Phase one: Cycle probes

A suite of bikes was provided by Pavol Gajdos who founded the Manchester Bike Hire and were placed ready for hire in Albert Square outside the Manchester Town Hall, where the Future Everything conference was taking place. Participants could book a bike through an event brite listing or turn up at our desk in the Town Hall. On arrival participants were asked to filled in three forms –1. ethical consent to data capture, 2. brief them on safety and 3. also ask them to complete a preliminary questionnaire that would provide basic data that would go immediately into the paper. By providing figures and comments to questions ranging from: “How much do you cycle?”, to more complex questions about the capture and storage of data by the team:“If you feel ownership over that data, what would you be willing to give away?” the information formed the statistical basis of the overview to the Participants part of the paper. As new members joined the workshops, data was aggregated dynamically and written into the paper.

Having completed the forms, participants were provided with a cycle helmet and high visibility vest as well as an iPhone 4 preinstalled with Comob Net software for capturing GPS data. The Comob Net app had been modified slightly from the one available in the App Store to allow for messages of up to 200 characters. Before heading off into the city, participants were asked to use the app to record their experiences. The team used the vocabulary of ‘friction’ as the subject for participants to report on. Friction represented the impediments or resistance to moving through the city on a bike and cyclists were asked to enter messages into the iPhone App whenever they encountered something, someone or some circumstance that made them feel nervous, unsafe, angry, frustrated or on a more positive note excited, engaged or amused.

As participants moved into the city the iPhones pushed their live location to the Comob server, which was then visualised on a large LCD screen in the City Hall. At the same time the server began listing the messages that people were posting as they encountered ‘friction’ in the streets. Both of these data sets began to provide material for the co-authored paper that was already underway at the start of each day. Samples of what people posted across the two days through Comob:

“I feel connected with Manchester. but I can’t feel my hands”

“exchanged raffle tickets for bike supervision”

“cars waiting in space reserved for bikes at traffic lights”

“cycling one way system the wrong way!”

“bollards, canals and geese…cycling is dangerous work”

“resistance is impossible without fuel”

“lots of places to lock the bike, well done Manchester”

“just had a considerate bus driver”

“withington route ready to go and off we go missing some Tarmac!”

“v hard getting x town w M/link works”