Gridlock in Basford, Nottinghamshire. Credit: Alan Murray-Rust, published under creative commons
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A traffic survey has claimed South Nottinghamshire is more congested than New York

It’s probably wrong. 

Until now, Nottinghamshire’s greatest claim to fame was Robin Hood. This week, however, the East Midlands county swept to world renown, when a large chunk of it was revealed to be the twelfth most congested area in Europe or North America.

The survey, conducted by INRIX, a traffic information service, placed South Nottinghamshire above New York, Rome, Boston and Birmingham in its ranking of most car-clogged metropolitan areas. (No, we wouldn’t call it a metropolitan area either. We’ll get to that in a second.) Here’s the top 15:

The Nottinghamshire press were understandably nonplussed by the news, especially since the area was placed 33rd in 2011-12, and 27th in 2012-13. The Nottingham Post reported that the results have been “questioned by transport figureheads”, namely the chairman of a taxi association. It also quoted Councillor Jane Urquhart, who pointed out that major works on the M1 and A453, which together form the main route into Nottingham, have slowed down traffic a lot in the past year.

There could be other explanations for the anomaly. INRIX only considers traffic on “major motorways and arterials”. The only motorway in South Nottinghamshire is the aforementioned M1, which skirts the edge of the county for about five minutes: those road works will therefore have had a disproportionate effect on the survey.

Another explanation is that INRIX used Eurostat’s UK metropolitan boundaries, which lumps pretty much the whole county into one “metropolitan area”. The Office of National Statistics, on the other hand, uses something called “urban areas” which stop once a minimum population density is reached. It consequently defines Nottingham’s urban area as Nottingham, plus a few suburbs: this seems like a better point of comparison with NYC than the entire southern part of the county, which is mostly grass.

Nottinghamshire, as seen from space. Credit: Google Earth

The reason this is a problem is because INRIXs’ ranking is based on the difference in traffic speeds between rush hours and “free-flow” periods – and true metro areas have very different traffic patterns from more rural ones. In New York City, for example, the roads are so busy that peak time traffic is often not that much worse than general traffic. In smaller cities, peak time makes a big difference.  All the index really shows is how much more congested an area gets at commuter time. If traffic is terrible all day, then the answer may be “not much”.

Happily for Nottingham, then, its leap into the big-time seems to be a fluke. Works on those major roads will carry on until 2015 though, so the locals may be stuck in that traffic jam a little longer yet.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad