We in Healthy Active Cities have been thinking a lot about travel and transport during the current coronavirus situation and associated restrictions. Normally we would have been meeting and speaking with people, or even moving with people, to research experiences of travel, but during lockdown and following the guidance and rules in place we’ve had to be a little more creative. So, while face to face contact takes a back seat we’ve moved ourselves and our data collection online.
Over the last few months, we’ve trawled through over 100,000 tweets all about transport and covid-19 – we’re not in the ‘big data’ big leagues just yet, but we think that’s a big number! We’ve mined, scraped and filtered our way through tweets from across the UK to bring you some initial thoughts. With so many tweets in our dataset – from official guidance to transport memes, all of which we will revisit as we complete our analysis – we wanted a way of getting to know our data a little better. To do this we’ve used an analytical approach called i-poems.
I-poems are a tool for qualitative analysis of text, in our case tweets, and they are a way of foregrounding or prioritising the first person, the ‘I’ in your text. The process of creating i-poems is actually really straightforward, you search your text for all the instances of ‘I…’, this could be ‘I think…’, ‘I love…’, ‘I hate…’ – you get the picture. Once you’ve found all of these you pull them out, set them together and you’ve made poetry! Clearly we’re not necessarily talking poetry like our University of Salford Chancellor Jackie Kay or Salford poet John Cooper Clarke, but we think they’re useful to understand something about the personal experiences of travel and covid-19 (and dare I say it, I think they’re actually pretty good). To set the scene, most of our tweets were collected during August and September from across the UK. Our first i-poem is called Temporary Infrastructure.
I loved every minute.”
A joy for all of us to be able to use
wide enough temp #cyclelanes on A259 seafront.
Retweeted at 14:54, 14:56, 14:56:05, 15:16, 15:51, 15:54,
16:02, 16:13, 16:19, 17:16, 17:30, 17:37, 17:40,
19:20, 20:35, 20:58, 21:09, 21:34, 22:07, 22:15, 22:16, 22:25, 22:32, 22:54,
3:15, 5:48, 6:59, 8:44, 9:43, 11:51, 15:55, 15:59, 18:48, 21:34, 22:41,
12:54 am and 7:25.
I love cycling.
I hope London becomes a more cycling city after #COVID19
and the lockdown ends.
When these tweets emerged from our data we quickly realised how much the joy of using new cycle infrastructure in the initial tweet resonated with people over the next few days, and we’ve maintained that spirit by including the time stamps for all of those retweets in our i-poem. The introduction of temporary infrastructure for walking and cycling has been a feature of the UK Government and Local Council responses to covid-19. We saw sudden reductions in capacity on public transport and money has been competitively available to enable some local councils to experiment with temporary infrastructure for social distancing and active travel – predominantly cycling.
But what this poem also pinpoints is the (in)accessibility of cycling. Their joy is not just at a new cycle lane, but one wide enough to use. We know that much of the existing cycle infrastructure in the UK isn’t inclusive and can be unsuitable for adapted cycles, tricycles, handcycles, cargo-cycles, or bicycles with trailers. Barriers, narrow lanes, tight turns, disappearing lanes can all make ‘good’ infrastructure unusable for some. We’re seeing some evidence that inclusivity and diversity within cycling is increasingly forming part of the discourse in the UK – if sadly not always the actual infrastructure. Wheels for Wellbeing, adding to their cycling manifesto Beyond the Bicycle, has published the 3rd edition of A Guide to Inclusive Cycling. With publication of the UK Government’s plan for the future of cycling from the Department for Transport Gear Change, we note the inclusion of the need for inclusive infrastructure. We also note that the only part of the document which didn’t get the beyond the bicycle memo appears to be the foreword from Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Our data clearly shows support for more inclusive forms of cycling infrastructure.
The final stanza (verse?) hints at another feature of the popular discussion of travel during this time; hope for the future. Slogans and campaigns like ‘Build Back Better’ as well as aspirations to maintain some of the perceived benefits of lockdown, like quieter streets, and the possibilities they afford for active travel and beyond are definitely part of the debate about post-lockdown and post-covid-19 life. We were talking about a lot of this before covid-19 of course, but as this poem highlights, in temporary infrastructure we are often given a taster of how things could be, and for some at least (us included), that is something to be celebrated.
Our second i-poem, #MaskUp, is a touch divisive like the subject of the poem itself.
I’ve just had a guy walk past me and say,
‘take that government muzzle off’,
because I’m wearing a face mask on the train.
I mean, it’s like people like being part of a global pandemic.
Be Smart, Wear a mask #COVID19
I mean for those who can wear one!
I mean for those who can wear one!
People driving alone in their cars wearing masks,
I find this bizarre,
especially with their windows down too.
haha #Covid_19 #MaskUp
As public transport has made its way back into some people’s lives we’ve been asked, and later compelled, to wear face coverings as a way of reducing the spread of covid-19. In the UK, as elsewhere, this is not universally liked, abided by or even possible. This poem neatly introduces some of the ways in which mask wearing divides; those who comply, those who don’t, those who can’t, and those who go above and beyond. New rules and those who do or do not want to abide by them have also created new ways we might judge each other’s behaviour, but this poem also reminds us to be kind.
Our final poem is a little more light-hearted, it’s called I just gave up running.
I just gave up running
Fitbit is telling me I’m in the fat burning zone,
just by sitting on the train.
I think I just gave up running.
Exercise was clearly part of our lockdown experience in the UK (or at least mine). Whether you participated or not, for everyone it was one of our permitted reasons to be out of the house. Many people took that opportunity; they walked, ran, jogged and cycled. Others stayed at home and exercised online in their living rooms and gardens. The geographies and politics of exercise during lockdown are perhaps beyond the heft of this haiku style poetic offering, but this poem does show how we eventually made our way back onto trains (although much reduced). Some needed to for work, others might have braved the train for a leisure trip. We wonder if the way we have been ushered back to places of work and snatched holidays where we could, shows how some of the rituals of lockdown may or may not survive into the future. Daily exercise anyone?
We hope you enjoyed our poetic dabbling and these initial musing on travel during covid-19. We’d also like to thank our twitterers for their tweets, and we hope you like their new poetic form. We’ll be working through the data we’ve collected and hope to offer further analysis in the coming months. Stay tuned.
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