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Online Social Networking, Travel Behaviours and Choice of Urban Transportation Mode

Friend Rob Cottingham drew an interesting webcomic recently.

Noise 2 Signal by Rob Cottingham.

Noise 2 Signal by Rob Cottingham.

His witty and observant comic is syndicated on ReadWriteWeb, a techhnology-focused blog. The comic touches on a phenomenon I’ve observed in my own life that I’ve had a chance to do a little bit of scholarly work on; namely, how well mobile technologies go with transit. I first approached the question: does this mean that those who have access to transit have more time to spend using mobiles for social networking, obtaining information or coordinating socially? Also, does living in areas with good transit mean more possibilities to be more flexible and fluid with allocating time for activities of daily life? I know for myself that driving causes me more stress and takes away at least a good 30 minutes that I spend alternating between reading, writing, and decompressing. And even though the stress associated with transit certainly isn’t zero, I know for my personality and circumstance that I get an awful lot of flexibility from being lucky enough to be served well by transit.

I wrote a paper on this topic earlier this year, drawing in a thread on physical activity as well. My realm of choice expands exponentially when I put my bike on the bus — something I’m also very lucky to be able to do because the buses here in Vancouver all have bike racks (although I also live on a route serving the university which means occasionally the bike racks are too full to take me! A happy problem but a problem nonetheless). That means I take the bus to school to avoid that hill, and ride home in the evenings when my time isn’t so crunched by meetings — and get a good hour of decent cardio in.

It’s expanding these choices — to walk and take the bus or train when it suits me, to bike when the weather’s right, and borrow a car from the local car-share if I’m carrying stuff — that strikes me as the “good stuff” of cities. But it’s also being able to coordinate in real-time with the people in my life, to know what’s up with them and manipulate my spatial circumstances based on what I know about how they’re doing, that’s also rocking my world. I’m also paying handsomely for it — and I’m not talking about the 3G data plan! Rather, it’s that access to good transit and decent mixed land use places where one can walk to meet their daily needs and get to work in a reasonable amount of time, often come with a hefty price tag. In my case, I trade-off the fact that I don’t own a car with higher rent.

Anyway, I find it interesting that Apple’s also clued into this and has focused their latest iPhone commercial on the use of public transit applications for navigating cities and commuting. In more academic terms, I’m interested to see how social media, location services and online social networking might accrue different benefits to people based on what they prefer, transportation mode-wise, as well as how all these taken together might actually affect travel behaviour.

My paper’s perhaps a tad more articulate; go take a look at A Behaviour Settings Approach to Impacts of ICTs, Travel Behaviour and Built Environment on Physical Activity.

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