Infrastructure should be built so that the same comfort level exists throughout the journey (and its route should be direct). The cognitive effort should be kept to a minimum. It makes for a more relaxed cycling condition and the cyclist can engage in other activity (thinking about the day ahead, what to do at the destination etc). The comfort experience depends greatly on the levels of accompanying motor traffic and whether the appropriate level of protection (spatial separation) has been installed. It would be good to find a comfort rating mechanism over and above design parameters like CROW and other design guides (and not lose sight of direct routes).
My hypothesis would be that the cognitive effort of cycling in Newcastle/Gateshead is very high, compared to cycling in Bremen. Many more things must be considered, evaluated and dealt with when cycling in a high-traffic mixed environment compared to cycling using your own space. Junction design is, of course, important too – for comfort/safety but also for average journey speed. Directness, even pace and comfort.
Quick description of pilot 1
In 2015 Richard and I cycled in Bremen, Germany. He filmed me cycling back from Bremen’s university to the city centre. The whole route is shown on the map below; and some general aspects of the journey I have described a bit more previously, in the post here. I have used parts of the footage for a small pilot study I recently conducted.
Various different types of cycle infrastructure are present on the 5km route from the university back the centre. I separated out three short videos from the film
- Video 1 – Cycle lane including a bus-stop bypass (2:10 mins)
- Video 2 – Cycle track, quite narrow (1:40 mins)
- Video 3 – Cycle contraflow (1:40 mins)
Screenshots from the videos 1, 2 and 3
See below map for the sections I have cut out for the pilot. Starting points are denoted by the yellow cameras, and black dots show the end points. I screened the three videos, without sound, to three willing participants using a laptop. Well, actually it was four participants, but for the forth I didn’t get the audio recorded – duh. It’s why we run pilots I suppose, to iron out technicalities and test the operation. All participants received the same introduction and were asked to imagine they
- cycled on a standard bicycle
- and with a child on a seat mounted on the back
During watching the videos they were tasked to ‘think aloud’: to simply say what went through their heads, things they saw, noticed and what they became aware of – anything. The interviews were taped and then transcribed for future text analysis. Due process (consent form etc) was followed.
Some early ideas
Using ‘think-aloud protocol’ in combination with a visual prompt (the videos) seems to sufficiently engage participants to comment on their journey experience. Comments could be categorised as:
- immediate space, perhaps needing immediate attention for own safety (near surroundings and situations, close-by hazards)
- wider commentary, not immediately relevant (other side of the street, makeup of the area, comfort, even reverie)
Each of the three participants appeared to have their specific word rate that remained quite constant between the three videos. The rate varied amongst the participants – it seems that some naturally talk more, some less (pilot participants’ talk rates: 75, 100 and 150 words per minute).
Descriptions of the quality of experience varied, as you may imagine. It ranged from a good feeling being created to a bad feeling of danger being expressed or hazards described. Otherwise comments were also descriptive, more value-free and neutral. Of course, I have too little data to comment on more general feelings of discomfort or comfort for the three different infrastructure types.
Suffice it to say that generally motor traffic was seen as an uncomfortable thing to deal with. Motor traffic was described as either moving too fast, too much of it, being too close or as parked cars (ie risk of dooring or bottlenecking the road space).
Please note all this is only based on three particpants’ comments. The pilot was conducted to test (technical) practicalities. I do not make the claim that this were generalisable. But I will use this to inform my next pilot, in practical, technical and analytical terms.