Women and cycling
Russell Degnan

Much is made of the large disparity between the number of male and female cyclists in some countries - notably the USA, UK and Australia. Numerous differences are cited, from appearances to different patterns of use - most of which don't stand up to scrutiny given the higher rates of female cycling in many northern European countries.

Melissa Lafsky at The Infrastructurist cites some physiological reasons, arguing that commuting by bike is more amenable to the male, testosterone driven mind-set. This is, by no means, a unique observation, but it may be an important one. If female risk aversion is the major reason for lower cycling rates on unsafe streets then we should see some differences in commuting patterns.

Unfortunately, strong data on commuting patterns and demographics is hard to come up with, particularly at the sort of finely grained detail needed for this type of study. A student of mine looked into this earlier in the year and observed almost double the percentage of female cyclists on roads with bike lanes (45%) versus roads without (25%). Unfortunately the study was also small, short and biased towards routes that we already know from the census had high numbers of female cyclists - which may or may not be a cycling lane thing.

Still, this was valuable confirmation of the idea expressed above. The more recent availability of CData for the 2006 census allows me to test another hypothesis: if female cyclists are more risk averse, then the percentage of cyclists that are female should correlate strongly with the percentage of cycling commuters.

Using data from every Statistical Local Area in Australia, we can see graph these two data sets to see what occurs. CData's tendency to randomise small numbers makes this graph a little problematic. Quite a few SLAs have fewer than 10 female cyclists, and I excised SLAs with either no female cyclists or less than 20 cyclists over-all.

The correlation is not linear, so the graph has a logarithmic scale on the y-axis. The correlation is strong, however. Essentially, for every doubling of the percentage of cyclists commuting, you get a 10% increase in female participation rate. The vast bulk of SLAs have very low female participation rates (5-20%). But there are a number of area (notably in Melbourne's inner north) with both high number of cyclists and close to parity in terms of female participation rates.

I agree, therefore with the conclusion made by Melissa:

"All of which leads to our point (we're getting there, we promise): Let�s stop talking about the "women on bikes" issue as a psycho-socio-gender phenomenon, and start talking about it as a policy call to action. If we reprioritized public and private initiatives to push biking, by creating more safety features like mandatory bike lanes, bike checkpoints and safety checks, as well as more incentivizing programs from employers ("bike to work" payment vouchers, etc.), we might see a real and meaningful change in the number of women - and men, for that matter - who chose to bike."

With one caveat. Because women are less likely to cycle when conditions are not favourable they are a better barometer than men if you want to find out why 90+% of the population do not cycle. While there are no shortage of commuting cyclists who have grievances - albeit often important ones - with the policy focus on bicycle facilities, their confidence in traffic and tendency not to expect the same of others is less useful if your aim is to promote and expand the base of cyclists. The non-cycling commuter, particularly the female non-cycling commuter needs to be heard.

Which brings me to my final point. While it was good to see a cycling strategy released earlier this year that actively promoted the idea of cycling as a "serious transport mode", the actual actions proposed, beyond the basic infrastructure already mooted, were thin on the ground. One of the things Copenhagen does very well - largely ignored by politicians who'd rather take pictures of bike lanes on overseas junkets than read a strategy document - is set a series of benchmarks for cycling safety and perceptions of cycling safety in the broader community (that is, outside the existing cycling community as well). We need, in Victoria, proper annual surveys, not of cyclists, but of non-cyclists, particularly women, with regard to their reasons for not cycling, with the aim, through the existing programs, of attacking those reasons. Without that, we are, unfortunately, still aiming in the dark, sometimes at real targets, and sometimes, not.

Sterner Matters 31st December, 2009 21:54:53   [#] [2 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g

Part 1h. Domestic and International Windows

No doubt, until two years ago, the idea that there should be times available in the international calendar for domestic cricket was laughable. Domestic cricket made no money, international cricket dominated the media and television schedules, and that was the way it was. Then came the IPL.

The impact of T20 Domestic leagues are a long way from playing out, but given their increasing popularity with the fans, and the obvious benefits for players currently struggling to maintain a regular place in their national side, it is not hard to envisage a time when international cricket intrudes on domestic schedules, as happens in most other sports.

International players will become quickly disgruntled if they are not granted full access to the riches of the T20 domestic leagues, and that will put pressure on administrators to reform the international calendar. This is no bad thing. At the moment, tours are a disorganised mess, players have substantial breaks over the course of the season, but there is always some international cricket on, somewhere. The most straight-forward reform of the international calendar is not to reduce the number of games, but to ensure that when international cricket is on, all teams are involved, not just one or two. Once this is achieved, large slabs of the season will be free, allowing all players to participate in the league system, further strengthening that part of the game.

It would be nice, at this point, to see test players return to first class cricket as well, given the sharp reduction in appearances at that level that has occurred in the past two decades, and the consequent diminished standards at that level, and quite probably, at test level as well. It is hard to see that happening, however, not unless ODIs were substantially reduced in number or excised completely from the calendar (I could only hope).

Nevertheless, there is still a question over how large a window is necessary. While other nations have failed, to date, to challenge the IPL with their own big money national or regional T20 leagues, it is almost certainly only a matter of time. A much larger window than has currently been shoe-horned in for the IPL will be necessary soon. As with the scheduling of international cricket, regional summers affect the amount of time available in different places. In the non-tropical parts of the world, it would be possible to have two months (8-9 weeks) set aside for domestic T20 games, but little more without a reduction in international cricket. In Asia, however, both domestic windows are feasible, allowing up to four months of domestic cricket a year.

Reform of the calendar would seem to be inevitable, though as with most things, it may take an entrepreneur to radically remake cricket before the ICC and the boards of control take action themselves. Despite the worries over scheduling conflicts and the drop-out of big name players, fitting several extensive domestic league windows into the schedule is feasible and desirable. More than anything, it is the international schedule that needs work, by forcing the current mess of tours starting and finishing any time they are able, into a strict timetable. The sooner players are able to move between international and domestic cricket without conflict, the stronger both the international and domestic games will be.

Idle Summers 31st December, 2009 00:35:39   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f

Part 1g. Regional Rivalries

International cricket teams have odd relationships with their neighbours. Cricket's most celebrated rivalry, the Ashes, is not regional at all, yet it is played more regularly than any other contest for a simple reason: Australia and England have always been able to schedule tours in their off-season, and their opponents summer. By contrast, the contest between Australia and South Africa, while every bit as keen, and usually of the highest quality, is limited to three tests a piece, with the South African leg shuttled into March, and the South African administrators having to forgo their now traditional December/January test program.

While scheduling isn't always a problem - India and Pakistan have tended to fluctuate from playing almost monthly, to not at all, depending on the political climate - cricket's best potential rivalries are often stunted affairs. New Zealand have always been far more likely to play Pakistan or Sri Lanka than their tri-nations rivals they really want to contest against; the Asian cup was last seen bereft of Indian involvement; and despite being surrounded by high profile associates, England play just two ODI games a year against their near neighbours.

Other sports have much better regional rivalries. Football has as its main structure world cup qualifiers and regional championships; likewise, rugby is centred around the tri-nations and six nations tournaments. And for obvious reasons: travel is cheaper and less burdensome on players, allowing more games to be played; regional rivalries build on the natural tendency of people to aspire first and foremost to beat those most like themselves; and the absence of regular games against more exotic locales brings greater interest to those games when they occur.

While world championships have often been cited as a way of introducing greater meaning into test cricket, regional championships are rarely considered. Yet, for many teams, being regional champion (or finalist) is a far more realistic goal than world champion. Regional championships too, serve a useful purpose in providing a structure to introduce smaller nations into the fray against major teams without them needing to travel across the world, nor, more importantly, requiring more than one of the game's heavy-weights to play the minnows in any qualification sequence.

There is a question over what constitutes a "region". Depth is important. With so few top class teams, it makes little sense for a championship to follow the ICC development regions, where only the Asian region has a real contest for the local champion. Here, I favour regions sorted by scheduling arrangements, split between those teams playing in the Northern Hemisphere's summer (England, West Indies), those playing in the Southern Hemisphere (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe) and those playing in the Asian semi-tropical zone (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh).

This arrangement has the advantage of being relatively even. While the Northern hemisphere is weakest in its test sides, it has the best associates (Canada, USA, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland, Bermuda, Denmark, Italy). By contrast, the Asian zone has strong test sides, but weak associates (UAE, Nepal, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Oman) and the Southern hemisphere lies in the middle (Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, PNG).

Scheduling a regional championship is more problematic, requiring a whole summer of densely scheduled games to contest even the most basic of championships. Yet that density may be a blessing for players, instead of ad hoc scheduling where blocks of games are preceded and followed by a few weeks rest, a more organised schedule and extensive breaks would allow better recovery times from injury. Unfortunately that is not the only scheduling issue that needs resolving.

Idle Summers 30th December, 2009 20:51:24   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CLXXXI, December 2009
Russell Degnan

Over-built and under-sized: the rectangular stadium. Taken July 2009

Melbourne Town 29th December, 2009 21:31:10   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e

Part 1f. World Championships

On the surface, the need for a world championship is a facile point. Almost every neutral observer agrees on the need for one. But in its absence, and given the inherent difficulties of organising a championship for the elongated test match format, it is worth discussing the options available for instituting one.

There are, broadly, three standard methods of finding the "best" in a sporting context: a ranking system, a league system, and a championship (or cup). Most sports us a combination of several, and cricket is no different. Each has certain advantages and disadvantages, most particularly with respect to "meaning".

If you want an accurate measure of the best team, a ranking system is unparalleled. Most sports have some sort of ranking system in addition to competition, because no competition can be a perfect indicator of the best team. Luck plays too big a role, even in test cricket. Cricket's existing rating system is not flawless, but it does a reasonable job. The problem with a rating system is that they are fluid measures, with no end and no beginning (except 1877, I suppose).

Tennis works around this problem with a year end rating, but tennis also structures its tournament system around that year, allowing year-on-year comparisons. Cricket has no such luxury, with even the mooted 4-5 year cycle of the FTP being heavily compromised, and the ratings of different sides with it. Thus, the narrative of a rating-based championship is of constant flux - this series will decide the number on ranking, as will the next one, and the one after, until we tire of knowing that every game is equally important, and equally unimportant.

In most sports, a league provides both the narrative context and the necessary structure. Every team plays each other, normally twice, and the winner is the team with the most accumulated points, or the winner of a play-off, should a final be organised. But test cricket is poorly suited to a league system. The big teams shy away from long series against un-financial sides, and gravitate towards extended series with the history and interest those bring. The FTP always intended that all teams would play each other, but political reality and logistical constraints have prevented it being implemented, and will likely continue to do so.

Those logistical constraints are even more acute if cricket is to expand. Nine teams, playing two teams per summer can rotate through a full roster in four years. But 11 teams, or 15, require 5 and 7 years respectively, at which point the earlier games are a distant memory (and an irrelevance when judging quality); with the marquee series unreasonably separated. The standard proposed solution is a tiered system, be it eight - if for no other reason than there have been, in the recent past, eight decent sides - or six. But a tiered system has little support. The teams in danger of falling off the top tier are averse to the financial burden that would impose, the teams assured of a place at the top, averse to a structure that prevents them maximising revenue from marquee series.

That leaves a cup format. For ODI and T20 cricket this exists already, with most teams structuring their programs around the four year cycle of preparation and infrequent competition the World Cup and Champions Trophy bring. But test cricket is different. A two month tournament would lack the ebb and flow of normal test match series, around which the game has always based itself. Neutral venues would struggle to attract crowds, be heavily biased towards the home side, and extremely difficult to schedule more than a handful of matches.

A non-neutral cup, played over a season or more is more feasible, but must be structured carefully, as, unlike football or tennis (in which the Davis Cup is a good example), a cricket team is limited to home games in their summer. September/October and March/April offer the only period in which all teams can reasonably schedule games, and would therefore be the ideal time for a final series on alternate home grounds. Preliminary rounds, more easily scheduled, could be played across the year, allowing the cup to unfold its narrative as the finals approach.

Just as importantly, a test world championship would need to be restrictive in the number of teams playing, to allow decent length series (at least 3 games) between teams, and the time period over which it is played. Qualification therefore, becomes paramount, such that every team should have reasonable opportunity to progress to each subsequent stage, with the vagaries of fortune reduced as much as possible. This type of qualification therefore entails a broader scope than normal for cricket. Rather than a single quadrennial tournament, a test championship must be a quadrennial program of games that move through a series of stages, culminating in a final.

How this might work will be reserved for the second part of this series. The conclusion from this post is that much effort expended on test championships are misguided, focusing too much on either rankings or leagues to provide champions, and wedded to the idea that all teams should play each other - an idea only feasible with an excessively restrictive cricketing family. A cup is the most natural and flexible format for a true world championship, as evidenced by the numerous sports that use it for national competition. The difficulty is providing an acceptable format for that form of competition.

Idle Summers 16th December, 2009 00:54:34   [#] [0 comments]