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Practitioners and academics discuss new cycling research

May 10, 2010 2 comments

UEL Public lecture on new cycling research, 27th April 2010

On the 27th April, UEL held a public lecture on new cycling research. This showcased both the EPSRC-funded Understanding Walking and Cycling project and UEL’s own ESRC-funded Cycling Cultures research. It drew around 40 people, mostly from outside UEL, representing a good mix of academics and practitioners including cycle trainers, transport consultants, cycle campaigners, and local authority officers.

Dave Horton and Griet Scheldeman

Dave Horton and Griet Scheldeman speaking at the public lecture

Understanding Walking and Cycling is a large, mixed-method project involving teams of researchers at several different institutions. Dave Horton and Griet Scheldeman outlined the ethnographic component of the project, which involves studying transport decisions at a household level in Worcester, Leeds, Lancaster, and Leicester. Dave and Griet described how frequently these decisions represent pathways to not-cycling. Studying decisions at the household level allows us to see how transport choices are embedded in household life. This might be particularly important for those with multiple roles and responsibilities – commuting becomes far more complex if two children need to be escorted to two different schools, for example. However, Dave and Griet discussed their worries that focusing on households could obscure a key factor discouraging cycling: the heavy volume of motor traffic on the roads.

Katrina Jungnickel and I talked about the Cycling Cultures project, which by contrast focuses on four areas (Bristol, Cambridge, Hackney, and Hull), with relatively high cycling levels. We want to investigate why this is the case and the contribution of “cycling cultures” in the four areas. We described the background to the project, the methodology, and the current stage the research has reached (I am writing this from a train to Hull!) Using the Census commuting data for comparisons, we can see that cycle commuters have quite different characteristics in the four places; for example, in Hull cycle commuters disproportionately come from car-free households (this may have changed since 2001, of course). Historical data adds perspective, as in 1971 both Bristol and Hackney were relatively low-cycling areas but have since bucked the national trend. How do economic, political and cultural factors combine to produce diverse rates and experiences of cycling in the four places?

UEL Public Lecture participants

UEL Public Lecture participants

There was a lively discussion following both talks and after the lecture in informal discussions. There seems to be a community of interest developing among cycling practitioners and academic researchers – not of course without its tensions and disagreements. I look forward to further events including our upcoming first Cycling Practitioner Forum and a seminar series we will be organising at UEL towards the end of the year. Further details of events as they are planned and the Cycling Cultures project can be found at www.cyclingcultures.org.uk . You can find out more about Understanding Walking and Cycling at http://www.lec.lancs.ac.uk/research/society_and_environment/walking_and_cycling.php . Any comments welcome!

Rachel Aldred

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