Ninety Degrees

Too hot for me!  Even in Fahrenheit (fatally so in Celsius – or Kelvin, though for a rather different reason) as I’m generally not keen on high ambient temperatures: 75 is pretty much my preferred limit.  I prefer the cold to be honest: you can always add clothing to cope, whereas there is only so much you can take off in the warm (even if you are willing to risk both frightening the horses and arrest).  However, I was actually thinking of angles (π/2 radians, if you prefer) rather than temperature.

The right angle is our friend when dealing with triangles and trigonometry (at least in Euclidean geometry) and allows us to use the more practical portion of Pythagoras’ legacy.  It is often preferred in construction, certainly it makes wallpaper hanging and furniture selection easier, though its use has been somewhat eschewed by Trinity House.  However, there is one area of construction in which I feel it has been over-used to detrimental effect.

Back in the mid-80s, there was a short lived TV series from the stables of Glen A Larson called ‘Automan’.  The eponymous hero was, effectively, a character from a video game and his car obeyed the rules of video games of that era (this was long before the vast majority of the Laws of Physics were implemented in the gaming arena).  This enabled to make instantaneous right angle turns and it could also be merely un-drawn rather than parked, which is perhaps an even more useful facility.  However, this was science fiction (well, fiction certainly) and no wheeled vehicle (unless it has all-wheel steering) can make an (even near) instantaneous right angle turn: the wheelbase prevents it.

I must assume that this fact will come as a shock to the designers of cycle paths in Cambridgeshire, who appear to believe that the bicycle is able to make incredibly tight right angle turns with ease.  Or such is my thesis given the frequency with which such layouts are imposed upon the unfortunate cyclist.  I will admit that my own attempts at turning a bicycle are perhaps not the finest, but I think even those struck more frequently with the ept stick (a stick whose blows I have managed to largely avoid: which must be irony) must struggle with many of these corners.  In most cases, the local topography does not require such tight turns – and in one very local example, three right angles have been created within a few feet where none at all were needed (in fact, the right-angle free solution would have saved a fair chunk of tarmacadam).  Has the county surveyor’s office been infiltrated by fundamentalist followers of Pythagoras?

Whilst I am on my high horse (remember, “never surrender height once gained”) let me shift another peeve about cycle path design from where it current lies: atop my chest.  Many cycle routes hereabouts require the cyclists to cross the flow of traffic far more often than seems necessary.  If I return home from the next village using the cycle paths provided, I have to cross the main road FOUR times, whereas if I follow the main road I never have to cross the flow of traffic.  This makes for an interesting risk assessment exercise for the cyclist: is it safer to remain on the busy road or to travel on traffic-free paths but have to cross the busy road multiple times?  (Answers on a postcard: please show your working.)  This desire to make bicycles cross roads seems a popular choice: even on brand new roads where there is sufficient space allocated for cycling to allow them never to need to cross the flow of traffic, the design still insists upon it.

As a cynic, I suspect a broader policy motive is at play.  It is well established that regular cycling increases life expectancy – and this country is already facing a soi-disant pensions time bomb.  I like to imagine it as spherical, grey (black seems inappropriate) and with the word BOMB printed on the side in large unfriendly white letters.  By repeatedly forcing cyclists to cross busy roads, I assume the powers-that-be are hoping to lose a few to “natural wastage” and so counteract the boost to the number of future pensioners which would otherwise arise (it may also provides some cheap traffic calming).  If true, this would suggest a degree of joined-up-thinking all too rare in the governing classes – so perhaps it could be better explained by the usual combination of stupidity and incompetence…

Feel free to continue the lunacy...

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