knowledge mobilization

Knowledge Mobilizers: Collaborating paves the path for bicycle infrastructure

November 30, 2022

Meghan Winters, SFU health science professor and lead of the Cities, Health & Active Transportation (CHATR) Lab, and Samantha Joy, BC Cycling Coalition (BCCC) marketing and outreach manager, shared their collaboration story with me. It beautifully demonstrates the potential of partnering and engaging with community to impact research, community and the environment.

The journey began with a request from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). PHAC was wanting to assess and evaluate the bicycling infrastructure across Canada as active transportation is a public health priority. The agency ran into a challenge with terminology as communities use different terms for similar bicycle infrastructure, Winters and the CHATR Lab team were tasked with creating standard terminology, which she and her team completed.

As it turned out, terminology was only the first step, now there was a need for national data. Winters and her team turned to OpenStreetMap (OSM) as a solution that was accessible and achievable. OpenStreetMap is publicly available to all, globally, with data that mapping many aspects of the built environment. Winters’ lab extracted OSM data, developed an algorithm to classify bicycle infrastructure based on the OSM ‘tags’ of codes, and created a national map of bicycle infrastructure. All the while working closely with municipalities to ensure the data resonated and addressed their needs and experiences. The team continues to iterate on the data set in response to feedback from users.

Which is where Joy and the BCCC come in. The mission of BCCC is to “influence changes that make active transportation and mobility safer, more equitable, and more accessible, so we can meet our climate, health, social justice, tourism and economic development goals.” For smaller communities this is particularly challenging. BCCC identified data collection as a first step towards achieving the BCCC mission. The BCCC board director reached out to Winters to ask if she had any ideas for how to proceed.

Winters knew she and the lab could answer the bicycle infrastructure data questions relatively quickly, given they had just created this national map of bicycle infrastructure. For Winters this posed a new way for the lab to explore and use the data. They quickly created and launched a beta version of an interactive tool to meet the needs of the BCCC. The team continues to test and revise the tool based on engagement with BCCC and communities.

Winters explains how listening is key to the success of collaborations: “I need to listen really hard because there is a question they are asking in their own words, they are looking for something, and I need to figure out how I can answer their questions with what I have.”

Winters acknowledges that “these conversations can be a lot of time and energy, but I find them energizing.” In the end, it leads to new research questions, publications, and other academic outputs and has the potential to have a positive social and environmental impact.

From Joy’s perspective, the mapped data resource “has sped up the work that BCCC is doing, moving them towards action on their goals to support climate initiatives and reach the BC 2030 climate goal of 30 per cent of trips being active transportation.”

Are you interested in learning more about knowledge mobilization for climate action? Join us December 7th for Unlock Your Research Impact: The power of story with researcher as character with Lynne Quarmby, SFU professor and climate advocate.

Interested in doing more with what you know? Get in touch with Lupin Battersby for a consultation.

Knowledge Mobilizers is a story series from the Knowledge Mobilization Hub that highlights knowledge mobilization (KM) projects around the university. At SFU, KM is about collaborating on, and exchanging, research discoveries to create a positive impact in our far-reaching communities