Cycling to Work on the Eve of the Games

The smug designer with the skinny t-shirt and a fixed gear bike.
The mother in blue track suit with an empty child seat fixed to the pannier.
The ill-prepared lad in the baggy jeans on mountain bike with the seat set way too low.
The hobbyist with orange glasses and Lycra that matches his titanium frame.
The dreadlocked courier with a thick chain wrapped around his chest.
The woman with frayed ginger hair crawling out of her helmet.
The two Japanese tourists, inexplicably on Boris Bikes (miles from a docking station, surely?)

Could I discern
The same eager twitching as the red lights wane,
The same grit of the teeth as clear road opens up ahead
The same extra power on the pedals as the bike overtakes a bus
The same glance over the shoulders, to check the gap between the person behind,
The same confident gait of the one who imagines himself to be wearing a yellow jersey,
As I perceived in myself?

At the four way pedestrian crossing at Ludgate Hill,
When the red lights rudely put the brakes on our makeshift peloton,
Did I perceive in the tall old man in a linen suit,
In the girl in a flowing white dress and flat sandals
In the woman in the business skirt and trainers,
In the sweaty man in shorts, now carrying his fold up bicycle,
A quicker step
A longer stride
A firmer tread
As if the noise that heralded the green man
Was no longer a high-pitched beep
But a starters’ gun?

#Flashride

Cycling home on Friday, I was unwittingly caught up in the London Cycling Campaign’s ‘Flashride’ across Blackfriars Bridge. They want the speed limit on the bridge to remain at 20mph but apparently the Mayor of London isn’t heeding the request, and it will become more dangerous for cyclists later this year.

In protest, several hundred cyclists rode together over the bridge, in full compliance with the Highway Code. I was able to take a little bit of footage of the happening.

Without wishing to boast or come across as some kind of syncophantic Mac fanboy, I must note how easy it was to capture and edit the footage. I was able to whip out my birthday iPad on the central reservation, take a couple of minutes of HD footage, and then cycle off down The Cut and homeward. It took all of ten minutes to edit the footage in iMovie and the longest part of the process was the HD upload to YouTube. The speed of ‘broadcast’ and ‘publication’ these days is truly revolutionary – causing a genuine shift in power away from elites.

Farringdon Lane Docking Station

Right then:  I’ve made a tentative foray into the world of webtools for urban living: The Farringdon Lane Docking Station on Twitter.  Now I need help making it better.

There’s a long established trend of inanimate objects being on Twitter, including Tower Bridge and The River Thames.  In both cases, they update people on crucial aspects of their current status: for example, is the tide in or out? I felt it was time this particular bike rack joined the service – as a keen user of Boris Bikes (an ironic moniker given they were commissioned by Ken Livingstone) I often need to check the status of the rack outside the Free Word Centre (where I work).

The Farringdon Lane Docking Station is a popular rack, one that is usually either (a) completely full with no space to park a bike, or (b) completely empty with no cycles available to use.  For that reason, I often find myself trying to check the status of the racks online or on the move.  Unfortunately, the workflow required is relatively difficult, involving several steps through the website or iPhone apps like Fliplab’s London Cycle.  This actually takes a fair few frustrating minutes via a 3G connection, which is no good when I am in a hurry and keen to make a quick decision about whether to take a tube train or a bike.

I thought I could solve this by creating a twitter account that automatically updates itself, whenever the status of the dock changes.  That way, whenever I think I may need a bike, I can simply fire-up my twitter application of choice and look at the latest status of the docking station.  I don’t have to load unnecessary information about the status of every other docking station.

Unfortunately, my coding skills are minimal and limited to simple PHP.  I don’t have the wherewithal to pull data from the London Cycle Hire site using their API.  I solved this by making a customised RSS feed using the Feed43 (Feed for free) service.  This scrapes the cycle hire map page (which has the status of all the bike racks embedded into it).  Then I used Twitterfeed to post the results into a customised twitter account.  The results are below:

The problem with my system should be obvious!  If the chain of data was linked together properly, then we should be able to see every single change in status, not a huge jump from 16|0 to 8|8.  This is clearly happening because both Feed43 and Twitterfeed pull data a long but regular intervals, not on a second-by-second or minute-by-minute basis.  This is useless for my purposes.  How can I improve it?