Tagged: PhD

Spatial information and bicycling safety

Originally, this blog was intended to document the progress of my PhD research. Mhm, this goal has been successfully reached yesterday …

Successfully defending my doctoral research (pictures by R. Wendel)

I finished my doctoral studies with a thesis on Spatial Information and Bicycling Safety and yesterday’s defense. The thesis internet is based on five peer-reviewed, published papers and aims to strengthen the spatial perspective in bicycling safety research.
The thesis is motivated by the fact that bicycling safety research is dominated by non-spatial domain experts, e.g. with backgrounds in trauma medicine, psychology, bio-mechanics, sociology, epidemiology, engineering, planning, law and some more. Interestingly, the spatial perspective on bicycling safety is hardly ever considered in these domain-specific approaches. This holds especially true for bicycle crash analyses, where basic geographical concepts, such as nearness, spatial autocorrelation and topology, are hardly ever considered.
Neglecting location as a co-determining attribute of safety is remarkable for a very simple reason. Mobility of people – and thus bicycling – as such is spatial by its very nature. Consequently, bicycling safety (from the physical environment to crashes to individually experienced safety threats) has spatial facets, which can be modeled and analyzed accordingly in order to gain relevant information for safer bicycling.

The primary hypothesis of my doctoral thesis is that spatial models and analyses contribute to a better understanding of certain aspects of bicycling safety and provide relevant results, which support measures to mitigate safety risks for bicyclists. Specifically I argued that:

  • Geographical Information Systems (GIS) facilitate holistic approaches for improving the bicycling safety situation. The spatial perspective is relevant for virtually all stages of the implementation of bicycling safety strategies.
  • Model-based approaches have a great potential in safety assessment and can form the basis for a number of applications – from status-quo analysis to planning and route optimization.
  • The spatial analysis of bicycle crashes reveals significant and safety-relevant patterns and particularities, which remain hidden in common, non-spatial or highly aggregated approaches.
  • The spatial perspective is crucial for advanced (simulation) models, which are necessary for reliable risk estimations on the local scale. Furthermore, the spatial implications of risk mapping on the local scale must be made explicit.

The thesis is structured in three elements. The first paper demonstrates the contribution of GIScience to bicycling safety research and is intended to set the stage for the remaining papers. Two of them primarily deal with spatial models in the context of road space assessment and transport modeling, while the rest is about spatial analysis of bicycle crashes.

Structure of the thesis

Although the completion of my doctoral studies is a huge, personal milestone, there is still a lot of research work in this context to be done. Besides the further development of the spatial models, the applied statistical methods and analysis routines, I see research gaps in the context of data (from static to dynamic real-time data and data streams), information (e.g. what are the effects of information provision on decision process or on individual and collective behavior?) and cross-domain collaboration.
The amount of work that still lies ahead motivates me to further blog on some of our research activities and to connect with anyone who is interested in spatial information, bicycling safety, urban mobility etc. I’m looking forward to learning, reading and hearing from you in virtual internet and – even more preferably – in face-to-face communication!

Lot’s of activity behind – more ahead

As this year inevitably comes to an end, it’s time to summarize my personal bicycle-related highlights of 2013 and try to sketch what lies ahead.

First things first: I’ve officially started my PhD project last summer and I’m very thankful to those who make this next step possible. During the last few years I’ve loosely worked on several mobility-related topics. Primarily on bicycle routing applications. Now the time has come to bundle up all the findings and developments and to focus on concrete research questions.
My PhD project has the working title “Analyzing, modeling and assessing bicycle road safety with GIS” and can be split up into three sub-topics:

  • Systematic analysis of bicycle accidents in an explicitly spatial context.
    For this I use bicycle accident data for the years 2002-2011. The 3,096 incidents in the city of Salzburg/Austria are georeferenced and contain all details reported by the police. The biggest challenge in this context is the absence of any statistical population. Hence it won’t be possible to calculate any risk exposure. But still, for anomaly detection the data seem to be very promising.
  • Development of an road network assessment model.
    Based on previous research, I’m going to refine the indicator-based assessment model (Loidl & Zagel 2013 internet, in German). This approach makes use of the power of geographical information systems and allows for a global assessment of road network quality.
  • Application of the assessment model in a planning context.
    The indicator-based assessment model should be adapted in a way that it can be employed in a traffic planning context. The idea is to use it for weak-point analysis and for simulation purposes.

The research conducted for this PhD project is widely triggered by funded projects. Thus the ideas as such are rooted in real-world problems. In turn, all generated results can be tested and applied immediately in practical environments. Just like this project …

radlkarte.fwA very nice application which was launched in 2012 has been extended this year. The web-based bicycle routing application “radlkarte.eu” is now available for the city of Salzburg and its neighboring municipalities in Bavaria. The application primarily addresses commuters who use their bicycles as an efficient, flexible and healthy mobility alternative. Funded by the city administration of Salzburg, the federal state of Salzburg and the EU Interreg IV program, the routing application is an integral part of the regional long-term bicycle policy.
 Z_GIS’ contribution to the application comprises the data management and the provision of the routing network (the web services has been developed by a partner company, TraffiCon internet). The innovative part of the routing application is the explicit consideration of bicycle safety as a routing criterion. For the calculation of this safety index the indicator-based assessment model has been used. Here the challenge was to apply the model for different data sources and data models. Above that, the model had to be adapted for urban and rural environments. With several lines of code we managed to process the whole workflow automatically. This made it possible to run fast calibration cycles.
The result of this project is a seamless, cross-border routing application for bicyclists who are not only interested in the shortest but also in the safest route.

As my department, the department of geoinformatics, Z_GIS internet, has been established as an independent department just recently, this year has been a time of consolidation. In this context I’m very happy that one of the eight, newly defined working groups has been dedicated to mobility and transportation research. In this institutional context research on bicycle safety will play a significant role. This directly brings me to a brief outlook …

At the moment we are waiting for the definite start of a project which will allow us to further improve the bicycle routing application “radlkarte.eu”. The national funding agency (Klima- und Energiefond) has already allocated funds, but one of the two institutional sponsors still needs to manage some internal ambiguities. Anyway, we are hopeful to kick-off the project in early spring.
Beside this we are currently writing on research proposals and – of course! – hope to be successful!

I’m planning to publish a first journal paper about the accident analysis in the first half of the year. Together with two brilliant colleagues I need to finish the spatio-temporal analysis and wrap up the methodological context. Depending on how much project work is to be done, I’d like to start with smaller papers about some aspects of our last projects (e.g. harmonization of different data models for routing purpose).
The indicator-based assessment model is planned to be reconfigured. At the moment the result of the assessment model is static. This means for example for the routing application that user inputs cannot be considered; the safety-index is preprocessed. In a next version the assessment model should allow for user inputs and do the processing during runtime. In this context the standardization of the index values and the balancing of the indicator weights will be the major challenges.

During my first (half) year as PhD student I tried to figure out how I can manage my daily work for UNIGIS, all the project work and my own research/publishing. In some respects I definitely need to improve my routines! But I hope that the wheels – not only of my bicycle – keep turning and significant progress can be made in 2014.