September 8th, 2011

End in sight for dodgy bike stats

Allow me, if you will, to extol for a moment the superiority of research conducted by the academy, over hack work undertaken by well meaning dilettante researchers in local governments, private consultancies, and interest groups, who I'm sure are mostly of the view that "methodology" is a way to change tires. Few would know if empiricism was an epistemology, or astrological star sign. They run bike counts with all the procedural integrity of a church fete. Bicycle advocacy is awash with the bogus stats they pump out. And the leaders of bike charity groups, if the truth could be known, are loured more by the promise of buying a new car every 2 years without paying stamp duty, than with getting non-cyclists cycling.

Okay, as usual, I'm overstating my case for effect. (That is, after all, why I pay $25 per year for this livejournal account: to rant as I can't in my day job). But let me say something I really do stand by. We academics are veritably beaten before this system we submit to, ever permits anything we write to appear in a peer reviewed journal. We do not receive government funding to conduct research projects like this one until dozens of our snarkiest peers have picked our proposals apart, to be sure the results will actually benefit the tax payers who fund them. An article like this one, by an Australian academic, is backed by this body of work, that eclipses the League of American Wheelmen's collective oeuvre, and I don't care if they do go back to 1880.

Untrained researchers (who don't have PhDs and who don't submit to the university system), do great work. It's mainly the research they botch. Not always. Just often. 

Now to be honest, mixing with all you unwashed heathen, who don't own beefeater suits, has gotten me out of a rut I was in, researching "scholarly" "academic" things, like the legacies of a few boring dead architects. I would hardly say either that we academics, individually, posses unique wisdom, or even sanity. What I do want readers to notice, is the collective wisdom of universities. As well as providing after-school care, they are institutions that are less likely to conduct dodgy research, thanks to a range of quality control measures, that really would seem over the top to outsiders. My hunch as well, is that the next round of Australian Research Council discovery projects, will include quite a few projects that address cycling. And about bloody time too.

Why this tirade, right now? Well, my discontent with two particular research reports that I've read recently, by groups I shall not name, has been simmering there for a while. Then today, I read some reactions to the studies linked to above, by advocacy groups defending their own special interests and pride, and then I e-x-p-l-o-d-e-d!!! Must end tonight with a camomile tea.

$5.5billion transport asset, left most days in Australian sheds

   Store-and-forget solutions, for bicycles you are too frightened to use.    

Can I bore you with some quick figures? Australia’s National Cycling Participation Survey, 2011, found there to be 1.46 bicycles, in working order, per Australian Household. Given the 2006 census counted 7.6 million households, we can guess there to be around 11 million bikes, in this country's garages. Though we don’t have this data, $500 is a fair estimate for the average cost of a bike and associated accessories (helmets, etc) in this affluent country, in which case Australia has a $5.5 billion transport asset being used for less than 2% of all trips. For some perspective, the new 72km Perth to Mandura rail line cost $1.3billion. 

The Australian population has shown a $5.5billion interest in bicycle transit, and is just waiting for their government to match that.