This is part of a series of posts featuring parts of my paper, Road Rash.
Transportation and Identity
North American bicycle writing also makes several links between transportation and identity. “For most people, their transport choices permeate their identities not in the sense of them being ‘a cyclist’ or ‘a motorist’ to the exclusion of other options; rather, transport informs identity through its interaction with other aspects of people’s lives” (Skinner 91). Skinner asserts that choosing a bicycle over a car, or vice versa, is dependent on more than just the ecological or economical impacts of such a choice. The issue of safety, much like the image of cycling overall, is a question of perceptions derived from the greater cultural milieu surrounding North American bicycle usage. “Whilst there are factors that prevent individuals from cycling, these are fluid and vary according to somebody’s personal circumstances: not just how experienced they are at cycling on the road but also their age, gender, employment situation, geographical location and so on” (Ibid 85). Skinner argues that understanding how people think of themselves as mobile creatures encourages a more realistic view of how transportation habits can be altered and changed. “The notion of identity can help us move beyond a ‘rational choice’ model of transport behaviour posited on an abstract universal individual, and replace it with an account of the differences in perspective and action that emerge from cultural variations between social groups” (Ibid). Before cycling can be made attractive to the average citizen, the activity has to be marketed effectively. It is this focus on identity that arguably makes car manufacturers very successful at promoting the use of motor vehicles. Marketing of lifestyle, status, and amusement in car commercials over the last several decades has fully formed positive associations with driving, and I would argue that those associations spill over to one’s sense of identity. Cars have been offered up as the solution to protection from the elements, transporting cargo, and safely ferrying one’s children about. It is no wonder that people have developed a reliance on cars and an attitude towards motor vehicles that renders them indispensable.
Many see bicycling as too dangerous, too sweaty, unreliable in bad weather, rough on clothes, and a bane to carefully coiffed hair. People live on steep hills, are too far away from work and stores, have to drop their kid off at school, need to carry too much, have to get to daycare after work, use their car for work, enjoy driving anyway because it’s easy, and—let’s not forget this, even though it usually goes unstated—we drive because our cars are so wrapped up in our personal identity. Most of us buy as much car as we can afford, and maybe even a little more, in part because it sends a message about our status to the rest of the world. Who isn’t a little more muscular or beautiful or stylish behind the wheel of that curvaceous new vehicle? (Maples 25-26).
The seemingly unique complexities of average North American life appear dependent on driving, as does the identity that is constructed through the scheduling of these activities and how people get there and back. Therefore, changing transportation habits in North America is all the more challenging based on these constructs. Asking a person to try cycling is not simply convincing people of making a choice that seems to be more sensible overall, and it is inevitably a request for somebody to question their lifestyle and what their transportation habits say about who they are. In this way, North American cycling literature has been occupied with discussing the why behind reasons people bike or not as opposed to the how.
Investigations into North American cycling literature also tend to lead the researcher in the direction of texts dedicated to the study and analysis of traffic and driving behaviour on the road. As indicated, many of the European cities that have adopted measures to promote and improve bicycle use did so out of a need to ease congestion. Another interesting revelation is that women make many of the trips taken by car.
Women make roughly double the number of what are called “serve-passenger” trips – that is, they’re taking someone somewhere that they themselves do not need to be. All these trips are squeezed together to and from work in a process called “trip chaining.” And because women, as a whole, leave later for work than men, they tend to travel right smack-dab in the peak hours of congestion (and even more so in the afternoon peak hours, which is partially why those tend to be worse). What’s more, these kinds of trips are made on the kinds of local streets, with lots of signals and required turning movements, that are least equipped to handle heavy traffic flows. (Vanderbilt 135)
The driving that women have to do would arguably be considered a necessity. The education, childcare, and earning potential associated with mobility, are likely something a family would defend vehemently, often as a right. From what we have gathered about the reason people drive, it can be assumed that use of motor vehicles symbolizes freedom of mobility and choice.
Traffic, Pisarski emphasizes, is the expression of human purpose. Another huge way in which those purposes have changed is due to rising affluence. It’s not just that American households have more cars, it is that they are finding new places to take them. And once you have shelled out for a car, the comparatively marginal cost of another trip is barely noticeable – in other words, there is little incentive not to drive. (Ibid 137)
Aside from being unable to steer away from mentions of European bike culture, it is also difficult to do any reading on North American bike culture without stumbling upon arguments and research into the relationship of bicycles with cars. In many instances the use of bicycles or the character of a city’s bicycle culture will be a result of, or reaction to car culture. This cause and effect relationship between personal mobility, identity, and transportation choices becomes inextricably linked. When delving into the writing on bicycle commuting in North America, many other issues surface that at first seem peripheral to the overall discussion on bikes. It goes beyond what bicycles are on the market and where to get them. The discussion often spills over to why people would choose to ride over drive, the precautions and methods they employ to protect themselves while riding, and what riding (or not riding) says about them. Particularly when we look at bicycling as transportation, the comparison to the experience of getting somewhere via bike versus car is inevitable. In short, North American bicycle commuting writing tends to deal with the struggle of making cycling normal and logical for most citizens.
If the decision to choose cycling and transit over a car seemed more logical, easy, and convenient, perhaps a higher percentage of average people would consider adopting cycling as part of their transportation routine. The more riders there are on the road, the less stigma there is attached to the daily bicycle commuting riding for average people. Though, without more people expressing an interest and imperative for investments in cycling infrastructure, there is little pressure for municipalities to move forward with plans that place importance on cycling infrastructure.
Networks for cycle traffic should extend from significant trip attractors, such as town centres, at least to 2 km and as far as 5 km, as over these distances the flexibility and freedoms of the bicycle are evident without undue exertion. It cannot be assumed that use of the bicycle for leisure purposes will follow through into use for utilitarian purposes, but promotion of the bicycle for utilitarian trips should recognise that the market comprises principally car-owning households” (Parkin et al 80).
Essentially, in order for a community to be bicycle oriented, several orders of organization would be required. Amenities and trips would have to be incorporated into a daily routine; such as getting to and from work, child-care, and school, would have to be located conveniently so that driving would not seem the sole practical choice. Sadly, it seems as though many average North American municipalities and their citizens have already made the mental and financial investment into owning and operating cars, and living too far away from such amenities. Once that investment has been made the geographical radius of what seems convenient and local changes greatly, thus pushing away from the need to create localized services and amenities that are easily reachable by bike.
Basset, David Rowland., John Pucher, Ralph Buehler, Dixie L. Thompson, and Scott E. Crouter. "Walking, Cycling, and Obesity Rates in Europe, North America, and Australia." Journal of Physical Activity and Health 5 (2008): 795-814. Print.
Brackett, Dorothy. "Bicycling and Self Esteem." Weblog post. Let's Go Ride A Bike. 18 May 2010. Web. 18 May 2010.
Burgueño, Meli. Bikes and The City. Web. 03 Mar. 2011.
Byrne, David. Bicycle Diaries. New York: Viking, 2009. Print.
Chan, Sarah. Web log post. Girls and Bicycles. Web. 15 May 2010.
Colville-Andersen, Mikael. "Bike Helmet Protest in Melbourne." Web log post. Copenhagenize. 3 Aug. 2010. Web. 28 Aug. 2010.
Colville-Andersen, Mikael. "Cycle Chic Origins." Cycle Chic™ - The Original from Copenhagen. Web. 16 Aug. 2010.
"Cycling in the Netherlands." Ministerie Van Verkeer En Waterstaat. Web. 24 May 2010.
Davies, Julian. "Family Biking Ages & Stages." Web log post. Totcycle. 26 June 2009. Web. 21 May 2010.
Dennis, J., B. Potter, T. Ramsay, and R. Zarychanski. "The Effects of Provincial Bicycle Helmet Legislation on Helmet Use and Bicycle Ridership in Canada." Injury Prevention. 2010. Web. 02 Mar. 2011.
Feucht, Dave. "Portland Bicycle Plan 2010." Web log post. Portlandize. 4 Feb. 2010.
Web. 27 May 2010.
Fincham, Ben. "Bicycle Messengers: Image, Identity and Community." Cycling and Society. Ed. Paul Rosen, Peter Cox, and David Horton. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007. Print.
Gill, M., and M. Goldacre. "Seasonal Variation in Hospital Admission for Road Traffic Injuries in England: Analysis of Hospital Statistics." Injury Preventon. 2009. Web. 2 Mar. 2011.
Gotschi, Thomas, and Kevin Mills. "Active Transportation for America." Rails to Trails
Conservatory. Web. 24 May 2010.
North Carolina School of Public Health. "Active Living by Design and Public Health." 8-80 Cities. Web. 27 May 2010.
Halbur, Tim. "Women, Transit, and the Perception of Safety | Planetizen." Planetizen |
Urban Planning, Design and Development Network. 11 Feb. 2010. Web. 27 May
Horton, Dave. "Fear of Cycling." Cycling and Society. Ed. Paul Rosen, Peter Cox, and David Horton. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007. Print.
"I Love Riding in the City." Urban Velo May 2010: 14-34. Print.
Kay, Jane Holtz. Asphalt Nation. New York: Crown, 1997. Print.
Looft, Sandra. Simply Bike. Web. 04 Mar. 2011.
Mackintosh, Philip G., and Glen Norcliffe. "Men, Women and the Bicycle: Gender and
Social Geography of Cycling in the Late Nineteenth Century." Cycling and
Society. Ed. Paul Rosen, Peter Cox, and David Horton. Aldershot, England:
Ashgate, 2007. Print.
Maples, Jeff. Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State UP, 2009. Print.
Martinelli, Deandria. Los Angeles Cycle Chic. Web. 04 Mar. 2011.
Masoner, Richard. "Q&A with Eben Oliver Weiss Aka Bike Snob
NYC." Momentum May 2010: 26-27. Print.
O'Brien, Catherine. "A Footprint of Delight, Exploring Sustainable Happiness." NCBW
Forum Article (2006). Web. 25 May 2010.
Parkin, John, Tim Ryley, and Tim Jones. "Barriers to Cycling: An Exploration of Quantitative Analyses." Ed. Paul Rosen and Peter Cox. Cycling and Society. Ed. Dave Horton. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007. Print.
Pucher, John, and Ralph Buehler. "Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany." Transport Reviews 28.4 (2008): 495-528. Web.
Scott, Todd. "Detroit." Momentum May 2010. Print.
Skinner, David, and Paul Rosen. "Hell Is Other Cyclists: Rethinking Transport and Identity." Cycling and Society. By Peter Cox and David Horton. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007. Print.
Spinner, Justin. "Cycling the City: Non-Place and the Sensory Construction of Meaning
in a Mobile Practice." Ed. Dave Horton. Cycling and Society. Ed. Peter Cox and
David Horton. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007. Print.
Vanderbilt, Tom. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us). New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Print.
Wesson, D., D. Stephens, K. Lam, D. Parsons, L. Spence, and P. Parkin. "Trends in Pediatric and Adult Bicycling Deaths Before and After Passage of a Bicycle Helmet Law -- Wesson Et Al. 122 (3): 605 -- Pediatrics." Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation. 2008. Web. 03 Mar. 2011.
Williams, Martha. Bike Fancy. Web. 03 Mar. 2011.
Wilson, David Gordon, Jim Papadopoulos, and Frank Rowland. Whitt. Bicycling
Science. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2004. Print.
Wilson, Mighk. "Bicycling Is Better » Which Cycling Politics: Doom or Possibility?"
Bicycling Is Better. 1 Oct. 2009. Web. 26 May 2010.
Wood, Daniel B. "On the Rise in American Cities: the Car-free Zone / The Christian
Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com." The Christian Science Monitor –
CSMonitor.com. 2 May 2007. Web. 27 May 2010.