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  • Writer's picturePlanet PhD

Big data and cycling infrastructure

Apps like Strava give us a LOT of data about cycling... but are the data used in the right way?


In this episode we interview the world's loveliest Welshman, Shaun Williams, currently a PhD candidate at the University of Brighton. Shaun studies how big data, collected from cycling apps such as Strava, is used in cycling infrastructure planning.


Shaun tells us all about his Masters project, in which he followed older cyclists around with a go-pro to see how their reported psychological stress levels matched up with a physical response called a 'galvanic skin response'. From this he became interested in how (or if) our cycling infrastructure planning considers ability levels.


Although he rejects being the 'bicycle man', Shaun advocates that bikes could and should make the commute a happier experience for everyone, regardless of their ability level, and sees them as a genuine contributor to a congestion problem. He and Veronica agree that it is very difficult to be unhappy when you're on a bike (although it has to be said that she broke her wrist falling off hers since recording this episode...).


“we need to move away from seeing the bicycle or tricyle as a sport, it’s a sport when you want it to be a sport, but as a means of utility and to get places it should just be fun and if you require extra assistance it should be there, and it shouldn’t be stigmatised in any way.”

Importantly, we also discuss the experience of being a PhD student, including the crippling effect of imposter syndrome and how collaboration can help, the experience of moving to a new city (where there isn't as much rain as in Wales), and how to adjust to a new place once you get there. Shaun brought three 'survival texts' to the podcast which helped him through his first six months in Brighton - Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, Lizzy Hawker's Runner and Neil deGrasse Tyson's Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Tune in to find out how they inspired him and changed his perspective of doing a PhD - and how the journey to work, the journey through a PhD, and the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc are all basically the same thing...



Shaun is an Applied Social Science PhD researcher at the University of Brighton. His research contributes to the understanding of commercial data usage in transportation provision, with a focus on the example of cycling application data. Despite evidence to the contrary, Shaun’s favourite sport is rugby, and not cycling.

Exercise for listeners

There are some interesting examples of UK cycling data visualisation & mapped census data to look at. Have a go interacting with the two maps below (author details below for further reading):

1. See The Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT), an open-source transport planning tool: https://www.pct.bike/

· See: Lovelace and others (2017).

2. DataShine Census 2011, quick statistics mapped with context: http://datashine.org.uk

· See: O’Brien and Cheshire (2015).


Listening for listeners

Here’s the link to the Ted Talk mentioned in the podcast: Ride Like a Girl.


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