5 ways London’s waterways will be shaped by the Canal & River Trust’s new mooring strategy

People gather on the banks of Regent’s Canal, undoubtedly to complain about the CRT service facilities. Image: Getty.

Anyone without a vested interest in the canals, bear with me here; I’ve got big news. The Canal and River Trust (CRT) has released its new mooring strategy for the London area. I accept this may sound super boring but trust me, it’s not.

Even if you don’t have one foot in the water, so to speak, the canals are a public asset and CRT’s report affects everyone's access to them. The plans will shape the way the capital’s waterways are used for the foreseeable future.

The CRT is the completely-not-unwieldy privatised charity that took over from the erstwhile publically owned British Waterways. It is hoping to address the fact that the number of boaters using the canal network has ballooned over recent years, placing new stresses and strains on a vast and largely neglected network.

 
CRT’s figures for boat numbers in London, taken from the Mooring Strategy.

With the CRT predicting a further 1,500 boats on London’s waterways by 2022, this report attempts to prepare the 100-mile network for the foreseeable future.

Having sifted through the benevolent buzzwords such as ‘fair sharing’, ‘balancing’ and especially ‘vision’, which one three-page supplement managed to use ten times, here are five things we’ve learnt from the CRT’s 2018 London Mooring Strategy.

1. The New Space Race

There’s a perception of a zero-sum equation when it comes to usable space along the waterways, leading to fears that this surge in boat numbers will lead to London’s canals clogging up.

Matthew Symonds, the CRT’s boating strategy and engagement manager, warned of the “enormous amount of pressure on what is, after all, a finite space.” The report stated that “If numbers continue to rise in line with recent years it will be to the detriment of all users of the waterways.”

But is there really a lack of space? While the central London and East End canals have seen huge increases in the number of boaters, there has only been a slight swelling in west London. West of Kensal are miles and miles of canals (with convenient transport links) that remain unmoored most of the time.

 
Numbers of boats in different areas of London over time. Click to expand.

Within a short walk of Tottenham Hale station, one of the best connected stations in London, there is about a mile of towpath that is un-moorable due to underwater obstructions.

If the CRT was so concerned by space, you would think more energy would be put towards making proper use of existing space – rather than fearmongering that something (or some boaters) is going to have to give

2. The elephant in the room that’s probably going to mug you

Long unlit urban paths are always going to be a safety nightmare. On one night earlier this year, eight boats around Victoria Park were broken into. Last winter there was a particularly long spate of muggings along the Clapton stretch of the Lea. With similar stories heard across London you’d be forgiven for expecting that the CRT would suggest some sort of solution.

Yet in literally the last sentence of the report it merely suggests founding a “Canal Watch”, apparently oblivious to the fact that such a scheme was set up by boaters following the east London break-ins.

Nobody’s asking for the CRT to start arming hordes of retiree volunteers, but some sort of proposed anti-crime battle plan would be nice.


Canal Watch. The grass roots one, not CRT’s. Image: author provided.

3. It’s not all rubbish

If you’re looking for a way to strike up a conversation with a boater in London, just start complaining about the CRT service facilities and off they’ll go.

Key talking points include trickling water points, broken sewage pump-outs, and overflowing bins. And when there’s rubbish strewn across towpaths and in canals, it’s about time the issue was addressed.

Luckily, nine new rubbish disposal sites are being brought in across the network; with more water points, better sewage disposal facilities and even waste oil disposal facilities.

While this looks promising, only time will tell if these will be delivered effectively or will even be sufficient.


4. Innovation on the canals

For a charity and local council partnership, you wouldn’t imagine innovation to be top of the agenda, yet there are some interesting schemes to be piloted.

A patch of “eco-moorings” are intended to address on-going issues with pollution from boats and their trusty solid fuel stoves. This will see greater policing of boaters in the Kings Cross/ Angel area, which is coincidentally right by some of the most expensive canal-side property on the network. But that is definitely just a coincidence, right?

The CRT has rightly taken notice of the new types of industries flourishing on the canals, from bookshops to bakers, and ice cream boats to community spaces like the formidable Village Butty, a floating village hall.

New permanent business moorings are to be setup across London, but more interestingly ‘Roving Trader’ moorings are going to be tried out so travelling canal boat businesses can ply their trade in the big city.

5. Opening up the canals

The CRT is gunning hard to ensure “access to the water for all”. Although this sounds like a crowd-pleaser, it’s controversial among boaters; when you’re trying to steer an unwieldy 15 tonne barge through London’s narrow waterways, the last thing you want to worry about is kamikaze kayakers getting tangled in your propeller.

The CRT will be encouraging more spaces for water sports and fishing by imposing restricted moorings on certain areas of London, which, despite being at the expense of boaters, will probably be worth it if it brings more of the public to the canals.

But one things for certain from the report: the CRT’s move towards being a “wellbeing” charity as well as one that actually manages the waterways is being treated with healthy amounts of scepticism after it blew £60,000 on a rebranding that included a significantly inferior logo. So we’ll just have to see how this plays out.

 
 
 
 

Just like teenagers, self-driving cars need practice to really learn to drive

A self-driving car, of unknown level of education. Image: Grendelkhan/Flickr/creative commons.

What do self-driving cars and teenage drivers have in common?

Experience. Or, more accurately, a lack of experience.

Teenage drivers – novice drivers of any age, actually – begin with little knowledge of how to actually operate a car’s controls, and how to handle various quirks of the rules of the road. In North America, their first step in learning typically consists of fundamental instruction conveyed by a teacher. With classroom education, novice drivers are, in effect, programmed with knowledge of traffic laws and other basics. They then learn to operate a motor vehicle by applying that programming and progressively encountering a vast range of possibilities on actual roadways. Along the way, feedback they receive – from others in the vehicle as well as the actual experience of driving – helps them determine how best to react and function safely.

The same is true for autonomous vehicles. They are first programmed with basic knowledge. Red means stop; green means go, and so on. Then, through a form of artificial intelligence known as machine learning, self-driving autos draw from both accumulated experiences and continual feedback to detect patterns, adapt to circumstances, make decisions and improve performance.

For both humans and machines, more driving will ideally lead to better driving. And in each case, establishing mastery takes a long time. Especially as each learns to address the unique situations that are hard to anticipate without experience – a falling tree, a flash flood, a ball bouncing into the street, or some other sudden event. Testing, in both controlled and actual environments, is critical to building know-how. The more miles that driverless cars travel, the more quickly their safety improves. And improved safety performance will influence public acceptance of self-driving car deployment – an area in which I specialise.

Starting with basic skills

Experience, of course, must be built upon a foundation of rudimentary abilities – starting with vision. Meeting that essential requirement is straightforward for most humans, even those who may require the aid of glasses or contact lenses. For driverless cars, however, the ability to see is an immensely complex process involving multiple sensors and other technological elements:

  • radar, which uses radio waves to measure distances between the car and obstacles around it;
  • LIDAR, which uses laser sensors to build a 360-degree image of the car’s surroundings;
  • cameras, to detect people, lights, signs and other objects;
  • satellites, to enable GPS, global positioning systems that can pinpoint locations;
  • digital maps, which help to determine and modify routes the car will take;
  • a computer, which processes all the information, recognising objects, analysing the driving situation and determining actions based on what the car sees.

How a driverless car ‘sees’ the road.

All of these elements work together to help the car know where it is at all times, and where everything else is in relation to it. Despite the precision of these systems, however, they’re not perfect. The computer can know which pictures and sensory inputs deserve its attention, and how to correctly respond, but experience only comes from traveling a lot of miles.

The learning that is occurring by autonomous cars currently being tested on public roads feeds back into central systems that make all of a company’s cars better drivers. But even adding up all the on-road miles currently being driven by all autonomous vehicles in the U.S. doesn’t get close to the number of miles driven by humans every single day.

Dangerous after dark

Seeing at night is more challenging than during the daytime – for self-driving cars as well as for human drivers. Contrast is reduced in dark conditions, and objects – whether animate or inanimate – are more difficult to distinguish from their surroundings. In that regard, a human’s eyes and a driverless car’s cameras suffer the same impairment – unlike radar and LIDAR, which don’t need sunlight, streetlights or other lighting.

This was a factor in March in Arizona, when a pedestrian pushing her bicycle across the street at night was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle. Emergency braking, disabled at the time of the crash, was one issue. The car’s sensors were another issue, having identified the pedestrian as a vehicle first, and then as a bicycle. That’s an important distinction, because a self-driving car’s judgments and actions rely upon accurate identifications. For instance, it would expect another vehicle to move more quickly out of its path than a person walking.


Try and try again

To become better drivers, self-driving cars need not only more and better technological tools, but also something far more fundamental: practice. Just like human drivers, robot drivers won’t get better at dealing with darkness, fog and slippery road conditions without experience.

Testing on controlled roads is a first step to broad deployment of driverless vehicles on public streets. The Texas Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds Partnership, involving the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, University of Texas at Austin, and Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, operates a group of closed-course test sites.

Self-driving cars also need to experience real-world conditions, so the Partnership includes seven urban regions in Texas where equipment can be tested on public roads. And, in a separate venture in July, self-driving startup Drive.ai began testing its own vehicles on limited routes in Frisco, north of Dallas.

These testing efforts are essential to ensuring that self-driving technologies are as foolproof as possible before their widespread introduction on public roadways. In other words, the technology needs time to learn. Think of it as driver education for driverless cars.

People learn by doing, and they learn best by doing repeatedly. Whether the pursuit involves a musical instrument, an athletic activity or operating a motor vehicle, individuals build proficiency through practice.

The ConversationSelf-driving cars, as researchers are finding, are no different from teens who need to build up experience before becoming reliably safe drivers. But at least the cars won’t have to learn every single thing for themselves – instead, they’ll talk to each other and share a pool of experience.

Johanna Zmud, Senior Research Scientist, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Texas A&M University .

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.