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RECONSIDERING THE BICYCLE: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing CHAPTER THREE: Constructing Urban Bicycle Cultures: Perspectives on Three Cities © Routledge 2013
KEY IDEAS Bicycle cultures are constructed in relation to patterns of urban history and spatial development; policies and infrastructure; cultural attitudes toward mobility and urban space; and informal perceptions and behavioral codes. A focus on mobility systems and how people actually move around cities demonstrates how urban spaces and their design can have important impacts on social relations. As the case studies of three cities demonstrates, changes in policy and infrastructure can play a role in promoting bicycle use, but bicycle use in cities is also highly sensitive to cultural attitudes, social relations, and local histories. © Routledge 2013
What is Urban “Bicycle Culture?” The social and political-economic organization, shared meanings, and actual skills, practices, and norms involved in riding a bicycle through a city. Variations in these dynamics from city to city are related to the production of distinctive social dynamics, norms, and experiences surrounding bicycles. © Routledge 2013
Urban Form, Mobility Systems, and Bicycles Life in cities is bound up with getting to and from places, and people are ever more mobile in their cities. Patterns of urban development shape mobility dynamics as well as social and economic relations. In North America and Europe, many cities underwent redevelopment as “mass transit” cities in the 19 th century and then in the 20th underwent intensive automobilization, transforming the physical character and social dynamics of urban cores in often negative ways. In the fast-growing “megacities” of the Global South, rapid growth, poverty, expensive and inefficient means of urban transportation, and unplanned motorization have made intra-urban mobility difficult. In these contexts—and because of policy, infrastructural, and social conditions—bicycles have been marginalized. © Routledge 2013
Urban Form, Mobility Systems, and Bicycles Yet, increasing numbers of urban theorists, transportation planners, and increasingly certain governments, assert that bicycles need to play a role in addressing contemporary problems of urban development and mobility: Population density and mixed land use make for congestion when cars are in use. But they also make for short distances for bicycle travel. Bicycles are flexible and take up little space; are efficient, inexpensive, and non- polluting; offer health benefits; and infrastructure investments are inexpensive. Bicycles can improve urban quality of life, though debates over gentrification-by- bicycle have become intense in certain U.S. cities. Studies show that infrastructural and policy changes can support bicycle use…although these studies tend to be culturally uninformed. © Routledge 2013
The Case Studies: Three Cities Amsterdam (Netherlands), Bogotá (Colombia), and Burlington (Vermont, U.S.A.) Why them? Each has self-consciously prioritized bicycle use, yet in distinctive measures given distinct histories and cultures. Questions: What makes a city conducive to bicycle use? What kinds of infrastructural, political-economic, and social qualities characterize cycling in these cities? Who rides, and what are the ordinary pleasures and perils, meanings, skills, and politics of riding in them? © Routledge 2013
Amsterdam: “The Bicycle City” Key Characteristics: Cycling as “natural” and apolitical, not done by “cyclists” Extensive bike lanes, cycle tracks, and parking, limitations on automobiles. Cycling renaissance set against a backdrop of decline in bikes, rise of cars post-WWII Distinctive association between the bicycle and Dutch national character: bicycles as “modest” transportation. Actual riding through the city is “organized chaos” based on subtle skills and reading intentions of others, much of which has been learned since childhood. Bicycle culture still in formation: shifting meanings, new bicycle types, ongoing reimagination of the city as “hip” and “sustainable” in which bicycles play a role. © Routledge 2013
Bogotá: The Right to the City Key Characteristics: Cycling as protagonist in urban transformation based on idea that all should have right to the city Sunday Ciclovías since 1974 and Cicloruta built in 2000s, both viewed as critical to quality of life. Colombians identify with cycling. City streets and sidewalks had been overrun with cars and buses. Charismatic mayors, enabled by political changes giving more autonomy to city, committed to developing bicycle infrastructure. Most riders on cicloruta are low-income men. Ciclovías more socially and economically- diverse and large-scale. Perceptions of insecurity on the cicloruta are common, still requires engagement with cars. Political momentum for bicycle infrastructure has stagnated. New civil society groups have emerged to promote bicycle use. © Routledge 2013
Burlington: “Bike Friendliness” in a Small City Key Characteristics: Silver Level “Bike Friendly Community.” Many locals see bicycle accommodations as piecemeal and underdeveloped. “Share the road,” an idea and ideology that’s been around for a long time, and it forces cyclists to adapt to motor vehicle system. Car-awareness and uncertainty about road conditions are central to cyclist’s perceptions of the city, and affect route choice. No one really knows how many people or who actually rides bikes, but it’s clear that cyclists are demographically heterogeneous and bicycle types are diverse as well. © Routledge 2013
Discussion Questions This chapter asserts that cycling in a city is not simply an individualized performance or experience. Drawing on examples from the case studies and perhaps your own experience, discuss how bicycling in a city is culturally-patterned. Beyond special infrastructure and bicycle-friendly policies, what are some other criteria for judging a city conducive to bicycling? If riding a bicycle in a city is, according to many Americans, “crazy, stupid, or asking for trouble,” why do it? What strategies can cyclists in U.S. cities use to ensure their safety? © Routledge 2013
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