Cycle boom - design for lifelong health and wellbeing

Project details

Full project title: Cycle Boom - Design for Lifelong Health and Wellbeing

Sponsor: EPSRC

Principal investigator: Dr Tim Jones (Oxford Brookes)

Co-investigators: Dr Justin Spinney (Cardiff), Dr Emma Street and Dr Carien van Reekum (Reading), Dr Kiron Chatterjee and Heather Jones (UWE Bristol)

Start date: October 2013

Finish date: October 2016

Project website: cycle BOOM

Project summary

Cycling as a means of active, independent mobility that can facilitate social participation could make a significant positive contribution to the physical and mental wellbeing among the older population. However only 1 per cent of all journeys by those aged 65 and over in the UK is currently cycled. A comparative look at the Dutch and Danish population, where this figure is 23 per cent and 15 per cent respectively, suggests there is potential to achieve significantly higher levels of cycling amongst this population and thereby enhance the wellbeing amongst those in later life.

The majority of the older population do not cycle and may feel deterred by the risks perceived with its practise in an unsupportive environment. The physiological changes of ageing may push those adults who do cycle to give it up in later life. Nonetheless some people manage to sustain their cycling into later life. It is a basic premise of the research that older people in the UK are often conceived as citizens who lack the capacity and inclination to cycle and that this translates in design guidance that generally fails to consider how the built environment could be transformed to support cycling amongst the older population. Improved cycle infrastructure coupled with assistive technologies such as electric bicycles ('e-bikes') could have a significant role in creating opportunities for older people to return to cycling or prevent them from giving up.

Collaborating with researchers at the Universities of Cardiff, Oxford Brookes and Reading, UWE Bristol researchers will undertake a research programme that involves a mix of innovative methods with the aim of understanding how the built environment and technological design is shaping willingness and ability to cycle in later life, how older people interact and experience the built environment by pedal cycles and how this affects their wellbeing.

This will involve investigation of policies and programmes and guidance targeted at promoting more inclusive cycling amongst the older population in other EU countries and making comparisons with the UK. UWE will lead on two strands of the research: (1) analysis of existing UK data to identify patterns and trends in older people’s participation in cycling, and the extent to which this has been influenced by recent projects and programmes to promote cycling; and (2) life history interviews which will seek to illuminate the influence of the built environment on individual trajectories of cycling through the life course. The latter will build on findings and methodological innovation generated in previous doctoral research by Heather Jones at UWE Bristol’s Centre for Transport and Society. The life history interviews will be conducted with 60 residents approaching later life (aged 50-59) and in later life (60-69, 70+) in each of the Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford and Reading areas.

UWE Bristol (along with its partners) will also conduct mobile interviews and observation of a sub-set of the life history interview participants as they make a regular cycle journey in order to capture their everyday experience of cycling and to measure how interaction with the built environment affects mental physical and mental wellbeing; in Reading and Oxford new and returning older cycle users will be invited to take part in a unique 8-week experiment to measure how their (re)engagement with both conventional and electric cycling in the built environment affects their physical and mental wellbeing.

From this rich dataset incorporating qualitative data (textual, cartographic, video) and quantitative data (numerical measures of wellbeing) the project aims to develop a toolkit that will advise policy makers and practitioners how the built environment and technology could be designed to support and promote cycling amongst current and future older generations and provide evidence of how this could improve independent cycling mobility and health and wellbeing. The toolkit will include a mix of media including written briefing notes and a documentary video.

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