A brief update on progress, as of the start of August 2014.
We have built our first model, Model One. We believe the model is quite innovative, not only being different from traditional transport models but also other newer approaches.
It doesn’t look at trade-offs between cost and time, but rather seeks to model:
(a) the relationship between use of ‘safety stuff’ (e.g. helmets, high-visibility clothing), perceptions of danger and the quality of the cycling environment, and
(b) ways in which people influence their others in local peer groups (colleagues, friends, neighbours).
It’s influenced by sociological perspectives known as ‘practice theories’, which explore the cultural and material resources people need to participate in different practices. For example, where practices are seen as requiring lots of skills or lots of stuff, this can exclude people from participating.It’s been challenging bringing agent-based modelling together with practice theories, and we feel like we’ve learned more about the strengths and limitations of both. One issue has been model scope: initially, we wanted to include seven meanings that people might associate with cycling, but, we realised this would make the model too complex to be interpretable.
Focusing on ‘safety stuff’ and danger has allowed us to concentrate on what we see as a crucial aspect of cycling in countries such as the UK: cycling feels dangerous (and is, compared to high-cycling countries), it seems like something only for the risk tolerant and highly skilled, and something that required a lot of protective clothing. Although that’s perhaps the overall picture, the model lets us look at ‘clusters’ developing: in other words, there can be diversity within a local area in how much ‘stuff’ people use to cycle, and how dangerous they think it is. This is something that we’ve observed anecdotally but which hasn’t had much research attention.
The model allows us to explore in an abstract way two different types of intervention.
- The first involves workplaces giving employees ‘safety stuff’ that people may feel they need to cycle – you could imagine this as your employer giving everyone a high-visibility tabard.
- The second involves improving local cycling environments in part of the area – you could imagine this as the local authority building high quality cycle tracks in part of a city. In our model, this reduces the negative experiences people have cycling (not necessarily injuries but also near misses), and helps to reduce their perception of danger.
We can explore both the short and longer-term dynamics that may result from the two different types of interventions, given the social networks that exist and the way people learn from others (for example, seeing many people with high-visibility jackets riding to work).
In autumn Model One will be presented at the European Social Simulation Association conference and as a poster to the Public Health England Conference. Our work on it will also be discussed at the conference on Uncertainty in Computer Models 2014. We’ve already spoken about it to audiences at the University of the West of England, Manchester Metropolitan University, the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Surrey and the Royal Geographical Society Conference.
We are going to put Model One online for people to try out themselves. In the meantime we can offer demonstrations or presentations of the model and our work on it.
We have been working on six papers that either have recently been submitted or which will be submitted later this year. These papers will later be summarised in more readable format for the website.
Paper 1: We have recently submitted a journal article entitled ‘Does more cycling mean more diversity in cycling? An analysis of English and Welsh Census data on cycle commuting, exploring shifts in gender and age composition’ (with Anna Goodman, LSHTM). This topic has great policy interest and Rachel has presented findings at the Bristol Cycle Festival and the Hackney Cycling Conference, and been invited to speak at the upcoming Cycling and Society Symposium and the London Cycling Show.
Paper 2: We’re working on a paper describing and analysing Model One, explaining what we did and what we can learn from it.
Paper 3: We are working on a paper analysing data from three qualitative research projects, looking at interview material about ‘safety stuff’ in relation to cycling. This paper explores people’s attitudes to, and experiences of, ‘safety stuff’ in different cycling contexts. Preliminary findings have already been presented by James at the UKCRC Centres of Excellence Conference and by Rachel at the 2014 ESRC Research Methods Festival (and also as part of the UWE talk).
Paper 4: Earlier in the project, we drafted a paper about using practice theory in relation to transport modelling, which is being redrafted after input from advisory board members.
Paper 5: A fifth paper will be based on the analysis of Model One.
Paper 6: Another paper explores how cycling (and walking) commuting vary over time within individuals, and what factors predict returning to cycling or walking after a period of travel by other modes (with Adam Martin, CEDAR).
Having created Model One, focusing on perceptions of danger and the ‘stuff’ needed to cycle, we’ve decided to do something a bit different and hopefully complementary for our second model.
Model Two will include more realistic geography. Currently we are working with Robin Lovelace (University of Leeds) to generate synthetic populations at the small area level based on census data. The model will also include a closer link to quantitative data. It will explore movements into and out of cycling, using longitudinal data from the British Household Panel Survey. We will be able to explore how cycling rates have changed over time, and look at how that might be understood in relation to social influence (as cycling tends to be clustered in localities and in workplaces).
We will be developing Model Two over the summer, and are keen to discuss its progress with a variety of experts.