What do bikes have to do with Public Health?

Welcome to my belated and practical second blog post. I was hoping to use this entry to give an insight into some of the possibilities of pursing a Master’s dissertation at LSHTM, through describing my very own dissertation.

The idea for my dissertation came about as a synthesis of one of my great passions, riding bicycles, with a young and growing field in Public Health that appreciates the way our built urban environments influence our health and wellbeing.

Before I came to LSHTM I had often wondered why more people do not ride bikes. I thought, if we could somehow transform the way we transport ourselves how much healthier would we all be? It wasn’t until I started attending the Transport and Health seminar series that I learned people were doing some really fantastic research in this area and I became aware of the possibilities for me to be involved.

Crimson Arrow going to Victoria Park

Importantly this field does not just solve health problems. It is an inter-sectorial research space that has the potential to deliver important outcomes for environments, social inclusion and community building as well as economic spinoffs in the forms of street activation, infrastructure savings, and large health savings through minimising non-communicable diseases.

So why don’t more people ride bikes? In Melbourne where I am based, cycle commuting accounts for only 2% of modal share. However, when we look closer at the data we can see large discrepancies between different areas. Some inner north areas of Melbourne have commuting rates up to 13%. Now that is nearly halfway to Copenhagen! So what is responsible for this relatively successful cycling uptake? Surely it’s not just due to the presence of hipsters?

Explanations for why people choose to ride or not have been hypothesised in the literature. They range from topography, weather, access to safe cycle lanes, and parking, through to commuting distance, supportive policy and presence of certain subgroups in the population.

To date not much is known about how socioeconomic inequalities impact on bicycle modal share. Therefore, the aims of my project are twofold: Firstly, I am looking at the impact of cycle-lane density on cycle modal share. That is, how effective are bicycle lanes in promoting cycling? Secondly I am investigating whether there is a link between socioeconomic deprivation and access to infrastructure. That is, if you are poorer do you have less opportunity to access safe bicycle infrastructure?

Crimson Arrow going to Regent's Park

Now for the geeky stuff: I am employing an ecological study design with a multilevel multivariate regression model, utilising both census data and GIS spatial data looking at where cycle lanes have been built in Melbourne. I am teaming this central part of the project with a policy review, to examine how cycling has grown in certain areas of Melbourne and why.

Perhaps the greatest thing about this project has not been learning the technical skills, or carrying out my own research. It has been meeting people with a similar passion and realising that other like-minded and dedicated people are working in this field. For example, I have an excellent supervisor who is very knowledgable about socioeconomic inequalities and cycling, is approachable and seems determined to get me up to scratch in Stata! Also, I have had the opportunity to listen to experts speak from around the world including the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

Who knows what the results will show or what projects I will work on down the line. Two thing are for certain though: I will be heading out into the world of Public Health with a few practical arrows in my quiver, and the confidence to investigate and follow my passions. That’s all for now. I had better get back to this regression model…

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