Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Linking Cottenham to Cambridge Research Park

East out of Cottenham is Landbeach Road.  It is a useful route, linking to Landbeach and Waterbeach where there are many shops, a train station connecting to Cambridge and London. From Landbeach is a cyclepath heading towards Milton, then into Cambridge. From Waterbeach is Wicken Fen, plus the River Cam, a popular riverside and traffic free cycle route into Cambridge.  There are plenty of reasons to want to link Cottenham and Landbeach and parish councils on both ends are keen to see a cycle path built.

There is no significant money on the table to achieve a cyclepath so I wondered if an offroad route was viable.  In September 2013 I met with David Jenkins and Council Officers to see what might be possible.

The first idea I proposed was linking existing tracks in the fields south of Landbeach Road.  This route was difficult to achieve, needing at least a bridge, and negotiation with a large number of landowners.

My second idea links Long Drove to Cambridge Research Park.  It's certainly not direct or ideal but might provide a recreational route, and summer commute route to the research park.  This is currently inaccessible by bike unless you are prepared to cycle on the A10 trunk road. Some Cottenham residents work there. Plus it has a small nature reserve.

The pictures below show the current state of the route.

Gravel Pit Drove links Long Drove (white road) to the south side of Cambridge Research Park lakes. Link to OSM.

Gravel Pit Drove (highlighted)

The first section of Gravel Pit Drove from Long Drove is a reasonably surfaced track.  This gets you half way to the lake entrance. This is facing south-east.

Gravel Pit Drove as seen from Long Drove. Facing SE.

The next picture looks back from the end of the track north-west facing back towards Long Drove.

Gravel Pit Drove looking SW towards Long Drove.
From the same location but looking east, you can see that there is a field, separated by two different crops.  The track used to continue along here.

Gravel Pit Drove currently ends here. Facing SE.

In the previous picture there are trees in the distance.  This is the start of the nature reserve with water.  The next picture shows from the tree line, facing south-east.

Alongside the nature reserve (ex gravel pit). Facing SE.

Following the edge of the nature reserve joins you to an existing bridleway.  Turning left (now facing north-east), there is gate, with a track on the other side leading to the nature reserve entrance and research park.

Bridleway from Beach Ditch to Cambridge Research Park. NE.

Beyond the gate is an interesting surface which is used on many tracks in the local area.  It has a concrete base (or very hard packed gravel) which rolls very fast and remains mud free during winter. It blends in well with its rural surroundings.

Hidden concrete surface.

The following picure is a screen shot from Where's The Path.  It is showing OpenStreetMap on the left, centred on Gravel Pit Drove, with an old out of copyright Ordnance Survey 1:25k map (~1950?). It shows that the track used to be much longer, at least to where the gravel pit was (now a water filled nature reserve).

Comparing OSM to old OS 1:25k

My proposal is to effectively reinstate Gravel Pit Drove to its former length, joining Long Drove to the bridleway at Beach Ditch. From the end of currently tracked Gravel Pit Drove to the bridleway is ~400 metres. The total length is ~700m and would be better if the whole length was improved but not entirely necessary. A concrete base as pictured above would be ideal for recreational purposes and some summer commutes.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Floureon 18650 USB Phone Charger Box

Many cyclists are running lights with a 3.7V lithium battery cell standard known as 18650.  If you have those batteries and want a portable phone charger, here is a very brief review.

There are many different power packs available.  I searched for one that was small and light and reused my 18650 cells.  On ebay I found:
FLOUREON Power Bank pack PCB Case 18650 Battery Charger Box for Phone DIY Kit.

Without batteries the price is typically £12.99 for a UK stocked supplier. For about £3 more you can have a version that comes with 2 batteries.  Some come with a free USB light. 

Note that the spec sheet says it outputs 5V at up to 2.1 amps.  Take note, some power packs can only output 1 amp which may not be enough to charge the latest phones and pads. Check the labelling on your device's charger or plug to see what it outputs.

I've had some questionable quality cheap Chinese gadgets in the past. Floureon's website looks legit compared to some other come-and-go brands. That's not an endorsement though, I've only had this product for a few days. 

Unboxing reveals the charger box, a Micro-USB cable, instructions and mini USB powered light widget.  The plastic feels robust enough and not too thin.

On the case are two USB sockets. The larger standard sized one is for output. Surprisingly, the Micro-USB socket is for input, charging the 18650 cells.

There are three lights and a button. Pressing the button when no cable is plugged in reveals the capacity of the batteries inside the box by lighting an appropriate number of lights.  I discovered that the button is easily pushed while sitting in a bag and I couldn't bare the thought of wasting precious energy so inserted paper into the battery terminals so prevent the lights coming on when not in use.

Plugging in the cable, large end to the Floureon, micro end to my phone, the lights then animate like runway lights, one at a time moving towards the phone.  In the dark the lights are bright enough to be distracting so need covering or turning over.

Before buying, check the length of your 18650 cells. Only cells 67mm or below will fit. The cells I'm using in the picture are unprotected cells retrieved from a laptop battery pack. Consumer ready batteries with protection circuitry added are longer. This page on Candle Power Forum shows quite a few are longer than 67mm.

The box charges my phone with one OR two batteries installed.  I installed an Android app called Battery Monitor Widget so I could check the amount of mA/h being delivered to my phone.  The Floureon and the supplied cable matched that of my HTC supplied wall socket charger and cable. Apparently some cheap USB cables do not allow as much power down the cable but that's not the case here.

So far I have charged my phones 1500mA/h battery from around 15% charge to ~80% about three times. My two 18650 cells are 2000mA/h each.  With some expected efficiency loss, I'd expect two and a half full charges from two cells. Of course, with this format I can swap in extra batteries. The product works as expected and I'm happy with it for charging my phone.

I have not fully tested the input charging of the 18650 cells via the Micro-USB socket.  I plugged it into my desktop computer's USB socket and the lights animate in the reverse direction.  However, unprotected cells in particular need to be charged carefully so not to cause an explosion or fire. I'll leave that task to my dedicated charger.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

St Ives crossing time allocation.

St Ives in Huntingdonshire is at the end of the Guided Busway that leads to Cambridge.

The Busway itself ends to the east of the town, with the final hop into the town centre on a bus only road that crosses the A1096. Cycle Streets has a good picture.

As reported in the Hunts Post:
Traffic light loophole may have been exploited by St Ives cyclists

The story is:  
Buses get priority traffic lights across the A1096, while pedestrians and cycles next to it do not. Frustrated with the crossing times, folk on bikes managed to trigger the bus sensors to get across with less delay.

The national theme here is that pedestrians and cyclists are treated as second class citizens and traffic light junctions and have to experience large delays compared to their overall journey times.

Since the Busway began, there have been many complaints about traffic queues building up on the A1096 whilst waiting at the red lights.

The Hunts Post story reports:
In 2012, the traffic was investigated by a transport and environment working group, made up of volunteers, which reported to St Ives Town Council that in the morning peak (7am-9am), the Harrison Way lights turned red every two minutes. The survey said each time the lights were red for an average of 21 seconds – creating a period of at least 23 minutes during the two-hour morning peak when vehicles were forced to stop.
23 minutes (of 120) is 19% of the time spent red for motor vehicles using the A1096.

Separately, the St Ives Transport Strategy says:
In 2005, approximately 73% of journeys in St. Ives town centre were made by car, 9% by bus, 3% by cycle, 7% on foot and 8% by goods vehicles.
[These are not figures for those using the crossing, but its the best snapshot I have to hand]

Adding bus, cycle and foot percentages together gives, well what a coincidence, 19%.  So 19% of the traffic gets 19% of the time.

That seems fair if you want to maintain the current proportion of traffic.  Unfortunately, 19% of time has been achieved by a loop hole now to be closed.  The question is, how much will pedestrians and cycles get screwed over to improve motor vehicle flow?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Cycling the Netherlands - reduce traffic volume and speed.

I've just spent two weeks holidaying in the Netherlands and managed to cycle around 100 miles of routes through cities, towns, villages and rural areas.  What a fabulous place to cycle - you can see why so many people choose cycling as a way to get about.  I'll split across a few posts what caught my eye.

When showing us how the Dutch cycle infrastructure works, it's the built features - eg separated cycle tracks, lanes, roundabouts etc - that get most of the press. But an aspect that's hard to grasp from photos that becomes immediately obvious when you cycle in The Netherlands is just how little traffic you ever have to interact with.

The infrastructure is the end result of a general ethos of creating a liveable and safe street environment and controlling the level of danger when vehicles and people have to mix.  From my observations, this boils down to:

  • Reduce motor traffic through residential and shopping streets.
  • Reduce motor traffic speed where it comes close to people (on foot, mobility scooter, bicycle)
  • If traffic volume and speed is not reduced, keep people and motor vehicles separate.
In practice, cycling in the Netherlands involves using a lot of streets where you are not separated from cars and trucks, but because the traffic speed and density is low, it's not a problem.

Right in the heart of any town or city area are shopping streets.  In many cases, through traffic is not allowed using barriers.  

In the UK we'd be having kittens over allowing cycling here, getting the Police to ticket cyclists for riding here. It doesn't matter in the Netherlands as anyone cycling here would be going slow.  If they want to go fast, there will be a faster parallel route.

Moving around the local residential or shopping area of many Dutch streets you find one-way streets for motor vehicles with street design to keep speeds low, but cycles are allowed to go two-way.  

These one-way except cycles streets are very common even where the street is narrow making passing tricky. The low traffic volume plays a part here in this not being a problem.  Cambridge has a good number of one-way except cycles and they are proving successful in narrow streets.

Many villages we passed through, had a single high street where through motor-traffic had to pass.  You might see on road cycle lanes. 

On-road lanes?  We hate them with a passion in the UK especially when they still take you close to traffic. What makes a massive difference in the Netherlands is control of the traffic:  The density is low, you are not overtaken very often; due to less oncoming traffic, cars have time to make be careful about overtaking; and the traffic speed is very well controlled with road features.  The road above would is 20mph too.  

In the UK, our roads through villages are not well controlled and encourage through traffic.  In the Netherlands, it's harder for this to be a viable rat-run, and the major road network is superior.

My own village of Cottenham is a classic example. The high street is a 30mph B road, largely uncontrolled so anything from 30-50mph is possible. It has a parallel single-carriageway trunk A road but in peak hours carries an almost equal amount of traffic as the A road.

Here is another example of a cycle route.  A completely segregated cycle route joins this road for a while before reaching a roundabout and leaving the road.  It's an industrial area, with offices and a truck sales warehouse.

Again, it's a quiet road, and it shouts slow down to any motor-traffic.  The lane narrowing works, and even where when there is not enough room for vehicles the designers, albeit not perfect, have not given up with the excuse of not enough room.

And finally, when on main roads leading in or out of major areas, the traffic speeds and/or volumes go up and you'd end up on a segregated cycle path, more like the ones you're used to seeing.

David Hembrow has been telling us this for years.  I totally see why a study tour is essential for anyone involved in cycle infrastructure design.  Or, design for pedestrians, mobility scooters and safe liveable streets for that matter.  It really is hard to understand how all the different design aspects add up to make a great cycling experience.

A couple of relevant areas of further reading, can be found on David's site:

See The Grid and Unravelling of Modes

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

GPX Traces of Long Distance Routes

This post is personal reminder of how to extract GPX Track data from OpenStreetMap.

The UK is full of long distance routes you might want to follow using your GPS.  That could be anything from walking trails like the Pennine Way; parts of the National Cycle Network; or even bus routes.

The most reliable way to follow any recreational route on a GPS is to use a GPX Track. That is just a series of dots joined up with straight lines and drawn over the top of any base map your GPS might have.  Utilising a track instead of a route means your GPS doesn't try to do any clever routing like a car GPS would.

Track data can be tricky to find. But OpenStreetMap can come to the rescue.

OSM Data. A quick primer: 

OpenStreetMap is a database of:
  • Waypoints - single positions with a precise location.
  • Ways - a series of Waypoints that make up any path, road etc. Note that a single road might be split into multiple Ways.
  • Relations - a series of Ways joined together to make a route. Eg Icknield Way. These would typically be over different roads.
  • Waypoints, Ways, and Relations all have key=value pairs to describe what they are.
What I am describing in this page is taking a relation (eg Pennine Way) and converting its collection of Ways (that contain Waypoints) to a single continuous set of Waypoints that can be saved as a Track in a GPX file. Your GPS can then draw those Waypoints/Track as a line over your map for you to follow.

Finding a Relation

If you see a route (Relation) on OpenStreetMap you need to find its database number.  Here's an example, The Pennine Way. Its OpenStreetMap Relation 63872.

A very useful source of Long Distance Path data is in OpenStreetMap's Wiki: UK Long Distance Paths. The Relation number is in the fourth column. Click it to view in OSM.

Another way is on OpenStreetMap itself. If you know a path has a route going over it - lets say you've found a part of the Peddars Way - zoom right in as far as you can (example).  Click the Layers icon on the right hand side. Tick checkbox Map Data, and wait for the lines to be highlighted. Click on line you were looking at. A Panel on the left appears telling you about the line. Scroll to the bottom, and there might be a "Part of Relation ..." listed.  The number is the Relation number you are hunting for.  In the example I gave, that line has two Relations. Peddars Way (walking route) 77958 and Peddars Cycle Way 3144936.

Conversion Process

The overview of the conversion process is:

  1. Get OSM data for one Relation (eg Peddars Way) with its Way and Waypoint data. 
  2. Join the Ways into a single line.
  3. Delete unnecessary key/value attribute data. Delete the Relation.
  4. Save data and convert to GPX Track.
I use JOSM, a powerful OpenStreetMap editor written in Java to do this job. 

Using JOSM

Start JOSM with no data loaded. 
Load your relation data. Choose File -> Download Object.  
In Object ID type in the Relation number you were hunting for.
I leave "Download Referrers" unticked.  
It is important to tick "Download Relation Members".
Click the Download Object Button.

You should now be in the Map view with the shape of your Relation visible.  This normally consists of a number of separate Ways.  You can zoom in and click a line to highlight a single Way.  Note they have a direction - some ways will be pointing in the opposite direction.  We are going to join them together into one single continuous Way.

Highlight everything.  Choose Selection->Select All, or easier press Control-A. Alternatively, zoom out and draw a box around everything.

To make it easy to join all the Ways together. We'll delete the data attributes.  On the right is a Panel titled Tags / Memberships.  The second column probably says <different>.  Delete all the Tags.  You can do this one at a time; highlight the first then shift-click the last; or highlight one, press Control-A to select all, then Delete.

Now we'll check the relation for gaps and fix. One the right, find the "Relations" panel. Highlight the route, and click the pencil button.  This view shows the Ways that are in the relation. Note they are not always in the right order.  Scroll through the list of Ways, most of them will have arrows in the 3rd column, look for any with red squares. You can also highlight in one Way, right click and choose Select Next Gap to make this easier.

If there are any gaps, right click the row, choose Zoom To. In the Main map view, choose the draw line tool and click the squares at each end of the gaps to join. Press escape to stop drawing.  Go back to the Relation editor and repeat.

If you've got this far, you should consider learning how to make a real fix to the data and submit it back, it's not much more work.

If you are certain you've got a contiguous line.  Delete the Relation, highlight it in the panel and Delete.  This leaves just the Ways on the Map view.

Back in the main map window, we'll now join the Ways into one. Make sure all Ways are highlighted (Control-A).  Now join all Ways together, by choosing Tools->Combine Way.  If the lines were contiguous, you'll probably be asked to Reverse and Combine. Do it.  

If this fails, your line is not contiguous. If you get asked complicated questions about tags you didn't delete them, or you may have not deleted the Relation they belonged to.

You might want to change the direction of your Track. See Tools->Reverse Way.

You should name your Way (Track) at this point. Highlight it, in the Tags panel click add.  Key=name Value=<something>

Now export to GPX.  File->Save As.  Name your file <something>.gpx.

If your map data was only that one Way and no relation data it should have exported as a GPX Track which you can use in your GPS.

I like to check my tracks in using OpenRouteConverter.  This program will show multiple tracks, allow you to edit them, join them; and convert from GPX routes to tracks. 

Alternative Export using OSM Route Manager

There is one online tool that looks like it attempts to automate the above process.  I've found in practice it doesn't do a complete job and you have to fix the results in another tool. I use OpenRouteConverter to fix up.

Check out OpenStreetMap Route Manager.

It's fairly obvious how to use it.  Click the plus icon(s) before exporting.

The relation you want might come in (unjoined) sections.

  • The sections are not nicely ordered so piece together in the right way. Each section might have a different direction. You can fix that in OpenRouteConverter.   
  • Each section might have a different direction. OpenRouteConverter can fix this.
  • You can use OpenRouteConverter to join the sections.
  • I've found Route Manager exports as GPX Route. You can use OpenRouteConverter to make this into a GPX Track.