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Thread: Refining a topic for a research design that is researchable: how I would go about designing research

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    Refining a topic for a research design that is researchable: how I would go about designing research

    I am asking for some pointers again, previously receiving some good advice for a different paper.

    Assignment

    This assignment is a little different and an assignment I have limited experience with. It is a research design, but not required to actually go ahead and do the research.

    I am really focusing on different topics within transportation to the exclusion of other general topics. Within this topic of transit, I am interested in alternate transportation and am trying to refine a topic that is related to more self-propelled transit (bikes and walking).

    Current Focus: Alternate Transit

    Here is one idea I came up with that is somewhat ambitious and could go in a number of different directions:

    I attached a word file that breaks it down, but if you are shorter on time, I am looking at comparing transit planning/investment/infrastucture construction between two cities (or countries but with a more narrow focus) or a single entity fro ma historical approach.

    I want to look at one or more key aspect and how the difference and/or change in the transit has impacted these aspects and dynamics, such as:

    1.) Economic
    2.) Health
    3.) Safety
    4.) Further, prompted development from infrastucture built and usage of alternate infrastucture (falls under 1)
    5.) Population growth/retention
    6.) Fiscal budget

    This is still somewhat broad and I attached a file that is basically an outline of what I talked about here and am looking at refining it further. I could pick a single city that simply started to really focus on a non-motorized transit planning and investment and look at changes historically.

    Complete Streets--There is a relatively new campaign that aims to urge cities to plan for non-motorized transit, called Complete Streets, but appears to perhaps be almost too new to gauge its impact (began in 2005, but it may have just changed names--not sure)

    How to Design a Research/Research this Topic

    That leads me to my second question though, this seems very interesting, but I'm afraid that being someone with limited background in research design, that I'm not really sure how to go about designing a research to look at this--I have taken only one research methods class and it helped a little. Maybe I will have to really refine my topic, but even then.
    Attached Files Attached Files

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    So, almost a hundred views (not necessarily by different people) and no input? I didn't spell the thread title quite right, but nothing? No experience or recommended resources for input on my questions?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Hmmmm.....
    It is a touch broad to be honest. I feel like I just started graduate school again

    Perhaps we cyburbians just need a bit more information. If I am understanding your post correctly, you want to examine how transit alternatives have impacted one or all of the six listed features (economy, health, etc) of two comparison cities?

    Designing your research will entirely depend on what your objectives or goals are. If this was my brilliant idea, I would first try to narrow down my question to something more specific and hopefully something I can measure.

    Ex: How has the economy of downtown SuperAwesomeCity altered since developing the Blahblah transit line? And, assuming SuperAwesomeCity and CityB are relatively similar in most other factors, has SuperAwesomeCity's downtown economic development improved more or less than CityB, who only improved infrastructure for personally-operated vehicles?

    Even that would be difficult to access with so many externalities, but your original topic poses a question that would be extremely difficult to measure, and thus to answer.

    So, is your objective to measure the economic impact of mass transit? If so, overall or in a specific time and place?
    Is your objective to measure the success of Complete Streets in promoting multi-modal transportation networks?

    First let us hear why you want to do this. Then maybe we can answer a few more questions and design how you are going to do this.

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    Thank you for your reply, I sincerely appreciate it and your time.

    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    Hmmmm.....
    It is a touch broad to be honest. I feel like I just started graduate school again

    Perhaps we cyburbians just need a bit more information. If I am understanding your post correctly, you want to examine how transit alternatives have impacted one or all of the six listed features (economy, health, etc) of two comparison cities?

    That is correct. I have somewhat of a learning difference where I will really overfocus on a certain thought or in this case, a topic. I've really zoomed in on this for one, it's an interest, but also because of this difference. There are a lot of topics I have interest in though but they've sort of been put in the shelf of my consciousness.

    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    Designing your research will entirely depend on what your objectives or goals are. If this was my brilliant idea, I would first try to narrow down my question to something more specific and hopefully something I can measure.

    Ex: How has the economy of downtown SuperAwesomeCity altered since developing the Blahblah transit line? And, assuming SuperAwesomeCity and CityB are relatively similar in most other factors, has SuperAwesomeCity's downtown economic development improved more or less than CityB, who only improved infrastructure for personally-operated vehicles?

    Even that would be difficult to access with so many externalities, but your original topic poses a question that would be extremely difficult to measure, and thus to answer.

    That is what I'm afraid of. It seems like really useful information, that to me, at first glance, seems researchable, but in actuality, after thinking about it more, I'm not really sure based on all of the externalities and a difficulty in measuring this, how I could do this, like you mentioned.

    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    So, is your objective to measure the economic impact of mass transit? If so, overall or in a specific time and place?
    Is your objective to measure the success of Complete Streets in promoting multi-modal transportation networks?

    First let us hear why you want to do this. Then maybe we can answer a few more questions and design how you are going to do this.
    I actually have not really factored in mass transit in my thought process and focus in my reading in review of literature, but I think that mass transit is definitely a useful amenity of more densely populated areas and something that has not been present in Detroit in my relatively short lifespan but will beginng to resprout shortly.

    Why I'm Interested in this topic

    I am interested in this primarily because I enjoy riding my bike for exercise, but I really dislike driving and all that it entails. I have recently used my bike to commute, but think the infrastructure is lacking where I live and hate the fact that drivers think they own the road and are not aware of the rights of cyclists. I hate ping ponging or yo-yoing on the expressway, rush rush rush. I would love to see people feel comfortable, young and old, ride their bike for shorter trips, because of changed infrastructure and kids to walk to school or ride their bike and everyone walk to places more. It often feels like walking places, crossing streets in busier areas, I feel like I as a pedestrian am competing with cars. When traffic has to make a turn, (especially a problem during rush hour periods), both cars and pedestrians get the green light to go, and I hate that fact. I hate feeling uncomfortable on roads riding my bike. The big pieces of metal driven by robots own the road. There are multiple programs that try to address this with the same end goal--not the robots necessarily, but making them perhaps less like robots but making non-motorized transit a more attractive (and safer) option.

    One idea I came up is basically what I stated. I am not really focusing or looking at mass transit. I am looking more at shorter trips by bike and foot. What is the impact that infrastructure investment, that may be prompted or aided by, for example, programs or policies, coalitions, etc on any one or more of those important components? That data may be hard to really find in research but I haven't really searched for it thoroughly yet. I did see one article that came up titled something like "Complete Streets analysis", in a Google Scholar search but that window froze and I didn't search for it again yet.

    An alternate approach could be something like what you mentioned in terms of downtown economic impact of the same type or similar transit investments. Or I could look at the implementation of a Complete Streets program in two different cities and the difference in the extent that they were able to be implemented and utilized.

    I guess I just go back to asking: Why are these programs implemented? They must be implemented for a reason. Is there not some research that shows the impact that increased infrastructure for alternate transit such as biking and walking has on a city? Or is it just rather limited? Of course we know that walking or biking is more healthy.

    I actually pulled up research on this (Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks, De Hartog, 2010) related to biking and even though the danger + exposure to pollution is an issue, the research still shows benefits of cycling over driving but it still went to the point of hard to measure--the variable component--where people drive or ride and the variables that entails) and will likely save money + be useful (commuting + exercising), but how do we know these investments are actually being used, how much and what the benefits compared to the costs are? Is the investment worth it? What does it all add up to in one or more of the components?

    Of the different components I mentioned:
    1. Economy
    2. Health
    3. Safety
    4. Further development
    5. Population growth/retention
    6. Fiscal Budget
    I think safety and the fiscal budget are two in which records are kept through the city and one could probably draw information, though I'm not sure, but the rest:

    1.) Economy--This seems to be based more on estimates, but the externalities could make it difficult. What about surveying a sample of the population and the businesses and at least asking them about any changes to the spending of their money and if any money saved has been spent within the community or elsewhere nearby?

    2.) Health-that would be more long-term and likely based on estimates but could still be looked at I think. It would really require a longer-term study I would think, because people's habits may change if they go back to motorized transit or the like.

    4.) Further development-This is related to the economy but if there are further investments made in an area, comparing the market research of an area before and after, one could determine the likelihood that infrastructure has had any impact if any changes occurred. That doesn't really necessarily look at current businesses/development and being maintained or added into their establishments.

    5.) Population growth/retention--This is another one that may be a little difficult with externalities. It could probably be done, but is it actually feasible/affordable?

    From what I remember though, conducting quality surveys are not cheap and can be quite expensive, and that is almost like a luxury. I think it is needless to say that when it comes to research, I have a lot to learn and based on going through this just now, it seems I'd almost have to focus on one or two of those components which are more researchable than not, but that is relatively speaking.


    Part of me thinks my difficulty with considering other topics and my overfocusing causes trouble with assignments like this because I come up with a general idea that is interesting and really don't consider other topics enough once I hook a topic. I may have to put this idea on the shelf but will still run it by my professor and see what he thinks of it and if it's researchable. If not, I'll have to consider something else or try to narrow this down like I said.

    This field is just so broad yet I can get so overfocused on topics because this is quite fascinating to me because it is tangible and practical in the sense that it is very accessible; it's something as simple as walking and biking is what it boils down to, and not largely theoretical or very complex.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    It might be easiest to look at your question in a case study. For example, take your favorite city that has a complete streets policy that has been implemented, what has been the impact of that? You probably need to narrow the scope of your question, in order to complete a reasonable research assignment. In the literature review section you can read up on the related research and include it in your background. You topic range looks like a dissertation at this point...are you considering a PhD?

    One thing to consider when narrowing down your topic is what do you think is the best arguement/research to back up your claims that alternative transportation is best.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I might spend a little time with each of the "components" and try to be honest about if and how one can measure alternate transit's impact on them. Play devil's advocate with yourself a little and try to figure out what factors/measureables you would need to determine a link. I think that may help you identify where you can actually measure cause and effect.

    For example, the impact on health will be very difficult to measure, I imagine, because to demonstrate an improvement in health, you may need to track people over time and link their health directly to the act of using alternate transit forms. And with so many additional externalities (did those same people get a gym membership also? change their diet? did any of those decisions have anything to do with transit?). And so on.

    From your list, I can see that Economy, Safety, Population Growth and Further Development are areas where Census data and other available stats could lend some perspective and provide a first pass for this research. The budget is a tough one because infrastructure development may be expensive for 5 or 10 years but then drop significantly once in place. So, the picture for that area may differ dramatically depending on the timeline you track.

    But economically you could look at, say, new businesses opening within a certain distance of transit stops or similar stats (identifiable growth in businesses that function in support of alternative transit like bike or scooter stores for example). In terms of safety, many cities track and publish stats on traffic fatalities, even classifying them (cars with cars, car hitting pedestrian, car hitting bike, etc.) For population growth and further development, you can examine where new development is taking place and its relationship to transit infrastructure. The long form for the census also has information on commute times and it would be interesting to see if there was any change over time in places that invested heavily in certain types of transit development . I'm not sure what other similar stats might be in the census for that, but you can really extract a lot of useful info from it. And its free.

    Again, the hardest thing in a project like this is proving causality. Be self-critical in the research and reveal that it is hard to prove a link between transit and other changes, identify other factors that may be at play and then make your assertions. Rhetorically I think acknowledging potential complications to your research will make more people more open to constructively discussing the issues raised.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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    Quote Originally posted by beach_bum View post
    It might be easiest to look at your question in a case study. For example, take your favorite city that has a complete streets policy that has been implemented, what has been the impact of that? You probably need to narrow the scope of your question, in order to complete a reasonable research assignment. In the literature review section you can read up on the related research and include it in your background. You topic range looks like a dissertation at this point...are you considering a PhD?

    One thing to consider when narrowing down your topic is what do you think is the best arguement/research to back up your claims that alternative transportation is best.
    Thanks for the post.

    I'm just a curious person and looking at this aspect of transit interests me--I'm not so sure if that is sarcasm (take no offense) and it's not like this topic is that complex, but researching it, yes seems to be, but I'm not really thinking about a PhD. I'm just trying to complete my undergrad within this field, but I will take that as an unintended compliment, but personal long-term future planning is something I really ought to do with my career prospects and education.

    I'm not so sure that alternate transportation is the "best" (and I quote that because I have taken to scoffing at words in general like "good", "worst" "right" and "best" when I hear them in discourse and mediums of media, so take no offense to that either), but I suppose "best" in the generally desired characteristics of a large segment of the population, but that is only one part of it, which goes back to the components I have mentioned. I mean, back when migration was taking place and the black population was settling in the north, most white people wanted to be and remain segregated based on their beliefs about those minorities, but that is really only one component--the actual impact would probably show that division impedes various parts of a community, city, state, country. That is a bit of a tangent, but I say it to simply illustrate a point and keep going back to my question of uncovering actual impact.

    For example, in relation to the transit and the desires of people argument, would most people prefer to be able to be able to walk to places and bike more if the infrastructure was provided? From what I've read, where there is real lack of that infrastructure, people start to use it if it's built, but I'd have to read up on it more.

    An argument I could make is how it impacts those components of a city and people as a group--looking at just one, can reveal some of the story, but I believe the most important parts are what I already mentioned:

    The budget, economy, and health are probably the most impactful, in my opinion, and the other two (further development and population) follow those based on the extent transit impacts the first three. If a city is able to reduce its transit budget, they may be able to be more flexible with their budget (keep balanced), for example. They can make other improvements if/when it becomes balanced that are just as needed but have been neglected.

    People can be a little more flexible with their money if this saves them some money they would otherwise spend for transit, and health, and may save them some time while also spending some commute time on exercise.

    It is all an equation that is looked at and where the equation ends up for these different components, on the positive side or negative side in terms of a quantity such as money and time to name two, is what I'm essentially trying to get at. For example, here in Detroit, really quick--studies (based on a headline I read) show that the movie industry + tax cuts have resulted in a loss for taxpayers. That is probably more clear cut based on how relatively limited that industry is here and I'm probably stating that needlessly, but just to draw a comparison.

    Case Study

    The case study seems like an attractive option and basically reflects what I mentioned; long-term study of this, whether it's five years of ten years, seems would reveal the impact vs. a short-term study.

    Program Evaluation

    Another option seems to be a program evaluation, which is perhaps like a case study but more narrow in what it looks at, in that it only looks at policy or programs.

    Note: I don't actually have to carry this research out. This is an upper level undergrad class that is about going through the point of research up to a research design but does not require doing the research for the class, but developing a design could give way to bringing it to fruition into research at a later point in time.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    The purpose of research and the people who benefit from it are practicioners and advocates. So since you have such a broad interest and ideas, think about a product that could be helpful in promoting what you think is 'best' or maybe a better term is most effective or best practices.

    For example, I have a strong interest in historic preservation and planning, but that is a very broad topic area. In my current job I have been looking at potentially doing a tree ordinance, which would help protect one of the many characteristics of a historic neighborhood, so it would be helpful to have a case study or program evaluation on effective tree ordinances in historic neighborhoods of similar size and age to my community.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

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    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Never underestimate the power of qualitative data DTownDave22. If you want to know whether people would use new bike paths, pedestrian paths, or whatever your mode in question is, the best way to find out is to get out there and ask people. Of course, for the purposes of your project, this won't require going through your university's research authority or even interviewing people, but in your discussion of how to design the research project, you may want to include a sampling and survey plan to gather qualitative data.

    I too loathe cars and try to walk or ride my bike everywhere I go. I hate that I have to play chicken with 2 ton death machines just to cross the road. Would I LOVE to see some form of protection for pedestrians crossing the street? You bet.

    Ask people what they think! Bikers, walkers, drivers, transit riders... ask them, people love to talk, especially about their own experiences (well mostly).
    You will get colorful responses and data that can be used to develop your argument.

    There are dozens of books out there to use as guidance in developing a good survey methodology and I'm sure your professor would be willing to shed some insight as well.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Hey DTownDave22, check this link out http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/bikesaf...cfm?CS_NUM=103
    I lifted this link from another post, but have already forgotten which one (apologies)!

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