be told that that was against the law. 

Which is the problem.  My guess is that while people are quite happy to share their cars on a commercial basis, sharing which implies something much closer to, well, something much closer, is far less attractive.  What if you get saddled with someone you don’t like, for instance?

11 December 2006
Ferrari on Park Ave

So far, I have seen not nearly as many breathtaking cars in New York as I am used to seeing in London. I have, however, seen enough SUVs to take my breath away. I’m not anti-SUV, but if there’s one city where something rather more petite would come in handy, it’s New York.

As ever, the cab drivers here are nuts. I have never seen the point of gunning the engine on a green light and ramping it up to about 45 mph, only to slam on the brakes after only one block.

Jackie D • PermalinkFeedback (3)Road Miscellany
14 November 2006
Why a London bus strike and why now?
Brian Micklethwait

Why a London bus strike and why now?

There is a bus strike raging in London today:

Some 60 bus routes serving north, central and west London and parts of Hertfordshire have been affected.

The Transport and General Workers’ Union wants a 6% wage increase in line with similar pay offers from other London bus operators.

Why?  Why is this happening?  And why now, all of a sudden?  Apparently this is the first strike in London for seven years, a fact which the BBC omits.  The BBC omits also that Metroline, the employer in this ruckus, is Singaporean.  It’s like, the BBC doesn’t want this to mean anything.

I think strikes are like wars, in that they happen because each side thinks it will win.  They can’t both be right, and something is making them disagree.  Some uncertainty.

The usual uncertainty I reach for to explain strikes is politics.  The politicians could pay more for their beloved buses than they are paying, so the TGWU reckons that Metroline could extort more from the politicians than they are extorting, and that Metroline could pay the bus drivers more.  The politicians have presumably assured Metroline that there is no more money to be had, and Metroline either does believe this, or hopes that the TGWU will believe it, and that they can pocket any differences that they can extract.

So, guess.  The buses have now all been paid for.  The system is now in place, and seemingly working well.  Mr Livingstone’s career is riding on them.  Ergo, say the busmen, now we can demand more money to drive them.  What will Livingstone do?  Shut all the buses up in their garages until the busmen crawl back to work?  Maybe Metroline thinks that will happen.  The busmen don’t believe that Livingstone and Metroline will hold to such a position.  What are they?  Rupert Murdoch?  Why not just put up the council tax?  Or just, you know, slap it on the tube fares or something?

But that could just be me being anti-political.  It may just be that the TGWU reckons its workers are pissed off with these damned Singaporeans and would rather work some other place than take a mere 4%.

Wars are about the will to fight as well as about mere resources.  Sorry, this is getting too profound.

30 October 2006
Yesterday I spotted a van covered in grass, and photoed it. (It even has its own blog.)

It is indeed a strange and eye-catching sight. I wonder if anyone will now make the case that such vehicles are a danger, by drawing the attention of drivers away from their driving. It might only take one more accident where this is the excuse offered.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)RoadRoad MiscellanyRoad Safety
01 September 2006
Hard shoulders to be used for traffic. Can't wait for the first pile-up.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Miscellany
14 November 2005
British motorways worst in Europe -  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Road Miscellany