3D printing – a practical application

Fellowes paper shredder PS60C-2

I have a Fellowes PS60C-2 paper shredder. some months ago it stopped working, so I opened it up.

Fellowes paper shredder PS60C-2

Opened case of Fellowes paper shredder PS60C-2

that revealed a tooth on one cog had sheared off and shattered.

Disassembled drive box from Fellowes paper shredder PS60C-2

Broken cog from Fellowes paper shredder PS60C-2

a search online for spare parts yielded nothing for this relatively elderly model (over 16 years old, so not bad going).

I could find a similar model on Amazon for about £40. however, I doubt that would last anything like 16 years. as the model I have cost £80 in 2002, which is worth about £115 today, I probably need to spend over £100 for something that will last.

this highlights a big problem with prices: they are poor indicators of value. for a good like a shredder or a washing machine, it would be more informative and fairer to be charged an annual price. as it is, we have to play a lottery. if you pay £400 up-front for a washing machine, you might get lucky and get ten years’ service, at £40/year; if you’re really unlucky, you might get just two years, at £200/year. there is of course a problem with this: a family of six will use the machine much more intensively than a retired single person. so, maybe we should be paying per hour of operation.

back to the shredder … other than a broken cog, the shredder looks to be in good order, so I wondered if I could find someone to 3D-print a replacement cog. I posted a request on the Cambridge Makespace forum.

shortly afterwards, Drew Ewen responded. we met. I gave him the broken cog to work from. he created a CAD (computer aided design) file and converted it into instructions for a 3D printer.

CAD rendering of replacement cog for Fellowes paper shredder PS60C-2

after a couple of failed attempts printing, he had a good-looking replica for me.

Replacement cog for Fellowes paper shredder PS60C-2

I replaced the broken cog with the replica.

New cog installed in Fellowes paper shredder PS60C-2

I reassembled the case and gave the shredder a whirl …

it worked!

I paid Drew a modest amount for his time and materials, which was considerably less than I would have had to pay for a comparable replacement shredder. so, I’m happy to have saved some money, avoided incurring a large carbon cost and saved a large item from going to landfill (some of the metal might have been recycled, but probably not much else).

Brexit has little to do with the EU

updated 17 July 2017

in all the talk about hard/soft/clean/full/transitional Brexit, there is a dangerous assumption that it is a solution to problems the UK faces.

it is in fact a huge distraction from what government really needs be concerned about: a growing crisis in housing supply, the NHS, social care, education and the Prison Service,  to name just the most obvious. none of these will be solved by reducing the country’s financial contributions to the EU; nor by restricting free movement of people more than EU treaties already allow; nor by removing the country from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

the ills of this country lie squarely at the door of our own government.

an abuse of democracy

the value in democracy is not that it elects good governments; it is that it provides a civilised mechanism (as opposed to a military coup d’état) for removing bad governments. in the absence of a credible opposition ready to take over, a bad government remains in power. bad government is better than no government.

the Brexit referendum was an abuse of democracy: it allowed people to reject membership of the EU, but neglected to offer a viable alternative (the equivalent of a new government).

if the US election had been held in the style of this referendum, it would have asked the people, “would you like Barack Obama to remain or leave the Whitehouse?” it is then as if a working group of Congress decided that Trump should be the new president, claiming the popular vote mandated support for Trump.

we voted for a negative, a vacuum into which politicians could pour their fears and fantasies.

the referendum did not bind MPs to any particular course of action. no MP should have felt mandated to support invocation of Article 50 unless and until he or she believed that the consequences will be in the best interests of the country, their constituents and future generations. blind faith in a positive outcome is an abrogation of responsibility.

blame the EU

the EU has become the object of blame for a whole range of UK government failures – and not just by the Cameron/Osborne government, but more seriously by the Blair/Brown governments. the latter accepted immigration to the UK (on a scale even greater than they forecast) because it generated economic growth. migrants from Poland suited Britain well, providing productive workers for the building trades and arable farming in particular. our health service has long depended heavily on immigrants from the EU (as well as India and the Philippines).

but Blair, Brown, Darling, Cameron and Osborne all missed one stunningly obvious (with hindsight maybe) point: net immigration means a greater demand on housing, transport, education and health. when Labour under Blair was elected in 1997, the country was already severely underinvested in transport infrastructure, health and education. in its first term in government, it took steps to remedy those, but neglected housing until 2003.

immigration took off almost immediately after Labour was elected, initially from non-EU countries, but the accession of Eastern European countries to the EU shifted the balance. Labour governments took the bonus of increased tax revenue resulting from economic growth and banked it (running budget surpluses from 1998 to 2001).

the UK backed expansion of the EU in 2004, and opted to impose few restrictions on immigration from acceding countries, unlike, for instance, Germany and France. it also backed expansion in 2007 (but this time imposed restrictions for seven years, as permitted by the accession agreements).

EU citizens who are non-economically active (studying, retired or unemployed) their right to reside in the UK “depends on their having sufficient resources not to become a burden on the host Member State’s social assistance system, and having sickness insurance.” the UK does not publish figures for numbers of EU citizens deported under this requirement, but the number is thought to be low. (it is likely that other countries have been simarlarly lenient on non-economically active UK citizens residing in their countries.)

after the banking crash in 2008, government investment was diverted towards bailing out banks and fire-fighting an economy in recession – and on the edge of depression. investment in housing, health, education and other local government services all took a back seat. but net immigration was still high and rising, so demands on housing, health, education and other local government services also continued to rise.

it was inevitable that people would cry foul. they voted Labour out in 2010, but the Conservatives offered no respite. in fact they tightened the screws and meddled with, without fixing, the NHS and education. they did however start to address the burgeoning housing crisis, controversially by relaxing planning regulations and offering financial assistance to first-time buyers. but the acceleration in house building was much too slow to catch up with demand.

the vote for Brexit was a natural and (in hindsight) predictable outcome of years of underinvestment by successive governments in housing, transport infrastructure, education, health, social care and other local government services. UKIP and the larger part of Labour and the Conservatives all scapegoated the EU rather than admit that the blame lay with UK governments.

it is therefore no wonder that the other 27 nations of the EU feel little sympathy with the UK. we have reaped benefits of EU membership, and now we are blaming the EU for our own governments’ mismanagement.

it might also be added that the refugee crisis faced by continental Europe is a direct consequence of military actions that the UK advocated and pursued independently of the EU, including invading Iraq, bombing Libya, and intervening covertly in Syria.

no way back

once Article 50 is invoked, the UK is committed to leaving the EU within two years. the law (British or EU) might provide a let-out; the other member states might allow us to change our mind. but, for now at least, exercising that option would lead to civil war (at least in the media, if not on the streets). if there is one point on which everybody can agree, it is that the referendum was a vote to leave the EU.

a proportion of those who voted Brexit believe that the EU is a bloated bureaucracy that we can do better without. probably most people would agree with the first part of this assertion. the real point of disagreement is over the consequences of Brexit, which are unprovable. hence no argument is likely to change the mind of a principled or optimistic Brexiteer.

a larger proportion of those who voted Brexit believe that leaving the EU will reduce pressure in the UK on housing, employment, health, education and other local government services. it may do in the short term, but the loss of labour will quickly result in a crisis in the construction industry, farming, health and social care, academia, and other parts of the UK economy. there will inevitably be a loss of tax revenue, from a smaller population and slower growth. this will put even greater strain on central and local government finances at a time when the population’s needs (especially for social care) and expectations (especially for health care) are rising. (see the ‘low migration’ scenario produced by the Office of Budget Responsibility.)

the brain drain

perhaps less discussed is the likelihood of a ‘brain drain’ of academic researchers. universities have become highly productive engines for the economy, spinning out start-ups to exploit new discoveries and inventions. the loss of foreign postgraduate researchers, and more attractive opportunities for British academics to work abroad will lead to a reduction in entrepreneurial activity in the UK.

the UK government may wish to offer sweeteners to companies to remain in the UK, for instance by lowering corporation tax. but that will disincline EU or EEA member countries from agreeing to grant privileges to UK companies, such as ‘passporting’, as part of a future trade deal. the Netherlands has already made this point.

without incentives and facing years of uncertainty, major banks, car manufacturers and other multinationals may choose to minimise risk by relocating their headquarters, R&D, manufacturing and service centres away from the UK. the consequences for the UK economy and future competitiveness could be dire.

is there an alternative to Brexit?

if there is an alternative to Brexit, it is not a legal loophole that annuls or blocks the referendum. nor is it a vote in Parliament to reject the Brexit agreement (which, in all probability, would mean that the UK drops out of the EU without an agreement).

it would need to be a credible commitment by government to embark immediately on a massive programme of investment in housing, transport, health, energy, policing, education, social care and other local government services. but that will be needed even if we leave the EU – possibly even more so.

investment on the scale required will entail increasing taxes and/or government borrowing.

the national debt already costs £39bn/year, four times the UK’s net contribution to the EU budget. that cost will rise significantly if the UK government is seen to become a riskier borrower. long-term gilts currently trade at around a 2% return. an increase of a fraction of a percentage point would make new and renewed debt considerably more expensive.

UK public sector spending 2016-17

Public sector spending 2016-17 from the Office of Budget Responsibility

there is little appetite to raise income taxes (including National Insurance), sales taxes (VAT and duties) or corporation tax. so government will need to be more creative about tax-raising opportunities: for instance, on multinational corporate earnings, land, intellectual property, financial transactions, commodities, CO2 emissions, pollutants, and infrastructure usage (including roads and airports).

local governments are losing the Revenue Support Grant from central government, but are constrained to raising Council Tax by under 2% without a referendum. there are more efficiencies yet to be gained, e.g. through greater collaboration between local governments and other agencies, and better use of technology; but these savings will take many years to realise, and require considerable up-front investment of money and expertise. most savings are now being found by cutting or reducing access to services, such as social care, public transport and legal aid, which poorer people depend on.


the law does not provide a let-out from politics. if the UK government does not offer a radical alternative to Brexit, then Brexit is inevitable (as most now believe it is anyway). but Brexit is not a solution.

Brexit creates huge new challenges, for which the civil service is ill-equipped to handle. it is also a huge distraction from the work that government really needs to be doing: reversing a decade of underinvestment in core infrastructure; correcting the mistakes made by previous and current governments; and relieving the financial straightjacket from local government.

MPs must take their responsibility to future generations as seriously as their responsibility to those who voted to leave the EU. they must use their judgement to interpret the referendum’s meaning, and act with courage.

EU Referendum

[updated 7 August: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties eliminated as possible recourse.
updated 2 July: article restructured; proposal simplified; information on Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties added; paragraph on election communications added.]

on 23 June 2016, disillusioned people across the United Kingdom voted to give government, Brussels, the Establishment a bloody nose. some had no real expectation it would make a difference; some had been fed a simplistic idea of how disengagement from the EU would yield immediate benefits; but probably the majority still believe that leaving the EU is the right move for Britain. those people now also fear that the governing ‘elite’ are seeking a way to wriggle out of obeying this inconvenient popular mandate.

who’s to blame?

in times of hardship, people seek out scapegoats: this time it’s not the monarchy, Catholics, Jews or Communists; it’s Brussels and immigrants.

the truth however is that the blame lies squarely at the door of our own government, under Labour, the Coalition, and the Conservatives.

successive British governments welcomed rapid immigration to increase the productivity of our economy, and the concomitant increase in tax revenue; but they did not invest adequately in the infrastructure that a growing population and economy requires: housing, schools, healthcare delivery, and transport. they permitted banks to risk ordinary people’s savings and pensions on speculative investments that amounted to little more than ponzi schemes, artificially inflating the economies of Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Greece. they manipulated the capital markets to erode the savings of the working poor and increase the wealth of the rich. they conducted deeply divisive military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, empowering Al Qaeda and Islamic State, precipitating genocides, indiscriminate terrorist attacks around the world, and the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

these are just a few of the actions of our own government that have created a toxic farrago of poverty, inequality, isolation, job insecurity, unaffordable housing, unfairly rationed health and social care, devaluation of public service, religious extremism, and xenophobia. the EU referendum result is the culmination of years of misunderstanding, misjudgement, dishonesty, arrogance and narcissism by political leaders.

where next?

so how do we rescue the situation? the government is not legally bound to act by the 23 June EU referendum nor any EU Treaty, but it is under a moral obligation to carry out the wishes of the majority and to eliminate uncertainty for the other EU member states.

negotiating an exit must start immediately, to reassure Leave voters that government is not going to betray them. but, if the point of no return can be delayed, it should be. when it becomes clear what exiting the EU actually means, some Leave voters may change their mind. and that’s OK.

a second referendum

holding a second referendum before any new information is available would be insulting to the vast majority of those who voted Leave on 23 June. it would most likely lead to civil unrest and further evaporation of trust in government. the only fair and reasonable course of action is to determine what exit actually means and put that to a second referendum:

  1. leave the EU on whatever terms have been agreed (or a clean break if there is no agreement).
  2. remain on whatever terms the EU is offering at that time.

this second referendum should be binding on the UK government to act, so as to give people confidence in the validity of the process.

this proposal recognises that:

  1. the referendum on 23 June gave the government a mandate to negotiate an exit agreement with the European Union.
  2. no-one knew on 23 June what form an exit agreement might take.
  3. people voted on the basis of speculation about the terms of an exit agreement, and on the likely impact on people’s quality of life, net immigration, the economy, and Britain’s global political standing.
  4. it is therefore only fair to those who voted, to remain or leave, that they be given a chance to review the actual terms and implications of leaving the EU.


Germany, France and Italy have ruled out the option of UK and other EU member states negotiating the final terms of an exit agreement before the UK invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (see BBC News report), but it could be in everyone’s interests for the UK not to rush into invoking Article 50.

legal advice is that the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties does not apply to the Lisbon Treaty because the European Parliament has jurisdiction to determine the treaty’s interpretation and application. it also seems highly unlikely that all EU member states would agree to allow the UK (or any other EU member) to temporarily invoke Article 50 in order to negotiate a better deal with the EU.

since invoking Article 50 is a one-way street, the question is how long invocation may be delayed. the only justification for holding a second referendum before invoking Article 50 will be if significantly more detail has be established as to what Brexit means, domestically and internationally (in terms of diplomatic, social, cultural, scientific, economic and trade relations with EU and other major nations). this is in the best interests of the UK, even though it could take many months.

there is a good case to be made for the EU to flesh out Article 50 with a detailed framework of procedures. this would ensure that, if any other country considers leaving the EU, it will not be taking the same leap into the unknown that the UK has done. whether there is the will amongst EU members to do this in advance of the UK invoking Article 50 has yet to be seen.

delay in invoking Article 50 will prolong uncertainty for the whole EU. but Article 50 negotiations could see two years or more of uncertainty anyway. preliminary work could reduce the time required for post-invocation negotiations, and create a scenario in which Brexit does not happen. all EU member states should recognise that as a worthwhile path to tread.

Brexit will be destabilising for all EU members, and hugely costly for the UK. if cool heads can prevail, Brexit can be avoided, and meaningful EU reform achieved. let’s not break the EU; let’s mend it.

section 2.5 of the House of Commons Briefing paper Brexit: how does the Article 50 process work? examines the question Could a notification be withdrawn? one conclusion is that, given that the Lisbon Treaty is silent on the matter, Article 68 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties would apply: a notification of intention to withdraw from a treaty ‘may be revoked at any time before it takes effect’. there may be some legal dispute over when revocation ‘takes effect’, but the most obvious interpretation is that it is when withdrawal from the treaty is concluded. in this case, that would be when an exit agreement is signed or the negotiation period expires.

it would however be helpful if the European Council declared that Article 68 does apply, and that invocation of Article 50 may therefore be revoked at any time before the UK officially withdraws from the EU. it is not in other members states’ interests for the UK to leave the EU, so it seems unlikely that they would refuse the UK this escape. (Britain may be a thorn in the side of the Mediterranean EU states, but its membership does bring benefits, not least of which is its ‘special relationship’ with the US.)

the time and effort involved in negotiating terms of exit will not be wasted: it will benefit the EU if the process and terms of exit for a member state are thrashed out and codified for all to see. then if and when another country considers leaving the EU, it will not be taking a leap into the unknown.

there is an argument that if the UK states an intention to hold a second referendum, then other EU member states will deliberately offer a lousy deal in the hopes that the British public will reject it and opt to remain in the EU. that would be an uncharacteristically risky gamble. it is in the interests of other EU member states to continue constructive and cordial diplomatic, social, cultural, scientific, economic and trade relations with the UK, inside or outside the EU, so I would expect negotiations to be fairly balanced.

electoral reform

it is deeply saddening that some people are claiming that they voted Leave as a protest, not expecting their vote to change anything. this is proof of how broken our democracy is: that for decades, generations even, people have voted in general and local elections knowing that their vote counts for nothing, because they live in a ‘safe seat’.

government can regain some political capital by reforming the electoral process to make it more inclusive and honest.

in the first place 16 and 17 year olds must be permitted to vote in all elections and referendums. society allows anyone aged 16 to marry, have a baby, join the armed forces and, at 17, to drive a car; but not to vote. the arguments against lowering the voting age sound eerily similar to reasons used in the past to deprive women of the vote or, before that, anyone who wasn’t a landowner: it would be dangerous; they’re not competent to vote; they’d vote irresponsibly. it’s bunkum, and the British government should admit it, and follow the Scottish government’s lead in lowering the voting age for Scottish Parliament and local government elections.

first-past-the-post voting typically produces a clear majority for one of two major parties, at the expense of fair representation for all other parties. the solution is a system of proportional representation. not only will more people get their political views represented in Parliament, politics will attract and catch a wider range of candidates, people whose ideologies do not align neatly with one of the established parties.

to make a change to proportional representation viable, it will be necessary to split the role of an MP into two: a non-partisan local ombudsman and a national political representative. a local ombudsman would serve as an advocate for people within a geographical area, ideally corresponding to a local authority area, since much local advocacy involves issues and disputes between residents and their local councils. a small team of national representative would, like MEPs, represent larger regions, taking a strategic overview of local, national and international issues and ideas that should inform and guide government policy and legislation.

there is an urgent need to legislate to require election and referendum communications comply with basic standards of accuracy, honesty and equality. the Advertising Code, enforced by the Advertising Standards Agency has no powers with respect to political advertising. Parliament needs to publish a code for election and referendum communications and decide what body, if not the Advertising Standards Agency, should enforce it.

what you can do

  1. feed back here if you have any suggestions for changes, additions or corrections to this article.
  2. talk to people who voted the opposite way to you to understand what their reasons, frustrations and fears are. it’s easy to dismiss another person’s view as stupid, ignorant or perverse, but their reasons may make sense only when you understand their context.
  3. write to your MP to tell them what you would like to happen (feel free to copy and paste anything from this article into your email).

further information

Remembrance Sunday

as we prepare to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and -women in the two World Wars and later conflicts, we should perhaps also pause to remember the many other people who have made similar sacrifices with similar fortitude for the benefit of contemporary and future generations: doctors, nurses and aid workers; police and fire officers; miners, engineers and construction workers; journalists; and many others.

doctors have always risked their lives to treat patients with infectious diseases – with or without an understanding of the risks. they, along with nurses and aid workers, have entered life-threatening environments, of epidemic, plague, war and anarchy to protect and provide for others.

police and fire officers routinely put their lives at risk to protect others in ways that we too readily take for granted.

engineers, construction workers and miners have worked in harsh, dangerous, and often terrifying conditions to build dams, tunnels, bridges, railways and roads, and to extract minerals. deaths were, until relatively recently in the developed world, commonplace.

journalists have long reported from zones of armed conflict, natural disaster, and political instability to inform the world about oppression, war crimes, corruption, and extreme hardship. for some of them, a dedication to truth and transparency has cost them their lives.

these men and women, and many more besides, sacrificed their lives for the betterment of mankind just as surely as our soldiers. we should take time to remember them too. would it not be appropriate to do that on Remembrance Sunday?

organisations representing different groups could arrange their own ceremonies and collections, and choose their own symbols of remembrance for people to wear. Remembrance Sunday would be more inclusive, spreading awareness of the many people, in so many walks of life, who have, and will continue, to make the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us.

fixing local democracy

local democracy is broken:

  • there is a deficit of trust between the public, councillors and council officers, owing to poor communication and, in some cases, poor performance.
  • the deficit of trust extends to central government’s view of local government, leading to a reluctance to devolve more power.
  • councillor allowances are so low that few people can afford to be a councillor, severely constraining the pool of potential candidates.
  • councillors who have to earn a wage find themselves working an unhealthy number of hours, leading to burnout and strain on their family life.
  • the quality of committee debate, decision making and policy is often unsatisfactory, partly because councillors rarely have time to read, yet alone digest, meeting agenda packs, which can run to hundreds of pages.
  • constituents have a poor understanding of which councillor to contact about what issue.

but it needn’t be this way: a radical reorganisation of local democracy could lead to better representation and governance at no greater cost.

allowances for councillors representing the 14 wards of Cambridge city in 2014-15

Cambridge allowances
councillors basic average leader annual cost*
Cambridgeshire 14 £7,700 £11,747 £22,700 †£164,464
Cambridge City 42 £2,782 £5,756 £13,632 £241,737
total 56 n/a £7,254 n/a £406,201

*not including travel and subsistence expenses (which are not income).
†pro-rata from total cost of £810,577 for 69 county councillors.

fewer, full-time city councillors

imagine that, instead of electing three City and one County councillor per ward, you elected just one, full-time councillor to represent you on both councils. if the £406,201 of allowances paid out in 2014-15 to local councillors had been paid to just fourteen, their average remuneration would have been £29,014. that could equate to a pay scale ranging from around £25,000 to around £50,000 for the leader – livable (though not generous) salaries: £25,000 equates to £12/hour (based on 260 8-hour working days).

by comparison, Cambridge’s MP represents thirteen wards (Queen Ediths is in South Cambridgeshire constituency), with the assistance usually of a part-time researcher/administrator, and receives a salary of £74,000 (as of 8 May 2015). therefore it is not unreasonable to think that local matters could be well-represented by a team of fourteen full-time councillors.

by further comparison in 2014-15, the chief executive of the County Council received remuneration (salary plus pension contributions) of £228,177; and the chief executive of the City Council received £138,820.


this arrangement would have many benefits:

  • councillors would be committed full-time to representing their constituents, and guiding and scrutinising the work of council officers.
  • having all councillors involved in both city and county councils would ensure more joined-up thinking, and facilitate collaboration leading to cost savings.
  • fewer councillor positions and more people feeling able to be councillors would create greater competition for the best talent, commitment and performance, ensuring consistently high calibre elected councillors.
  • constituents would have a single point of contact for local issues.
  • councillors could be reasonably expected to correspond in a timely manner, to hold weekly surgeries, and to communicate regularly (e.g. via a website) with their constituents.
  • more effective local democracy would argue strongly for more powers to be devolved from central government.

part-time councillors

being a councillor part-time works well for some people, especially those who have caring responsibilities or have their own business. job-sharing could be the answer. in a sense that is what happens now, because each ward or district is typically represented by between two and four councillors, but there is no formal job-sharing arrangement; in fact quite the reverse when councillors are from different political parties.

if each ward or district is to be represented by one full-time councillor, then anyone who wants to do the job part-time would need to arrange a job-share with someone else, and stand together with that person for election on the same ticket. the terms of the job-share should be made public at the time of standing for election so that it is clear who would be responsible for what; how they would split the allowance; and how they would be contactable (ideally offering a single point of contact).

political party organisers should be able to arrange suitable matches, but independents would need to use their initiative. once the principal is established, there should be no reason to stop three or more people standing together for a single councillor position.

beyond the city

outside the city, each district would elect a single councillor to represent them on the relevant district and county council. (in reality many already stand for election to both councils.) since many rural wards have small populations (as low as 1,200 – compared with around 6,000 per ward in the city), there would need to be a radical redrawing of ward boundaries to enable a 75% reduction in the number of councillors across the whole county.

further information


Edward Leigh

solving the traffic problems of Cambridge, UK

Many of these ideas are now being developed by the Smarter Cambridge Transport group, led by the author of this post.

options to reject

bus lanes/ways

the Cambridgeshire Local Transport Plan and first phase of the City Deal transport initiatives contain some excellent, eminently worthwhile schemes, but the main solution that councils are proposing for solving Cambridge’s congestion woes is to build bus priority lanes or busways. the hope, based more on intuition than evidence, is that this will persuade more people to leave their cars at home and take the bus, or use park-and-ride. however:

  • the cost is huge (£60m estimated for Madingley and Milton Roads);
  • new bus lanes increase road capacity as far as the city outskirts; since we cannot increase vehicle capacity of central Cambridge streets, the additional traffic (even if only buses) will exacerbate congestion in the centre;
  • in most cases there is only space to provide a single bus lane, so buses only benefit during one (typically morning) peak period; (tidal lane allocation is theoretically possible, but not practical or safe on space-constrained urban roads with junctions, e.g. because bus stops have to be built on both sides of the lane, and the lane has to be physically segregated to prevent other vehicles straying into the path of a bus approaching from an unexpected direction);
  • every arterial (and orbital) road is heavily congested, so increasing capacity on just those that have space for a bus lane will not solve the problem city-wide;
  • much green space would be lost in widening roads;
  • the space required for a single bus lane could provide two, high quality, 2.5m cycle lanes at lower cost, which would benefit more people at all times of day;
  • there would be no improvement to air and noise pollution, even if the buses run on electricity or hydrogen (because there will still be the same volume of cars, vans and lorries on the roads).

congestion charging

congestion charging is attractive to councils because it would create a new source of revenue; and it would work: the charge just needs to be set high enough. but it has two unpalatable side effects:

  • entering the city becomes a rich man/woman’s privilege;
  • businesses that require vans (for deliveries, or providing building, installation, maintenance or repair services) become subject to a significant new tax, inhibiting growth and competition. would a plumber drive into the city to quote for a small job if s/he has to pay a congestion charge?
  • administration and enforcement is costly, requiring a high charge simply to break even.


a logical solution to congestion above ground is to create additional capacity for transport underground. however, tunneling is hugely expensive, at around £30m per kilometre, added to which is the cost and disruption of building underground stations in a city centre. this level of investment can be justified for a large city where daily ridership is in the high tens of thousands (the Tyne and Wear Metro carries around 100,000 people a day); but in a city the size of Cambridge, the investment cost per passenger-journey would be unjustifiably large.

a new vision for Cambridge

we need a shift in mindset about cars entering city centres: that they are for people with impaired mobility and for transporting goods and equipment. except where it is impractical (and not just less convenient), workers, school children, shoppers and visitors should be walking, cycling, or using public transport to access the city centre. and it’s not only because of congestion that we should be reducing the volume of traffic and parking in city streets: it’s to make them enjoyable and safe spaces for residents and visitors.

this can be achieved – and permanently – by implementing the following measures:

  • use ‘gating’ to shift congestion to outside the city: this means buses and other traffic flows freely within the city, and drivers approaching the city can make an informed decision about using park-and-ride rather than ‘chancing it’.
  • build more park-and-ride sites to minimise the distance people must drive to reach one.
  • provide more bus services.
  • reduce car parking provision in the city centre, releasing space for cycle parking, planting and other uses.
  • create convenient, continuous, connected and safe foot- and cyclepaths wherever possible in the city and out to all surrounding villages.
  • use IT to make public transport more user friendly.
  • support the creation of a city wide shopping delivery service.

the proposals here are very much work in progress: all comments and suggestions welcome!

build new city ‘gates’

the first step in curing Cambridge’s congestion problems permanently is to ‘gate’ all of the arterial roads into the city. the technique is a form of integrated traffic management and is used to good effect in Zurich. it is also known as ‘queue relocation’: congestion in the city centre is shifted to out-of-city sites where it is easier to build additional road capacity.

at each gate, the road is widened to create holding lanes for traffic wanting to enter the city; traffic lights, connected to queue detectors in the road ahead, release vehicles only as fast as they can move along the road ahead. a bypass lane permits certain classes of vehicles, such as emergency services and buses, to jump the queue. other classes of vehicle might also be permitted to use it, such as taxis, delivery vehicles, tradesmen, and multi-occupancy vehicles (to incentivise ride sharing).

building a park-and-ride site close to a gate means drivers can make an informed decision about whether to proceed into the city or use park-and-ride. road-side notices can inform drivers of expected queuing times and give directions to the nearest park-and-ride site.

this is a list of all the gates that would need to be built, starting from the south and working clockwise around the city:

Girton park and ride site

new park-and-ride site at Girton

  • A1309 (Hauxton Rd): the gate would be on the city side of the main exit from the existing park-and-ride site. Vehicles would not be permitted to enter the city from the park-and-ride site so as to prevent people driving through the site to skip the queue. The bypass lane would also serve to access Addenbrooke’s Rd.
  • A603 (Barton Rd): the gate would be about 500m beyond the roundabout and there is space to build a park-and-ride site either side of the road.
  • A1303 (Madingley Rd): this requires two gates, one about 500m beyond the A428 roundabout, with a park-and-ride site being built near the roundabout; the second gate would be just beyond the entrance to the existing park-and-ride site (which would be restricted to park-and-cycle/walk – see below).
  • A1307 (Huntingdon Rd): the gate would be where the existing dual carriageway ends and a park-and-ride site can be built in the triangle of land within the M11-A428-A14 interchange. the northbound carriageways would become a two-way road as far as the park-and-ride entrance.
  • Oakington Rd: the gate would be south of the junction with New Rd, which would provide access to a new park-and-ride site on the Guided Busway on the north-west edge of Histon.
  • B1049 (Histon Rd): the gate would be just north of the junction with Kings Hedges Rd, with the possibility of a small park-and-ride site to the west.
  • A1309 (Milton Rd): the gate would be north side of the Cowley Rd junction. there is already a park-and-ride site north of the A14, so signs on the roundabout would need to inform drivers of the expected queuing time at the gate.
  • B1047 (Horningsea Rd): the gate would be south of the A14, and there is space for a new park-and-ride site either side of the road.
  • A1303 (Newmarket Rd): the gate would be south-west of the A14 junction, and there is space for a new park-and-ride site either side of the road. there might be a need for a second gate near the entrance to the existing park-and-ride site (which would be restricted to park-and-cycle/walk – see below).
  • Balsham Rd: the gate would be at the edge of Fulbourn with a park-and-ride site nearby.
  • Station Rd (Fulbourn): the gate would be south of the railway. there will be the option to park-and-train from here when the planned new Fulbourn station opens (date to be determined).
  • Babraham Rd: the gate would be at the junction with Haverhill Rd, with a new park-and-ride site to the north (which would also serve Wandlebury Country Park and Magog Wood). the existing park-and ride site would serve only people wanting to park-and-cycle/walk – see below.
  • A1301 (Cambridge Rd): the gate would be between Stapleford and the old Cambridge Rd through Sawston. there is space for a new park-and-ride site either side of the road.


a generous budget for doing this would be:

  • £65m for road widening at the gates (13 @ £5m average)
  • £150m for new park-and-ride sites (10 @ £15m average)
  • £10m for installing queue detectors around the city
  • £5m for the control systems

total: £230m. this is less than a third of the £853m currently allocated from the City Deal funding for transport.

reduce city car parking

multi-storey car parks

Total: 3,040 parking spaces

*excluding motorcycle bays

park-and-ride sites

  • Babraham Rd: 1,458
  • Madingley Rd: 930
  • Milton: 792
  • Newmarket Rd: 873
  • Trumpington: 1,340

Total: 5,393 parking spaces

the elephants in the room when discussing congestion are the huge city centre car parks, which together have a capacity of over 3,000 spaces: they are magnets for traffic that competes with buses. reducing parking capacity, at council car parks, on street, and on business premises has to be the next step in eliminating congestion and making roads safer and more pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists.

reducing parking capacity in the city centre entails the City Council forfeiting income (the five multi-storey car parks alone yield an income of almost £9m for the council, covering 8% of annual expenditure), so that money will have to be found in other ways.

  • charge tiered prices for multiple resident parking permits, starting at, say, £70 / £120 / £200 / £300. give a year’s notice, during which time necessary exceptions can be identified. increase the differentials by £10 each year. notify ZipCar and competitors of the intention, so that they can prepare to cater for the upturn in demand.
  • expand the residents’ parking scheme to the whole of the city (inside the A1134 plus a few areas). this will yield additional income, some of which must go to the City Council to replace income lost from reducing public car parking provision. the principal aim of the expansion would be to stop commuter parking, so the hours of restricted parking can be short (e.g. just one or two hours in a day), reducing the number of wardens needed to patrol the streets.
  • gradually reduce the parking capacity at all central Cambridge car parks.
  • convert part of the ground level (‘-1’) deck of the Grand Arcade car park into additional cycle parking (see below); convert the roof deck to a landscaped roof garden with a concession for a cafe/bar.
  • build a new eastern entrance to the main rail station from Clifton Road. link this with a footpath alongside the railway sidings to the Cambridge Leisure site and multi-storey car park (which is nearly empty during the day). have the rail franchisee (currently Abellio) negotiate with Cambridge Leisure to provide the same parking rates for rail travellers as at the NCP station car park. these measures together would relieve congestion on Hills and Station Roads.
  • gradually remove pay-and-display bays on city roads to create space for cycle parking, loading bays, and (in time) household refuse collection points.
  • double-yellow Regent Terrace and relocate residents’ parking to the southern end, keeping this busy thoroughfare clear and safe for cyclists and pedestrians at all times of day.
  • double-yellow the whole of Station Road (removing all pay-and-display bays). this will make room for high quality cycle lanes in both directions (see above).


  • encourage retailers of bulky goods to club together to run a delivery service to all park-and-ride sites (following the example of John Lewis in delivering to Trumpington park-and-ride).
  • provide covered cycle parking at all park-and-ride sites, maintaining at least 10% more capacity than demand.
  • as new park-and-ride sites are built further out from the city centre, designate inner sites for bus-and-cycle, with covered, secure cycle parking for people arriving by bus (both regular and park-and-ride services).

parking reservation system

  • fund/sponsor/license a computerised parking reservation system for all city centre car parks. gradually increase the reserved allocation at each car park over time.
  • involve retailers in the scheme so that their customers can reserve and pay for a space, then receive a rebate on presentation of their ticket (or QR code) in the shop.

cycle parking

  • new Grand Arcade cycle park

    this section of level -1 of the Grand Arcade car park could be separated off for cycle parking.

    convert an area of the southern end of the ground level (‘-1’) deck of the Grand Arcade car park (beneath the City Hotel) into a 600+ space cycle park. this would be separate from the existing cycle park. the area involved is easily isolated from the flow of vehicle traffic. the only structural work required would be to widen and ramp the existing pedestrian entrances, from the City Hotel car park access lane (Tibbs Row) and from the elevated walkway alongside Corn Exchange St.

  • reassign part of each of the other multi-storey car parks to cycle parking and a cycle hire shop.
  • encourage bike hire companies to set up at park-and-ride and bus-and-cycle (see above) sites. ideally it should be possible to rent a bike one-way between any of the following: park-and-ride sites, train stations, and city centre sites (e.g. each of the multi-storey car parks).
  • aim to provide sufficient secure cycle parking within 20m of every pub and shop.
  • incentivise universities and businesses to replace all ‘wheel bender’ cycle stands with upright frames (Sheffield/Frankton/A-frame/etc.), installed at the correct height and separation (see Cambridge Cycling Campaign guide).

reduce traffic to schools

  • have the County Council employ a City Schools Transport Co-ordinator to work with all schools (state funded and private) on:
    • designating suitable car drop-off/collection points, away from congestion hotspots, in and around the city, such as park-and-ride sites, rail stations and bus stops;
    • timetabling shuttle buses between schools and designated drop-off/collection points;
    • organising adult supervision of groups of primary school children cycling or walking between school and designated  drop-off/collection points.
  • aim to introduce a ban on private vehicle drop-offs and collections in the vicinity of all schools, with exceptions being granted only by the head teacher at his/her discretion.
  • require sixth form colleges in the city to bring in a ban (with appropriate exceptions) on their students using a motor vehicle in Cambridge (extending the ban that already applies to university students – see the University of Cambridge’s Proctorial Notice on Motor Vehicles). designate a County Council officer as the contact point for the public to report vehicles that may be in breach of a student ban. the officer would pass such reports to the relevant university or school to investigate and, where appropriate, take disciplinary action.

create a Cambridgeshire transport planner

  • fund/sponsor and coordinate the development of a comprehensive Cambridgeshire transport planner for route planning and real-time travel information across Cambridgeshire, accessed via the web and mobile apps:
    • bus and train routes, timetables and real-time wait times. (consulting timetables, especially where changes of service are required en route, is complicated, tedious and outdated).
    • CycleStreets for cycle routing options.
    • carpooling organiser to enable people to request and offer rides. (this would cater to commuters and shoppers in Cambridgeshire, unlike established carpooling services (e.g. carpooling.co.uk and Bla Bla Car), which focus on inter-city journeys.)
    • community transport services (e.g. Dial-a-Ride).
    • taxis (which would pay to be included).

improve city roads

  • set all bus companies operating services with intermediate stops in Cambridge a deadline of, say, 2018 by when contactless payment will be the only form of payment accepted (as it is now on London buses). this minimises stop times for buses, allowing quicker bus journey times and reduced congestion.
  • create segregated cycle lanes on all main roads with sufficient width to accommodate.
  • include a cycle-first traffic light phase at all large road junctions. the chief benefit is in allowing cyclists to turn right without crossing the path of moving vehicles. when approaching an advanced cycle box at a junction, there is often not enough time to get into the right-hand lane before the lights change and traffic starts moving.
  • paint split cycle lanes at the approach to multi-lane junctions (e.g. on A1134 approaching junction with Mill Road from the north). this gives cyclists confidence to change lane for a right-turn, and car drivers clear warning of where cyclists may pull across in front of them.
  • use sinusoidal ramps on raised tables to improve comfort and safety for cyclists.
  • pedestrian crossing

    pedestrian crossing with in-road flashing lights (instead of a Belisha beacon) © Intelligent Traffic Equipment Marketing Ltd

    install zebra crossings on all key pedestrian routes and in the vicinity of shops. a change in the highway law would enable the use of in-road flashing amber lights, which are more visible in the day than Belisha beacons and do not create an annoying distraction at night for nearby residents.

specific projects

  • remodel Station Rd–Hills Rd junction with cycle lanes on all routes.
  • remove pay-and-display bays on Station Road, enabling the addition of cycle lanes in both directions.
  • remodel junction between Downing and Corn Exchange Streets to enable cyclists to turn right safely.
  • remodel the Devonshire Rd–Carter Bridge junction to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Long-Road-station

    looking north: stepped access (in white) from Long Road to Guided Busway and site of new bus stop (in red)

    build a stepped link between the Guided Busway path and the south side of Long Road.

  • build a Guided Bus stop to the south of Long Road bridge. this would serve the sixth form college, Clay Farm development, Sedley Taylor Rd, Rutherford Rd, and the northern fringe of the Addenbrooke’s site.
  • build a bridge connecting Cowley Road and Fen Road; sever Fen Road at the railway; create a pedestrian and cycle underpass beneath the existing level crossing. this removes a dangerous level crossing and opens up the Fen Rd area (over 50 hectares) for future (sensitive) development.
  • create a light-controlled cycle crossing of the A1134 ring road at Natal Road to improve the link with Brookfields and the (unnamed) road that leads to Budleigh Close. this is a missing link in the east-west cycle corridor from central Cambridge to Cherry Hinton.
  • create a pedestrian crossing on Cherry Hinton Road between Rustat Road and Rock Road.
  • Brookside bridge

    new bridge and cycle path (in red) between Trumpington Road and Brookside at Fen Causeway roundabout

    build a cycle-pedestrian bridge over Hobson’s Conduit between the Trumpington Road-Fen Causeway roundabout and Brookside. This would allow cyclists to avoid the Trumpington Road-Lensfield Road roundabout, and the awkward turn and narrow bridge level with Pemberton Terrace.

  • create segregated cycle lanes along Fen Causeway, with proper junctions with cycle paths on Coe Fen, Sheep’s Green and Lammas Land.
  • cantilever a cycle path over the edge of the Mill Pond to enable cyclists to make more use of the cycle/footway to Fen Causeway on Coe Fen, and avoid the Newnham Road-Fen Causeway roundabout.

improve village transport links

putting neighbouring communities, local schools, shops and other amenities within safe walking or cycling distance reduces car use for short journeys, and has valuable social and health benefits. it also provides a free and healthy option for villagers to commute into the city, and for city dwellers to get out to the countryside and patronise village pubs, cafés and shops.

  • provide more bus services, connecting with (or serving as) park-and-ride buses for greater flexibility and speed.
  • build continuous, dedicated cycle and footpaths to connect the city with all surrounding villages (to at least the standard of the link to Great Shelford).
  • connect up village schools, shops and other amenities with safe cycle ways and all-weather footpaths.

further reading


Edward Leigh, Jim Chisholm

driverless cars

the introduction of driverless cars will be hugely disruptive, a revolution comparable to the introduction of computers, the Internet and mobile phones. it will make roads safer, taxis cheaper, and radically alter the built environment. but, just as computers made millions of pool typists redundant, so driverless cars will make millions of taxi and truck drivers redundant. it’s a case of when not if, with countries reviewing and updating legislation to legalise driverless cars on public roads.

the benefits are so attractive, especially for city dwellers, that take-up will be rapid once regulatory hurdles are cleared and driverless cars are available to the public for use on all public roads:

  • people of all ages, and physical and mental abilities will have access to personal transportation, owned, leased, shared or hired as needed.
  • roads will be much safer.
  • there will be no need for on-street parking, freeing up acres of space for other purposes.
  • fully-electric cars will be viable in cities (where most cars are parked on the street, making charging batteries difficult).
  • owning a car will not be necessary or cost-effective for low mileage travellers: driverless taxis will be cheaper than taxis now, especially for longer journeys, because fleets of driverless cars can reorganise themselves to be available where there is demand.
  • road signs may be eliminated (vehicle priorities can be arbitrated wirelessly from roadside beacons or between vehicles).


millions of truck and taxi drivers will find themselves redundant in the space of a couple of decades, a potential societal disaster. in the US alone there are 3.5 million truck drivers. to begin with, truck drivers will, for public reassurance, be employed as in-cab supervisors; drivers will be employed at depots to marshal trucks until that process is also automated; and doorstep deliveries will require drivers until they just do the delivering.

though there are fewer taxi drivers (around quarter of a million in the US), their employment prospects are bleaker as there will be a much shorter transition period than for truck drivers before they become redundant.

it is imperative that governments prepare retraining programmes at the same time as considering how to regulate and adapt infrastructure to driverless cars.


a major reservation about driverless vehicles is their safety: surely robots cannot be entrusted with human lives? the truth is that people are not as good as we like to think: on average across the world, eighteen people out of every hundred thousand die in traffic accidents each year, or about 1.26 million in 2015. the vast majority of those deaths are due to human error. here is a comparison between the weaknesses that a human driver has compared with a computerised drive system:

people computerised drive system
inattention. attention is always 100%.
misjudgement of speed or distance. a combination of GPS, cameras, radar and wireless communication with roadside beacons and nearby vehicles will provide precise information on every vehicle, pedestrian and any other obstacle’s location, velocity, acceleration, and potential collision course.
awareness only within field of view. cameras and radar will provide continuous 360° awareness.
poor night vision. infrared cameras and radar will provide almost as good awareness at night as in the day.
tiredness. computers don’t get tired.
slow reaction time (in the order of 1 second). reaction time is in the order of milliseconds.
misunderstanding of other drivers’ intentions. cars will constantly exchange data wirelessly to communicate their current state (velocity and acceleration) and planned manoeuvres.
mental overload leading to poor decisions. computers can process millions of pieces of information every second.
inappropriate response to weather conditions. systems will continually assess the road conditions and visibility and adjust the speed and manner of braking accordingly. traction control and antilock-brakes will be much more effective under computer control.
inappropriate evasive response to an imminent collision (e.g. swerving into the path of another vehicle, or braking while steering causing an uncontrolled spin). when evasive action is required, the system will already have full awareness of where it is safest to move the vehicle to.
rash behaviour owing to rage, impatience, overconfidence or showing off. computers do not feel emotions.
inadequate maintenance. a driverless car will have more self-diagnostics, and can take itself to a mechanic without inconveniencing the owner.

there will come a day, certainly by 2050, when people will wonder how we ever allowed humans, with relatively little training and assessment, to take complete charge of such lethal machines.

situational awareness

situational awareness is an important concept in the military: it involves building and continuously updating a mental map of yourself in your surrounding environment: where everyone is; what they’re doing; what they are planning to do; how they will react to any of a number of pre-examined events. it’s like a game of chess: knowing where all the pieces are on the board, the strategies at play, and the consequences of any move.

this is something that computers are particularly good at, even without possessing human intelligence. a regular desktop computer can use ‘brute force’ methodology, where thousands of scenarios are played out from the current state of the board, to beat almost any human chess player.

cars will gain situational awareness by multiple means:

  • cameras sensitive to visible and infrared light (infrared images are useful in the dark and for locating people and animals, stationary or moving);
  • radar (to locate and determine the speed and direction of other vehicles, cycles, pedestrians, animals and static obstacles);
  • sonar?
  • GPS signals (for navigation);
  • wireless communication from roadside transmitters, in particular at junctions;
  • wireless communication from nearby vehicles (say, within 200 metres), which will continuously broadcast their:
    • position
    • velocity (speed and direction)
    • acceleration/deceleration in all axes (forward-backward, left-right, up-down)
    • current and planned maneouvres (e.g. turning or changing lanes)
    • anticipated safe stopping distance

this information can be processed and mapped in real time, ensuring that all vehicles maintain a safe position on the road, at a safe distance from each other and from surrounding obstacles.

the HAL 9000 nightmare

understandably many people are reluctant to surrender control to a robot: it could malfunction in any number of nightmarish ways, killing its passengers. drive control systems will be complex, and inevitably they will contain bugs and will suffer failures. computerised visual recognition systems will make mistakes. the solution is in redundancy, using multiple systems to do similar jobs: inputs from all sensors can be cross-compared and compared with data received from nearby vehicles to create a completely accurate dynamic map of the vehicle’s surroundings. a computer system, similar to an airline’s ‘black box’, that is completely separate from the drive control system can monitor all sensory inputs and activities, checking for anomalies. where an anomaly is detected, it can initiate an emergency controlled stop and, at the same time, alert all vehicles nearby to take evasive action.


liability insurance that covers a vehicle’s driver is a legal requirement in almost all countries. in the case of an accident, each driver’s insurer pays out roughly in proportion to the degree of his/her fault. the fault might have been owing to a mechanical or electrical fault (an indicator light not working, or a brake failure), but the driver of that vehicle bears responsibility, even if s/he had taken all reasonable steps to maintain the vehicle.

for some years after their introduction, driverless cars will operate in a sophisticated cruise control mode with a manual override facility. their operation will depend on there being a responsible driver in the driving seat, ready and able to take control at a moment’s notice. the insurance model will not need to change while this is the case.

however people will learn to trust the autopilot and will cease to pay close attention to the road. drivers will still cause accidents by making mistakes when in control, or by not being attentive enough to take control when needed. so the drive systems will include increasingly sophisticated accident mitigation systems that do not rely upon, or even require, human intervention. it will then no longer make sense for the driver – if indeed there is a driver in the vehicle – to be responsible in the case of an accident.

it makes most sense for the vehicle owner to hold insurance cover for his/her vehicle, but it is not so obvious that s/he should be held responsible for any accident caused by his/her vehicle. indeed the finger would point toward the manufacturer and the software engineers behind the drive system as, it will be argued, it was their faulty or inadequate drive system that caused or failed to avoid the accident.

as long as victims in an accident are compensated by insurers in proportion to their need, it will not matter to them who or what was at fault; that will be something that the insurers will (as now) argue between themselves and with the manufacturers involved (or their insurers) where fault should be ascribed. for the manufacturers and their suppliers, the prospect of being on the receiving end of multi-million dollar law suits will provide a strong incentive to build highly robust and rigorously tested safety systems.

it will (as now) sometimes be impossible to ascribe fault, or fault may be ascribed to an uninsured vehicle owner. in these situations it is important that victims are still adequately compensated. this can be achieved either by legislating for a minimum insurance cover for all vehicle owners that covers injury for all vehicle occupants no matter where the fault lies. alternatively, countries might follow the example of New Zealand (c.f. Accident Compensation Corporation) and create a national accident compensation body, funded by taxation, that pays out entirely on the basis of need, regardless of fault.

speed limits

currently maximum legal speeds are set nationally with some local modification. for the most part it is the class of road that determines the speed limit (motorway, trunk route, urban, etc.), taking no account of local variations, such as bends, concealed junctions, road width, etc. local modifications are usually only made in response to high accident rates, and are expensive to implement.

vehicle computers will determine the optimum speed of travel algorithmically, based on:

  • what nearby vehicles are doing (which will be communicated wirelessly as well as sensed by radar);
  • curvature of bends in the road;
  • location of junctions and crossings;
  • weather conditions;
  • presence of pedestrians;
  • width of carriageway;
  • type and condition of road surface;
  • engine efficiency.

Initially it is likely that governments will want to maintain absolute speed limits, but these will become irrelevant when it is computers that continuously assess what speed is safe in context.

road signs & traffic lights

road signs can be eliminated as they serve to communicate visually to human beings information that may be communicated wirelessly.

  • directional signs will become redundant as vehicles will use digital maps and GPS receivers;
  • speed limit signs will become redundant as vehicles set their speeds algorithmically (see speed limits above);
  • traffic lights will be replaced by roadside beacons that communicate with approaching vehicles and arbitrate priorities responsively to ensure that traffic flows at optimal efficiency;
  • give-way and other junction signage will become redundant as vehicles will negotiate priorities between themselves (just as people do now at give-way junctions and roundabouts).

car sharing

car sharing schemes such as Zipcar will become hugely more attractive when cars are driverless. currently members cannot rent a car one-way: they must pay for every hour or day until they return the car to its place of origin, even if they are not driving the car for most of that time, and the car is not available to anyone else to use. a driverless car can deliver itself to another customer after each booking.

public transport

low-cost driverless taxis will compete much more keenly with public transport, especially local bus services. the risk is that city centres clog up with large numbers of vehicles carrying one or two people (and circulating empty between rides). local regulation will be essential in ensuring that this doesn’t happen. this will fall into two parts: limiting vehicle access to city centres, and promoting an integrated hierarchy of transport modes.

the only way to eliminate congestion in city centres is to limit the number of vehicles permitted access. permits should be granted on the basis of need and utility, giving priority to vehicles carrying multiple people (e.g. shared minibuses), people with impaired mobility, goods and equipment.

to ensure the most efficient use of space and the viability of public transport services, there must be seamless connections between all modes of transport: rail, bus, minibus, shared taxi, private taxi and cycle. this will ensure that shared transport and cycles predominate in city centres, and private taxis are found mainly in suburban and rural areas to provide the ‘last mile’ connection.


there will be no need for street parking: vehicles will only enter city streets to collect and set down passengers, and deliver and collect goods and equipment. only drop-off and pick-up points will be required every fifty metres or so. the released space may be repurposed for:

when not in use, vehicles will return to depots and high-density car parks, out-of-town or underground, where vehicles can be charged, serviced and valeted. the land occupied by existing city centre car parks is so valuable that it will be redeveloped for business and housing.

high capacity batteries (e.g. vanadium flow) at these car parks will smooth demand from the electricity grid. during the night, when grid demand is low, batteries of parked cars and the on-site vanadium flow battery will charge slowly. by morning, cars will be fully charged and ready to transport people to their places of work. when those cars return to the parking lot during the day, they will be charged from the vanadium flow battery (unless there is a surplus of solar or wind power available). cars will again be fully charged in time to collect people from their places of work. when those cars return, they will again be charged from the vanadium flow battery, until national demand for electricity falls to a level where everything may be charged again from the grid.

when grid supply is low, the vanadium flow batteries can feed back into the grid; and if critically low, car batteries could also be discharged to the grid. this smoothing of peak demand enables a higher proportion of power to be generated from solar and wind, and reduces the need to use gas-powered generators to meet peak demand.

refuse collection points

refuse collection will make use of driverless vehicles. in cities, where people now have to accommodate up to three bins (for compostable, recyclable, and land fill waste), it is likely that councils will gradually set up multiple collection points along streets where there were previously parking spaces. it may be that each collection point will be a car-sized refuse receptacle on wheels, possibly with a built-in compactor. the receptacle will probably have separate compartments for different categories of waste. once a compartment becomes full, the vehicle will signal for another refuse vehicle to come and replace it. if these refuse collection points were spaced about 50m apart, there would be one within 25 metres of any house. the short walk to the bins would create a new opportunity for neighbours to meet.


Edward Leigh

national identity cards


fears relating to terrorism and illegal immigration, and the growing problems of identity theft and fraud have induced several countries’ governments to propose national identity card schemes, most recently the US, UK, Japan and France.

identity cards are nothing new: in developed countries most people own numerous identity documents: passport, driving licence, bank cards, library card, entry cards for school, office or sports club, and so on. a national identity card is primarily used to identify people to government agencies, in particular immigration, social/welfare and health departments.

proposed schemes

most proposed schemes centre around a national identity register, containing key details about each resident and the identity numbers allocated by government departments, encapsulating in one record an individual’s entire relationship with the state. each presentation of an identity card involves contact being made with the central register to verify identity (typically with a biometric signature) and retrieve an identity number (which can then be used to retrieve records held by that particular government agency).

there are three main grounds for serious concern with such schemes:

technically flawed

  • the risk of failure of a centralised system is high.
  • the tolerable level of risk of failure, sabotage and snooping is virtually zero.
  • the costs of commissioning and maintaining such large scale systems rise exponentially as the risks are reduced towards zero.

civil liberties infringed

  • large numbers of civil servants at many levels will have access to the national identity register on an ongoing basis.
  • safeguards to ensure that information is only released on a need-to-know basis may be flawed, circumvented illegally, or deliberately removed for misguided reasons.
  • it is a golden principal of civil liberties that nobody in a position of power should know more about an individual than necessary to do their job.
  • if you have nothing to hide, why worry? because, even in a stable country run by a benign government, there are people at all levels of power who are prejudiced, indiscreet, vindictive or paranoid; and because anyone may become a victim of injustice.


  • the data stored in the central register could just as well be stored on the card itself.
  • all information on the card could be encrypted in such a way as to make it tamper-proof and updatable only by authorised agencies.

the alternative

do away with a central identify register, and you can have a safe, robust solution that does not infringe civil liberties. chip-and-PIN cards do not use a central database: that’s why stand-along card readers, issued by many banks, do not need to be connected to the Internet (whereas chip-and-pin terminals do, because they need to communicate with the card holder’s bank to check that the card is not stolen and that there are sufficient funds).

simple cryptographic techniques make all of this possible: an individual’s signatures (which can range from a PIN to a photograph of the person’s retina) can be encoded (‘hashed’) in such a way that the the actual signature can never be retrieved. this creates a unique ‘signature hash’. external identifiers (such as a National Insurance number) are encrypted using the signature hash as a key, and can only be decrypted with the same key. since the encryption hash is never stored (and does not contain anything that can link it back to an individual), it must be created afresh from the individual’s actual signature every time an external identifier needs to be retrieved.

all that is required is a framework of standards defining how an individual’s unique signatures are generated and verified; and how those signatures may be used to secure third party data. if a government or, better, an independent standards organisation, defines and publishes open standards, then any government or private body could issue a universal identity card, which any other body could use to store and retrieve identity information. every application would be completely independent of all others, and could employ the most appropriate type of signature (from a PIN to multi-factor biometrics), balancing security with equipment costs.

specification requirements

  • the technical and procedural framework for storing, updating, and retrieving data from an identity card should be published as an open standard.
  • the standard must allow for different levels or combinations of identity verification to be used by different bodies depending on the risks entailed by misidentification.
  • the standard should allow for verification by PIN or password entry (since biometric verification will not be possible or cost-effective in all situations).
  • the standard must allow for remote identity verification, for instance over the the Internet.
  • the standard must allow for the technology used to verify identity and encrypt data to be changed over time (as more reliable systems are developed).
  • all information on the card must be encrypted in such a way as to make it tamper-proof.
  • an individual’s biometric signature must normally be stored only on the individual’s card. (temporary exceptions would apply for criminal investigations and medical emergencies, and permanent exceptions for certain classes of convicted criminals and those with impaired mental function.)
  • any public or private body should be able to store its own identity number for an individual on his or her identity card, allowing it to be used in place of other identity cards.
  • it must be possible to make a backup or copy of an identity card with minimal difficulty.
  • the card should be able to hold critical medical details (e.g. blood group, severe allergies, organ donation preferences) and emergency contact details if desired by the holder.

further reading


Edward Leigh

international sign language

what is a sign language?

sign language is a complete language like any spoken language, but using hand and facial gestures (primarily) to convey meaning. some gestures are ‘pictorial’, and convey their meaning without reference to any other language; other gestures refer to words in a spoken language, usually by ‘finger-spelling’ some of the letters from the word.

is there an international sign language?

sign languages are regionally specific, to countries and even to regions within countries (just as with spoken dialects). there is an international sign language, originally called Gestuno, but it is an ‘artificial’ language (in the same way as Esperanto) and its use is limited.

who would use an international sign language?

if enough people learnt it, then we all would – all the time:

  • in normal conversation: watch people talk and you’ll see that we use hand gestures normally. If we learnt hand gestures that reinforced what we were saying, communication would be doubly effective, with less chance of misunderstandings.
  • in clubs and bars when the music is too loud to talk
  • when travelling abroad
  • with deaf people: approximately 1% of the population are severely or profoundly deaf and 15% are hard of hearing
  • when you grow old: almost everyone experiences hearing loss as they grow older, which is frustrating and often isolating
  • across large distances when shouting is ineffective or not appropriate
  • to someone in another car: ever wished you could chat up someone in a neighbouring car at traffic lights?
  • in noisy environments: many people work in noisy conditions where accurate communication is essential for their safety: building and other engineering sites, factories, assembly lines, marshalling yards, power stations, engine rooms, …
  • on set, in theatre, film, TV or radio: when the action’s running, many people need to communicate behind the scenes, but silently

why is sign language preferable to, say, English?

English is a spoken language used on an everyday basis by less than a tenth of the world population. English is of direct benefit only to those who work in international business, the tourist industry, or who have access to cable TV. English has a cultural history that is seen as threatening to many people for whom it is not their first language.

an artificial sign language on the other hand would enhance communication on a day to day basis for all ‘speakers’, whilst also opening up the possibility of communicating with those who do not share a spoken language. we would all have to learn it, but we would all benefit from doing so.

what would be the downsides?

  • sign cannot assist with written communication. however technology is better able to address this problem, both with machine translation (most easily with e-mails and web pages) and, in the longer term, with widespread use of video telephony.
  • people would be able to cheat more easily when sitting examinations together.
  • we would never be able to play charades ever again.

further reading


Edward Leigh

system of government

what’s wrong with democracy?

the fundamental principle of democracy is beyond question: that government is for the benefit of all people, and so must answer to their needs and aspirations. but implementations of democracy are flawed:


  • disempowerment of minorities whose interests (e.g. religion, language and culture) are opposed or ignored by the popular majority.
  • parties elected on manifestos of incompatible or contradictory promises, especially in different areas of government (business and environment, social security and tax, public services and minimal government, law & order and civil liberties); the biggest contradiction, which leads to recurrent disappointment, is the promise of improvements in public services and lower taxes.
  • politicians who assume higher levels of responsibility become unable to honour their obligations for local representation.
  • party line overrides individual views and inhibits proper representation of electors.
  • governments make decisions that have consequences for people of other countries to whom they are virtually unaccountable.


  • unregulated lobbying of elected representatives, with influence correlating with financial resources.
  • public scrutiny frustrated by secrecy, arbitrary application of ‘classified’ status, and controlled presentation of evidence, inferences and decisions.
  • dependence on distorted and partial coverage by the media to present government policy.


  • elected representatives having no proven competence to do the job – compare this with the qualifaction requirements for lawyers, accountants, doctors or teachers.
  • poverty of technical expertise amongst elected representatives for assessing scientific and statistical evidence.
  • personality being the principal criterion for candidate selection, tending to favour vain, ambitious, corrupt and sociopathic individuals.


  • autocratic decision making owing to lack of accountability during a term of office.
  • candidates for election to high office requiring commercial sponsorship, creating obligations that may conflict with constituents’ interests.


  • periodic hiatus in government in run-up to elections and following changes of government.
  • planning, statistics and decision-making manipulated to improve a governing party’s chances of re-election.

what should a reformed government look like?

government should satisfy the following standards:

  • transparency: there should be total transparency of planning, policy, decision making and spending. government should publish (electronically) minutes of all meetings; details of experts consulted, evidence and counter evidence acquired, assumptions, lines of reasoning considered, and conclusions drawn; detailed accounts of revenue and expenditure and formulae governing apportionment. where security or diplomatic issues are concerned and publication is believed to be inappropriate, an independent body of ‘civil auditors’ should scrutinize information on behalf of the public/media, publishing material as and when it ceases to be sensitive.
  • avoidance of conflicts of interest: potential personal conflicts of interest should be identified, recorded and avoided. this would be made easier if responsibility were vested in groups rather than individuals.
  • taxation policy should follow from other policies: people should vote for policies and feel the tax implications that follow; if people want to pay less tax, then they must vote for policies that entail lower taxes, not vote for lower taxes as a policy in itself.
  • empowerment of special interest groups: special interest groups, such as those that represent the environment, trade, employees, people with disabilities, heritage, should participate directly in government in proportion to their popular support.
  • professionalism: anyone involved in higher levels of government must have a proven competence in the disciplines required and knowledge of the framework (social, political, legal, historical) within which government operates.
  • ongoing accountability: the electorate should be able to re-invest their vote at any time, not just at termly elections. a delay between the election and transfer of a vote (of, say, 60 days) provides a ‘cooling off’ period during which an elector may reconsider their decision; it also ensures that power shifts can be predicted and prepared for.

how can this be achieved?

modern government is a mammoth and enormously complex business that, barring war or disaster, will not change rapidly. therefore reform will only be achieved through incremental changes, each of which must be fully thought through, readily comprehensible and will have to attract popular attention and overwhelming support. a tall order!

further reading


Edward Leigh