AffiliationUniversity of Chester
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AbstractAs a traveller, the bicycle rider is uniquely exposed to the world around. Weather, terrain, surfaces and infrastructure have all been studied in the ways that they facilitate or militate against opportunities for cycling. In recent research I have been considering the question, “how do people ride in the city, when bicycling is a mundane phenomenon?” Presenting results from a 6 month sensory ethnographic study of urban and peri-urban cyclists, this paper seeks to understand everyday practices and to evaluate appropriate methods for doing so, examining how riders respond to their surroundings and how they adapt the surroundings to their own travelling needs. It considers how a range of factors in combination structure the experiences of the bicycle traveller. I wanted to explore in particular how important the physical spaces in which people ride are for the ways in which people ride. As sensory beings, our sensory experiences should have an important impact upon our choices and behaviours at a collective, as well as individual level. My working hypothesis was that they are very important but problematic to measure in any meaningful way. Also, travel is rarely an entirely individual process. Our social interactions are also shaped by these sense-spaces. Landscapes are not just experienced visually but through the whole body. To investigate and to try and make sense of how people move around, it is first necessary to observe. Film provides a valuable means to create anthropological field notes, as process rather than as an end. Everyday cycling takes place in a sensory landscape, a sense-scape, of urban life and form. The turn towards greater consciousness of the sensory world in ethnographic work is now well established. Combining a camera with other digital sensors originally developed for sports use enables a rich dataset, and verbal notes can be made whilst in motion without risk and without creating too much distraction. The study showed how changing sense-scapes couple with the changing rhythms of the city to create inviting or dissuasive journey spaces. Some sense-scapes act to slow travel, others to speed it up, some to frustrate, others to ease and relax. Different spaces can encourage different groups of people. However, reviewing the data also revealed not only the actions and the world of other’s behaviours but also my own learning to ride in a new and unfamiliar space. The study was reversed from a voyeuristic investigation of ‘others’ to a reflexive engagement with the self as travelling subject. Auto-ethnography allows the researcher to engage with lived-experience as it is lived, within a spatial context, but avoiding the voyeuristic gaze. I saw how I responded differently to changing conditions. External factors from the condition and type of infrastructure, to changes in weather and season altered the way I, and my fellow commuters, moved through the city. While I have previously argued strongly for the agency of landscape in the formation of cycling experiences, the more forceful engagements of this perspective in the built environment forced me to reconsider not simply the sensory experiences as the (agentic) body absorbs and processes information coming in, but also the emotional responses provoked by those outer conditions. For example, weather conditions combine with the built environment to present not just physically changing circumstances but also inputs that shape emotional changes. What I came to understand was that senses matter. The city shapes how cycle commuters ride, both positively and negatively. The way we respond to urban design is emotional and pre-rational, existing in sensory perception that goes beyond conventional categories. Spaces shape feelings and feelings change the actions we take. Understanding and being able to measure these dimensions prompts a number of areas of further research, most notable in designing evaluation tools to measure the experiential impacts of infrastructural investments. Technically competent infrastructure design does not necessarily produce an inviting experience, if other sensory externalities have a negative impact. Better understanding of the complexity of our travelling experiences can help in infrastructure design. Keywords: Cycling, Sensory ethnography, environment, infrastructure, evaluation, film, research methods
CitationCox, P. (2016, February) Spaces and Experiences of Cycling. Keynote Paper presented at Scientists for Cycling Colloquium, Velo-City Global, Taipei, Taiwan.
SponsorsThe author would like to express appreciation for the support of a Leverhulme International Academic Fellowship (IAF-2014-016) entitled “Developing cross-disciplinary research into bicycling and the environment”, undertaken at the Rachel Carson Center for Society and Environment in Munich, 2014/5 and of the sponsors of the Velo-City conference.
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