Lapdogs and StreetSense

Background Reading


Post-pedestrianisation in Copenhagen's City Centre.

Post-pedestrianisation in Copenhagen’s City Centre.

I went straight to the TED talk, which I disagree with in the US context. With regard to the article itself and your follow-on link, I had no idea so many towns had laws requiring adults to wear bicycle helmets. If Hamblin is arguing against those, I am fine with that, not because I believe it has an impact on cycling one way or another, but just because I think people should be able to decide on their own.

As for the rest of it, I disagree with several points. Road narrowing, for example. I had a lot of experience with this in Toronto. Cars did not slow down. They just hit things more often. Mostly mirrors on parked cars.

RE forums, I consider that under “hearing about risk” mentioned earlier. One thing I have learned from forums is that if you have video evidence, you have way more legal recourse than if it is just a verbal complaint. I think one of the jurisdictions where I ride is going to get an ordinance against harassing cyclists. Another reason for a video camera.

— John Riley

No matter where you turn there is a difference of opinion regarding what works or will work with respect to Urban Cycling. The reference above is to a comment made by a fellow recumbent rider John Riley to a blog post of mine titled “A Fear of Cycling“. We have been trading comments back and forth on the nature of the premises I made in that article in contradiction to the ones raised primarily by, Mikael Colville-Andersen, a man whose work I admire but whose conclusions I find suspect. Everybody in one way or another who makes money from either reporting on cycling, advocating for it, providing infrastructure or creating legislation on its behalf is essentially a “whore“. No real offense intended but frankly prostitutes have taken a lot of hate over the ages for doing something that every decries but only the more wealthy and connected can get easily.

We need to start explaining to ourselves at least that if you are gaining wealth from an activity (even if you are pimped out) you are also a “whore“. Now the real question is about justification of the profession. Cycling Advocates like to speak in loft terms about how the donations they are requesting of you are for the betterment of society. Bloggers who write about Urban Cycling also like to sound lofty but are really being pimped out by their corporate providers or are themselves self-supported “whores”.

Nobody has to be convinced that the political types are “whores“. In today’s world that fact has become obvious. You can now hire yourself out as a Hispanic or African-American to provide cover for the CPAC-types to spin bigotry and racism as mere political differences. Everyone knows what is going on (at least the ones who have been awake for the past few election cycles) and the rest are the ones who serve as our “johns“.

Two Approaches To Changing Our Streets

Angie Schmitt has tossed some “red meat” out for debate. This discussion directly relates to the comments made by John Riley. I will try and tie them together in a moment. She writes in a recent blog posting:

Cycling Advocacy: Policy Versus Culture Models

Cycling Advocacy: Policy Versus Culture Models

Adonia Lugo is a co-founder of the Ciudad de Luces/City of Lights bike outreach project in Los Angeles and currently an anthropology doctoral student in Seattle. Today on her blog Urban Adonia, she reflects on the difference between a policy-based approach to bike advocacy, as displayed at the recent National Bike Summit, and her work to transform cultural attitudes about cycling:

The current strategy in bicycle advocacy is trying to convince powerful people (elected officials, corporate leaders) that getting more people on bikes is a good idea because bike projects have economic benefits. The main way they’re working to demonstrate this is by using numbers: sales figures, the lower cost of bike infrastructure projects versus highway projects, the numbers of people on bicycles passing through major intersections or riding on bike paths. In a movement so convinced of the necessity of using numbers to make a case for bicycling, what can an activist ethnographer do?

Anthropologists often question taken-for-granted phenomena, looking for complexity in seemingly simple places. I started talking about how I’d noticed that so much of the effort of bicycle advocates and researchers was dedicated to showing that bicycling is a good thing, and that increasingly I’ve been more interested in talking to people who don’t like bicycling. I realized that I was doing a typical anthropological trick in trying to use ethnography to show that some people think bicycling isn’t a good thing.

I don’t want to prove that bicycling is bad, I want to prove that people’s ideas about what is good and bad can change. It’s a starting point to asking different questions about advocacy strategies. The issue isn’t that bikes have economic benefits; it’s who gets to enjoy those benefits.

What it boils down to is this: we need to change our transportation habits. What needs to change first, the design of our streets, or the demands of our street users? Should we assume that the only way to change our transportation landscape is to engineer different streets? If people were clamoring for bike infrastructure, we wouldn’t need to prove over and over and over that bicycling is a good thing. It would be a popular fact.

It’s an interesting question. Do you think the mix between policy- and culture-based approaches to bike advocacy is out of whack?

In A Word, ‘Yes’ – The Situation Is Bollixed

Our policy-based and culture-based approaches to Bike Advocacy are “out of whack“. Colville-Andersen is correct about helmet use being driven by a “culture of fear“. But frankly, so is bicycle advocacy for protected bike lanes. Groups like the Active Transportation Alliance try to make the case PBLs by citing the supposed data (from Europe of course) that shows a drastic decrease in cycling deaths due to collisions with automobiles.

What is not clear is how very much different the European infrastructure is than what we currently have or are willing to pay to build. So of course sectarian wars break out when the policy group (which is mostly comprised of what Spiro Agnew would have termed ‘effete snobs‘) who populate the current ranks and pews in the Church of Urban Cycling. These folks most certainly must be the “whores” for the green paint and PVC pipe lobby in America. How else does one explain the obsession with these two items as instruments of “safety“?

One wag on the Bike Snob NYC blog wrote:

Anonymous said…
Who rides in these silly bike lanes besides clueless suburban transplants and rent-a-tourists? Rip ‘em out. I’ll keep riding in the street where bikes belong. Fuck JSK and her little boss.

Now few of the Chicago-types that haunt the Chicago ChainLink Forum as so forthright as to say these things. But the sentiment is there amongst those riders whose rate of speed is impeded by the incessant intervention of technology (in the form of bicycle-specific reg lights) along our newest “pimp mobile drag strip” Dearborn Street.

But they all have to know that in a country where bacon, chicken wings, beer and cheese doodles qualify as main meals at lunch or if you are a bit more upscale perhaps a triple bacon cheeese-burger any appeal for cycling infrastructure that begins with “increases your health” is doomed to failure. Can I get an “amen“?

What is even more stunning is that the politicians (especially those in the local wards) who are agreeing to this intrusive infrastructure do not even ride bicycles. How the heck are they able to judge the value of PBLs and especially when these interfere with something like on-street Sunday church parking? Yikes!

You might as well also come up with a plan for contraception that is conceived by celibate religious clerics who are largely pedophiles.

If people really want something they will demand it. No amount of “education” or “coercion” is required. The fact is that high school students have never needed an urging to find out about human reproductive skills. Just the opposite has been true.

What We Know Does Not Work

We know that despite the very best intentions of the White House and Mayor Bloomberg people do not wish to be told to do things that will improve their health. Part of the reason for GOP eaters is the fact that a black President is espousing the changes to school lunches. If Barbara Bush had made the suggestion people might still have ignored it but they would not have been threatening assassination over the fact.

Likewise we know the cyclists are not going to be told that eating red meat and scarfing down French fries is something to be avoided. Just like their racist Conservative counterparts they object to anything being “handed down from on high” without a selfish motive behind their acceptance. Liberals as just as pig headed as Conservatives. They just have different issues over which to “dig in their heels“.

Both groups are susceptible to stardom imitation. If you find Sarah Palin riding a bike and do so in high heels, hundreds of thousands of red necks will find a way to don their “Daisy Duke’s and halter tops” as they ride down Main Street on their cruisers bikes. If you want to give them added encouragement have Ted Nugent explain that riding a bicycle pisses off Obama as much as having an AR-15 and you suddenly have a run on cheap Chinese-made bikes from Walmart. If you slap on NASCAR stickers to the downtubes of these same bikes and provide an option for a drag racer sound module every freckle hillbilly will be out riding ASAP.

It is all about understanding the motivations of Americans. We can be pressured into doing things merely by having our idols do them and tell us that it makes Authority angry. Then we all have to have one. So I propose getting LeBron James (who is by the way a commuting cyclist) to get a group of NBA stars to join him on a city-to-city urban tour. Have the rides end up in each city at the gymnasium of the best high school team in town for a “pick-up game”. Sell tickets to the game and raffle off bikes that are signed by the stars themselves.

Later that evening have hip-hop singers hold an outdoor concert that can only be attended by folks riding bikes. Set up dozens up dozens of bike corrals and have qualified instructors teach the young children in attendance a bit of what is needed to learn to ride to and from school on their bikes. Have the NBA donate bike racks to several schools (preferably Junior High Schools) where during the following Monday auditorium presentations are held and the NBA stars get to demonstrate their bike skills in front of the crowd.

Then have the local cycling advocacy group invite kids to serve as biking ambassadors during the summer. See what transpires.

Remember the MC Hammer cartoon series of the 1980s? Have a series showing LeBron and his NBA biking buddies in quasi-hero settings protecting the neighborhood from dope dealers while riding, wait fot it… bicycles. Come on people, this is not rocket science. And you won’t have to rip out PBLs because people were unaware they might be losing Sunday church parking spaces.

In black communities if you want to find the most stable families and natural allies for bicycling try churches. Just don’t send people from the ChainLink who are already known to refer to these areas as “shitholes“.

Finally A ‘City-Wide Ride’ On A Weekend

To cap off a summer of stealth cycling propaganda try this. Get the professional NBA teams, NFL teams, MLB teams, MLS teams and even the municipal orchestras to send representatives to at least a dozen different neighborhoods for a ride to the local NFL football stadium. Each group has a route that they will take on streets which will be car free and will follow wherever possible the PBLs that have been installed for their use.

When each time arrives at the stadium bike corrals will have been set up outside the stadium with valet service (if desired) and inside the stadium a rally will be underway complete with bands. A JumboTron presentation about bike safety will be shown. The local chief of bicycle police will give a short pep talk and a handful of the athletes will introduce his family and a short video clip showing them riding along on their bikes will display behind them as they speak.

Finally the mayor of the town will ride in on his bike to the cheers of the stadium participants and he will exhort everyone to ride their bikes to school in the fall as well as to work for at least a week. If you create enough “buzz” surrounding cycling you might get folks excited enough to try it out.


  1. Somehow or other we need to convince parents and grandparents that walking and biking to and from school is safe and good for them. I ride often to Cedarburg and see hordes of cars waiting to pick up kids from the elementary school, when there are sidewalks everywhere and a nice rail-trail a half block away. No, the kids should not be riding on the sidewalk. (We took our kids on cross-state tours when they were very young and they rode on the streets.)

  2. “an anthropological view”? Not so much. A lame economic one. The bike industry matured over a hundred years ago. There are people making a living, but they are not exactly on the level with the hedge fund people. Yeah, the system runs on money, but we are at routine levels here, not living off carried interest tax breaks or anything.

    You want economics? The low countries are ground zero on rising oceans due to climate change. I’d say not having your country at the bottom of the ocean provides an economic benefit to everyone. We would have economic benefits from climate stability too.

    The people from the low countries have become global apostles for cycling because they feel that their survival depends on change.

    You could say the same about Florida, but do they care? Not a bit. They are having a tea party.

    I usually associate anthropology with culture. Among the cultural differences are these: The people in the low countries have a more collectivist view. They are more inclined to give up some personal freedom, and endure some personal discomfort, if they think it is good for the society as a whole. We have all seen the videos about “how the dutch got their cycle paths.”

    The US is much more individualistic. Much more every person for themselves. Much more likely to see every issue as a zero sum game. If you get more, I get less….road space, whatever.

    This is why change comes ugly in the US. Lies, name calling, distortion…. this is how we do it. Carry on.

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