Athena Brook

Emotions, Evaluations and Opinions of Street Interventions in News and Social Media

Supervisors: Rachel Aldred, Pieter Verdegem, Tom Cohen

THERE ARE NUMEROUS health and environmental benefits aligned with the goals of reducing dependency on private car transport and encouraging active modes of travel. Street intervention schemes in the UK, such as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN) and School Streets, make changes to the road environment to promote quieter streets with more opportunities for walking, cycling and wheeling. Despite the proposed benefits, such schemes have proved divisive in reception and have seen increased media coverage. Social media has also been used by people to communicate polarised and often affective opinions on their local transport interventions.

This project aims to make sense of these positive and negative opinions within news and social media discourses. In addition to summarising sentiment towards road initiatives, this research also explores how both semantics and emotion use can help uncover perceptions about the wider travel environment. Street interventions are unique situations where the status quo of mobility has been disrupted. Consequently, there is potential to assess how likes and dislikes of local schemes are related to different emotion expressions and themes related to local environment. Conceptualised as ‘emotion evaluations’ in this project, these expressions could indicate, for example, concern about pollution, frustration over traffic, or excitement around safe routes to school.

To achieve the research aims, mixed methods are applied within a theoretical framework from linguistics, transport and political economy. Qualitative content analysis is used on local news articles to explore emotion use in the context of LTNs and School Streets coverage. This is followed by a computational social media analysis to interpret sentiment and summarise topics from tweet data. The findings will build knowledge around media framing and aggregated public opinion related to road schemes. This has potential impact in informing focused and sympathetic communications around future street interventions.

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