From advocacy to acceptance: Social media discussions of protected bike lane installations

Colin Ferster, Karen Laberee, Trisalyn Nelson, Calvin Thigpen, Michael Simeone, Meghan Winters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Many North American cities are building bicycling infrastructure. Lively discussions on social media, where people passionately support or reject bicycling infrastructure projects, provide a unique data set on attitudes towards bicycling infrastructure. Our goal is to analyse social media posts in Edmonton and Victoria, Canada as new bike infrastructure was implemented to understand the thematic and social elements of the conversation and how these changed over time. We collected Twitter messages (n = 13,121: 7640 in Edmonton; 5481 in Victoria) and compared three timeframes: before lanes opened (January 2015 to lane opening); the first riding season (opening to April 2017); and the second riding season (May 2017 to November 2018). For each timeframe, we evaluated word-combination frequencies (to understand the use of language) and social network structures (to understand which accounts were influential and how they interacted). We observed a change in the three time periods. Before the bicycling infrastructure was built, Twitter activity was focused on advocacy, which was especially strong in Victoria. The first riding season had the most social media activity, the most diverse perspectives and the most controversy. The second riding season held more support. Based on the Twitter activity, we found that Edmonton had more support from local businesses and traditional media, launching a connected network of infrastructure with less social media opposition. Our results suggest that attitudes associated with change in bicycling infrastructure may have a cycle, with initial negative responses to change, followed by an uptick in positive attitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUrban Studies
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

Keywords

  • bicycle infrastructure
  • bikelash
  • public opinion
  • social media research
  • Twitter analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Urban Studies

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