Friday, 7 September 2007

Cycling and Society: Putting faces to names

Since I've got a 45-minute wait in Woking railway station before I can squeeze onto what will no doubt be an sweltering and overcrowded train, I thought I'd briefly mention that I've spent the day at the CTC's headquarters attending the annual Cycling and Society symposium. The Cycling and Society group is a loose network of researchers united by an interest in the big issues surrounding the use of bicycles, and I've been a member for about a year. Today was all about sharing our recent work with one another and with the practitioners who make policy, campaign for cyclists or implement cycling initiatives on the ground.

It was a very interesting day - most of the other speakers were from more of a sociological background than me, which meant I was hearing about some quite different ideas and issues than I normally encounter. I couldn't hope to summarize all the talks here, so I'll simply point you at Jake Voelcker's fascinating and readable review of how the legal system treats drivers who kill people, which everyone should read. The only downside was I got the impression the practitioners who attended were hoping they'd get more in the way of "here is something practical you can do tomorrow" rather than "here's a new theory...", which is what they pretty much got. There's a real issue of how we academics can best get our research to people who can use it. We will always need to publish academic papers, as when research is carried out there has to be a record which contains all the detail - all the statistics and the minutiae of how we carried the study out - for others to check we haven't made mistakes. Unfortunately, this need to report in detail means the articles we produce aren't usually suitable for general audiences. Most of us are quite capable of writing accessible summaries, but there's a real lack of places to put them. Perhaps blogging will provide me with an avenue in the future?

The best bit of the day in many ways was finally meeting about a dozen people whom I have known only virtually so far - often for quite a long time. In the case of John Parkin from Bolton University, a quick check of my emails reveals we have exchanged no fewer than 139 messages over the past year, and written a document together, but I've not clapped eyes on him until today! What a strange and interesting way of working we have these days.

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