View Grit bin locations in a larger map

Following last night’s snow-fall I thought it might be worth re-publishing the locations of grit-bins in the borough.

The Google map details where they all are (roughly, but they are big yellow things, so I’m confident it gives more than enough information for you to find them) but if you want more information you can find it in the council’s winter service plan (PDF).

Help yourself: Grit bins have been placed in various locations around Wandsworth

Just like last year the council has place a number of grit bins around the borough, and I’ve updated the Google map I did of the locations.

Only two or three have moved (I didn’t keep a precise count of changes) so if you had a bin last year the chances are good it is back. And I added a further dozen or so locations to the map.

View Grit bin locations in a larger map

Two health-warnings.

  1. Wandsworth will still be gritting. Many (I think deliberately in some cases) think this means the council won’t grit pavements. The council will still be gritting as normal, however, this allows residents to look after themselves and their neighbours should they choose – it’s an extra, not a replacement.
  2. Any errors in the map are mine. I took the information from the council’s winter service plan (PDF). While in some cases I’ve been able to use my own local knowledge to make sure it’s accurate, I don’t know the whole borough well enough to do that. However, the grit bins are big yellow things, so this map should guide you close enough to see them.

[You can download the data I used to make this map (location, longitude and latitude) from my data page.

View Grit bin locations in a larger map

I’ve updated my map of grit bins now the council has expanded the scheme. The original 20 were well used so there’s another load being dropped around the borough this week.

As before they are placed in areas that are not part of the council’s priority gritting programme, So as before, if there isn’t one near you it isn’t because of some horrible town hall conspiracy, it’s either that other areas are higher risk, or your area is done by the council directly. Of course, it’s not a science – this is the first year we’ve done this and are learning as we go so placements will be refined over the months and years.

I will relate one anecdote from the last lot of snow. Although these could be seen as a ‘Big Society’ initiative, I was intrigued by the Nudge aspect. I was the first on my stretch of road to grit, doing the area outside my house and a couple of neighbours; a day later I counted five others that had done the same, all on that same stretch and all my side of the road. Around the corner or on the other side of the road where you couldn’t see the cleared pavement (because of buildings or cars obstructing the view) and the pavement remained white.

Statistically not significant, though the theory suggests that people are likely to emulate the behaviour of people like them. In this case, gritting outside their homes because one of their close neighbours has.

Which set me thinking about how well received the new grit bins will be, and I think it will be fascinating to see, comparatively, how well used they are (I have no idea how accurately we are logging usage, grit is inexpensive, and the effort of accurate weighing and recording may well quickly dwarf the cost of the grit itself). However, there are two which I think would be interesting to compare usage with bins in areas of street properties.

Nightingale Lane. This box has been placed outside some flats (I think the legally famous Hightrees House) and I wonder how that will play with the shared entrance and exit. With street properties it’s fairly clear which neighbour has cleared their frontage, but with flats? Will nudge work here, or will people assume it’s someone else who isn’t like them making the effort (perhaps someone from the council or the management company).

Bellevue Road. This box is at the bottom of the footpath on the bridge over the railway line, and isn’t that close to residential properties. The nearest are on the other side of the bridge, while the other sides of the road are Wandsworth Common and The Hope pub. The nudge example I gave, therefore, would only work if people saw someone gritting and recognised them.

[I produced the map using the council’s location list, Google maps and for some addresses Steve Morse’s address converter. You can download the list from my data page. Obviously any errors are mine.]

View Grit bin locations in a larger map

The response to my mapping of grit bins last week has fascinated me. Of course, the overwhelming majority of people totally ignored it, but some appreciated it and it was rather flattering to be picked up by the LGIU, and even more so to have been highlighted by the webmaster of Lichfield (who is a real pioneer of open data).

But more interesting was the negative response. I cannot deny the bins are located in the north of the borough. And a few people immediately realised why: it’s because a few weeks ago, when the locations were chosen we all got together in a smoky room (we used artificial smoke, so as not to break the smoking ban) and decided that we’d totally ignore poor old Tooting. Then we guffawed, well, most of us did, some went for the muah-ha-ha-ha evil laugh.

Actually, it wasn’t like that at all (although thank-you to Paul Clarke for the inspiration in his insightful post on the snow and ice in Croydon). Instead it was an operational decision. If you know the area you’ll also realise that there is a strong correlation between the how steep the roads are and how many bins there are.

What particularly interested me is that, as far as I can tell, no-one made the accusation that there was some anti-Tooting (or anti-Labour) bias until I’d made the map. Several even used my map to prove their point, because if we were allowing politics to decide the location the first thing a Conservative council executive member would do is create and publicise a map to highlight the point!

There is inequality in the location of bins because there is inequality of terrain. Only if the borough were perfectly flat would perfectly even distribution make sense. That’s not to say the current distribution is perfect because nothing is, and the lessons from this winter’s placement will be learned and used when choosing placement for next winter. But even with that inequality, even with the imperfection that comes from constantly learning, I’d argue what we’ve got is massively better from the only way to get equality: having no bins so everyone got precisely nothing.

What conclusions can we draw? A very clear one is that people respond to data depending on how it’s presented. The grit bin locations had been well publicised, but drew little attention until put into a map on my website. I know for a fact that my website gets far far less traffic than the council website, but for some reason the map had greater traction than the list.

A second conclusion is that when presented with data, people will draw their own conclusions. To me it was quite clear that the major factor in location choice were steep roads, to others there was a socio-economic or political motivation (there are so many bins in my ward that if it were an indicator of power I’d be something like a local government demi-God rather than mundanely just representing a ward with a hill in it) and I’m sure there are all sorts of other interpretations you can draw.

But the third is that it can provoke the discussion and debate. The challenge is creating a culture in which we can use that constructively, recognising that there is no such thing as a perfect solution, recognising that not everyone gets what they want and also recognising that there’s a difference between policy and operations. On things like this, we want to get it right, providing the data on what we are doing and how we are doing it gives everything the chance to help us do just that.

Help yourself: Grit bins have been placed in various locations around Wandsworth

It’s that time of year when the weather dominates council life. We have been out gritting for days (since Saturday morning to be precise) both priority road routes and pavements.

By far the hardest job is gritting pavements, mainly because these have to be done manually. The council concentrates on priority areas for pavement gritting, for example outside schools, stations and clinics and, because they have to return to these areas often do not get around to many residential streets. To help residents 20 grit bins have been located in various places around the borough (the council don’t seem to have mapped them, so I have).

View Grit bin locations in a larger map

The council’s website is hosting a cold weather update page that has the latest updates.

The location data for this is now on my data page.

I’ll confess I’m finding the bad weather a little tedious.

There are a few reasons for this. First, the fact that it gets cold every year in this country really shouldn’t be a lead news item for days on end – but somehow it is. Second, it makes me talk about it so I become tedious.

I’m also always a little disappointed by it. Yesterday morning I was in Westminster for a meeting and it looked beautiful. But a few hours later, as the snow stopped, the roads and pavements turned into a dirty slush and the white crowns on Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster started to melt and fade it just became a bit cold and miserable. I’m not sure if the few hours of picture postcard scenery made the cold, wet walk I then had to take up to Victoria Street worthwhile. But maybe I’m just a misery by nature.

It also impacts on the council’s services, and it’s hard for the council to meet the expectation that everything will work as normal. However, it almost managed. The main victim yesterday was refuse collection – made worse because the same collection last week was the first hit by the heavy snow and a small number (around twenty) were missed for a second week (given that many boroughs just cancelled last week’s collections altogether Wandsworth has done a good job to minimise the disruption). Many of those, however, are from housing estates, and therefore the refuse is in designated refuse areas rather than people’s homes or gardens.

Refuse collection is back to normal today and teams are also working on clearing back log, so the twenty or so missed collections should be caught up this week.

The council is providing has an update page that has the latest information, but I thought you might be interested in some of the details from an update I’ve received.

The council has been gritting almost continuously since early morning on New Year’s Eve. The priority roads have been gritted six times since then, other roads have been gritted at least twice. Since main roads are usable and free from ice gritting operations will concentrate on the non-priority roads for the next 24 hours.

Pavements, which need to be gritted manually, have been gritted through this time and increasing resources have been put into this. However, because it is manual effort is concentrated on the high priority areas – such as busy roads and outside stations and schools.

The council has enough grit to last the current cold snap, and while it is not offering stock to other councils it have been responding to requests from the emergency services. It has also been co-ordinating gritting operations with refuse collection to ensure as much is collected as possible despite the conditions.

I have had some complaints but pleasingly have had far more praise for the council’s response. Personally seeing the area after working away and seeing some absolutely treacherous roads in other boroughs this week I’m astounded at how clear Wandsworth is. The fact is that it sometimes gets snows and it sometimes get cold and icy. The council cannot change the weather, but can do a fabulous job in responding to it.

I’d like to publicly thank and congratulate all the Wandsworth staff – those who are working do clear the snow and ice and keep Wandsworth moving, and all those who have made their way in despite transport difficulties to make sure the work of the council continues and residents continue to receive the excellent service to which they are accustomed.