Rescue Geography  

Experiments with commuter cycling

About the cycling project

What was the project?

In the summer of 2009, as part of attempts to further refine the Rescue Geography technique, we applied it to cycling, investigating the ways that bicycle-users understand their commute from (and sometimes to) work at the University of Birmingham.  This involved asking participants to wear a GPS 'wristwatch' and a microphone while they cycle, narrating their journey with their thoughts and observations on the environment they're passing through.

Why University of Birmingham commuters?

The University is a very large regional employer in a city which is notorious for congestion, pollution and poor provision for cyclists.  In 2008 the University undertook an audit of how its staff travelled to work.  One of the conclusions was that there was a fairly low uptake of cycling as a form of transport and significant barriers to its wider use. 

Why this kind of study?

Big surveys of the kind described above only tell us so much.  They don't, for example, really get at the experience of cycling.  Nor do they provide any data on the specifics of particular places both on and around campus that make cycling particularly difficult and/or dangerous.  A qualitative study allows us to drill down into the detail of the broad picture painted by the large scale survey.

What about the data that was gathered?

The core of the Rescue Geography technique is to make transcripts of audio recordings made while people are moving around outside.  These transcripts are then combined with GPS ('sat-nav') data so that we can fairly precisely map where people say things.  These data are analysed within mapping software to look for common patterns of people making particular comments or expressing particular views.  All the data are then made publicly available via the project website using Google Map technology.  For the cycling project we withheld personally identifiable information from the public maps (the records stop before people had reached their homes).

What's this about heart rate monitors?

Just a bit of fun really.  The wristwatch device which we used to record the GPS is designed for people who like to keep track of their performance while jogging and cycling so it includes a heart rate monitor.  The main finding from recording these data was that, shock horror, your heart rate is higher while cycling uphill!

Accessing the data

Some of the maps produced as part of the data analysis are available on the maps page.  You can also get access to the raw data in the form of spatial transcripts.