Why the built environment is key to the obesity epidemic.

We learnt this week that 70% of millennials will be overweight when they turn 30, type 2 diabetes has doubled in the last 20 years ,  and that the OECD think Britain as one of the fattest nations in Europe. We all know the cure is a magic combination of healthy eating and activity more but despite increased awareness and a vast sports sector (UK has more people working in sport than any country), obesity is growing to be a national epidemic.  There is welcome debate about sugar taxes and the proliferation of junk food outlets, but on the other side of the coin it is stubbornly hard to increase mass participation in sport despite inspirational Olympic performances.  Many people are just too busy to squeeze in sport (long hours, long commutes).

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Rail season ticket decline is not a rebellion against high fares, but a change to working lifestyles

Rail season ticket sales are massively down on last year – possibly by nearly 10%.  It is tempting to put this down to increases in fares, or dampening of the economy.  These are good reasons, but cannot alone account for such a drop in demand for travel.  Fares increases should be softening the market, but the precipitous decline seems unlikely to be explained by this alone.  London Underground, which has enjoyed a real terms fares decrease, whilst managing much better than  the train operating companies , has suffered slower commuting growth than expected.  Meanwhile, off-peak walk up income has grown by 3.7% – despite also suffering the regulated fares increases.   My hunch is that commuters are going into the office less and buying other tickets, and in the process saving a bit of money and a lot of hassle.  The five day commuter is a dying breed.  The background to this and its implications  are significant.  Let me explain…

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Why air pollution is holding back the most disadvantaged kids

Analysis released today by The Guardian and Greenpeace, showing that over a thousand  schools are located near dangerously polluted roads, is a welcome contribution to the growing concern about impacts of air pollution in cities (a map and list of polluted schools can be found here). Traffic pollution is bad for all residents and workers in cities, but there is a social dimension which is still getting patchy acknowledgement: traffic is strangling social mobility.  Its not just that schools are dangerously polluted, but the poorest pupils are the most exposed, and this affects health and academic outcomes.

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Disconnected networks & the rail replacement bus

Too many regions in the UK suffer unreliable rail networks, due to lack of connectivity and redundancy. This is exposed  each weekend when thousands of passengers suffer the ordeal of the rail replacement bus. The truth is that too much of the UK rail network scores poorly on measures of network robustness and connectivity and whole regions are vulnerable to the loss of single links – planned or otherwise.  What can we learn from other networks, such as the internet, or the brain of a roundworm to make our networks more robust?

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Millennials and the polycentric workplace

Workplaces in the UK are reaching a tipping point.  More bosses are recognising the benefits of flexible working, and more staff are realising they can be more productive varying their location.  According to Lancaster University’s Work Foundation 30% of workplaces allow flexible hour and this will increase to 50% by 2020.  The five day, routine point to point commute will no longer be the norm.

The reasons are diverse and fast-moving.  Part-time and self-employment in the knowledge economy is growing.  Millennials are taking a more relaxed approach to physical work-space, and companies, realising the potential  savings are enacting clear desk and locker policies.   Vodaphone estimate that UK businesses could save £34bn by “freeing up desk space and working flexibly”.   The world kept spinning when staff worked from home during rail strikes and the 2012 Olympics, and  we are recognising the benefits of spending more time at home with family instead of on overcrowded transport networks.  New technologies with increasing internet access and cloud working are enablers.  It adds up to major changes to demand on transport networks –  operators and transport agencies need to adapt their business models.

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Google timeline is fascinating (and slightly terrifying)

Imagine video recording your entire life.  Some of your friends on Facebook may seem dead keen on doing this (and sometimes on behalf of their very young offspring), but few have gone whole-hog and stuck a webcam to their forehead for posterity (or ex-post analysis).  To be honest, I’m not sure I’d want to relive my less sober nights in high definition, but sometimes I regret not getting some recording of the key moments especially ones taken for granted.  So I for one was delighted to discover today that unbeknown to me Google has been stitching together my every move for the last three years (actually I had a deep suspicion this was happening).  Every journey, from the mundane local food shop, going to the cinema, or staggering up Everest Base camp – its all there, along with some attempts to assign transport mode to journeys.

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Ipswich expanded town: missed opportunity or lucky escape?

Residents of Suffolk might lament the influx of Londoners as house prices in the Southeast push the London commuter bubble well into East Anglia.  But in 1966 Shankland, Cox and Associates (SC&A) were commissioned by Harold Wilson’s government to plan an expansion of Ipswich to accommodate at least an additional 70,000 Londoners.  The plan never came to fruition, as other New Towns were built instead.   Two elements of the Ipswich expansion debate have left  legacy of traffic congestion on  Ipswich today – a hot topic of conversation in the town.  The first was the advise, by at least two independent consultants to develop to the West was not followed through.  The second was an assumption that the road network within Ipswich would be upgraded whichever side of Ipswich was developed.  What actually happened was incremental expansion in most directions, but especially to the East and no new road provision into the town centre.

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From Suffolk to China: Zipf’s law in action

In any country  if you rank all the cities by population, these populations will follow the same pattern worldwide.  The law is so strong that you could use this as a geeky party trick: give me the population of the largest city in a country and I will tell you the population of the 50th largest.  It is a remarkable feature of cities that their populations follow not only follow a power law, but that the distribution is identical across the planet.

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