Archive for July, 2014
Here at the SW fortress of solitude, we usually concern ourselves more with keeping warm in winter than cool in summer: our thermal imaging project, for example, is targeted at reducing heating costs more than anything else.
In theory, if you properly insulate your house, then you proof it against both extremes (and so should have a cooler home in summer); in practice, keeping cool in a heatwave is always harder than you’d expect for us British, isn’t it?
With that in mind, here (hopefully still with a few days of heatwave ahead of us) are three simple ways to keep your house cool, without having to invest in expensive and climate-harming technology like air conditioning.
1. Close your windows
It might seem counterintuitive, but in hot, still weather, you should close your windows. Only if the air is cooler than in your house, or is moving quite fast, will it actually cool you down to any extent. And it certainly won’t cool the building down unless it’s a lot colder than that: brick retains an awful lot of heat.
2. Put shutters up, or reflective material
Heat should be deflected from south-facing windows during the hottest parts of the day. If your house is unusually Tuscan in appearance, you might have shutters on those windows; if not, you can put up temporary internal shutters using a reflective material.
You can buy solar-reflecting film for windows, and have it installed permanently, although you might not want something in place all year round, especially in the depths of winter. A more DIY and temporary option – if you don’t need it outside July and August – is to put a reflective sheet up, outdoors if possible, but close to the panes indoors if necessary.
You can attach a tanning blanket or car windscreen sunshade to a couple of hooks in the window frame; or even more cheaply (and as a first experiment, to see if it makes a difference), strengthen sheets of tinfoil with a “frame” of double-sided silver gaffa tape, and stick it up with Blu-tac or similar. Shiny side out, and try not to worry about what the neighbours think.
(Curtains won’t work anywhere near as well: mirrored surfaces are best; and even if the curtain material is a pale colour, it still warms up considerably in the sun, and then re-transmits the heat into the room’s air as much it does as back through the window.)
3. If you do decide to open the windows, cool the draughts with water
Any draughts you do have, you can cool even further through the evaporation of water. You need to work out which way through the house the draughts are blowing first, and then turn your attention to the window(s) through which the draught enters.
If you’ve got net curtains or fabric blinds against these windows, mist them with a water spray. You can also hang towels or other damp cloths near the draught, although try to keep them out of the sun as that will just dry them on its own! When the water evaporates into the draught, it will take heat out of the air. So as the draughts blow through or over the wet fabrics, they will cool slightly. This is how zeer pot fridges work, or terracotta wine coolers.
Dampening the air does have the effect of spreading a little bit of dampness through your house; but then if you’ve persevered this far with this article, sweat pouring off your brow, thoughts turning sluggish in the sun, then damp is probably the least of your worries: for at least the next month or so!
We’re now a week away from the end of Plastic-Free July 2014, and maybe you’re feeling a bit demotivated. If you’re looking for inspiration, take a look at The Non-Plastic Maori, a blog chronicling a Maori woman’s efforts to live without plastic. Her challenge isn’t just for July; it’s for the whole of 2014. Why is she doing it? In her own words:
SO… primarily – I want to explore the experience of living for a year without purchasing any new plastics. I’m doing it to highlight how very dependent we’ve become, but also to demonstrate that we CAN make personal choices that will minimise our own plastic waste production. If we were to demonstrate this in greater numbers – we would not only contribute to a better environment but would also present pressure upon suppliers to utilise non-plastic alternatives – making non-plastic alternatives more accessible for others – See how it works? It begins with a few who refuse to believe that it’s too hard to do.
It begins with a few who refuse to believe that it’s too hard to do. If you’ve stuck with Plastic-Free July this far, that includes you. You probably won’t have removed single-use plastic from your life completely, but you’ve become part of a movement questioning our dependence on it. The moments of inconvenience and the moments of “failure” are part of the work of highlighting something that was invisible. Well done.
Oxfordshire County Council Consultation: Bridge Street, Witney – Proposed Zebra Crossing
In 2003 three crossings were identified and proposed along Bridge Street in the ‘Witney Integrated Transport and Land Use Strategy’, none of which were ever realised, although a pelican crossing in the centre of Bridge Street was consulted on and rejected: possibly because of local objections to the removal of the small amount of available parking there; possibly because of fear of stop-start traffic movements adversely affecting air quality (Bridge Street is one of West Oxon’s two Air Quality Management Areas, the other is in Chipping Norton).
In 2010 the Living Streets Group met to put together a practical proposal to make Bridge Street and the junctions at either end more pedestrian friendly which consisted of zebra crossings at the North end…
…and at the South end…
Through the West Oxon Sustainable Transport Forum the group were made aware of the Complementary Traffic Measures Study which proposed a number of changes to make the centre of Witney more walkable and bike-able as part of the Cogges Link Road plans and which referred back to the consultation for the pelican crossing:
The consultation suggested three potential crossing locations to several businesses and residents living in the vicinity of Bridge Street. There was strong opposition from local residents to a pedestrian crossing on Bridge Street, with increased vehicle emissions, disruptions to traffic flow and a perceived increase in noise being cited. Recommendations offered by residents included a zebra crossing at either end of Bridge Street, on approach to the junctions with Mill Street and Newland. The report recommended further public consultation and advised new proposals to implement a pedestrian crossing on Bridge Street that would gain local support.
Well, we all know what happened to the CLR, but the Complementary Traffic Measures are just as relevant with the Shores Green Slip Roads and this latest zebra crossing proposal seems to be taken from its recommendations:
Pedestrian Facilities – Bridge Street Recommendations
24. Provide a pedestrian crossing within the existing desire line.
25. Retain parking spaces.
Now, eleven years after the Witney Integrated Transport Strategy, this is the position of the 2014 proposed zebra crossing:
It’s not clear how the desire line has been arrived at. Perhaps it’s the point where those people that do cross feel it’s become safe enough to do so when heading into town, or when coming from the Aquarius development in the bottom left of the picture. Given the length of time it’s taken to get another proposal for a crossing on the table it would be ridiculous to oppose it, but it doesn’t resolve the problems at either end of the street for people whose desire lines run elsewhere.
So we say yes to this crossing, but yes to more crossings at the junctions.
In the meantime, problems for people in West End and beyond using the S1 and S2 services could be eased by not forcing them to walk all the way up the hill on Newland to/from the Oxford bound Staple Hall stop.
It’s probably not common knowledge but the National Transport Data Repository gives locations for two bus stops in Bridge Street. If the Oxford bound stop were implemented now, before OCC have finally delivered viable alternatives for the 30,000 vehicles travelling through Bridge Street daily, many people could be saved an unnecessarily long walk. So how about activating one of the bus stops in Bridge Street too?
Don’t forget to respond by 25th July to the Oxfordshire County Council Consultation: Bridge Street, Witney – Proposed Zebra Crossing
Grabbing a takeaway in Oxford might become a little kinder on the environment, thanks to a proposal by the city’s licensing committee. Oxford City Council is proposing a ban on polystyrene containers for takeaway food and a move towards biodegradeable packaging.
Takeaway containers are a good example of how single-use plastic has come to seem normal: they’re a handy substitute plate for a single meal, with the expectation that they will be thrown away immediately afterwards.
But where exactly is “away”? Well, there’s a lot of Styrofoam in our oceans. Research reported in the National Geographic involved taking water samples from oceans all over the world. The researchers found that all of the samples contained derivatives of polystyrene (used in disposable cutlery) and Styrofoam (used in many takeaway containers).
Once Styrofoam breaks down, the tiny polystyrene components start to sink, because they’re heavier than water […] So it’s likely that this styrene pollutant is prevalent throughout the water column and not just at the surface.
This invisible threat to wildlife is already causing huge concern among marine scientists. So why on earth are we still eating takeaways out of Styrofoam containers with a plastic fork? (Think about it: when you’re eating fish from a Styrofoam container, there may well be traces of Styrofoam inside the fish too.)
Street traders are understandably worried about cost; it’s true that Styrofoam is cheaper than the biodegradable alternatives. (It’s also hard to believe: why should a petrochemical-derived product that inflicts such a cost on our oceans be cheaper than a cardboard one?) But many takeaway outlets have managed to use less damaging packaging without harming the bottom line; just think of the traditional newspaper-wrapped fish & chips. (If you want a more recent example, fish & chip chain Harry Ramsden’s switched to biodegradable packaging two years ago.) And perhaps if non-harmful packaging became the norm, manufacturers would find ways to produce it more cheaply.
The Oxford proposal is still just that – a proposal. The council consultation on it won’t end for a few more weeks. But if it succeeds, there won’t be quite as much reason to feel guilty about that late-night kebab. Could Witney try it next?
Common themes were: cycle paths – more of them, better maintained, joined up, with lighting – “Please can we have all the cycle paths joined up so we can ‘actually’ safely cycle around Witney as a family and to work etc”; Witney to Carterton and Witney to Woodstock routes – “The road from Minster Lovell to Brize Norton scares me!” to which a local driver said “It scares me too!”; and the pothole pandemic – “Beautiful countryside spoilt by potholed roads.”
Twitter’s favourite speech bubble, reaching over 8,800 followers, was from Kizzie aged 10: “I think we should have a bike path on the road.” A visionary, dutch sounding solution from a future transport planner in the making.
There was lot’s of interest in Witney Wheels for All which runs 1st Sunday of the month at the Artificial Turf Pitch; the Wheels4All KMX Karts were on the parade with Witney Mountain Bike Club and proved to be a big hit with the GO Active team on the stall next-door.
If you didn’t have a chance to get to the carnival and you’ve got something to say about using a bike in Witney you can join the conversation in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or using the email address on our webpage.
More importantly, tell your councillors as well. It takes political will, money and design knowledge to produce good conditions for cycling in towns and we need to make our councillors aware of just how important we think it is before they’ll take the next step.
Follow this link to send a letter to your councillor asking them to support Space for Cycling.
As we’re a good proportion through our plastic-free month of July, I thought I’d pause to take stock of how I was doing… Not so well! It is clear that plastic is everywhere, and increasingly so, making it difficult to get away from it. The most problematic area I’ve found is food shopping, as plastic packaging is so commonly used, but I continue to be on the look-out for alternatives.
Sometimes, plastics seem to be the ideal material, from the keyboard I’m typing this on to items which always used to be metal: dashboard and some external panels on my car, central heating pipes… Let’s face it, plastic is a really good material for many things.
What makes it so good, is also its downfall when it comes to using it for disposable items. Here are ten facts about plastic, concluding in a few that are recycling-related, which I hope will provide some background to why we should consider reducing use of single-use / throw-away plastics:
1) A plastic bottle needs a couple hundred years before it typically starts decomposing. Some degradable plastics are on the market, but these remain a little more expensive to use, so the majority aren’t of this material.
2) Once the decomposition process has begun, it then takes up to 100 years to decompose completely, an average total time of around 450 years since being produced, but very much longer for some types.
3) Approximately 100 million litres of oil are used to produce a billion plastic bottles, including their lids. More is then used in transporting them…
4) In the last decade, we have produced more single-use plastic that during the entirety of the last century.
5) Around 50% of plastic we use is thrown away shortly after, and therefore not put to good use.
6) Approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide – that’s more than a million every minute. No wonder the subject made it into the Queen’s speech this year!
7) Plastic constitutes approximately 90% of all rubbish floating on the ocean, and accounts for around 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals being killed each year. It is estimated that 44% of all seabird species, 22% of cetaceans, 100% of turtle species and an increasing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in their bodies.
8) Using recycled materials to make a new plastic bottle take 75% less energy as compared with using ‘virgin’ materials.
9) Recycled plastics can be used to manufacture a wide range of products, including park benches, picnic tables, and even fleece jackets (using just 25 recycled drinks bottles per jacket). My loft insulation has been topped up with ‘recycled plastic’ insulation!
10) In Oxfordshire, we do very well in terms of plastic recycling rates at over 50% recycled (thanks to the recently closed Oxfordshire Waste Partnership), but we could do better, and of course reducing the initial demand for disposable plastics is far better than having to deal with them afterwards…
So, if you haven’t yet made the pledge to reduce your plastic consumption, there’s still time to do so, and with other local residents taking on the challenge this month, there’s no better time. Plus, more tips and advice will be going up on the Sustainable Witney blog as July continues.
This is just a quick reminder that there are still spaces available on the free flooding workshop from COIN this weekend.
Have you been affected by the recent flooding, or is it a worry? Do you know someone else who has? Book places and read more information about the workshop here.
“Just because plastic is disposable, doesn’t mean it just goes away. After all, where is away? There is no away.”
Film-maker Suzan Beraza nails it: there’s a disconnect between the incredibly durable nature of plastic and the throwaway purposes we use it for. The 2010 film Bag It has won multiple prizes for raising awareness of plastic – and where it ends up – in an entertaining way.
Four years into Oxfordshire’s transport strategy and here we are embarking on another multi-stage consultation for Local Transport Plan 4. The official reasoning makes a case for it but can the goals and objectives of a strategy covering two decades really have changed so much that it warrants starting from scratch? We’ll be taking a look at the detail following tomorrow’s Connecting Oxfordshire meeting (7pm, Mon 7th July, Henry Box School).
Connecting Oxfordshire conjures up the idea of places joined together, settlement to settlement, Carterton to Witney, Witney to Oxford, but that’s only one level of local transport. The hyperlocal is at least as important – how we move around within settlements – and it’s the one we consistently fail to make more efficient, pleasant and healthy. Travelling along better local transport links is one part of the solution, not having to sit in 15 minutes of congestion at either end is the other.
The only major road project during four years of LTP3 to be planned, signed-off and (soon to be) built in Witney is the Ducklington Lane junction improvement. It started out with a £2 million budget and a brief to future proof it for a predicted 2030 level of motorised traffic. When the engineering contractor Atkins ran the junction through its capacity modelling software ‘computer said no’; it didn’t have enough lanes for stacking. That’s a technical term for temporarily parking vehicles at a junction so a queue doesn’t back up so far that it adversely effects the next junction upstream.
(Edited to update diagram to Option A4 in Annex 5)
What to do? Quite a large area around the junction is deemed highway land and during a site visit Atkins’ engineer noticed the B&Q corner “doesn’t go anywhere” (the business park being hidden behind a very large hedge) so no crossings or pavement to it would be required. That was a boon to a modeller of motor traffic because it meant:
- the pavement removal would give more space for traffic lanes,
- more time could be retained for traffic movements.
Stacking traffic is only part of the equation for a signalised junction, there also needs to be a enough time available to clear the stack during each light sequence so a growing remainder doesn’t back up over time. Adding a proper Toucan crossing to reach B&Q would scupper the junction’s maximum capacity in the traffic model.
Despite bikes being regularly parked at B&Q, and people beating paths through the bushes to it, the traffic counts showed low numbers of people walking and cycling on the western arm of the junction, supporting the removal of the pavement along with the potential to cross there. If you’ve tried it you’ll know why; it’s relatively risky and far from pleasant. It’s so unpleasant and off-putting in fact, a sympathetic observer might conclude that the people counts ought to be multiplied by a factor of about 100 to take that into account. Traffic models can’t empathise neither can they model people walking or cycling.
During the consultation bike users requested better access which resulted in a 2m shared path along Thorney Leys to an informal pedestrian crossing, with a refuge, to Thorney Leys Business Park. Oxfordshire County Council could not provide an official, safe and convenient bike route for the employees and visitors to B&Q and the rest of the businesses there. ‘Encouraging’ people to cycle and relieve congestion doesn’t yet stretch to giving them a place to do it.
I don’t think we’ll get another chance to put that right for a very long time and this corner of Witney will continue to be cut off from the bike network for now, and will remain so when the junction eventually starts to operate at its designed capacity in the late 2020s. All that tarmac poured, rolled and marked out, sat there through rain and shine, developing potholes, waiting for that day. Does that sound innovative to you?
So perhaps Ian Hudspeth, the architect of Connecting Oxfordshire, is right, the Local Transport Plan does need a revamp from the top down. I’m not so sure. Cycling and walking were high priorities for all settlement types in LTP3, including Witney, but that had no influence when it came to providing people with a safe and convenient option to cycle to Thorney Leys Business Park. Not considering walking and cycling until after the road layout for the junction was complete was a failure to plan for walking and cycling; good policy made no difference to an old process.
This is just a reminder that on Wednesday 9 July we’ll be chatting with local organization network CAG Oxfordshire, accompanied by a bring-and-share meal. The meeting will be at St Mary’s Church, on the Leys end of Church Green. All are welcome! We start at 7:30pm.
It will take place at St Mary’s Church on Church Green in Witney, and we hope to have a bring-and-share meal beforehand, so do bring some food if you’re interested. More details on the event’s own page.