Cycling and Society Symposium

This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 136.

7&8 September 2017

#CitiesToShare – This symposium series was launched in 2004 at Lancaster University and is linked to the Cycling and Society Research Group, whose members span many disciplines and approaches to the study of cycling. It was great to learn more of the emerging insights about cycling and how they can be applied to create better cycling environments.

One presentation in particular that stood out for me was Lucy Marstrand’s ‘Transport culture and curriculum: what’s stopping walking and cycling from being mainstream?’ as it seemed so relevant to Cambridge. While rates of walking and cycling here suggest they are mainstream activities, the way we invest and design for these modes of active transport suggests our decision-makers and transport practitioners think otherwise. Marstrand’s research delves into why that might be, starting by at the LinkedIn profiles of 86 local authority `Heads of Transport’ to find out more about the people who are ultimately responsible for the transport environment around the UK.

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The results are probably not surprising to campaigners who work tirelessly to change the approach taken by transport decision-makers. However, the statistics are still insightful.

Most heads of transport are male (91%), have Bachelors’ qualifications in engineering (69%), are more likely to have Master’s qualifications in transport-, engineering-or management-related fields (29%, 24% and 29% respectively) and be affiliated to professional engineering institutions (72%). On their profiles these professionals are most likely to use keywords related to ‘highways’, ‘trunk roads’ and ‘traffic schemes’ (80%) and just as many are unlikely to mention ‘walking’ or ‘cycling’, with only slightly more mentions of ‘urban design’. The only Head of Transport who identified that they had design-related education was female.

Marstrand’s findings about the various courses and qualifications on offer to transport professionals were likewise revealing. Policy modules had a higher chance of covering walking, cycling, urban design and critique of the status quo of the car, than did engineering modules, where these topics were often seen as ‘add-ons’. In some courses walking and cycling design may amount to only 3 or 4 hours of an entire engineering module. This aligns with the gap between the policy ideas and the final implementation that we so often experience with transport.

In some courses walking and cycling design may amount to only 3 or 4 hours of an entire engineering module

Marstrand’s recommendations for overcoming the lack of diversity of people and knowledge within our transport decision-makers included opening up the routes into transport careers for a greater range of people and qualifications, and improving the integration of walking and cycling in engineering and transport studies. She also noted that it is essential to recognise that the range of knowledge required to create an inclusive, sustainable transport system is too great for individual practitioners to possess and therefore multidisciplinary and diverse teams are needed. The inclusion of people with backgrounds in urban design, health, the environment, social science and beyond could be key to the creation of comprehensive transport solutions that provide for the needs of all, moving beyond designing ‘transport corridors’ and into designing ‘places and streets for people’.

Marstrand studied Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge University and in addition to her eight years working as a Cycling Officer for Bournemouth City Council she also has experience in interior design. Now that she has completed her Masters’ degree in Transport Planning and Management she is working as an independent transport consultant with Transport Initiatives and Phil Jones Associates. I think we can agree that Lucy is doing her best to change the industry that she has been researching and to work towards making cycling and walking mainstream.

Lucy Marstrand will be our guest speaker at our monthly meeting on Tuesday 6 March 2018.

Roxanne De Beaux