Tuesday, 30 April 2019

A belated AGM

The Friends of the Old Railway (from Scarborough to Whitby) are getting back into business. We've been in hibernation for a few years waiting for the local Borough Council to finalise its plans (see Back on Track) and need to hold a belated Annual general Meeting to get everything, and everybody, back in place.

The meeting is scheduled for 6.30pm next Tuesday, 7th May 2019, at the Gallows Close Centre on Endcliffe Crescent in Scarborough.

Agenda for the AGM

1) Welcome, introduction and brief report on what we've been up to since the last AGM
2) Apologies
3) Minutes of last AGM (for approval, see photo)
4) Election of officers (Chair, Secretary, Treasurer)
5) Election of Committee (4 other people to help with day to day consultation)
6) Agreement on new signatories for our bank account.

The AGM will be followed by an ordinary meeting of The Friends with just one item on the Agenda. 

How do we help the Borough put its plans into practice?

This will be an open discussion about priorities and strategies.

Minutes of the last AGM

Improving the quality of public space so that more of us are inclined to walk and cycle can bring enormous benefits; not only to public health, through everyday physical activity and reduced congestion and pollution, but also to the global environment by reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.

If you wish to get involved, but can't make it on the night, please send your apologies to me (andrew.sharp17@btinternet.com)

Friday, 15 March 2019

Back on Track

It's been a while, but the draft Action Plan for the Cinder Track has now been adopted by the Borough Council. You'll see from the time line near the start of the plan that it's taken nearly 4 years to get this far, with a big pause largely caused by objections to what some saw as the potential urbanisation of the route in some of the rural areas, and during this time the Friends of the Old Railway (formed near the end of 2004) have effectively been in hibernation. Now that there are agreed plans to get our teeth into it's time to re-activate the Friends and see what we can do to turn the plans into reality.

We believe that the priority should be to improve the urban section in Scarborough. In the rural areas most of the use comes from dog walkers and tourists but in town it's also children going to school and older people using it for their everyday journeys. Currently, much of it is too narrow and too bumpy. Because it's too narrow, there isn't room for two people to walk companionably side by side and still leave room for someone else to go past. Because it's too bumpy, it's very uncomfortable for most people on bikes, in wheelchairs or in buggies and many are put off from using it at all.

Over the years I can't help noticing that it's often much easier to raise a storm of protest against something than it is to get people involved in a positive campaign to make good things happen. Now's the chance to restore the balance and build a positive campaign to make the Track a public asset we can all be proud of, so forgive me for putting forward a few well rehearsed reasons why improving this section should be a priority.

Improving public health. It's long been known that physical inactivity is a major cause of ill health and that encouraging people to become more active can bring enormous benefits. We also know that the best way to get people to become more active isn't to send them to the gym but to incorporate regular physical activity into their everyday lives. In short, the trick is to get people walking or cycling for short journeys that they might otherwise take by car, and the best way to do this is to raise the quality of public space so that walking and cycling are much more attractive. 

Reducing congestion and pollution. If more people walked or cycled for short journeys, rather than drive, there's be less pollution and less congestion. The Track runs well away from most major roads and so pollution and noise levels are much lower than in many other parts of the town.

Mitigating Climate Change. This may have been taking its time to rise up the political agenda but no one can now doubt that its a really serious issue. As well as insulating our homes and switching to renewable sources of energy we can all reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by driving less. The Track offers a great alternative way to make short journeys.

Free range children. We know that children's lives are often much more restricted than they used to be and that the biggest single threat that they face is from traffic. There are 3 well established play spaces along this section of the Track as well as 3 primary schools on the Track and major secondary schools nearby. Improving the Track will make parents even more confident that their children can play out on their own while knowing that they're safe from traffic and in spaces where there is plenty of casual adult supervision.

 A place where people can meet and families can talk. If you go along the Track you'll notice that if people meet someone they know they're inclined to stop and talk and that  family groups chat as they make their way along. One of the the things the Friends have done in the past was to put in benches near access points so that these conversations can continue before people go their separate ways. 

Access to nature and the countryside. In town the Track is effectively a linear park with wildlife habitats along almost its entire length. In the past we've planted quite a few fruit trees and in recent autumns there's been a prodigious crop of blackberries. From Scalby, in the north, it's easy to get into the North York Moors National Park and improving the urban section of the Track will only encourage people to make it even further.

A better welcome to the town. Sustainable tourism is on the rise and more people are exploring the country under their own steam. Improving this section of the Track will give visitors a far better impression of the town and help promote sustainable tourism in the entire Borough.

To get things moving again, we're holding our first public meeting for some time at The Gallows Close Community Centre (which lies next to the Track at Endcliff Crescent) on Tuesday the 2nd of April 2019 at 6.30 pm. representatives from the Borough Council will be there to present the Plan and refreshments will be available. 

The information panel we installed at Safe Ways Park (Sainsbury's) during our hibernation

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Scare story ?

I've been going on about Climate Change for over 30 years. It's that long since a few fairly simple scientific facts persuaded me it was happening but not how quick the changes might be.*

Of course, when we live lives that are dependent on burning fossil fuels (the major source of increasing CO2) efforts to point out that this might cause problems have tended to go unheeded and, if they've been attended to at all, been dismissed as scare stories. Stories put about by people who just want to make us feel guilty or undermine our way of life.

As the meteorological evidence has piled up it's become clear that dealing with Climate Change is less about atmospheric physics than about how to bring about social, economic and political change in a world where the prevailing social norms are ones that encourage us to consume more stuff and use more and more energy; not only will the purchase of the next do-dah make us feel better, it will also be a visible demonstration of our social status. 

The extreme weather events of the last decade have made it very hard to dismiss warnings as just scare stories and acceptance of the reality of the change, if not of what needs to be done, is increasingly becoming the new social norm. 

Before the full impact of austerity was felt by local government many local authorities in the UK appointed a Sustainable Development officer. In Scarborough we had three (Tony, Daniel and James). They were all full of ideas but eventually left the job because they became frustrated with the lack of support from above. Their bosses, like most people who succeed in building establishment careers, were good at fitting in with prevailing social norms and the norm which prevailed at the time was, even if Climate Change was proven, that the impacts weren't immediate and priorities lay elsewhere.

A couple of weeks ago, a meeting of the Borough Council declared that we were in a state of Climate Emergency. I don't think they would have done this a decade ago and am hoping that this is just one piece of evidence that prevailing social norms are shifting. It's likely that someone will be appointed to a similar role to that previously held by Tony, Daniel and James, but it can no longer be considered enough just to appoint someone without backing this up with support from the highest levels in the Authority. The existing CEO has recently announced his intention to retire in June. In the search for his successor we need to make sure that she or he feels able to give this declaration the full support it deserves. 

Whatever we decide to do, we have to acknowledge that we are social animals, are acutely aware of how we're thought of by other people, and to get off the consumption treadmill will need to find other ways to demonstrate our status. Now there's a challenge for the 21st century.

The social norm represented here will have to change

*Incoming radiation from the Sun warms the Earth's surface and drives our weather systems. The Earth, like all warm bodies, also emits radiation (though mainly in the infra-red part of the spectrum). The surface reaches a steady temperature when the outgoing infra red radiation from the warm Earth precisely balances the incoming radiation from the Sun. Change this balance and the Earth's temperature will change.

Carbon Dioxide has long been known to be  a strong absorber, and then emitter, of infra red radiation. CO2 molecules in the atmosphere will absorb some of the radiation being emitted by the warm Earth and then re-emit it. But, crucially, they won't emit it in any particular direction and a proportion will be sent back where it came and rewarm the Earth's surface.

The simple end result is that putting more CO2 in the atmosphere will tend to make the Earth warmer.

The other simple scientific fact is that if you put more energy into the atmosphere then the weather is likely to get livelier.

That's it. Nothing about the scale of the changes, nothing about deciding whether warming is primarily the result of this effect or if there are other long term changes taking place, just that if you put more CO2 in the atmosphere the Earth will be warmer than it would have been and the weather will be livelier.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Neuroscience on Oliver's Mount

Your brain weighs about 3kg, probably less than 5% of your body's mass, yet it uses about 20% of your energy; literally to recharge your nerve cell batteries. So, if an animal has a big brain then it needs to use it; if only to get hold of the extra food it needs to keep the big brain going. 

Ever since people have had brain injuries, and recovered enough for us to see the effects, we've known that different parts of the brain do different things. These days, by using our collective intelligence to develop technologies that extend our senses, (e.g Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging FMRT ) we can make a good guess about which bits of the brain are active at any one time. Not by looking directly at the activity itself, but at the flow of blood that takes place in response. 

Using this technology, we now know that a part of the brain called the amygdala , which is responsible for our emotional responses, can be activated just by seeing an angry face  and, as a result, we feel the emotion of fear and the rest of our brain and body is primed for action.

Apropos of something, I was taking a daft route up Oliver's Mount to buy some potatoes when I met a speeding motor cyclist under the impression it was a race day. Coming very quickly towards me around a bend, I made a gesture of exasperation (hand held out palm up, eyes rolled towards the sky) . A little later, just as I'd started on the straight that looks out over The Mere, I heard the motorbike coming quickly down the hill behind. I pulled over to one side, stopped, and pointedly pointed at the 30 mph sign on the other side of the road.

He saw what I was doing and, rather than carry on at a reasonable speed decided to pull up alongside and ask what I was doing. Not happy with the suggestion that I thought he ought to be obeying the speed limit, he became quite agitated and, having suggested that I get a life (presumably one other than the one in which I get pleasure from pissing him off)  asked with a rhetorical flourish if I wanted to get punched. Not deeming this worth a reply I simply stood where I was while he hurled abuse in my face.

Strangely, despite the obvious anger, and at least the suggestion of intent, it was no trouble just to stand there and look straight back while he ranted. Eventually he restarted his bike and roared off. I simply made a mental note of his number KP 06 OMR

Because he was wearing a helmet with a completely dark visor I couldn't actually see his face. In particular, I couldn't see the look of anger that I presume must have been there.

It isn't that I wasn't concerned, just that, like dealing with an unknown dog, the best way to create doubt about whether you're worth taking on in a fight is to maintain eye contact and stand your ground.  (It also crossed my mind that if he did actually go for me there was a chance that his bike would get knocked over and he really wouldn't want that.) No, what was odd here, was that I didn't really feel any strong emotional response. Without the angry face to go with the cross words my amygdala didn't seem too fussed.

So, if you ever really want to frighten someone, to "light up" their amygdala, it's best to let them see your face.

Looking across to the Mere in early winter sunshine.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Cinder Track Sep 26th 2018

The Friends of the Old Railway have been waiting a long time for the Borough Council to finalise its report on the future development of the Track. With any luck this should be out soon and then we can get on with making sure the report doesn't just gather dust on a shelf, but becomes a plan for action.

 At last week's consultation meeting on the draft report I listed our priorities. Because it's used far more than anywhere else, and offers the biggest potential benefits to public health (getting people more active as well as cutting pollution), our clear priority is the urban section of the Track between Scarborough town centre and Station Road in Scalby. (see "Smooth enough for buggies and wheelchairs") . After that it would be the stretches from Hawsker to Whitby, from Scalby to Burniston, both of which are in easy commuter range. Finally, to give a safe off route for road bikes between the north and south of the Borough that avoids the A 171, the stretch from Ravenscar to Boggle Hole.

This doesn't mean that we don't think its important to deal with the other more rural sections, simply that these need to be improved with the active support and agreement of the people who live there.

Yesterday I made one of my slightly irregular inspection runs from Scarborough to Ravenscar. There are still surface issues in a number of places but these are no worse than they have been. However, recent strong winds have been getting at the increasingly fragile trees that line much of the Track (in many cases self seeded in the drainage channels at the side) and this highlights the need to plant replacements further back from the Track before the current trees either collapse of their own accord or have to be removed in order to get at the drains.

Fallen branch obstructing the Track
 just north of Staintondale Staion.

The wind had also brought down one of the finger post signs that I'd installed on Station Road in Scalby. Luckily it had landed on the hedge and I was able to recover it. Let's hope, that once I've put it back up again, I won't have to do it again because by then there'll be some proper official metal signs in their place.

Recovered sign along with the original stencils

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Desire lines from Barrowcliff

Barrowcliff is one of the many communities in Scarborough that connect to the Cinder Track (the old railway line from Scarborough to Whitby). It's far from being a wealthy place and is currently getting additional funding from an organisation called the Local Trust

Strangely the area boundary for this Trust doesn't include the fields to the East that cover what were once the carriage sidings on the old railway. This is despite the fact that Woodlands Ward boundary (which can be found by zooming in on this map) runs along the route of the old line which is on the eastern edge of the fields.

As someone keen to develop the old railway line as a high quality route for walkers and cyclists, the fact that the Track forms the boundary of the some of the Borough's wards means that it's been hard to engage some of Borough Councillors for these wards in helping to improve the Track (which in this area is currently far too bumpy and far too narrow) because it isn't really in their patch.

But, if you go onto St Leonard's Crescent, where paths lead out across the fields, you'll notice that the good citizens of Barrowcliff have been voting with their feet and leaving the traces behind on the grass. These "desire lines" give a clear indication of where people want to walk, ride their bikes or push their buggies and the routes they pick out are clearly of local significance.

View from the official path clearly showing the two desire lines.
The one on the left goes to Maple Drive, 
the other cuts off the corner to join the Track heading south.

A Google Earth image of the area not only shows the desire lines are a constant feature (and not just an artifact of a long spell of dry weather) but also the rather peculiar layout of the existing tarmac paths.

We know that low levels of physical activity are causing a major public health crisis. We know that poorer people are less likely to be physically active than richer people and we know that the best way to get enough exercise is for it to be part of your everyday life. This means making short journeys on foot or by bike. 

We know that improving the Cinder Track, especially in urban areas like this, would encourage more people to walk or cycle, improve their health and reduce the harms caused by traffic. So why does the Big Local area exclude these fields and the old railway line? 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Cinder Track May 28th 2018

This time I chose a Bank Holiday Monday for a trip up to Ravenscar. There were quite a few family groups but no sign of the speedsters that threaten the good folk of Robin Hoods Bay.

Good News

The start of the Track near Sainsbury's in Scarborough has been resurfaced and is now much more welcoming.

A family group getting ready to set off up to Whitby
(once the children have been persuaded off the play equipment)

The drain down the hill past the Rugy Club has been cleared and most of the surface damage has been repaired. Thank you.

Drain cleared and surface repaired

Not far south of Ravenscar a very minor road bridge crosses the Track. Work is taking place to repoint the brickwork.

Scaffolding in place for bridge maintenance


There are still a few gullies left and drifts of loose material that can easily catch out inexperienced riders.

A sand trap for the unwary between Scalby and Burniston

It's been dry for a few weeks so there isn't any standing water but further up the Track, between the footpath that goes to Staintondale and the Manor Farm crossing (the double gates across the Track that shouldn't really be there), water running down the Track has formed a gully and reduced the effective width of a 200m section to about half a metre. (One side of the Track is now a bumpy brick channel and effectively unusable)

Andy Sharp 30/5/18