Active Travel Podcast


Active Travel Podcast Pilot: Media reporting of Active Travel

Season 1, Ep. 1

The Active Travel Academy's (ATA) Dr Rachel Aldred and journalist Laura Laker talk media reporting of active travel, in this two-part pilot episode of the Active Travel Podcast.

First up, your hosts speak to researchers Tara Goddard (Texas A&M University) and Kelcie Ralph (Rutgers University, Alaska), on their paper Does news coverage of traffic crashes affect perceived blame and preferred solutions? Evidence from an experiment. Our guests answer that question and discuss how, when it comes to news reporting of road collisions, framing is everything.

In the second half of the podcast, Cristina Caimotto, (University of Turin), speaks from Italy about her new book Discourses of Cycling, Road Users and Sustainability. An Ecolinguistic Investigation. Much of the language we use is subconscious, and that applies to journalists too. Cristina's analysis of media reporting of the death of Kim Briggs is startling and eye-opening - she discusses whether there are parallels with racist discourse on reporting of this issue, and why we need a new way of talking about the environment.

Kelcie and Tara's paper can be accessed here:

And Cristina's book is just out, from Palgrave:


ATA Podcast Pilot

Laura Laker [00:00:00] Hi and welcome to the active travel podcast pilot episode. The active travel podcast is the podcast for the Active Travel Academy, an academic think tank, if you like, on all things cycling, walking and micromobility. Is part of the University of Westminster in London. I'm Laura Laker. An active travel journalist, collaborating with the Active Travel Academy.

Rachel Aldred [00:00:21] And I'm Rachel Aldred, I'm the director of the Active Travel Academy and I'm a reader in transport at Westminster University.

Laura Laker [00:00:28] And to kick off, we're talking about media reporting of active travel. So, Rachel, as it's our first podcast, could you start by explaining a little bit about why we're here, how the active Travel Academy came about and the tiny bits about what it does?

Rachel Aldred [00:00:41] So the Active Travel Academy has been going since autumn last year. It's funded by a grant from the Quintin Hogg Trust, which is affiliated with the university Westminster and basically set up to bring together interdisciplinary expertise, academic, non-academic expertise around all things active travel related. And we had a whole lot of different ideas, we have been doing a range of different projects, collaborations and so on. And one of our ideas with the summer programme, where we had various guests who were going to visit and collaborate and so on. Now, obviously, the physical collaborations have been on hold for a while, but we instead we've been setting up some virtual collaborations, including this podcast. So we hope you enjoy it.

Laura Laker [00:01:23] And one of the things that we did was do the Active Travel Academy's media awards, wasn't it? last year, which was great because it gave us a bit of an opportunity to launch the Active Travel Academy. And it also made us think a bit more about the kind of role in the media has in how we see active travel as a society and how powerful that is. And it was just around that time, I think, maybe a month before our guests came up with a study which is super interesting, which they are here to talk about with us today. So those guests are all the way from Texas A&M University. Tara Goddard, who is assistant professor at the School of Landscape, Architecture and Urban Planning, and from Alaska, Kelsey Ralph, assistant professor of transportation planning at Rutgers University. So could you tell us a bit about yourselves, how you ended up collaborating on media reporting of road collisions from different sides of the United States?

Tara Goddard [00:02:24] Sure, Laura and Rachel, thanks for having us both here. It's really fun to connect this way. So we have been friends and colleagues for many years and mostly through Twitter, I think, we had realised that we both have a shared interest in a lot of the way that we talk about active travel, traffic safety, road design, things like that. So when we both kind of realised we had that interest is where we started talking about a collaboration. The two of us as well with our colleagues, Calvin Thigpen, who's been at Arizona State and is now with Lime, and then Evan Iacobucci, a graduate student of Kelcie's.

Laura Laker [00:03:06] On Twitter, connecting us across the world.

Kelcie Ralph [00:03:12] There came a point where it was sort of daily screenshots of Tweets of news coverage. And I think that both of us are a little bit motivated out of a place of anger and rage, like "this is unacceptable! Let's do a project to show that."

Laura Laker [00:03:26] I think. I think all of us who work in this field have had those moments. And it seems to be a commonality with English speaking countries that are media reporting of road collisions does seem to be so biased towards drivers. So can you tell us about your about your study and how you kind of decided what you're gonna do and what you did?

Tara Goddard [00:03:50] Sure. So the first study we did we really just wanted to see, OK, we have this idea that these patterns are happening. There's victim blaming, this focus on the pedestrian, the absolving the driver. But, you know, it was just like, do we have some kind of confirmation bias? Are we just noticing these more or these patterns are really happening? So we wanted to even just inventory and get a sense of what are the different ways that this language or framing is used. How pervasive is it? And so we looked at two hundred articles across the US from local news reports about crashes that involved a byciclist or pedestrian, serious injury or crash and 100 involving a bicyclist and a 100 involving a pedestrian. And that's where we do a process that we developed, pretty fine grained way of coding or analysing the articles for use of passive voice, use of victim blaming, whether they focus on the driver or the car, for example. And even though that was pretty fine grain and we went through all that, then we were able to kind of really distil it down into two issues. Just how pervasive this victim blaming is and then looking at the potential effects. And so through that we confirmed essentially what we thought we were seeing, this was just this was widespread. It was very common. Kelcia do you want to add it on.

Kelcie Ralph [00:05:20] Yeah. So we actually found two different kinds of problems. And the first is like a sentence level issue. And this one's the easiest one to fix, right? We, in the way that we cover crashes now, we tend to focus on the pedestrian or the victim of the crash. We say the pedestrian was hit rather than saying a car or a driver hit a pedestrian. And that doesn't sound like a major issue, except for that we know from a whole host of studies and media studies that the focus of the sentence gets more of the blame. So this tiny, tiny little shift from a pedestrian was hit to a car or a driver hit a pedestrian is going to absolve the pedestrian of blame and sort of shift our attention back to the driver.

Laura Laker [00:06:07] And that's the kind of act, active or passive voice.

Kelcie Ralph [00:06:10] Well it's not quite active or passive, that's also an issue. But this it's even simpler than that focus. Who is the star of the show within the sentence? The other sort of sentence level thing we found is that we do very funny things with agency. So who's the actor in the story and at the sentence level we found that a lot of the times we were just leaving out an actor entirely. A pedestrian was hit. By what? By whom? We have no idea. And often stories left out a driver entirely. So not mentioned anywhere in the article at all. We do have one other funny thing with agency, and that is if we do mentioned an agent, four times more likely we were likely to refer to the vehicle rather than the driver. And as far as I know, there's not quite a lot of autonomous vehicles yet. Most of these crashes have drivers associated with them and they are entirely absolved of responsibility.

Laura Laker [00:07:13] Yes we get the same problem here. Some of these stories just don't mention a driver at all, and it's not uncommon at all. I was thinking about it actually, and I was wondering, because, if you're going to put focus on anyone but you don't know who is responsible for the collision, obviously it's more likely that someone driving was the cause of a collision than somebody walking. But I guess you can't assume that as a journalist. I'm wondering what you think about that.

Tara Goddard [00:07:42] That's a great question. So the intent isn't to place blame before we know what happens, right? It's just the fact that we know from communication and media studies that if you only focus on the pedestrian, people are more likely to think they're at fault. So even just making it more objective or it's actually making it more neutral, to phrase things correctly, as when an actor does something. It doesn't necessarily assign them blame, but at least brings them into the conversation. And then this larger issue that we found of treating all these crashes as one-off events is also part of the problem. So it isn't just that someone behaved badly, often the driver, not always, but often the driver, but it's about their responding to the cues of the environment.

Laura Laker [00:08:38] I'm wondering actually now if, um, if now's a good time before we move on to bring Rachel in, because this talk about mentioning a driver versus mentioning a car is something that you've looked at as well, Rachel, isn't it, in the UK context?

Rachel Aldred [00:08:56] Yes. but not around media discusses, but around participant, like public discourses, people just describing things that they've seen or experience they've thought about. And it's interesting that you get similar patterns there. I don't know which necessarily comes first, but you can see how they reinforce each other. So a study that I did looked at how people talked in survey comments, talked about bad driving vs bad cycling. And it was quite interesting because there's lots of complaints about bad driving, lots of complaints about bad cycling. But they wouldn't narrated really differently. And this won't surprise you, I guess, but in terms of bad driving, it was very often the car. It was like "cars speed, cars park on the pavement", all this kind of thing. That was generally what was said. Whereas in relation to cyclists, it was really different. It was "cyclists go through red light, cyclists on the footlights", you know. So it was a very different narration and often the cyclists as well, it was sort of linked to an outgroup, sometimes linked to outgroups stereotype. But yes, the drivers very often disappeared, and when there was a person mentioned, it often wasn't the driver as well, it was commuters or people park on the pavement. So it did seem that this kind of thing you get in the way that ordinary people talk about their experiences as well. It's similar.

Laura Laker [00:10:12] And I guess when you talk about someone, is it just a person or a commuter? You know, they're there for legitimate reasons. You know, you're sort of suggesting.

Rachel Aldred [00:10:21] Yes, I think so, and you didn't really get that with talk about cyclists doing things, it wasn't commuters cycle three red light, whereas the drivers doing bad stuff. It was often commuters or parents park in the way or that kind of thing. It was sort of personalise them in a way that you didn't get about cyclists.

Tara Goddard [00:10:39] And that's something that even in my earlier work, in my dissertation work, looking at these social identity issues where cycling is, this thing that you get associated with, that's like a deep part of your identity, and therefore, when you behave badly, it's like part of your internal motivation to be a jerk or whatever it was. Drivers aren't kind of wrapped up in that idea of being a car user, and then when they behave badly, it's just kind of a one-off event. It's not something like a deep motivation of theirs.

Laura Laker [00:11:07] And then you get the issue of the collective responsibility of being a cyclist and therefore being responsible for members of your own "community", and why don't we sort of deal with them?

Tara Goddard [00:11:22] I call that the exemplar problem. We expect other cyclists to be an exemplar all the time and hold up the whole group.

Laura Laker [00:11:31] You would never say to a speeding driver, you're letting everyone down. You're letting the rest of us down.

Tara Goddard [00:11:38] We should, but we don't.

Kelcie Ralph [00:11:43] It's amazing how pervasive all of this is because even in talking about this research, I've slipped up so many times and said exactly the thing that we're saying "media don't do this". So these are really deeply ingrained.

Tara Goddard [00:11:58] And that's something we talked about, too. Even though we chose to focus on the media and we do think it's important, these patterns are much broader and more pervasive than not, like Kelsey is alluding to, you know, whether it's dinner table conversations or in transportation plans and codified documents, you can see these same patterns replicated.

Rachel Aldred [00:12:20] And it's also it's not totally divorced from reality in a sense, because it does matter that a car hit are not an individual driver, it does make a difference. It's not completely stupid, but it also depersonalises and, you know, avoid blame.

Laura Laker [00:12:36] I think just most people haven't really considered it. We're looking at doing some media reporting guidelines with the Active Travel Academy because of this very issue. And I was speaking to someone from Impress, one of the media regulators in this country and they were saying, you know, they think about the way that the media works all the time and the impact that it has, but they never thought about the transportation piece. And so I think it was quite a revelation, it's just so kind of ingrained. And so your research then it kind of led them to a new a new US study, the one that came out last year, late last year, that was then really interesting for us as we did the Active Travel Media Award, as we could use it as an example of why language matters and why good reporting matters and why less good reporting, bad reporting needs perhaps highlighting. And so maybe you could talk to us about about, that what came next after this first study?

Tara Goddard [00:13:40] Yeah, I'll talk about how it came about and then Kelsey can talk about what we found. So, you know, we found all these pervasive issues. But then the next question, of course, is does it matter? Right. Is this just something that irritates, you know, transportation safety professionals and advocates on Twitter? Or is it something that potentially really has an effect on how people view what's going on or what they think needs to change? And so we devised an experiment where we took one, or really many of what we call the status quo or the common pattern, and we created a hypothetical crash report or a fictional crash report. And then we tweaked it very slightly, relatively subtle. We tweaked it so that there was three versions. So the first version, having the status quo, the passive voice, the focus on the pedestrian, no agent type of work and using the word accident instead of crash. And then the second version, we use the improving. So we said a driver hit instead of a pedestrian was hit, that type of work. And then the third version, we did that same work that we did in the second article, but then we also included some context or what's called thematic framing, tying it to larger issues and trends and also to the built environment at the site. And then we recruited nine hundred ninety nine people, which sounds like a funny number, but it's perfectly divided between three groups. And then we had them read the article and then answer some questions and they didn't know that there was two other versions, so they only saw the version and knew they were answering questions about that.

Kelcie Ralph [00:15:18] And what's sort of amazing is that these very tiny changes that Tara described have a huge effect on how people perceive a crash. So let's just talk about the first sort of issue that we talked about, sentence level grammatical choices. If you shift from pedestrian focussed to driver focussed and you make sure that there is an agent, those two changes reduces blame on the pedestrian by 30 percent and increases blame on the driver by 30 percent, from one article, one time. So I when I'm talking about this work, I get really excited because if we changed every article, every time, you would see this really dramatic change in how we think about who's responsible for these crashes. But like Tara mentioned earlier, we don't just want to blame drivers. There is a systematic problem with our roads. And so that's what that third article was. There we used thematic framing, which explicitly connects the dots between all of the different crashes by, you know, including crash statistics, by describing the location of the crash and describing why a pedestrian might want to cross there in the first place. Including those thematic elements changed how people saw blame as well, and they were much more likely to start to blame other factors or quote unquote, the road system as a whole rather than the driver or the pedestrian. So when we shifted to that third article, we found that readers were much more likely to blame other factors like the road system. But then for me, the most important part of it is that they supported different solutions for improving road safety. So they did this dramatic shift from individual level solutions, like an education campaign, to systems level solutions like adding pedestrian infrastructure and lowering speeds. And if we want to save lives, those are the sorts of things we actually have to do rather than victim blaming.

Tara Goddard [00:17:21] So we had one final question that had a really important outcome is that we asked them about a trade-off. Basically, would you trade off this road that you take every day lower speeds for fewer pedestrian deaths? And it was the people who read those improved article framing, particularly the thematic framing, who are more likely to say, yes, I would accept, you know, the speeds would be lower and we kind of assumed that people in their mind would mean I would take me longer to get where I'm going for a drop in pedestrian deaths.

Laura Laker [00:17:57] But that's amazing, isn't it, because you could argue that the that changes to our streets could hinge on just how we talk about them. It is public acceptance of change is one of the major issues, because it impacts how willing politicians are to make these changes, if they think people don't want them, then they're not going to do them. But if you can talk about road safety in a way that people understand with the context and with the focus in the right place, then you could shift people's perceptions and therefore impacts how likely we are to have safer roads, which is huge, really.

Tara Goddard [00:18:38] It's probably necessary, but not sufficient. But absolutely the first step.

Laura Laker [00:18:46] So a lot of local news reports particularly come from local police reports from the collision. So it's not just the media that needs to be targeted in terms of, you know, thinking about the context, the wider context, who is involved, and also, you know, we need to talk to law enforcement about this as well.

Tara Goddard [00:19:09] That was one of the outcomes I think we were not expecting, but that came out, that was very clear in our first study is how frequently the local news media was just either printing direct quoting the police press report or quoting an officer on scene or clearly paraphrasing, but incorporating the same language from the police reports. And so that was something we identified as absolutely, as you're saying, as a huge issue. So even further upstream from the media reports is how police are thinking about this and how they're trained to speak to the media, whether it's on scene or someone calls them up because they heard about a crash or the official press release, like in the US would be the public information officers, is the title typically. So that's something that we've talked with some law enforcement professionals that are really interested in pursuing and looking at how that process exists now or how it works now to train them or what kind of information they get and then also what might work to get them as well thinking about this a little bit differently, watching out for their own biases that we all have internalised, like Kelsey said, these ways of phrasing things and how that can be improved as well. So that's something we're working on and looking at doing next.

Laura Laker [00:20:30] And Rachel, obviously, this is an American study we're talking about, but it kind of is the same issue that we have in the U.K., isn't it? And I wonder if, obviously this is a similar situation, but it is different. I mean, in the US, we have jaywalking rules and the whole, I guess that language kind of implies if you're on the road, not on a crossing, then you're at fault. But it's a similar issue in the UK, and I wonder if this is the kind of research that we would need here or if there's something that we could take from it.

Rachel Aldred [00:21:05] I mean, I think it's great to have to study and just the evidence that it has. Just looking at one single story has such an impact in how people how people respond and how they blame or don't blame the road users, the road system and so on. So it kind of reminds me of a study that I was involved in looking at coverage of cycling fatalities in London, where the story and it is, I think, involves the media being quite influential in getting a change in cycling policy and getting greater public support for cycling infrastructure, including where it involves taking space away from drivers. And I'm just looking at the chart now that we have in the paper, which is quite stark, which is that generally cycling fatalities didn't get covered in the local London newspaper in the 1990s. And suddenly in the 2000s, they started getting covered more and more to a point where all of them were getting covered in this local newspaper. And I had a student do a bit of a qualitative analysis of this as well. And she found that generally the framing did involve, it wasn't just individual tragedy framing, it was often including comments around the road network and safety for cyclists and putting it in a broader context. So when we read this paper, we thought, well, this seems to be having an impact. The fact that it's being covered and it is being framed in this way, I think is having an impact on policy and public opinion. This paper really suggests in the opposite direction in terms of having, you know, potentially having a negative impact, that this does happen in a measurable way. So, yes, very much. I think we can see the same things happening here, and I'd like to see more research. In fact I was going to ask you, Tara and Kelcie, what kind of follow on research you would think, what needs to be done now following on from this study?

Tara Goddard [00:22:53] Well, actually a question I have for you or speaks to future research, we found reviewing those 200 articles that the media had reached out or spoken to a transportation safety professional or, you know, kind of a road safety advocate zero percent of the time, so in zero of those instances. And so I'm curious if in the study that you did, where there was comments about the road network and points to these larger system issues, if that played a role, that the people who were involved in writing are the people that they consulted, you know, helped make those ties. Because it's not fair, of course, especially in this media environment, to expect all journalists to be experts in road safety or how the networks work. But having those relationships and knowing who you can talk to and reach out to bring that context, we think is potentially really important. And I think that's one thing that would be something going forward to study. Like how could that work differently as far as those relationships or knowing who to talk to and would that have a measurable, positive effect and how these things get talked about?

Rachel Aldred [00:24:04] No, I think that's a really good point, and I'm trying to remember whether we specifically looked at that. But certainly other work that I've done looking at some of these networks in the London context has suggested that, you know, having this coalition where you have some of those road safety experts, transport experts, advocacy people, in those networks together who can share information and educate each other. I think one of the things that happened in London as well was that a lot of the journalists who were writing these stories with themselves cycling or knew people who did, and therefore, you know, some of these issues came into quite sharp relief for them because they were experiencing the same kinds of things on the streets. They were experiencing being second class citizens effectively when they got on their bikes and being treated in a way that, you know, perhaps was different to the ways in which they were treated in other parts of their lives. But, yeah, I think you will also find now more diverse people being quoted, although to be fair as well, this I think the police, the road safety police in London are doing quite a lot of stuff around. For instance, speeding and trying to highlight this is an unacceptable behaviour. So maybe approaches to road safety have also changed as well. And the quotes that you'll get from some of these people were maybe not what you might have got 15 years ago.

Laura Laker [00:25:25] It's interesting to see things shifting, isn't it? And it's interesting to see, I guess the cycling reporting was based on some very effective campaigning from the likes of the London Cycling Campaign in London and we are starting to see this reporting. And Andy Cox is the Met police has been fantastic about speeding because it is obviously one of the major causes of death and serious injury on the roads, and he's all about making it socially unacceptable. I guess that your latest study was about pedestrians. They seem to be, pedestrians, we as we're all pedestrians, seem to be the next kind of group, if you like, of road users who perhaps are getting more of a voice, but have struggled in the past because perhaps they don't associate as one group or they're not associated from the outside as one group. And you wouldn't call yourself a pedestrian. You might call yourself a cyclist, maybe. But, yeah, I think maybe that's the sort of the next thing that people who work in road safety are very keen to push up the agenda because far more people die walking on the roads than cycling. But it just doesn't really get the kind of coverage.

Kelcie Ralph [00:26:42] So one thing that you asked about sort of future work. One thing that I just actually got accepted this week is a paper about distracted pedestrians. And to explain how this links to the media, I have to take one step back, and that is that I asked a bunch of transportation practitioners if they were worried about distracted pedestrians. It turns out they're very worried, right? They estimate that crazy high numbers of people who are dying on our streets are dying because they were distracted. And one of my questions was, where did that come from? And there's this idea called the illusory truth effect. So the more often you hear a fact, or the more often you hear a narrative, or story, the more likely it is to ring true. And we sort of documented in this paper just how prolific and pervasive this coverage of distracted pedestrians was in the United States. I'm not sure if it's the same in the UK. And it just gives such an easy out for the rise in pedestrian deaths, and it doesn't, you know, focus on things like speeding or on driver responsibility whatsoever. So all of these things are linked in the sense that the stories we tell really matter and they're going to shape the things that we do to save lives.

Laura Laker [00:28:02] I think quite often the media is looking for someone to blame, and a lot of the reporting we're seeing around cycling and walking during the Coronavirus crisis is people disobeying the social distancing rules by walking together or cycling together. And people are photo journalists using a telephoto lenses basically to make it look like people walking close together, and they've got like a mile of... there was one from Bournemouth and it was a massive amount. Again, the guy said, I know this route is that this beach. Here's the cliff. And it's like a mile between the sea, but it looks like it's super close!

Tara Goddard [00:28:39] That is a really great example because the guy who debunked that debunked it because he runs it so often. So he's very familiar with the distances, which I think is a great example of how when you do, are you walking or cycling or rolling, you are so much more aware of those parts of the environment and the actual distances and things like that, which is why it's so important to get people out of their vehicles and out of that windshield bias. So I thought that was just like a perfect encapsulation of a lot of things, that story.

Laura Laker [00:29:10] Yeah, and the pedestrian, you asked about the distracted pedestrians is definitely something that editors have said that they might be interested in for me, and I'm just thinking, no, I'm not going to go there.

Tara Goddard [00:29:21] Well, Kelcie's work is so vital because it's not just the media or it's not just the dinner table conversations. It's the professionals who were responsible. And I think much in the way that you talk about the media sometimes or people are looking for a scapegoat or someone to blame, the professionals, in a sense, are too, even if it's subconscious, because if not, they have to take responsibility for the things, the things that we're designing and building. And that's something that like I think the human brain is kind of pushing back against, at least subconsciously saying, no, this is the system. And I think one, you know, and this is a research potential research project is looking at folks who really understand Vision Zero or the safe systems approach and how and talking about planning professionals and engineers and folks like that and then looking at their language around these issues versus people who, again, are more likely to be distracted walker or the scofflaw cyclists or whoever, and not blaming the system, but blaming individuals. I'm sure we could sit here and in an hour come up with four careers worth of.

[00:30:35] It is interesting because it feels like it needs more attention basically, it's like we were saying how we talk about things is so important to how we see, how we perceive the world and stories is so vital. And if we're seeing it kind of upside down, or we're all about individual responsibility when the environment sends us so many cues on how to behave. And I know Rachel has done research on this, about, you know, what's the road space, what's pedestrian space and the things like having road signs on the pedestrian space. And yeah, it's all space for cars, basically in many of our streets. They are the dominant road user, and then everyone else gets blamed if they dare to infringe on that supreme right.

Tara Goddard [00:31:29] Yes. If I could strike one sentence from all the verbiage of this, is all the way we talked about this is "outside of the crosswalk". Because when we talk about pedestrians, right? That's always in there as though they were doing something wrong. But when you're thinking about like how much of the road space is allocated to cars and we funnel pedestrians into these little crosswalks, which may or may not be the safest place to cross or the convenient place across or where the destinations are to across. That, I think, is a good encapsulation of how we set the car user as dominant user.

Rachel Aldred [00:32:07] Yes, it kind of is part of tangible plenty of modelling all the way through really often, isn't it? Because for instance, here we count motor vehicle delays at crossings. We don't count pedestrian delays. So an easy way to solve delay problems is to make pedestrians wait longer. But then you make the pedestrians wait longer, they cross while the pedestrian lights are red. Well, then it's their fault, so it just sort of reinforces the marginalisation of people walking.

Laura Laker [00:32:31] And we could get on to the whole sticky topic of how we prioritise or whose time we value on the roads, but I guess that's a whole other podcast. But it all kind of fits into each other.

Rachel Aldred [00:32:41] Episode two, three, four and five.

Laura Laker [00:32:46] So what would you say, knowing what you know from your research...Well, we're drawing up reporting guidelines for media in the U.K., the Active Travel Academy. What would you say those reporting guidelines should say? What advice should we be giving people working in the media. People who are rushed to get X number of stories out every day, they don't have a lot of time.

Kelcie Ralph [00:33:11] So I would give two pieces of advice. First, at the sentence level, make the driver the focus of your sentence, not the pedestrian. And make sure there is an agent that is the driver and not a car. And then the second thing is harder. And that is to make sure you include some sort of thematic elements. How many crashes have occurred even nationally? The national crash statistics we can look up very easily. It's better if it's a local crash statistics or even hyper local on that particular street, but those are more difficult. And then I guess a third thing, I'm going to be cheeky about the third, is to try in advance of crashes to make a connexion with a planning professional, a transportation professional and advocate. And there's some responsibility on their end as well to reach out proactively, so that there's some sort of expert knowledge included in the article beyond just the driver who described that pedestrian darted out in front of them. And we need more context than that.

Tara Goddard [00:34:22] And I would add that even within the constraints of being, you know, really stretched thin and having to get something out very quickly, you know, as a reporter, it is part of your job to critically think about what it is you're reproducing or reporting on. So, you know, the local news media, their job is not just to replicate uncritically what the police press report says. So take that executive decision or whatever to say, well, even if this is how the police worded it, we're going to word it in a way that's more appropriate. We can say the police report said, however, and then adding these elements or fixing these elements that Kelcie is talking about, I think even in the constraints. And I think too pretty much everywhere there's going to be people in your communities that care about these things. So telling them or helping them understand what they can do to help you, if they want to help you make your job easier or, you know, help you on these issues. So it doesn't need to be an antagonistic relationship at all. It's just about what do you need to be successful in the constraints of your job. and are there any things that they can do to make that easier?

Kelcie Ralph [00:35:39] I thought of another one.

Laura Laker [00:35:41] Yes, come on!

Kelcie Ralph [00:35:43] All of the news coverage that we saw, it was digital news coverage. And so they always had a photo. Not always. Often had a photo. Often a stock photo of a cop car or maybe a bicycle on the ground sort of destroyed by a car. And one thing that we found very effective was when they included a Google Earth for Google Street View image of the roadway. Because suddenly you no longer think, gosh, this is some idiot pedestrian who darted out. There's no sidewalk. It's four lanes wide. You know, it's clearly forty five miles an hour. And so that kind of context is also really helpful and can happen in seconds without visiting the site.

Laura Laker [00:36:25] Super interesting about the Google Street View thing; I write for a Website. And sometimes you have to find your own photographs.

[00:36:32] And we do end up going to Google Street View just because, you know, resources and I'd never thought of it as a useful way of depicting, you know, why something may have gone wrong at that location.

Tara Goddard [00:36:46] One my favourite...So we read all 200 of those articles. And one that I was tapped for reading was a "man was hit, right walking and he was walking in the street". And this article was from February in a place with snow and I Google Street view the location because I was curious and there were no sidewalks and there were four lanes. I mean, this was not pulled out of nowhere. And of course, the man was walking in the streets. There was no other option. And that simple thing changed the entire story.

Laura Laker [00:37:19] That's amazing. Thanks so much to Tara Goddard and Kelcie Ralph for coming on the podcast. We'll put a link to their study in the notes. And now for part two of the Active Travel Podcast, we are continuing the theme of media reporting impactive travel with Cristina Caimotto who is talking to us all the way from Turin. She's discussing her book, 'Discourses of Cycling, Road Users and Sustainability and Eco Linguistic Investigation' and Rachel will introduce her.

Rachel Aldred [00:37:49] So hi, Christina. So you've written a really interesting book. Discuss the cycling, road users and sustainability. So it's due out in July, but I was lucky enough to be able to look at an advanced copy and one chapter in particular is relevant to our theme this week. But I think the whole book more generally is because it's about how we talk about road users and cycling or cyclists in particular. And I wonder if first of all if you could just describe the general idea of the book to our listeners, what is it about?

Cristina Caimotto [00:38:18] Thank you. I'm very happy to be talking to you. So the idea is that from the perspective of my discipline, which is critical discourse analysis and the idea of critical discourse analysis, it is to investigate how language reinforces power in society and how language can be used to change the balance of power. But the power between the various actors that are involved in mobility choices has never been analysed from discourse perspective. Because apart from being a linguist, I'm also a cyclist advocate, I thought I might try to bring discourse analysis to cycling discourse.

Rachel Aldred [00:39:10] Brilliant. 

Cristina Caimotto [00:39:10] So that's the general idea.

Rachel Aldred [00:39:12] Great. So you mentioned already being a linguist. Is this the first time you looked at cycling?

Cristina Caimotto [00:39:19] Well, I studied, I’d say, political discourse mainly both in translation and, you know, or only focussing on English and basically looking at ideology and as I said, strategies to promote a certain kind of worldview. And on the other hand, strategies to try and change things. And I've also worked on sustainability, focussing in particular on greenwashing and how English is used in Italian to promote a certain view, you know, related to the market and promotion of consumerism.

Rachel Aldred [00:40:06] Fantastic. So how did you come up with the idea of looking at cycling specifically? What motivated you?

Cristina Caimotto [00:40:12] I was involved in a local association in my city, Turin. As you may know, Turin is the city of Fiat and so it's a city where driving is promoted and has always being promoted in all the possible ways. I've always been a cyclist. I've always moved around Turin on my bicycle.

[00:40:33] I became involved in a local association called Bike Ride. We organise a parade every year. And I was the president of the association for one year in 2016 when we were electing the current mayor. And I realised, you know, I was often involved in debates with local administration, etcetera. And I realised that the kind of discourses that I was working was working on with my students concerning racism and sexism and human rights. Exactly the same strategies were coming up in this debate about what should be prioritised, why should we stop prioritising cars and what are the rights of people? Why, you know, why should we pay attention to other aspects? And so I thought, OK, here we have something new for linguistics.

Rachel Aldred [00:41:25] Wow, indeed. And you're analysing a range of different data sources in the book. You've got media reports, you've got policy documents, you've got secondary qualitative data interviews. So how did you decide what kind of documents to look at, what kind of data that was?

Cristina Caimotto [00:41:43] That was difficult. It took a long time. Well, I just I just started looking at various different documents. And on one hand, documents trying to promote cycling. You know, basically the question I think we all try to answer is why we have all these data and we have all this evidence that cycling is so good. So why is it not working? Why are not people choosing to promote cycling as much as we would expect, given all the evidence we have? And yes, I tried to to answer this question from the perspective of a linguist. And the idea is that framing is mainly basic, important starting point. And I refer in particular to the work of George Lakoff. He has a very interesting paper "Why it matters how we frame the environment", where he explains that we suffer from what he calls tragic hyper cognition. We conceive humanity as something separate from the environment. And this idea is so deeply embedded in our way of thinking that we find it very difficult to think in different terms and look at things from a different perspective. Reframing is a very complex process. And the first thing you need to do is identify what is not working. So I was trying to find out what is not working in the way cycling and cyclists are talked about in several kinds of documents and sources. So the first case study I worked on was the way in which some newspapers in Britain reported the collision which took place in London, where Kim Briggs lost her life. And what I was interested in was not the event itself or the court case itself and you know the specific ways in which it was analysed, but rather how newspapers used that case as, let's say, an excuse to portray cycling and cyclists in particular in a very negative light. And to do this, I used the the discursive strategies to your analysis created by Teun van Dijk, who worked on racist discourse in the press. And he basically has what he calls six discursive moves. And he looks for these moves in the newspaper articles in order to identify how racism is presented as something not racist, first of all, but something reasonable, acceptable, and something that makes sense in many ways. And so I use this six discoursive moves to analyse the articles about the collision. And I found the same discoursive strategies to actually attack all cyclists and and portray cycling as something problematic that needs to be tamed, to be controlled, to be cancelled in many ways. And also, the interesting thing that Van Dijk points out is that, this moves to justify what is actually racist discourse, often criticise a whole group when they should actually just be criticising the actions of one person. And also the the anti-racists are described as the real enemy. And we see something similar in the way in which the cyclist advocates are the real enemy when it comes to finding out who is responsible for the the war between cars and bicycle's or drivers and cyclists.

Laura Laker [00:46:13] And these were common pieces, weren't they? From four different newspapers. There was one by Janet Street Porter I think, it got quite a lot of traction, she was in the Times, right. And then there was that one in The Guardian, one in the Independent and one in the Scottish Daily Mail.

Cristina Caimotto [00:46:32] That's right, yes.

Laura Laker [00:46:32] It's kind of shocking to hear someone comparing anti-Cyclist language with racist language. And I know that is something that some people have said and perhaps said, you know, quietly or with a slight element of embarrassment. And, you know, the history of racism has a huge amount of violence and oppression involved in it. So I don't know, one wonders if so, comparing it with racism might be going a bit far.

Cristina Caimotto [00:47:05] It's not really about that, and I don't want to compare the kind of discrimination and suffering that is linked to to racism. Absolutely not. This is about just discursive structure, it's all about the language. It's it's one method that you can use again. Something similar has been done by a big group of psychologists who use the strategies to detect dehumanisation and try the same by interviewing drivers and finding out the same kind of attitude, the same kind of strategies that happen towards cyclists. So it's about methodology really and we are not comparing what has been done, for example, in concentration camps, to what is being done to people's cycle, of course not. But the kind of triggers are the same. That's the interesting thing, because once you can pin down what is actually going on, you can you can make sense of it. For example, I think it's interesting to look at what what happened in the article from The Guardian, where the journalist was trying to create some kind of dialogue with the readers, and in particular, he was trying to address cyclists in a friendly way.

Laura Laker [00:48:43] That was the most subtle one that you came across.

Cristina Caimotto [00:48:46] Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think some of the aspects that you can observe intent in that article are probably subconscious for the writer. And in particular, I was looking at the headline that says cyclists must realise they are traffic, too. Now, if we imagine...this is this is a strategy we often use in linguistics, because if you hear the sentence, even as the cyclist at first you think, oh, yes, that makes sense. You know, we need to be aware of the fact that we can hurt someone. And in that case, it was there were tragic consequences. But, of course, if we hurt someone with our bicycle, there are likely to be consequences. But thing is, if you imagine the same headline about a collision that killed a pedestrian, you know, a car killing, someone driving, killing a pedestrian, and you imagine something like, oh, 'drivers should realise they are traffic to'. Doesn't make any sense? Right? In fact, killing someone by running into them with your bicycle is an extremely unlikely event. It can happen, unfortunately, but it's extremely likely, so most of the time you don't expect it. But the implication of the article was cyclists are not aware of this. The unsaid implication is, on the contrary, drivers are. But if we look at the statistics, we know that most collisions happen because people are looking at the phones or they are not payong attention, they are driving too fast, they are driving when drunk and so on. So that obviously means that drivers are not aware that they can kill, or they don't show it by the way, they behave. And of course, here I'm talking about drivers, as if all drivers wear the same. Which, again, of course, is false. So coming back to the headline now, this headline implies that cyclists are not aware of the kind of danger that they could generate. But if we turn it around, there you see the subtle implication, drivers are good and cyclists are bad. Which I think is not what the journalist meant, but it is there when you look at it.

Laura Laker [00:51:18] And it is so interesting reading how you really sort of take apart the nuts and bolts of the article. And I wonder, as a journalist myself, sometimes you writing and you you might not you don't think about it on this level. It's very much subconscious. And so it is quite interesting because intuitively, you know, when something's not right and in the context of cycling, as I cycle to obviusly, but you can'y always say why, even if you are doing this for a living. So I'm wondering with with journalists writing this stuff, you know, there's definitely something subconscious going on. How do you how do you kind of address that?

Cristina Caimotto [00:51:56] It's always I mean, language is subconscious most of the time. Whether we are listening or reading or writing or speaking, most of what we understand, most of what we communicate is subconscious. This is particularly evident when we use metaphors because a metaphor is something that the listener or reader understands by finding the connexion between what we call source domain and target domain. So what we are actually talking about and the image we are using to describe what we're talking about. But yes, most of it is subconscious. And it is influenced by what we call a dominant ideology. I think the problem when we try to promote cycling is that we are using dominant discourse without realising it. And what we are actually doing, we are reinforcing a certain kind of mentality, which is actually detrimental to the promotion of cycling.

Laura Laker [00:53:06] And the dominant discourse is, well, your literature review noted that 61 percent of articles involving cyclists had a broadly negative sentiment. And there was a subtle but consistent blaming of vulnerable road users in the media. So that's the dominant discourse, isn't it? I wonder, do you mean that kind of dominant discourse sneaks into or bleeds into positive promotion of cycling, too?

[00:53:34] Yes, I think it does. I think this can be seen in the way the promotion of cycling often uses the same strategies to promote any other kind of business. So the business side of it becomes dominant in this kind of attitude where we try to convince local administrations or the government that promoting cycling and increasing the number of people cycling is a good idea because it will mean something positive for the economy and it will boost green jobs and it will be positive for business. And the cost for the NHS will go down because the number of people having a heart attack or being obese would go down and so on and so forth. So of course, all these aspects are perfectly true and they're also important. The problem is that these becomes the dominant aspect. And if these become the dominant aspect, if money, business become the main thing, then the problem is that the current system pre-coronavirus is somehow working. You know, from the point of view of business and the economy, you have something that is working against something that might work. Which one will you choose?

Laura Laker [00:55:07] Protecting the status quo.

Cristina Caimotto [00:55:09] The one that works!

Laura Laker [00:55:09] Exactly.

Cristina Caimotto [00:55:10] Exactly. So the point is, we all know this very well as cycling advocates. Right. The reason why we want to increase the number of people cycling is related to air pollution, is related to feeling better, not being stressed on your way to work or wherever else, is reducing the likeliness of yourself or people you love being killed in a collision. This is not about business. Business is one part of it. OK. Now, the interesting thing in this historic moment is that the narrative of the protection of the economy has been suspended for a while. Right now we are protecting life rather than the economy. And, you know, from the perspective of climate change, this was not happening because the life that I wanted to be protected was the life polar bears, trees in the forest, distant, know something away, while right now the life we are protecting is our own. So, you know, the reaction is, of course, different. And so right now, the narrative of first we need to protect the economy has been suspended. And the narrative is, first, we need to protect human life. But the problem is we should stop thinking of it in terms of a dichotomy. It's not the economy against life. It's finding a way of bringing the two things together and remembering that the economy is something that should make us feel better. It's not something more important than feeling better. It's a very simple message in the end. When you look at the language we use, it is this very simple message, most of the time.

Laura Laker [00:57:16] And it's really interesting, isn't because that change of discourse has perhaps enabled the kind of changes to the streets of many cities around the world that we, that people have been calling for for decades but haven't happened to date. And it's because of that threat to safety and the protection of people we now see more than ever is crucial to our lives and our safety and the running of the food system and, you know, our shops that we need to get our food. And these kind of emergency cycle lanes and perhaps that discourse has helped to enable that protection of people finally on the streets rather than protecting the so-called rights of people in vehicles to move as fast as they want to.

[00:58:04] Hopefully, hopefully, that the debate is going on, isn't it? Some countries are. Some countries were very quick to create temporary cycle lanes and expand the space for people to walk and people cycle while in other countries, this is taking longer time. And I'm following the local debate in Turin, and it's being hard, because we know that there is one political side that is pushing for "We need to protect the people from catching the virus on public transport, and we need to allow them to go by car because that's the safe way of doing it". So you have to fight that kind of ideology.

Laura Laker [00:58:53] And another thing that you noted in your chapter on the Charlie Alliston case was the sort of links between discrimination in discourse and threats, and which is quite interesting. And I think that Australian study on the dehumanisation of cyclists found the same thing, that the more people saw cyclists as other than human, the more likely they were to act out violently against them. Which is quite interesting. And so this kind of discourse as it is, can have very negative impacts on people's safety. You know, it's part of a continuum, I think you said, but also, if we could change that discourse, then perhaps we could reduce those kind of acts of violence on the road between drivers. Well, when drivers act dangerously around people cycling.

Cristina Caimotto [00:59:46] Yeah. And that's the first thing we need to do is to stop talking about cyclists and pedestrians and drivers because this creates different categories and that the whole narrative of the war on the roads is based on the idea that different groups, different categories are fighting for space on the road. This is why I thought it would be interesting to look at it from the perspective of racist discourse. And by the way, something fascinating is also that, of course, racist or any other you can think of any kind of discrimination, also sexism, for example. So these are these kinds of discrimination discriminate people for a characteristic which is always part of their identity. While in the case of cyclists, of course, it's not, we are not cyclists 100% of the time. So this idea that people can be classified as cyclists or drivers or pedestrians when we really think about it doesn't make any sense.

Laura Laker [01:00:59] Like calling someone a gardener because they like to they like to keep their garden nice.

Cristina Caimotto [01:01:07] Exactly. So it shows you that there is there is something ideological going on when you divide people like that. And in fact, another document I analysed in my work, the 2018 Mayor's Transport Strategy. I noticed that the word cyclist is never used. And when I looked at the, you can also download a draft that was published a few months before the official document. And I think there are four or five occurrences of the word cyclist in that draft. And they were removed. So it's clear that they really paid attention to that. And the word used was Londoners. We're talking about London as we're talking about citizens, not about different categories. And then to refer to the various ways of moving around, they use people cycling or people walking or active mobility to talk about both, people using public transport. And very interestingly, from a linguistic perspective, when talking about people driving, they don't use the verb, but most of the time they use car dependency. And so this is also fascinating because another problem that you have when you try to promote cycling and convince people to reduce their car use, sometimes, you know, also cycling advocates make the mistake of actually accusing people drive because of their choice, implying that their choice is stupid or just thinking for themselves. And you don't convince people by accusing them. And so the idea that they talk about car dependency implies that the people who drive don't choose, that they depend on the car. And the discourse in that document is that the administration is responsible for this dependency and the administration of the city has to do something to help people get rid of their dependency, just as if they were talking about drugs or alcohol or any kind of other dependency you can think of.

Laura Laker [01:03:42] And driving has been compared with smoking, hasn't it, in terms of impact somehow?

Cristina Caimotto [01:03:48] Yeah, exactly. Of course.

Rachel Aldred [01:03:50] And so the media analysis is focussed on the U.K. media. Do you think, I know you haven't studied it, but do you think that other European media is similar? Is the U.K. particularly bad or do you think these patterns are probably found elsewhere, too?

Cristina Caimotto [01:04:08] Well, the country I know well, of course, is Italy, and it's probably even worse. No, this is happening all over the place. And yes, thing is, it's part of the dominant mentality and it's linked to neoliberalism. It's linked to the way we focus on efficiency. So, for example, that the idea that making the traffic flow is the most important thing for citizens. So this is a very deep idea that drives the choices of many policymakers. And they think they're doing the right thing when they when they make that choice. So, yes, it has to do with with the dominant mentality. And in order to change the dominant mentality, you need to work on language.

Laura Laker [01:05:14] How do you do that?

[01:05:16] That's the difficult question. Well, first of all, you need to be aware of it, because I think many journalists, many activists, many people involved in trying to change things, are not aware of the fact that in many ways the language we use doesn't help us at all in the sense that, for example, this idea that we are part of the environment is extremely difficult to be explained with words, because the very words we use conceive humans as separate from the embodied environment is something that surrounds us. It's not a system of which we are part. So how do you change it? You can work on metaphors. For example, pay attention to the metaphors. One source I used a lot in in my book is the work of Gerlinde Mautner, who talks about marketisation, and she shows how the language of the market is dominant across all kinds of discourses that have nothing to do with the market and market logic. So, for example, she looks at religious discourse. She looks at books about self-help. So she has many different examples where she shows how the dominant language, which is the one of the market, is used through metaphors. Of course, we have other metaphors from other domains, like we can have military metaphors. But when we see those metaphors, we notice them. All of us have noticed how we've been talking about the Covid-19 as a war. But when we have this kind of metaphors from the market, we don't notice. So, for example, the ECF, the European Cyclists Federation, I analysed their document, which is called the EU Cycling Strategy, and they often repeat added value. Added value is the kind of language taken from the market, right? So why are you using those words to talk about the value of feeling better if you cycle to work? You can you can use other words, but you choose to use the ones from the dominant discourse, because the dominant discourse is powerful. And instinctively, we always try to imitate the dominant discourse. This is something that happens all the time. It's we always imitate the ones we we want to be with, the ones that are dominant because it's powerful. And instinctively we think that our discourse will be powerful as well if we use their language. The problem is that in this case, we are trying to promote a new kind of perspective, a new paradigm, and you must use a different language.

Laura Laker [01:08:20] I'm sure it's conscious. In many cases it's appealing to this dominant discourse because you feel that people might listen to you perhaps as an organisation or listen accept your cause or if you're talking to someone in their own language, almost.

Cristina Caimotto [01:08:37] Yes, that's what happens. That's the process, and it's a very natural process. And in some ways it works, of course. My point is that when you're trying to promote cycling, you need to be aware of the deep links between neoliberalism and auto-mentality, so centred on the automobile. So these two things are deeply linked. So when you use that kind of dominant language, you're actually promoting the dominance of cars. And if you're trying to promote a change and to reduce the number of people using cars, you should not use that language or at least you need to be aware of the dangers.

Laura Laker [01:09:22] And I think you talked about in your chapter on media, in your book, about how it needs to be more revolutionary, the language, instead of being about the status quo. It's about making a dramatic change.

Cristina Caimotto [01:09:37] Yes. Well, I was referring to the work of Corrado Poli, who identified three ways of thinking about mobility. One he calls traditional, so it's based on the market logic, which is "OK, if there are traffic jams, it means the demand for space is increasing, so we need to provide more space for cars". So that's the traditional which we have seen at work.

Laura Laker [01:10:11] We call it predict and provide.

Cristina Caimotto [01:10:13] Exactly. And then there is the second one, which is about moving, shifting some of the people from cars to public transport and basically maintaining the same level, the same number of people moving around. And I think it's interesting he compares this to the need to reduce waste. And he says, in terms of waste management, it has been understood that the only way of improving waste management is to reduce the production of useless packaging. It will not solve the problem of waste unless you reduce useless packaging. And he says the revolutionary approach has to start from the same idea. So that the fact that we need to reduce how much we move. We need to reduce the demand because the amount that we need to move around is not sustainable.

Laura Laker [01:11:16] The cars are being used, this packaging or the excess. So they use this packaging or both?

Cristina Caimotto [01:11:22] Yes, the trips. And again, this is something that we might be able to learn from the lockdown experience. Maybe some people, maybe some companies will realise how the need to go to an office, to have online meetings that you put out from home, you know, it's unnecessary. Just stay home or work maybe one or two kilometres from your house. But not travelling far to do something that you can do from home. So this could be one one aspect. Another one is shopping nearby rather than travelling by car, you know, to a distant shopping centre and so on. All these kinds of changes that would be brought upon.

Laura Laker [01:12:09] Yeah, super interesting. And I'm sure I can imagine a lot of people are going to be in the campaigning world, and the policy world are going to find this super interesting, because it was really interesting for me reading what you've written and looking at the kind of language and just talking about just doing things differently, not trying to go along with the dominant discourse, but trying to change that discourse.

Cristina Caimotto [01:12:34] What one thing I suggest is to frame it as wellbeing so that refers to the approach I've used, the one of eco linguistics. So eco linguistics is about creating new narratives, new framing, new ways of using language to improve life. So that the importance of life and the protection of life and the forces of well-being are really at the centre of the new kind of discourse that we can create. And this is also linked. We can think of the doughnut economy. You know, that's a good metaphor, for example. So it's something that you desire, right? It's not about giving up something, because if we talk about it in terms of what we should give up, then this kind of discourse is not likely to be accepted. It has to be framed in terms of it's going to be better. It's about our well-being. It's about being happier, and we were, for all the various reasons, for health reasons, for the fact that you feel better, that you have more time for yourself. You know, we know all the various reasons why we promote cycling, but we need to make them evident in the kind of language that we use because we tend to hide them, because we take them for granted. We think it's obvious if you cycle, it's better than being in a car. But people who spend our life being in a car don't know. So we need to explain why. And it's not because you save money. Of course you do save money. But that's not the point. It's like telling someone who smoke you should stop because you save money. It would not do it for that reason, that that might be one of the reasons, but you would not convince people to stop smoking only through that. Of course, it's very hard to convince someone to stop smoking. But people who convinced themselves, do not do it because of the money. They do it for for other reasons. I'm sure that money is only one part of it, you should not frame it as the dominant part because it isn't what you think.

Laura Laker [01:14:49] That's an area for future study. You can more sort of eco linguistics around active travel.

Cristina Caimotto [01:14:54] Hope so. I think it's important, too, to look at it from from the perspective of language, because it's something that non linguists are not really aware of because, as we said, it's mainly subconscious.

Laura Laker [01:15:10] Yes. Yes. Well, thank you so much. And I look forward to reading the whole thing.

Cristina Caimotto [01:15:16] Thank you. Thank you very much.

[01:15:18] Thank you.

[01:15:19] That was great.

Laura Laker [01:15:20] That's it for our pilot episode of the Active Travel Podcast. Thanks to all our guests. Tara Goddard, Kelcie Ralph and Cristina Caimotto. We've put a link to Cristina's book in the notes and on the Website, that's now available from Palgrave. And we'll also have the link to the previous study we discussed. You can find the Active Travel Podcast online on our and you can follow us on Twitter at Active Travel Academy @Active_ATA. Let us know what you think. Drop us a tweet or an email at Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.

More Episodes


PhDPOD: New qualitative research delves into the why and how of active travel

Season 1, Ep. 4
Some of the most exciting active travel research is done as part of a PhD, and this is our first Active Travel Podcast to showcase a couple of recent PhD studies.These two projects, from Dr. Katja Leyendecker and Dr. Emma Mbabazi, use qualitative methods to dig into the how and the why of travel. Katja’s project tackled questions around policy, advocacy, and governance, with a mix of methods from retrospective video diaries to semi-structured interviews. Emma conducted over 80 in-depth interviews with commuters, to get their ‘mobility biographies’, i.e. how transport has fitted in with their lives, and vice versa, over time.They’re both very different projects, but each tells us a lot about how and why things change – or (perhaps more often) don’t change.Katja’s work can be found at, including blogs and links to her published thesis and articles.Emma’s LinkedIn page, with info and article links, is here, and her PhD thesis is here 00:01Hello, and welcome to the Active Travel Podcast. I'm Rachel Aldred and I’m the director of the Active Travel Academy. And in this episode I'll be talking to Dr. Katja Leyendecker and Dr. Emma Mbabazi about their two PhD research projects. PhDs involve somebody focusing on the topic for at least three years and doing some really in-depth innovative research. So I wanted the Active Travel Podcast to also capture some of this and translate it into a form that hopefully people will be able to engage with over around half an hour of conversation with the person who did the PhD. Katja’s PhD focuses on cycling, advocacy and activism and transport planning, and Emma's focuses on commuting behaviour, and what are called travel scripts. In the first half I talk to Katja and in the second half to Emma in the about their different but complementary PhDs, both using these really exciting and in-depth qualitative methods. I hope you enjoy it.Very excited to have with me today Katja Leyendecker, who completed her PhD last year in 2019, which is on cycling advocacy, activism and policy. And so hello, Katja really pleased that you're with us.Katja 01:16I'm certainly the one who was pleased, Rachel. Great. It's great to be here.Rachel 01:20Brilliant. So I've got some fairly general questions. And we'll kind of drill down into bits of the thesis as we go. But I wonder if we could just start by because you had maybe a slightly unconventional path to the PhD as well. A lot of people do. So I'm just wondering when you started the PhD, and before you started the PhD, so maybe four or five years ago, maybe even longer when you're thinking about doing a PhD? What motivated you? Was it a sudden decision or something you'd been thinking about for a while?Katja 01:52I started thinking about, let's call it going back to university. When I was still working as an engineer, so, I came out of these kinds of technical – I'm a civil engineer by training. So it's all about the applied natural sciences, big data sets, and I worked in water engineering, which certainly had to do with big data sets and analysing them, and it was numbers and figures was my life. Engineers get themselves into these careers of team leaders, project managers, programme managers, and that was part of what I did as well. But I had started to be a bit uncertain about how the future would pan out. That it felt as if there was a almost like a bit of a dead end. It was interesting to be in engineering to start with, I think I'm someone who always likes the excitement of something new, I like starting new things as well as I might add that here as well as finishing them! So it's not that I'm one of these kind of starting off projects and finishing nothing kind of person.I kind of looked ahead in engineering and couldn't really see where I was going and was slightly kind of started to be disillusioned. And it was a time of my life where I also felt being a woman in engineering is hard work. There’s a lot of inequalities in that and it’s often quite difficult to talk about them as well because if the field is not prepared to listen and to receive maybe a bit of mild criticism and deal with it flexibly, you know, it can be unwelcoming, and that's kind of what it felt to me at the time. And so I started looking at what's going to be my next step. And bearing in mind I was let's say 37,38 at the time that I started to think like that. And yeah so there was always the open mind to well, I've got a master's degree, go to university do another master's degree, a PhD sounds great actually, now that I think about it and and as I've always found in my life anyways, thatwhen you start to think about something and then talk about it as well, sooner or later, some doors open and that's happened to me here that I got together with Seraphim Alvanides, who works at Northumbria University and is also interested in geography and the sociology of cycling and especially the big data streams of it. And we started to think about how we could get me into university. And that was our little project for a couple of years. And eventually it, it turned out to be the case that I had written a PhD proposal. I applied for it, interviewed for it, and it was supposed to be about infrastructure, women and space and politics. And, and that's where I started. I was 42 at the time, I was just almost on my 42nd birthday that I started my PhD jungle journey. And yeah, and that's how I got into it so sort of developed over the years and became more and more possible. And then really concrete in the end and that was exciting and scary, huh?Rachel 06:05Wow. Yeah. And that this sort of this specific idea of the PhD was something presumably very linked to some of the advocacy and activism that you were doing yourself as well as to some extent your engineering, the engineering experience.Katja 06:19Definitely. I realised Of course, later on that my mind was quite heavily shaped by my engineering training. But also when I started the PhD, it came about because I was interested in in cycle activism so nothing to do with water engineering at all, nothing with engineering and not much with water, either. And, yeah, that was the starting point for that, that in 2010. I was really starting to be frustrated and disillusioned with Newcastle Council and the politics that happened there around transport. And I had started to form a campaign, co-founded a campaign with Claire Prosper in Newcastle. So two of us got together, and then set up a petition had garnered 800 signatures, handed it over to the council. That's kind of the history to that before my kind of disillusionment started, but nothing is happening. Yeah,everything's so clear, we need to do something, we need to devise ways of getting out of this andallocating space to cycling and walking and yeah, it was the activism that got me into university it was the activism that that Seraphim and I collaborated on. That was the point where it came together.Rachel 08:04So that motivated you to sort of study it to study the activism and the advocacy and to learn more about it through the PhD?Katja 08:11Definitely. Well, that's that's almost, two years into the PhD because I got into the whole thing, with an engineering mindset, technical figures, numbers, and let's create some data sets and let's analyse them and it took me two years to figure out and it's not, through the lack of helping from others, from university folks, it took me for me personally to understand these two years to, to see that it's the activism that really interests me in it. It's the activism, how it clashes with the politics for transport that interests me as well as being a woman campaigner interested me in it as well, because we've had all sorts of talks about such as me being a woman in this, that makes it so difficult or where does it all come from? And yeah, so yet again, another not so straightforward pathway, it started off with me doing a lot of reading, talking to people, the term ethnography started to come up. And I started in something that for an engineer, ethnography, that’s wholly sitting in sociology, it had nothing to do with me. And it took ages. If I look at it, through really rather critical eyes, it took kind of two years for me to have the confidence to understand ethnographic methods, feminist methods, critical theory methods, as well as you going one step beyond, which is using not just ethnography, but also ethnography. So, that was yet another final step that I, that I took. And I have to say, I mean Rosie Parnell, my supervisor, she was just, so helpful. And so patient I mean, Seraphim was patient as well, with this, this journey that I underwent. And Rosie really supported me in auto ethnography, and not just supported me, but made me understand, the important aspects of it, what I should focus on, sort of slashed the pathway free a little bit for me so that I could start to look ahead and so whilst I say it's my own journey, in the end, there were so many people sitting on the sidelines, kind of cheering me along, and really helping me and,kind of the research community as well as the activists and so many different aspects coming together that meet the PhD so multitudinous somehow as well,that's quite a few aspects in it that needed to be brought together.Rachel 11:18Yes, I mean, and that's one of the things that I found most fascinating about it was this intense mix of qualitative methods and I've dabbled a little bit with ethnography, but nothing like the intensity of what you've done. So I wondered if you could describe, for the podcast listeners who may not be familiar with this kind of methods what you specifically did in this?Katja 11:39And now just pearls of sweat start forming on my head!Yes. So that's, there’s various strands to what I did. And it had to do with that I had to sort of Hoover up, I felt, quite a few years of campaigning. It was at a certain time, say 2017 that I started to get really serious about data collection. And luckily, and it had nothing to do with my PhD as such in the beginning, but I had written started writing a blog, just for my own gratification in many ways, for my self-development. I started writing that in 2015. So, I have two years’ worth of blogs, blog posts, that I could analyse, it turned out to be over 100,000 words, really interesting analysis, it was a PhD in itself, when you just look at the sheer number of words. So I started looking at, very, very, let's say, conventional methods of, what are the themes in here, what did I talk about? How can I group these into themes and subsets of it? So that was really lucky that I had that data set there. But that still didn't cover anything before 2015 as such, and I started campaigning with my co-conspirators in Newcastle in particularly Claire and then later on Sally in Newcastle in 2010. So I had to find the method I thought of getting that down somewhere, gathering that and as well as analysing it, what is it that happened there? So I devised a method of a sort of retrospective video diary, I called it going back through old emails, and that was really lucky that I'm, I kept emails, the campaigning emails and that's helped tofind a method of condensing them and analysing them.And the condensing happened by sitting down through 2017 every day to record three minutes worth of a summary that happened in a week's worth of campaigning, to get to grips with these kind of 5,6,7 years, andby recording a week's worth every day, for three minutes for a year, I got to these, what turned out to be 17 hours for me talking about campaigning and activism. And I could listen to that again and then sift through, and that was really interesting sift through the kind of emotional aspect that happened in it. What's what were the things that really riled me up or elated me, or what was it that really then alongside that happened, so to kind of sift through that. I don't want to talk down the emotions here at all. I think it's really important for what I was trying to do, to use those as kind of guideposts to the key things that happened, at least to my mind.And yes, I went through that process and as you can imagine, when I said about the blog posts, a hundred thousand words read through, that was 18 hours to listen for, not just once but maybe second time, third time, sometimes just letting things play in the background and you'll be alerted to: oh, you seem to be, something is really happening here. That seems to get a hold of you and go back. Listen to it again. What is it that you're trying to say here? And then doing something similar again? What are the themes here? What happened here? What is? What is the nub, what, what's the what's the key aspects? And? And yeah, so I started to have the blog post and the themes in the video diary and the themes that started to grow up through that. As well as a timeline of campaigning events, the video diary was very helpful for that as well.And then yeah, so alongside that, or maybe even before that I had started look at policy, Newcastle transport policies. And in my research, I do speak German as well as English, so it would be good - I have to say Seraphim was really helpful, he said if you speak German you have to use that somehow, not everyone can go to Germany and speak to Germans in their own language. I mean that's an asset, do it! And I had campaigning friends in Bremen, which is a city in North Germany, a big German cycling city with 25% of all trip cycled so, a real cycle city, especially from a UK perspective. And I had started to, look at Bremen a little bit and started to look at the policy there and the start of a policy comparison and it ended up, it wasn't specifically devised to be as such but it ended up in the PhD. And it also ended up as a as a book chapter in a book edited by Cox and Koglin. The Politics of Cycling Infrastructure. So that's another thing that, kind of puzzle piece that fell into place by just being interested in background analysis, I thought, which policy analysis was to me that. That in itself, though, is not a primary, produced data set, it’s data that's already out there in the public domain that ended up as another chapter. So another data stream that was analysed.And then yeah, then I talked to women campaigners in Germany as well as in the UK, specifically, of course in Newcastle as well as BremenBut yeah, I talked to women campaigners with long extensive interviews again analysed for themes and understanding of what is it that happens here and also talked to Newcastle as well as Bremen, decision makers, a politician in each city and a transport officer, senior transport officer in each city as well. And that I think concludes the data in my PhD. So, it came together from various sources.Rachel 19:31Yes, I mean, it's an incredible amount of data. And did you get the idea of the retrospective video diary from somewhere else, was there other research that had influenced you on that?Katja 19:44It's, it didn't as such, very loosely though. I mean, I grabbed myself a couple of Sage publications, Sage is quite a good publisher for methods, for methodology. And I had started reading around there, what methods are, what methodologies are, again, always with a background of, some sort of - what's the feminist aspect in this, and it came through that. But as such, when I went to start looking at, it came to me, let's just put it like that, metaphysically it came to me that this would be right for what I was trying to do, namely, get this retrospectively understood what happened. As well as kind of having some sort of raw bits in there, raw feelings and emotions not being lost and not just being a technical analysis of it. It seemed to be just what was the right thing to do and it kind of it was cobbled together as such. Helpful for and very useful for what I was trying to do. But when I started looking at how to describe what I was doing, I couldn't really find anything. I mean that there's blogs, and academics have written about blogs and how our blogs are really useful. And academics have written about diaries and how they're useful. And they might well be video diaries but it might not be about this kind of retrospective diary. There were always aspects of it, which weren't quite there. So it was different pieces put together, which I still think is quite good, for what I was trying to achieve. And it kind of did the job for that. So it was right and that's kind of one feminist aspect in it. Don't be constrained, know what you're trying to do. Not where you’re trying to end up, you know, that’s always a different thing, more what you're trying to do. And thenthe method is supposed to help you along with that,rather than that there’s this very set, a set of methods andthat's the only toolbox you've got. No, methods are also mix and match as long as you can explain what you've done. And if it's open and transparent, always, where you're coming from as a researcher as well, and what you're trying to achieve with it, then mix and match is definitely a good way to go.Rachel 22:31That sounds like excellent advice to me. So what would you say the sort of central puzzle that you were solving with all this data? what's what's the central question that kept you going?Katja 22:43Yeah, I started campaigning and as I said, with a very technical mindset, and I had not quite made a leap into sociology, let's call it that. I hadn't quite understood that there's people theorising about how society works, how activism works, how politics work, that there's a field that's called Political Science and, or about any kind of psychosocial aspects of it. And it was that, that I had to kind of work through and the PhD as such is a working through that process of coming from a rational mindset and ending up in a wider frame of mind. That's taking the social and the political in the psychological by all means, into account as well. So that's in short, the journey that I underwent, but the original question was, why is nothing happening? To me, as well as to my fellow campaigners things seem to be logical, why things needed to change. And yes, we thought it's not going to be easy for politicians, but we wanted to work together with them to get new narratives to find out what we can say and how it could be said,by no means we thought it was going to be easy, absolutely, you put the Newcastle transport system into an upheaval, of course that was not going to be easy and it was about space. So it was heavily political and politicised. And, yeah, my question was, so five years in, starting with the campaigning 5,6,7 years after, why is it still hard. Why could we not talk to the politicians, in a way that felt conducive to inducing change. That was my big puzzle question, the big question mark that I was trying to find an answer to - why is nothing changed, why is change so extremely slow when something rational is, is underpinning all this and could be used to frame new ways to find new narratives.Rachel 25:33And so, from the research you did, how would you answer that question now?Katja 25:39Yeah, as you can imagine, with all these different aspects coming together, of which a lot of them were personal. And I underwent change the, the whole, the data sets were different to each other and needed to be woven together, somehow. So, I then started to look at the themes and how they related to each other, the themes of the blog post, the themes from the video diary as well as the women activists’ interviews and then the decision makers. I made the decision first of all, start with myself that's what's interested me here, what is it that didn't get answered? What is it that I'm grappling with? And I devised the framework out of that which I then looked at, again, once I had analysed the women’s interviews and what themes came out of that. And came up with a with a framework of there is automobility, and anything that that we do with cycling always, because it is, now hegemonic sits in, in in the shadow really of automobility. So you can't start talking about the bike without having an understanding of automobility and how that system, socio-technical system operates. And I in my thesis, I then split it in the framework into two aspects, the social automobility, the one that we actually do, we just enact, we have the roads, we have the transport systems, we've got our social norms. We all play our role within it, often totally unbeknownst to ourselves, and we're sort of actors in it. Often not having much space to act, we do our thing. Do the things that the space allocation, for example, tells us or that happens all around us. And yeah, and then there's institutional automobility and that is not such a new aspect, but it's the technical and political aspect of it, namely, how did we end up with those roads? Okay, we've got those roads, now. We want to change them. How could we change them? And that's me speaking as an activist here as well. So, we in Newcastle knew that the way to change that was that we have to go through the system, we have to talk to decision makers and policymakers, we have to talk to officers, and we have to talk to politicians. And that's the way to change it, or there's a chance to change it that way. So It's the institutional automobility that keeps us where we are, as every one individual person acting within the system. And the question then was and became interesting because I interviewed the decision makers. I then had my framework and wanted to appraise it against what these decision makers actually say.And then it started to be clearer that there is a framework here. That these women activists, and I don't think it's a massively gendered, particularly, framework, that activists for cycleways, for allocating space for cycling, have set up, that's the framework and what is the difference if any, to these decision makers and what they make out of it now. I didn't go to them with a framework, I went to them asking, asking them about their roles, what their responsibilities are, what they feel about transport and change and how they as a politician, or as an officer, perhaps, would bring about change. And that started to be really interesting for me because I, I had then sort of understood various aspects of it and wanted to also as with any PhD, link it to existing theory, as you well know, because you helped me with that. I then started to look around kind of political sciences, a bit more, automobility, of course that fits in sociology as well. So in the political sciences and sociology, I mean, there's one theory that's called the post-political theory. And just suddenly reading through that, it became absolutely clear that in Newcastle, we are dealing with post-political concepts, namely, that the politics have sort of receded,from the public arena, and that it's more and more difficult for the public, or for groups and individuals to make their voices heard. As well as more difficult for the political technical system, so the council, for example, to actually link back into the public arena and the public arena. I mean, sort of a concept of that people can come together and talk and devise plans for the future, talk about change, new ideas and how, what it could look like, and how could how change could be brought about.Whereas in Bremen, I couldn't really see the post-political aspects. There was a public arena, but also automobility happens there, and that's another aspect, another finding also. Through an old style of cycle campaigning as well, which was I'm a cyclist, I don't need any special space. I'm fast enough. I can cycle amongst cars, the vehicular cyclists, and that was present in Bremen. And that vehicular cycling attitude amongst campaigners always meant that if nothing needs to change, but just a change in attitude, then it was very difficult to politicise that and to make that into a political demand. Because we'd seen in Newcastle and in the UK, that over all those years, we had all sorts of liberal campaigns, get your bike out of your shed, start to cycle. It's about you, you, you, it's about you, you have to change and, and we've seen that that, for decades. It doesn't, hasn't made a difference in the uptake of cycling. In fact, it just stuck around the kind of the 2% or in Newcastle 1% of trips cycled.But in Bremen, the public arena was relatively intact, you know, there were there were ways and means and places, and communications, debates, discussions happening. It was just that the kind of the technocratic process of ‘Yeah, we don't need to do anything at all the space is fine. There doesn't need to be any engineering feat here, any spatial redesign.’ It had yielded the same results which, which was the system that we've got is fine. Nothing needs to change. Now. I mean, in Bremen you do have your cycleways and people do cycle there. But I was still there and talking to activists and they felt in the shadow of automobility again, they felt not heard, not understood, side-lined, excluded, and they had this thing about them, ‘I’m just a cyclist, no one listens’. And I found this absolutely bizarre coming from the UK context where we really do know what it feels like to be marginalised, not just as a cyclist trying to enact the cycling thing but as a campaigner as well, you know being marginalised in in the demands for more space, building cycleways, they’re all the latest thing now, protected cycleways, temporary ones, are springing up all over the place. And so it was interesting to see these parallels between Newcastle and Bremen but then also the absolute and utter differences that existed, but in the end having a similar result for activism, which was, ah, this is why we are stuck here. And yeah, for the hopes that I've got, I mean, Bremen can change that relatively quickly if they still have a socio-political arena in which you can debate, in which you can you can fill in information there, and it can be discussed and it's not just pushed aside and forgotten about, then great. I think Bremen has lots of cycling happening there anyways, and maybe then it can build on that and maybe come up to Dutch levels of cycling because I mean, that is there is ways to go for Bremen and that's up as well.And then Newcastle. It is, it will be extraordinarily difficult because if you've got a very closed or even non-existent public and political arena where the politics have shut themselves away they're not in this conglomerate, with the technical, with the officers, then it's going to be really hard to bring about change there. But again in Newcastle was interesting I talked to the officer and that person was actually, that person wanted change and had ideas about it and that officer found it difficult to initiate change because ultimately it was the missing public arena, so if you have to,if you want a starting point, Newcastle has to put a lot of time and effort into reconnecting and opening up that space again. Learn to in many ways learn to listen and learn to understand differences and that’s through differences that the learning process works.Rachel 37:59Fantastic. Thanks so much Katja. There's loads more we could talk about about your research and your thesis, but hopefully this short conversation has given people an idea about the amazing methods that you use, how you combine them, some of your findings and the PhD process. So really just Is there anything else that you would like to add that we haven't covered?Katja 38:20Well, any PhD and particularly because mine is kind of an auto ethnographic one, it always sounds like there’s just this one person doing it. Far from it. For me, it was an absolute journey, a real jungle, that I had to kind of slash my way through. And I was given the tools by other people, and given the confidence by other people, to persist with it. And to give certain directions so without my supervisors, I should probably briefly also say, this was Northumbria University. It was done on a studentship, absolutely amazing what they allowed me to do in that time. Absolutely amazing that I was allowed to combine it with personal aspects, but then also to travel around,spent loads of time, as you can imagine, in Germany, living there, living the transport system and breathing and living the campaigning, life environment as well. I can't express the gratitude to these eight women activists, who got together with me spending a lot of time, sometimes up to three hours to sit down and get on record and what their campaigning journey was, how they got into it. What was amazing. To them, and, yeah, and, of course thanks as you can imagine, to the decision makers as well. It's just, a PhD is not just a one person, feat and activity, it's a real project, that needs real people. It does need the one PhD researcher the candidate to put it to pull it together and put it together in the end. And of course that is my product. And,if anyone doesn't find themselves in the PhD, then yeah, it is my product in the end and my understanding of what people said and their themes in what we were all saying and, then a complete mixing together with all these different data streams. But yeah, it’s a humbling journey. It's an absolute, I would always do it again weirdly enough, it was as scary as it was exciting.I can only say that, if you if you're interested in bringing yourself into the PhD it can be done. And it's not always easy to find the right supervisors for example for it. It was a mega project, and it felt exhilarating and deflating at the same time when I finished it. There was always these polar tension points throughout the PhD and you live in this kind of grey zone and these kind of polar tensions and once it's finished, it's kind of done. But in your head I think the PhD never finishes because it kicks off so many new things. So many new thoughts, so many new people you've met through it. And possibilities for the future. It's amazing.Rachel 42:32Brilliant. Well, thanks again, Katja. And if you want to find out more about Katja’s work, I'll just direct you to her website where there are links to peer reviewed papers and that full thesis and various other blog posts, debates and so on. So it's Brilliant. Thanks again.Rachel 43:05I'm Rachel Aldred. And I'm really pleased to be talking to Dr. Emma Mbabazi for the Active Travel podcast today. Emma completed her PhD research at Heriot-Watt University on the impacts of travel scripts on commuting behaviour. She's now a research fellow at the Uganda National Roads Authority. I'm going to talk to her about her PhD research. One of the things I found really interesting about it was it takes a social science approach to commuting behaviour using this concept of travel scripts. And I was intrigued to find out Emma that you've got a background in construction management with an incredibly high grade for your undergrad degree. And then you've ended up doing a social psychology PhD. So how was it to move from construction management to a very quantitative social science thesis?Emma 43:47I'm really glad to be here, Rachel. And yes, you are right. I do come from a more, well, I wouldn't say technical background but yeah, construction management background. It's really when I did my master's at Heriot-Watt, I did a Master's in Urban and Regional Planning. And that I, I got exposed to these social psychological issues. And I found them really interesting. Because as people, we are interesting. It's never a matter in transport, for example, it's never a matter of just let's build it and they will come. It's never that. And it's always about the people and what are they thinking and what will they do. So I find that really interesting. And I think that's, that's something we all have to consider as policy makers and as researchers. I think it's really important for us to try and understand that and see how we can help each other do the right thing in whatever circumstances we're in. So that's why I went with that. I was just really interested in that and it was a challenge because it was new to me, but I liked it.Rachel 45:02Amazing, I agree. My background is sociology myself so I'm always really interested in qualitative methods in transport and so you're investigating, your full PhD title was ‘The Travel Script: Exploring the Construction and Engagement of a Mental Structure as the Link between the Influence of Situational and Social - Psychological Factors in Commuting Decisions along a Life Course’. So that's looking at this concept of travel scripts. Could you explain for people who are listening what a travel script is?Emma 45:32Right. So we as people, we form mental representations about the things around us and they could be just mental representations to help us categorise things. So we have what we call schemas. So like a stereotype, that's a schema, you're categorising something, but at travel script is more mental representation of the things around us of the things that we know through time, because the script is looking at engaging in a particular action or a particular behaviour over and over again, based on what we know, and the more we engage in it, the more we inform what we know about it. And so that's really what a travel script is, it's a mental representation of the things we know about how we travel, about where we want to travel, and, and what constrains or enables that. And, and so how are we going to put that mental representation into practice? And that's why it has to be both the construction and the engagement because I mean, the mental representation is there, but we only see it as a person engages a particular behaviour or a particular action.Rachel 46:56So maybe, I guess, if I were a habitual car user, part of my travel script might be that buses are slow, they go around the houses, that I can't get a bus where I need to go and that's shaping my behaviour.Emma 47:10Exactly something like that. It might be just as you said, what you think about the buses, but also what you think about the car, and what you like about it and what it does for you, and what it helps you to do and the things you want to do in your life that the car enables that you think the bus or the bicycle will not do for you in the way you want it to.Rachel 47:39So I was just skimming through the thesis this morning and one of the things that I kind of like about it is that the hassle, the focus on hassle and the fact that in a lot of ways when we travel, we're not trying to get good stuff. Sometimes we're trying to avoid hassle and we're trying to minimise the amount of effort and annoyance.Emma 47:59Yeah. That I found that really interesting. And it came about really early on. When I started interviewing people, a lot of people did talk about the hassle. And but we deal with hassle in different ways. As you said, sometimes it's not that we would travel because we want this, that we all want to travel in this high-end Mercedes or whatever. It's just we travel because we may sometimes want to avoid something. Yeah. But we deal with the hassle in different ways. Sometimes the hassle is about the things in our environment. So some people think buses are crowded and when the windows are closed, it's all foggy and dirty or things like that. While other people when they travel on public transport, they'll think, ah, I don't have to think about the road. And I don't have to think about and looking at the mirrors and all that and I can sit down and read a book so people look at hassle in in different ways and all that comes from something else that we've experienced or people close to us have experienced that we take on into our mental structures.Rachel 49:09Mm. That's so fascinating. So I'm imagining you could have two people sat next to each other on the bus and having completely different experiences. One is really annoyed about the crowding and think it's foggy. The other person is thinking, ah, this is time for me. I think one of your interviewees said ‘stolen time’ that they get that time back for themselves on the bus. Yes, exactly, exactly. So if we just take it back to what you did and sort of starting the thesis you say you interviewed 82 commuters, that's quite a lot, isn't it? That's an awful lot of data. And how did you choose them? Where did they come from?Emma 49:48Right. These were people commuting to the Heriot-Watt University campus in Edinburgh. So the campus is made of is made up of the university and then there are other businesses and organisations that are situated at that campus. I was lucky that at the time I was doing my dissertation, my research, there was a survey already from Transition Heriot-Watt, a general study about how people come to work. And I just requested from that person that was running it if I could have just a question of if people who wanted to be contacted for my research, and so that's how I got people responding that yes, I would like to be contacted and when they brought back those contacts, I later contacted them. Of course, I had a process of whittling it down with particular criteria and but once I had done that, I just started sending out emails. And really I was so glad that a lot of people responded. That's how I ended up with so many, such a large number for a qualitative study, I realised that but I think the way that research went, it was important for me to to have those large numbers, because then they helped me in the end to form those personas that I created with my research, to look at people with the same characteristics and try to see what persona could that take on, when they were born and what life events might have influenced them. So that's that's actually how I ended up with such a large number for a qualitative study.Rachel 51:49Mm. And the approach you took as well, you weren't just asking people what they think of the bus, you're taking this mobility biographies approach. Could you say a little bit more about how that way,Emma 52:00Right. So I was looking at the construction of a travel script alone somebody's life course. And mobility biography looks at the stability or the changes in the way in travel in someone's travel behaviour over time. And so I was looking at things in somebody's life, and how they've experienced them, and how that might have influenced the way they commute today. And I actually found that because I simply asked somebody, so please tell me how you have travelled since you're a child. So they just told me a bit of their life story, like when I was at kindergarten, my parents took me to school. Later, I asked people to start really from the time they went to university, to further education, whether it was university or college or something like that. And because that's the time we start to make the decisions, our own travel decisions, and I thought, let me start here, because there's really a lot of data before. And I found the different things in a person's mobility biography. So the mobility biographies are also influenced by other biographies. So you have like, household biographies. And that's changes in your life. Maybe starting a family, you're marrying or something moving in with a partner, or employment biographies. So that's changes in your work, or education, things like that. And your residential biographies, of course, changes in home. So all that will affect your travel behaviour over time. So I had to put all that in mind and try to see at different points in people's lives, how they travelled, or how their travel changed. And if it's been sustained, when did that start? And how long has it been sustained? And then I would know that at least the person, if it's sustained, say, maybe for five years, somebody will know this is when I started using the car and they will kind of think back to the situation around that time that made them change the car to the bus or start cycling and then start to see a certain mental structure that's being that has been built up to that point and is being enabled for that time and being sustained for that time. So that's why I took the mobility biography approach. That's why a mobility biography was important to me just to see the changes in travel behaviour, and then where they sustained and why it's sustained.Rachel 54:38One of your important turning points, I think, was around having children you specifically looked into your use. I don't think they didn't all have children, but most of them did, I think.Emma 54:46Yes, I specifically looked for interviewees that had children because from the literature that seemed to be quite a big thing and also from my pilot interviews, when I spoke to the people that had children, there seemed to be some really interesting things to look at there. Of course, I had to look at people that did not so that I could compare. But yes, this turned out to be quite an important turning point for a lot of people. Because it created quite a number of constraints, even when people's locations or there was infrastructure for cycling, or buses, and that was good enough, and they themselves said it was good enough, but just having to make so many trips regarding their children as well as their work, just changed the way people view that. But for some people, you find that when those constraints were removed, so when the children were not so little and could do things for themselves, could walk to school by themselves, for some people. I mean, they move back to the public transport that they liked. For others, it was like, Oh, well, I'm already here, and this is good and I like being in my car. And, and I'll continue with that. And I found that, I found that that that that distinction between the two kinds of people interesting.Rachel 56:13Yeah, I was gonna ask you a bit more about that as well because you say that there's the car default people and the alt default people. So could you tell me a bit more about those that distinction and what that meant?Emma 56:23Right, so in my research, I categorised people who are commuting by car at the time. I did these interviews in 2014,2015. So I categorised people who are commuting at that time. So let's say currently, but currently of 2014-15 by car, and then people who are commuting by alternative modes, which was the bus or walking or cycling as the other people. And so I would look at your travel scripts at the moment, so what it is pushing you towards you engaging with commuting with a car, let's go backwards. Or at least that's how I was analysing the data although that's not how they told it. Let's go backwards and see how you go to the car. And then for the people with alternative modes which I called alt default, so their default mode at the moment was to travel by bus or by bicycle. And so your travel script at the moment that you're engaging is that it's having you commute by bus, walking, or by bicycle. Let's try to move backwards in your life course and see how you go to that point. So that's how I got the car defaults, that's the people commuting by car currently for most days of the week. And then the alt-default, that's the people commuting by bicycle or by bus or walking to Heriot-Watt campus.At the time I did that interviews, there was another categorization of the cohorts. So I divided the interviewees into cohorts and my cohorts were looking at, there was a 1970s and 1980s, and the 1990s cohorts. This is not when the people were born. Actually I was looking at when the people turned about 17, because I know that's about the age that most people in Britain can get a driver's licence. And that's a big thing for someone to start driving, obviously. So that's how the cohorts were so that people who turned about 17 in the 1970s, and people who turned 17 in the 1980s. And then the people turned about 17 in the 1990s. And just to follow that through, whether they decided to get the car then and continue with it and the different constraints, and when that constraint was removed, say for example, most people at the time they were in a junior tertiary education. I mean, you’re skint, you don't have money. And probably you live close to where you study anyway. So you walk or you cycle, or you go by bus and then when you get a bit more money and you start working, I found a number of people then decided to get cars because that enabled them to get to where they were going, but others did not. Because maybe where they started walking, they did not require a car. Or then they formed that habit of going by bus and they liked it. And then they started choosing where to work or where to live in such a way that they wouldn't have to use the car or something like that. So those are the different categories within my research that helped me to, to sort of interrogate the different narratives I was getting from people's life courses.Rachel 59:57And that's quite an interesting part of the thesis, the way, which people yeah, they've established that behaviour and then they talk about looking for a house or a flat in a particular area. But one thing I was going to ask you about actually is the Heriot-Watt is a campus University, so it's on the outskirts of Edinburgh. And I think you mentioned it moved from the city centre was that important for people the fact that it moved and it was no longer a central location. It was on the outskirts?Emma 60:22Yes, for I met a few people who were with Heriot-Watt at the time. It was in the city centre, and then it moved to the outskirts and actually, I remember one of them said at the time it was in the city centre, he was fine, he would walk, it was okay. And once they moved out, he just decided to start using his car because well the parking was free at the time, was still free at the time I was there anyway. And, and the bus is too slow. The person was just not used to using buses. The person was fine cycling. But cycling that far on the road was not something that the person was used to and the easiest thing for him at the time was let me get into my car. So the location of where you're going really mattersRachel 61:18And then the habits, you were talking about how people start using a mode and they sort of get used to it and that becomes part of their becomes part of their identity and so, once that person has used a car for a while, then they likely to carry on doing so.Emma 61:34Yes, there is a quite a bit of literature about travel identities. So people do form these travel identities and and the more you do something, the more you feel that I am the sort of person that does this, so this is me. So yes, habits are important and when people started using the car, and it became the easier thing for them. And then they started to look at themselves as the sort of people that use cars and that's okay. So they continued with it. I did find a few people who, their identity as somebody who is very much involved in environmental issues sort of overrode, or influenced their travel identity a lot more than just the way they travel. So even when they faced, let's say, really long commutes or a bus commute where they need to change buses and things like that. And they had already told themselves, let me use that phrase, they had already told themselves, ‘I'm not the not the sort of person who travels by car’, let's say, ‘and so I'm going to do whatever I can to travel in in what I think is a sustainable way’. And that's how I also came up with that the different group have the habit, the habit helps us, sort of reduces the mental effort that we have to go through in making a decision. Yeah. Because you've done it before. So it's quick.But other people had to sort of dig deeper. In my research, I called it ‘an extra little thing in the system’. So that they would not just go for what is the easier. I mean, as human beings, it's normal, we go for what's easier to what, what will be the easiest decision to make. But there were those people who, even where they looked at the situation and the situation was not that enabling. They put things in there either in their minds, or in their space, to help them travel in the way they wanted to travel. And most of those people had identities that influenced more their travel identity than just the way they travel. So for example, if we have certain strong environmental thoughts about your carbon footprint and what you're doing for the environment and, and things to do with fuel and petroleum industry or things like that. And so they would choose to either use buses or cycle even when say, I mean, it rains a lot in Scotland, even when it's raining. I remember one of them told me it's not about the weather, it's about how you're dressed. So it's these little things that they either tell themselves, or we tell ourselves, it's really to make ourselves comfortable with what we're doing.I mean the car-default people are comfortable, but also the alt default, people are very comfortable with what they are doing. Even though somebody on the outside might look at them and say, Oh, what a hassle I have to change buses, I have to take two buses and take like a one hour commute to work. For somebody else it would be a no no, but for them, it's okay, I will do this, and once I get on the bus, I'll be able to listen to this programme or I'll be able to read this book.Rachel 65:32And you talked about how as well, for some of the people who use the car, but they have environmental identities, they were trying to manage that. And one of them I think was talking about, he felt bad about it so he got a lower emissions car. So there's some people who sort of managed the car using identity in that way.Emma 65:49Yes. So, as I said, people cope in different ways. We all try to make ourselves comfortable with whatever decision we make, really. Which is what we should do because if we're not, then I don't know, how we'll go around. But yes, so those who felt they had no other choice but to use the car, but had strong environmental beliefs, said it's worth it to spend more on a more fuel-efficient car or hybrid car. And that's what they would do to make themselves more comfortable with commuting by car. And this was not in any way in contradiction with their environmental beliefs, because they were trying to find a compromise of travelling by car which they know all the issues around it, all the environmental issues around it, but also their strong environmental beliefs. And so, in trying to find a compromising belief, a thought that, to spend more on a hybrid or more fuel efficient car is how is how they'll go about it. Yeah.Rachel 67:01Presumably potentially you could redefine yourself as being less environmental that, that instead it's the convenience and the speed that matters to you, for instance?Emma 67:09It’s interesting that you mention that. I did not get that actually, now that you talk about it, they did not try to change what they thought they were. But they tried to change their perception of that behaviour to fit in what they thought they were. So actually it did not go the other way around. No, it was I'm behaving like this, but this is not in contradiction with what I believe or if it is, this is what I am going to do. It was never, or maybe I don't believe that. And I know that there are theories that say that the way you behave tells you, but I think maybe because I used retrospective interviews, they had already gone through that maybe subconsciously They were not going to think about who they were when they're talking about something they've done over and over again. Yeah.Rachel 68:10Yeah, yeah, it's a coherent picture of who they are now. Now. Yeah. So, but presumably, only a minority of people had strong environmental identities. So for the others, what was what was it about instead?Emma 68:25So the others, it's really the situation around that helped to help them to form certain habits. So I remember clearly one interviewee who, who talks about the fact that they wanted to teach their children certain things. And so to their children, they didn't want their children to be so used to the car. So even in the rain, they would help their children put on all the gear and the raincoats and the boots and all that and just go out with them, they had to walk to school. But the situation helped so the people who lived near cycle paths or the people who lived near a bus stop especially. That came out very clearly that the situation around and the infrastructure around them, when it is there, it helps to form the habits. And once the habits is formed, even when they moved or when they are moving, they try to stick to it. I met this young lady, she did not have children and she'd moved from England and to Edinburgh. And she said when she was in England she used to drive just because she left University and she got a car. She borrowed her mother's car first and then she got her own car and she used to go to work that way. But when she moved to Edinburgh, the first flat that she got was in the city and there was a direct bus to Heriot-Watt where she was working. And so she just, she didn't see any reason to use the car then. So at the time she'd been using buses. And when she even, when she moved flats, she was looking for a place, you see the habit had now started to form so that when she moved flats, she was looking for a place that will enable her to do that, to still travel to work by bus. So the infrastructure is is certainly important. And I think that's why I looked at both the situational factors, we cannot do away with them and also the socio-psychological factors.Rachel 70:57So, and if if we were thinking to get people out of their cars, particularly people who don't particularly have strong environmental views, would it be about the infrastructure then do you think?Emma 71:07To start with, to start with it would be about the infrastructure. And I think designing programmes that ask them to do just something small. It's not, I mean, it's daunting for someone to think I have been travelling by car for all these years, and yes, I understand all the environmental issues around but can I really start travelling by bus for every day, five days of the week? So that can be a bit daunting. And so I think it would be important to start with smaller programmes where we maybe in a workplace, Monday is the public transport day or something like that. Just something small. So when we, when they can start with that small thing, they then can move in and I think that then causes a foot in the door when someone has done something small or behaved in a certain way, but on a very small scale, they can start to build it up. And I actually did meet people who, who said, yeah, they had started by travelling one day a week by cycling, one day a week and the rest of the time they would go by by their cars. And then they worked it up to two at the time I spoke to them, they were just doing two days a week. But really, that is, those are people who, who, again, they want to, what can I say? They want to be in line with their own with their beliefs, with the thing that has touched them, but at the same time, you cannot make such a huge change. So the situation of the infrastructure is really important to help somebody because if it's not there, so if your cycle path is not there, or the road is not moving in such a way that the cyclist feels safe, or the rules on the road are not in such a way that the cyclist feels safe, then even the small thing that you're asking them to start with will be very hard for them to do because they will feel unsafe.Rachel 73:19And we've mentioned already about sort of infrastructure like bus stops and cycle paths, but were there things that you found that you thought the university was doing or should be doing to support people to travel more sustainably?Emma 73:33Well, it would have to be the university working together with the council. I mean, at the time I was there, I used the bus a lot in Edinburgh and I felt the bus was quite good. I don't know if it was just coming from Uganda and comparing it to the public transport system there. And then I actually learned to cycle when I was in, I was doing my PhD, I learned to cycle in 2015 with someone through Transition Heriot-Watt and they were offering free classes. And cycling around the university was fine. Cycling outside of the campus was not. I mean, we were okay because we were with the instructor and so we thought it would be okay with her, but I don't think I would do it on my own. At the time I was in Edinburgh, so as about three years ago, there were no dedicated cycle lanes and the bicycles had to go in the bus lanes, which was okay, because that's the space they had, but yeah, it was not ideal. It was not something that would enable somebody who wants to get into that to do it, it's the people who already do it. Other people are already proficient cyclists, but it's not the easiest thing to do. I think dedicated cycle paths would help but I don't know how far Edinburgh Council or the university itself would be willing to go to do that.Rachel 75:11I'm just going to ask, really sort of coming to the end of the podcast, if there was, if there was anything that you wanted to add, if there's anything that particularly surprised you, or you found particularly interesting about that the PhD research?Emma 75:28Well, for me in general, from the beginning, when you said it was a jump from my construction background to the social psychology, for me, so everything was different. I had not had these concepts and dealing with them myself, was different, but that's what was interesting about it, and then going out to talk to people and actually finding that you can trace these different concepts that you're reading in literature, things to do with mobility biographies, or things to do with people's feelings about these things. These are real things. I know they can sound abstract to somebody coming from that background. But these are actually real things. We don't see them, but they are real and they actually affect the way we use things or the way we behave. Just in the same way as building a road or putting together a good fleet of public transport or something, they really have the same weight, and they will affect behaving in the same, not in the same way but with the magnitude, with a similar magnitude with a similar impact that that those other situational factors will. And for me, it was interesting to actually trace that in what people were saying and I actually did not prompt them, because all I told them was ‘Tell me how you've travelled since this’ and it’s only after they told me the story that I then went back. And I think it is important for us, I know that in Europe and in the UK, you're already clued in to these things and, and I just hope that back here like in Uganda, people know them. It's just the policy will is not yet there yet, for us to, to read, to do research and then start implementing such things. So although I did my research in Edinburgh, my ears and eyes are always open for how that could be done back home here in Uganda.Rachel 77:44Thank you. Yeah, that was really interesting. I really appreciated the chance to learn more about your research and it's a great case for qualitative social science research in transport. So and if people want to read your thesis, they can find it via The British Library Ethos service and I'll include a link to that on the web page and also to your LinkedIn page where you've got articles that you've written, and so on. So, yeah, thank you very much, Emma.

Active Travel Podcast - data in active travel, part two

Season 1, Ep. 3
Data in active travel is big news right now, and this is our second in a two-part series discussing some of the latest research in the field.When a global pandemic required us to avoid public transport and, ideally, cars, making cycling's usefulness for everyday trips even more apparent, transport authorities needed to know quickly where a network of cycle routes might be built. In a country with no historical cycle network, let alone a current one, this was a challenge.Enter Dr Robin Lovelace, with Dr Joey Talbot, at the University of Leeds' Institute for Transport Studies, part of a crack team commissioned to work out where cycle lanes could be installed, both in terms of where there's physical space on the roads, and where protected space would be useful for people looking to get cycling for everyday trips.So it was, over four weeks, the Rapid Cycleway Prioritisation Tool started life. Robin and colleagues' open data was added as a layer to Widen My Path, which lets people say where they think local cycling and walking infrastructure is needed in their area. Within the first week and a half this function received 30,000 interactions - perhaps indicating the demand from citizens to get involved in improving their local streets.Robin Lovelace talks about the potential, and the limitations of this new tool, the role it gives citizen activists in shaping cycling and walking policy, and what it was like being part of the project.You can find it, and have a play with the interactive map, here: on Widen My Path, here: