Post: Project Update

by colinip on 10 August 2010

Our project took huge leaps and bounds this weekend which involved several interviews, working on the Google map tagging, and a discussion about our project. On Friday, we met with our professors and illuminated a whole new area in our research project. Ever since the beginning, we were focused on the materialistic values of our observations and research but never bothered to discuss the cultural relationship to bicycling in Amsterdam. In other words, bicycling infrastructure was the only thing on our minds and we thought that we could come to a conclusion with numbers, figures, and pictures. But our meeting revealed the cultural aspect of our project and how in many cases outweighs the infrastructure aspect. Our question “ What are the most important conditions that allow bicycling to be a viable form of transportation in Amsterdam?” definitely involves the physical aspects of the city that influences bicycling such as signals and bike lanes, but it also includes the emotional link between the citizens and their bikes. Do people ride their bikes because they watch the Tour de France and feel motivated to ride their bike, like to breathe fresh air as they go to work, or because it is accompanied with more freedom? These are the types of questions that need to be asked. Discovering this aspect of our project was very relieving because we were at a mental block about how our data and observations could lead to an effective conclusion. Now our project is two parts in methods and analysis, one involving bicycling infrastructure and the other involving bicycling culture. Our plan after the meeting was to use our interviews the following day to research the cultural part of our project.

On Saturday we set off to interview a few bicycle shop owners with a list of questions already written out for easy access. Our first interview was very informative and comical. Here is a short video of a few clips from the session.

Although it was hilarious to hear about his stories, we did not know at the time how his response could be analyzed and lead to a conclusion. We needed more data and we set off to do more interviews.

Sunday was the day before presentations and we were working hard to put a PowerPoint together. While we were meeting in the courtyard, we were fortunate to run into Clifford. He just finished his run and had a thought that he really wanted to share with us because it was related to our topic on bicycles. He talked about the duality between bicycling and individuals and juxtaposed it to the duality between individuals and society. For example bicycles give people more freedom and opportunity but also constrains them to bicycling lanes and bike racks. He told us this to help stimulate our thinking when we analyze our data and later posted a link to the article that he was referring to. The article is titled, Of bicycles, bakelites, and bulbs: toward a theory of sociotechnical change and was written by Wiebe E. Bijker.

We were second to present on Monday and we received helpful feedback from the panel and from our professor’s comments sent via email. We learned that we needed to focus on what’s important and relevant to our analysis and conclusion, for example, next time we should not focus on taxonomy of bikes, manage our time better, and include a brief history.

Today we had an interview with the Amsterdam branch of the Dutch Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond). This was very helpful and really pushed our project forward. They are a national organization made up of employees and volunteers. They are an independent organization and are responsible for giving traffic advice to municipality. They work closely with the citizens and the government to help make cycling better and easier in Amsterdam. A few interesting things that they talked about was how they are against the obligation of using helmets while riding bicycles because they believe that it would decrease the number of riders and therefore increase the number of cars and thus lower the safety of the rider. He also alluded to the paradigm that safety comes in numbers. Also, they mentioned a study of how cars gave more room to riders without helmets than to riders with helmets. I’m beginning to think that a large part of the answer to our research question involves the safety of the bicycle rider and how Amsterdam creates a safer environment for cyclist.

In the near future, I plan to make a documentary video of certain parts of the interviews that factor into our analysis and possibly have clips of us discussing them. I may use it in our presentation to make the cultural aspect of our project clearer.

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