Reporter 448, 6 March 2000

On yer bike, Vic

John Illingworth
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Regarding the letter "Waffle, piffle - and no real alternatives" from Dr Rogers-Gentile in Reporter 447.

I sometimes encounter people, in my work as a local politician, who are unaware of major events in their own backyard. But it is unusual to find an academic colleague like Dr Rogers-Gentile who has apparently failed to notice a debate that has raged throughout the 20 years I have served on Leeds City Council.

Driving to work is increasing both nationally and world-wide, but the apparent benefits to the private individual must be balanced against a considerable disbenefit to others, who often have limited choice in the matter. Car commuting is on a steeply rising curve that will inevitably encounter a hard end-point, the consequence of physical laws that are impossible to change.

The most immediate probability in Leeds is that it will become impractical to do it, as has already happened in central London, when the increasing number of drivers simply get in each other’s way. We are close to that point in many areas, with city centre road junctions routinely operating close to 100 percent saturation for a large part of the day.

If drivers merely inconvenienced each other this would be of limited consequence: the problem is that their noise, fumes and congestion inconvenience everybody else as well.

It is common knowledge that bus journeys are extended because buses are caught up in the same traffic jam. Less well known, but no less important, is the fact that child pedestrian casualties near the University are about ten times higher per child than in the outer suburbs.

My party whip requires me to vote each year for supertram, although looking at the capital repayment schedules I expect to see it sometime after pigs can fly. Buses, trains and bicycles are a different matter, because increased use would bring immediate environmental and economic benefits at minimal extra cost. Decriminalised parking enforcement means exactly what it says: a tax instead of a fine, which goes into Leeds’s coffers instead of the Treasury. It means that enforcement can be locally controlled, self-financing, and hopefully yield a substantial profit from those best able to pay.

Transport makes a significant contribution to total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and here the world-wide statistics are more significant than those in Leeds. If our domestic experience in the UK were replicated throughout the Far East, Africa and Latin America, the consequences for global fuel reserves and atmospheric pollution would be truly alarming. We must persuade them not to do it, but this will be difficult if we are still behaving profligately ourselves.

I believe that Dr Rogers-Gentile lives outside Leeds, and could most easily reduce his own environmental impact by moving closer to his place of work. If he did so, he would encounter the same pollution problems faced each day by the inner-city residents that I represent. I will not impose my own tyre noise and traffic smell on my electors, and no longer use a car to get to work.

Instead, I average about 3,000 miles per year by bike. It would be nice to claim to be a martyr, but in fact it has been no trouble at all to cut car use by 90 per cent. The journey is quicker, more relaxing, and a great deal more fun.

Distance learning

Alan Heald
Mechanical Engineering

I know lots has been said about car parking but no one has it seems given any consideration to the many members of staff who travel long distances and have no option but to use the car.

Are the authorities trying to price them out of a job?

The core argument

Dr Paul Wignall
Earth Sciences

Paolo Viscardi invited me to comment on the article in Reporter 446 on my recent research on the end-Permian mass extinction in Greenland. In answer, I can say I was perfectly happy with it.

Viscardi appears to take offence at the second sentence of the article which notes that the ‘few hardy creatures [which] clung to life’ during the crisis, subsequently radiated to produce all the organisms we see around us today (including humans). This much is self-evident, but it was not the intention to suggest humans were an ‘inevitable goal of the evolutionary process’ - perhaps too much reading between the lines has given Viscardi this impression.

The bulk of Viscardi's letter discusses aspects of the 250 million-year-old mass extinction event. This is a fascinating topic, as I well know, but the Reporter is probably not the place to discuss them, at least not at length. However, as Viscardi appears to be a stickler for accuracy he probably won't mind me correcting a few errors in his letter:- (i) there have been more than eight large plume eruptions since the Palaeozoic; (ii) his values for the size of the Siberian volcanic province are considerably larger than most recent estimates; and (iii) the basalt magmas of this province (or any other province for that matter) are highly unlikely to have been ‘blasted out from the core’, as he claims.

Late arrival

Dominic Watt
Linguistics and Phonetics

The last Reporter, dated February 21, arrived in my pigeonhole at about 11am on February 22. I was irritated to realise I’d missed a potentially interesting and informative lecture, since it had taken place the previous day. Is there any point in advertising these events if most of your readership isn’t actually going to find out they’re taking place until after they’ve actually happened? Given that host departments are often shelling out a good deal of money to bring in top-flight academics, it is obviously most cost-effective to bring in the largest possible audience.

We have every sympathy with the writer but, in this case, details about this particular lecture were not given to the press office until after the previous events sheet had been printed. The University website has full details of all events, updated daily by the press office. Event organisers can now submit details directly to the website. See - Editor.

On-line calendar

John Harrison

How about making the Reporter calendar available on your website?

Good idea. It’s there. - Editor.

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