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Bicycling and the Politics of Recognition

Yogi Hale Hendlin

As more people move to cities, and cars become viewed by manyespecially

younger generationsless as status symbols and more as unnecessary
expenses leading to time spent in trafc, bicycling is experiencing a renais-
sance in North America (Pucher, Buehler, and Seinen 2011). Yet, we can ask,
how much of a cycling renaissance is there, really, since North American
urban cycling remains dwarfed by European numbers? Furthermore, is this
renaissance the result of urban planners reducing the barriers to urban cycling?
Or, is this renaissance occurring despite the associated disadvantages and
physical risks cycling poses? While cycling enables riders to engage in envir-
onmentally friendly activities on a daily basis while also providing exercise
and social connection and is viewed by citizens and social planners as
low-hanging fruit to reduce CO2 emissions (similar in positive environmental
effects to minimizing air travel or adopting a vegetarian diet), it is uncertain
that the costs and benets of different modes of transportation (and the same
mode of transportation for different users) are equitably apportioned.
In this chapter, I examine contemporary trends in bicycling via a Los Angeles
case study to assess how environmental this trend is, on the one hand, and how
everyday it is, on the other. Cycling, it may turn out, isnt always green in the
sense of being good for the environment (e.g., chauffeuring ones bicycle by car
to a scenic cycling destination), and at other times, it may be good for the
environment (in terms of not adding greenhouse gas emissions) but not so
good for the cyclist (in terms of safety, inhaling polluted city air, encountering
stigma, etc.). Systematic physical obstacles such as unsafe thoroughfares and a
lack of cycling infrastructure also may impact who is riding a bike, and which
citizens are inhibited from this mode of mobility freedom. Analyzing these
axes through concrete examples deates the notion of embracing cycling as a
panacea for environmental and mobility issues without accompanied institu-
tional shifts equitably lowering the hurdles to cycling. Parsing the various ways
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cycling is performed by different user groups, and how it is framed by policy

and society for the positive public recognition of cyclists, admits a more exact
assessment of its relationship to environmentalism.

14.1 Trendy or Travail?

Without underestimating the salutary environmental and social effects of

the current good press and social bandwagoning for cycling, it should be
recognized that there are both advantages and pitfalls to the current hype
surrounding bicycling. Cycling is becoming cool: a cultural icon, used in
commercials to sell other products, and aunted as a wink to others signaling
desired status as a member of one identity group or another (Friss 2015, 127).
Cyclings wide net accommodates identities ranging from environmental do-
gooder or in-shape athlete to counterculture rebel, hipster, conscientious
parent, and beyond. The same act of riding a bicycle, either for transport,
recreation, sport, or status, carries divergent meanings depending on how it is
performed and imagined by the user and recognized by the target peer group.
Our modes of transportation propel distinct and diverse performances of
identity, with each identity group creating and responding to attempts by
other subgroups and society at large to congeal a particularized framing of the
activity (Aldred 2012).
For instance, commuters cycle as everyday transportation to get from point
A to B, whereas hipsters may invest additional layers of political and social
meaning with regard to their cycle use. While rich cyclists may spend as much
money on their state-of-the-art bike as on a new car, driving to beautiful places
to tour, and regarding the activity as a luxury and sport, many poor people
bike out of absolute necessity as their only viable mode of transportation,
while wishing to substitute their bike for a car. While all groups may enjoy the
benets of getting exercise from cycling, where they cycle, and the impact this
has on their health varies widely. Some types of cycling may be good for the
planet but not ones health, and vice versa.
While certain generalized public perceptions of cycling may be formed
through political and social activity, these remain fragile. Attempting to cast
cycling in a particular light, say, as a good recreational activity to maintain
tness, may disempower or ignore other groups of users, who might feel
shame cycling because they do so only because they cannot afford a car. Stigma
and coolness, or in more traditional terms, praise and blame, often govern the
self-perceptions of transit users, and hence, the desirability of certain modes of
transport. Especially since slippage between group and self identities occur,
where one feels situated in a given cultural niche has important ramications for
engaging in actions such as cycling (Skinner and Rosen 2007, 84).

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This entails distinguishing the practice of cycling from its image. Whatever
rising image cycling carries in certain subculturesfrom elite sport cyclists to
downtown hipsters, and increasingly in the mediathe everyday lived experi-
ence of cyclists is by no means one-dimensional. On roads built for cars, not
for bicycles, cyclists exist still as de facto second-class citizens. Caught between
the Scylla of the slow pedestrian-lled sidewalks, and the Charybdis of aggres-
sively car-centric roads, actual experiences of cycling are often far from roman-
tic. Instead, they are fueled by adrenaline and existential risk. This can even be
compounded by what Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) director
Jennifer Klausner (2014) calls bikelash (bike-directed backlash from car
drivers): when:

[C]yclists suffer from a renegade image associated with disobedience of trafc laws,
and a pervasive sense of cyclists as an alien presence on roads intended for cars.
(Pucher, Komanoff, and Schimek 1999, 46)

Discrimination against cyclists on account of their perceived lower moral or

economic standing is:

[H]eavily determined in relation to automobiles [such that even] utilitarian cyc-

lists [or commuters] are variously seen as too poor to own a car, anti-auto,
eccentric, or deviant. (Pucher, Komanoff, and Schimek 1999, 46)

It is the thesis here that part of civic recognition means acknowledging the
hardships cyclists suffer in a car-centric world, and part of (environmental)
justice means taking deliberate and swift steps to rectify this discriminatory

14.2 Moving beyond Car Culture

Cycling, like driving, is enmeshed in a cultural web of signication that far

exceeds the actual object or its function. Learning to ride a bicycle, for
example, constitutes one of the few milestones in a secular Western upbring-
ing. Unlike the roads cyclists encountered upon the rst wave of riding when
the modern bicycle was invented, today it is impossible to speak about bikes
without reference to cars. Over the last hundred years cars have ruled the
roads, granting cycling little latitude to freely compete as a viable form of
mobility.1 Car-centrism pervades our present culture to such a degree that we
often are unaware how deeply it affects our daily life and decisions.

The movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? tells in comic fashion the dark history of what is known
as the Great American Streetcar Scandal, when General Motors and oil barons bought up the light
rail and viable public transport systems in Los Angeles and other US cities, only to dismantle them
(Snell 1974).

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Coming to terms with the immense penetration of the car as the mobility-
orienting principle for thought and action is a rst step in being able to
overcome its hegemonic effects. Bohm and colleagues write:

Automobility is one of the principal socio-technical institutions through which

modernity is organized. It is a set of political institutions and practices that seek to
organize, accelerate and shape the spatial movements and impacts of automobiles,
whilst simultaneously regulating their many consequences. It is also an ideological
or discursive formation, embodying ideals of freedom, privacy, movement, pro-
gress and autonomy . . . through which its principal technical artifactsroads,
cars, etc.are legitimized. Finally, it entails a phenomenology, a set of ways of
experiencing the world which serve [ ] to legitimize its dominance . . . Together
these apparently diverse strands comprise an understanding of automobility that
is irreducible to the automobile. (2006, 3)

It is in such a car-centric context that the possibilities and obstacles to a

cycling renaissance must be appraised. It is important to remember that:

[C]ycling has been made difcult and unlikely through a series of structural
decisions that place cars at the center, thereby pushing most people toward
automobiles. (Williams 2010, 247)

That is, preferences to drive rather than ride arent simply sui generis decisions,
but instead are manufactured, at least in part, by the various social nudges
promoting or impeding what are considered valid mobility possibilities.2
A civic-phenomenological account of what it is like to be in a car in a city
versus on a bike or using public transport can illuminate the political conse-
quences of different modes of travel. In a car, a hermetically sealed box with
the windows up, the external world can be safely ignored (with the exception
of not getting in an accident). One is not required to engage in interactions
with the outside world if these are not wished. Serendipity and chance cease to
play a role in the car-oriented world, at least in positive terms. Interaction with
ones fellow citizens becomes optional rather than a given necessity for get-
ting along in shared public space. One can go from apartment to car park to
car to car park at work and back again without smelling the quality of the air,
catching the eye of a fellow traveler, or hearing whether the birds are singing
in the trees. Automobiles, as a mode of personal transportation that seals one
off from the outside world, do not foster trust-building dialogue and political
or social interactions with strangersthe predicates of a healthy, functioning
democracy (Allen 2004).

A nudge, according to Thaler and Sunstein (2008), is a set of policies, beliefs, and social
constraints that systematically favor certain options over others. Rather than the bald claim of
market liberalism that people do whatever their preferences are, the authors highlight the fact that
how a society and its regulations are designed has strong and lasting effects, funneling decisions
into certain default choices rather than others.

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That car drivers can retreat from environmental harms though the private
personal commodity bubbles of their vehicle (Szasz 2007, 97), but cyclists
have no choice but to breathe the public externality of exhaust, also extends
the question of civic sacrice to urban mobility practices. The privilege over
and against cyclists some drivers may feel and exhibit has signicant and
direct impacts on cyclists real and perceived safety. Beliefs that roads are
made for cars and that cyclists ride as interlopers at their own peril, the road
realpolitik of biggest-vehicle-wins forcing cyclists to accommodate for passing
automobiles rather than vice versa, drivers indignation at being delayed to
wait until it is safe to pass a cyclist, and even feelings of superiority due to
projecting negative identity traits on someone who would be forced to or
choose to cycle rather than drive a carall provoke divisive effects.
Automobility portrays a textbook example of what Andrew Szasz (2007)
calls an inverted quarantine. Rather than attempting to contain environ-
mental harms and preventing their spread as a quarantine does, the inverted
quarantine abandons the political possibility of collectively rectifying envir-
onmental or social wrongs to instead take private measures insulating oneself
from the negative impacts of a degrading default world.3 Inverted quaran-
tine consumption elides the public dimension of problems and instead places
the burden for coping with public threats on the purse strings and conscience
of private individuals.
Critical theorys attention to the topic of alienation suggests that the less
mediation and armoring insulation, the more that agent must confront and
deal with her or his surroundingsfor better or worse. If ambient conditions
are pleasant and vivifying, then cyclists enjoy the fruits of the outdoors, the
fresh air, and the elements, even if they may enliven ones senses in bitter-
sweet ways, like cycling through the rst rain of a season, or making ones way
through softly falling snow. However, if ones environment is abrasive or even
toxiclled with smog and air pollution as in big cities like LA or Beijing, or
lacking bicycle paths free from precariously close auto trafcthen a traveler
without the mediation of the enclosed vehicle suffers inordinately for the
choice or necessity to move through life without an insulated personal com-
modity bubble.
Car use can be understood as part of a larger civic enclosure movement
(Norton 2011), shutting public interaction outside ones social circle and
further contributing to pollution, reinforcing the desire to enjoy the mufed
and recycled air of a (social-)climate-controlled environment. Conversely,
cycling opens the physical and social encasements to sense the pulse of
the polity on a more immediate and bodily level. Cycling and public

By default here I mean the standard option with which those unable or unwilling to buy into
the premium option are left (e.g., conventional fruit versus organic).

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transportation can break us out of denialism and isolation, working against

the political anesthesia that occurs when, through inverse quarantining, we
become less and less connected with the actual lived experiences of the
majority of our fellow denizens (Szasz 2007, 194). Freeing ourselves from
isolated spaces and having direct experiences with the kaleidoscope of our
social and environmental surroundings can stimulate political animation for
collective action.

14.3 Cyclists as Second-Class Citizens

Since its inception as a popular mode of transport, cycling has been socially
disruptive by virtue of its equalizing effects. Susan B. Anthonys opinion of the
bicycle in relation to the suffrage movement of the 1890s was that it has done
more to emancipate women than anything else in the world (Bly 1896, 10).
This link between freedom of mobility and freedom simpliciter, the equal
freedom of travel for those previously restricted in movement is a reoccurring
cycling theme. But while many gladly ride a bicycle, the structure of our cities
and neighborhoods built up around the car stand as a formidable barrier to
safe and easy pedal-powered navigation. In most places, urban planners have
stacked the cards against cyclists, and as a result, have failed to recognize their
equal purchase to the public service of thoroughfares.
The sacrices cyclists shoulder in exposing themselves to the perils of riding
tacked-on infrastructure, pressed within inches against cars more than a hun-
dred times their weight and going many times their velocity, matter; however
overlooked they may be. Under most circumstances, cyclists are treated even
by the nicest of automobile users as second-class citizens whose safety takes a
backseat to the expediencies of automobility. Such a status is concretized in
insufcient infrastructure, presenting cyclists few options to safely and unob-
trusively ride.
Sacrice in politics, and especially environmental politics, is always already
happening. But personal sacrices are rarely equally distributed, and often,
not even acknowledged; mainly, because many long-standing sacrices are so
routinized as to become illegible to those unencumbered by structural injust-
ices. Recognizing these injustices and the unequal sacrices particular groups
of citizens make in the prevailing social order is a rst step in [O]pen[ing] a
discussion about social and political change that might lessen or redistribute
its burden, thereby enabling more effective environmental action (Meyer
2010, 21).
Politically, acknowledging cyclists sacrice of engaging in marginalized
mobility entails instituting redistribution of lopsided burdens through recip-
rocal sacrice in terms of lower speed limits, more safe bike infrastructure

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even if it reduces the breadth of car infrastructure, and so on. Remedying a

history of one-way deference, reciprocal deference is the very stuff of civil
life, and is premised on the idea that no arbitrary attribute or possession
should warrant establishing relationships of de facto or de jure superiority
and inferiority; especially when those discriminated against are engaged in
actions like cycling that ostensibly have positive rather than negative
Cycling through the streets of contemporary North America, one has the
opportunity to experience what it is like to be a second-class citizen, espe-
cially for those normally accustomed to unearned social privilege. While for
many cyclists who already feel judged on a daily basis because of their appear-
ance or status this additional layer with the role of cycling only compounds
insult to injury, others (especially say, white, middle-class, heterosexual
males) who rarely have felt marginalized or worth less on the basis of their
social station or body have the profound chance to experience a taste of role-
reversal: what it is like to walk around (or bike around, as the case may be) life
without the insulating cover of privilege.
One might even venture that, more than any other activity engaged in, and
on a daily basis, cycling disrupts peopleoften comfortable, well-heeled
peoplefrom their personal commodity bubble of organic food (in a global-
izing two-tiered food system), ltered (or worse, bottled) water, gentried
neighborhoods, and well-rutted political, social, and psychological comfort
zones. Many commuters who normally enjoy status and privilege in their
society may be shocked to repeatedly experience the stigma of being threat-
ened and scorned while riding a bicycle in a major car-centric city (Aldred
2012). Conversely, riders of all backgrounds in well-groomed and respectful
cycle-centric cities (like Portland or San Francisco) may experience a feeling of
freedom and respect seldom encountered in other life roles. Thus, depending
on the ambient circumstances, cycling can at times expose the privileged to a
similar rsthand perspective to those marginalized in society, and allow the
marginalized to feel the privilege of freedom and recognition by participating
in a normal activity that happens to have gained social merit and visibility as
an act of social-environmental civic virtue. It is precisely this perspective
swapping that is crucial for a vital democracy, allowing citizens to begin to
see from the others perspective, building empathy and solidarity through
shared experience (Allen 2004).4

Of course, one cannot compare the discrimination a cyclist faces on the streets with that of
someone who, at the end of the day, remains with their class, gender, sex, or skin color, as the
privileged cyclist can hop in a car or get off and walk and reassume whatever advantages society
confers. But, insofar as cyclists lives are in continual danger on many streets, there is a silver lining
for civic solidarity in the action of cycling.

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14.4 Bicycling and the Natural Environment

Bicycling is one of the most immediate experiences many people have with
their environment on an everyday basis. It enables an interface with the non-
built environment in an immediate yet casual way. Nature or wilderness need
not be the destination to enjoy or react to the scenery in a much more
embodied and sensorial way (smelling, hearing, sometimes tasting or touch-
ing plants or trees, in addition to the visual). From a bicycle, nature enjoyment
can be passive, without losing its intensity or meaning.
Cycling also entails positive environmental and social side effects, and its
popularity appears correlated with healthy environmental and social condi-
tions. But how to increase this hale activity? City planners refer to this
phenomenon as the chicken or the egg problem (e.g., Register 2006):
greener cities with better air quality, public safety, and cycling infrastructure
are conducive for a more egalitarian distribution of cyclists; that is, cyclist
demographics surpassing only young male risk-takers. Likewise, cities with
higher and more diverse ridership provoke more human-scaled planning,
integrate work/home/shopping opportunities in closer proximity, and put
infrastructural muscle into promoting modes of transport other than just cars.
In the words of a well-known activist (bike) bumper sticker, One Less Car
has far-reaching positive externalities, beneting the acting individual (e.g.,
exercise, low-cost mobility), and ones fellow denizens (e.g., less pollution).5
And these positive externalities persist even if one does not intentionally cycle
for these salutary or altruistic reasons. Conversely, the reversalgoing from a
bicycle-centered culture to a car-centered onetrending currently in China
and many other developing countrieshas far-reaching negative environ-
mental (and social) externalities, as Chinas smog-suffocated and class-
stratied megacities attest.
An indicator of environmental health and awareness, cycling also appears
to be an agent for propagating environmental and social goods. A recent US
Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) report found a decrease of driving and
an increase of cycling in ninety-nine out of a hundred of the USs most
populous cities (Davis and Baxandall 2013). Furthermore, the study found
that the decrease in car useoften dismissed as a by-product of higher gas
prices and a recessionvaried inversely to how hard the cities were hit by the
2008 recession. Those cities with the largest reductions in automobile use, and
the greatest growth in cycling and public transport use, showed the most
resiliency to the economic downturn, proving that reduced consumption

For instance, the city of Copenhagen calculated that residents choosing cycling over driving
saves the city 43 million dollars a year in reducing wear, congestion, and pollution on its streets
(Wiking 2011).

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alone is not the only driver of these phenomena. Increased cycling itself may
both be a sign of and contribute to economic resiliency, as well as adding
greater environmental sustainability.
Many cyclists in high-income big cities with poor public transportation like
Los Angeles own a car in addition to their bicycle(s). In cities with better public
transportation, like New York and the Bay Area, one can get by quite well
without a car, and many individuals, even those earning six-gures, simply do
without for social and environmental reasons, or simply because they wish to
avoid the hassle of parking, insurance, trafc, and so on. As part of the
collaborative consumption movement, most major cities currently streamline
brief-use car rental for formalized car sharing, simplifying trips to the coun-
tryside or moving ones apartment. This permits opting-out of car ownership
as the norm and encourages the habituation of denizens to cycling for every-
day transportation.6 In such cases, cycling as a primary form of transportation
does not translate into being locked into certain constricted possibilities or
economic class proles. With a portfolio of mobility options, the three-
dimensionality of cycling makes it a viable mode of transport.
Returning to this chapters opening question examining the relationship
between city planning and bicycle use in conjunction with the equitable
distribution of the manifold costs of transport, Rietveld and Daniel (2004)
point to six major factors (or costs) determining cycle use: travel time, physical
needs (comfort), trafc safety, risk of bike theft, monetary costs of bike use,
and feeling safe from violence at all hours of riding. Different users evaluate
these costs differently, and it is important for city planners to recognize that
some populations are more impacted (have higher costs) by certain factors
than others. Conversely, Moudon and colleagues (2005) qualitative research
claims that cycling in cities without extraordinary infrastructure (representa-
tive of most cities in the US including Los Angeles) is not a function of urban
planning factors such as safe paths and dedicated bike lanes or the presence of
parks, but rather individual choice and determination. It is likely that what is
included in the category personal choice is affected, consciously or not, by
many of the factors Rietveld and Daniel point out; but both studies overlook
environmental effects or citizen recognition and interactivity, two factors
I take to be crucial. Examining the following case of cycling in Los Angeles

An article on the app-driven citizen-taxi service Uber recently described a San Francisco start-
up company CEO who traded in his BMW to instead use Uber as an ersatz default transport mode.
While not mentioning bicycles, the article did discuss the rising popularity in cities for alternative
models to car ownership, eschewing associated economic, time, and worrynot to mention
environmentalcosts (Voytek 2013). For a broader look on the evolving sharing economy of
collaborative consumption that allows people to use (rent, share, trade, etc.) without the
depreciation and waste of ownership, see Botsman and Rogers (2010).

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in section 14.5 can aid in discerning the relevance of genuine recognition

going hand in hand with realistic cycling policy.

14.5 The Los Angeles Case Study

When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa returned from the December
2009 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Changes Fifteenth
Session of the Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP15) summit in Copen-
hagen, he brought back with him surging excitement for cycling, having
visited a European city where more than 40 percent of all local trips are
made by bicycle. His excitement for cycling as an elegantly integrated part
of city planning led him to bicycle in his own city, where he subsequently fell
and fractured his elbow, further radicalizing his conviction for the need to
develop extensive and safe cycling infrastructure in Americas most car-centric
city. Mayor Villaraigosa promised the development of 40 miles of new bike
lanes per year, and between 2005 and 2012, cycling in LA increased by 67
percent (League of American Bicyclists 2014). But many barriers to cycling
persist, bearing ramifying social consequences.
The LACBC, along with the City of Los Angeles, cobbled together the 2010
Bicycle Master Plan, and undertook the rst Los Angeles Bicycle and Pedes-
trian Count (LABPC) in 2009, according to National Bicycle and Pedestrian
Documentation Project standards.7 While in Europe and elsewhere urban
planning involves extensive research on bicycle transportation, many US
Departments of Transportation at all levels of government have neglected to
suitably and systematically study non-automobile transportation. For this
reason, the LACBC as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) undertook
the LABPC study in cooperation with local governmental agencies, but with-
out their coordination or nancial support. Since 2009s baseline study, every
two years, so far in 2011, 2013, and 2015, the LABPC has been conducted with
increased institutional and community support, publicprivate partnerships,
and specicity.8

The 2009 count engaged over 150 volunteers to make 3 days of measurements at 54 locations.
The 2013 count succeeded in having over 400 volunteers over 2 days (a week morning and evening
count, and then a Saturday morning count) at over more than 120 locations. Nonetheless, Los
Angeles County and City have yet, on their own dime and organization, to take responsibility for
the LABPC. Instead, the city enjoys the benets of the LACBCs civic project without paying the
costs of such a study. While it is likely that getting volunteers to perform the actual counting is the
best way to mobilize hundreds of people counting intersections, the investment in electronic and
mechanical monitoring systems (passive and active infrared, piezoelectric strips, inductive loops,
and pneumatics) normally employed in counts, require upfront investment (Ryus et al. 2014).
Cities are much better poised than NGOs for making such capital investments.

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The results are telling: While hundreds of miles of new lanes have been
implemented since the rst count in 2009:

[M]ost of these miles have consisted of bike lanes where they t and sharrows
where bike lanes dont. The result has been a somewhat fragmented bicycle
network primarily designed to avoid impacts to motor vehicle delay rather than
designed to meet the needs of people who want to ride a bike. (LACBC 2014, 3)

Ridership is up, but recognition is down.

Cluing in on the disaggregated data reveals telling inequalities. Dispro-
portionate increases in ridership occur on improved streets, doubling rider-
ship on streets with bike paths between 2013 and 2011, whereas during
the same period streets without cycling infrastructure witnessed a mere
7.5 percent increase (LACBC 2014). Additionally, while only 8 percent of
counted locations were dedicated bike paths removed from automobile
trafc, 25 percent of the total number of cyclists were counted on bike
pathsconsiderably more than less cycling-sanctioning street improve-
ments. Safe, Netherlands-styled physically separated paths are, for a variety
of reasons, greatly preferred by cyclists to sharing unmarked roads with cars,
sharrows (street markings of arrows designating that cars must share the
road with cyclists), or even marked but not physically divided bike lanes
between car and bike trafc. This points to the factor of physical safety for
all, not just the risk-resistant, as playing a major role in encouraging cycling.
In a major step in this direction, the US Federal Highway Commissions
2015 Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide has nally signed US
planners up for implementing separated bike lanes (paths), recognizing this
essential component to increasing cycling amongst non-risk-taking popula-
tions (FHWA 2015).
While, according to the US Censuss American Community Survey, only
1 percent of all trips made in LA during 2012 were on a bicycle (League of
American Bicyclists 2014), such unreliable statistics based on a random sample
of self-reporting must be taken with a grain of salt. (LA city-run statistics, for
example, show cycling and public transportation use comprising 19 percent of
all trips (LACBC 2014).) Rather than set up advanced technological infrastruc-
ture to measure cyclist density along with cars, as most European countries do
(Ryus et al. 2014), the US government and most states and cities have been
slow to adopt the proper procedures to assess actual cycling and pedestrian
trends. But a problem with reporting is that even when public agencies do
fulll their due diligence in surveying cyclists and pedestrian trips, what
counts as a trip on bike or foot might be discounted for short distances
(Clifton and Muhs 2012). Walking or biking a few blocks to the supermarket
may not seem noteworthy for many citizens, and hence not reportable. But if
they had instead taken a car for such a short trip as some people do, and

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clogged up the streets, adding to the air pollution, then ironically, such an
action would be more likely counted as a trip.
Funding is also a major problem. Like many motorist-centered cities, Los
Angeles spends only 1 percent of transportation funding on cycling and
pedestrian infrastructure, despite the fact that 19 percent of all trips are
made either by bicycle or on foot (LACBC 2014, 15). In contrast, the cities of
Portland, Oregon, and New York have aggressively retooled to accomplish
human-scaled cyclist and pedestrian-centric urban planning as part of a com-
mitment to learn and respect the myriad needs of diverse bicycle users
(Klausner 2014).

14.6 Women as an Indicator Species

Attesting to the lower-risk tolerance of females, LACBCs ndings echo similar

reports in other US cities of a 10 percent female cyclist ridership on regular city
streets while, on dedicated bike paths, one in four cyclists are female. The
LABPC 2011 report states:

The percentage of female cyclists counted at intersections with some form of

bicycle infrastructure was 19%, more than double the percentage observed at
intersections without any kind of infrastructure (9%). It would seem that the
rate of female ridership is related to the presence of bicycling infrastructure,
particularly Class I or II bikeways. (LACBC 2012, 21)

This question of safety appears especially important. The presence of robust

bicycle infrastructure also translates into a higher rate of female ridership,
increased helmet use, and decreased sidewalk riding (LACBC 2014). The most
heavily utilized thoroughfares are those with either Class I (physically separ-
ated bike paths) or Class II bikeways (designated bike lane). Streets that
received Class II infrastructure between 2009 and 2011 saw the most substan-
tial jumps in ridership. On the other hand, Class III bikeways (sharrows or
signage only) show little increase in ridership over the numbers on unim-
proved streets (LACBC 2012, 28).
It also turns out that female ridership is tied to rider perceptions of safety.
Linda Baker (2009) calls women an indicator species for city safety due to
their higher risk-adverseness; where the male-to-female rider ratio is sharply
skewed, the city most likely provides inadequately safe lanes for cyclists,
bearing a car-centric rather than cycle-friendly signature (Garrard, Rose, and
Lo 2008). In bike-friendly Netherlands, for example, 55 percent of riders
are female, and in Germany 49 percent are (Garrard, Rose, and Lo 2008). In
car-centric LA, only 15 percent of all riders are women (LACBC 2014). Clearly,
safe streets for cyclists is a social justice issue for women, and for risk-adverse

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populations such as older or differently abled citizens and families with

children. Bicycle-friendly city planning makes a big difference, enabling cyc-
ling to be accessible for populations beyond just the young, courageous, and
helmeted (Naparstek 2006).
Garrard, Rose, and Lo (2008) found that female cyclists are particularly
sensitive to concerns about cycling in trafc and aggression from motor-
ists, and that dedicated separate bicycle paths (Class I infrastructure) also
proved to be the routes where the female-to-male riding ratios are the most
equitable (Garrard, Rose, and Lo 2008, 55). Since there is also a strong positive
correlation between the overall prevalence of cycling in society and the rate of
female cycling (Garrard, Rose, and Lo 2008), it would seem that perceived and
real safety for cyclists must be attended to in any just urban plan. And these
conclusions that freedom from harm in the form of dedicated separate bike
lanes encourages ridership among the more risk-averse population of female
riders also have implications for encompassing other risk-averse populations.
As long as urban cycling in the US remains a high-risk sport rather than an
equally protected form of mobility, the freedom of mobility that comes with
cycling remains limited to risk-ready, desperate, or resource-rich individuals.

14.7 Conclusion

The experience of cycling and its presence in our streets disrupts common
categories of privilege and marginalization, visibility and invisibility, activism
and complacency. The freedom of mobility and social and environmental
attractiveness of cycling lubricates the gears of politics in a bottom-up way,
allowing pro-cycling social movements to transform mobility from a personal
issue and redene it as social or collective in origin (Szasz 2007, 239).
Although the rst signs of a cycling renaissance in North America are
evident, equitable urban mobility needs dedicated infrastructural reprioritiza-
tions constitutively reecting the claims of its cycling denizens. Currently,
bicycling is unfashionable for aspiring Chinese, and if infrastructure is built
on fashion rather than political values like justice, citizens suffer unfortunate
results (Yang et al. 2012, 3):

After 1980, the bicycle, a Chinese cultural icon, came to represent Chinese back-
wardness. As China looked westward for the secrets of economic success and social
sophistication, China's post-1980 generation developed a subliminal shame
toward things intrinsically Chinese as well as an appetite for consumption.
When asked if shed like to go on a romantic bike ride, dating show contestant
Ma Nuo caused an uproar in the Chinese media and blogosphere in 2010 with her
tart retort, Id rather cry in the back of a BMW than smile on a bicycle.
(Wetherhold 2012)

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How we deal with mobility reects our values. Chinese cyclists are losing their
rights and access to roads at the same time that North American cyclists are
gaining them, but in both cases the common denominator in question is
justice. Attention to shared and reciprocal deference, rather than entrenching
inequalities and unearned privilege is as important for public goods like safe
transportation opportunities as it is for other political freedoms.
[O]rdinary habits are the stuff of citizenship, Allen afrms, suggesting
an interplay between personal habits and institutional health (2004, 12;
emphasis in original). As Timms, Tight, and Watling (2014) point out, most
visions of the future center on dystopic avoidance rather than utopian
realization. Rather than imagining desirable ideals of future city circulation,
urban planners instead commonly engage in backcasting, predicting default
future scenarios through extrapolating current trends. To innovate moral and
political interactions in accordance with environmental justice requires an
enlarged imagination of mobility including visions of equally attractive and
tenable car-free mobility options, rather than a tacit yet fatalistic acceptance of
the status quo.
Urban planning commitments to accommodate bicycles on city streets col-
lides with a seeming unwillingness to fundamentally alter business-as-usual car-
centric-accustomed urban planning strategies. Trying to squeeze bike-friendly
infrastructure into the interstices of car-centric cities misses the velocipede
point. Sticking bike lanes in the emergency parking zones between parked cars
(with drivers opening their doors) and 50 mph trafc is a dangerous solution
that pretty much insures that only risk-takers will frequent such routes. Cycling
is (environmentally) transformative rather than merely peripheral for city plan-
ning only insofar as cities reconceive and restructure actual public land.
Increased cycling brings multitudes of positive externalities including envir-
onmental ones, even if early adopters of cycling in inhospitable environments
suffer undue harms as they pave the way for cycling as an everyday activity for
risk-averse citizens (Weichenthal et al. 2011). Early adopters are less risk-averse
than second-wave cyclists who inherit the improved infrastructure and
motorist education that comes with acclimatization to cyclists as a normal
part of road trafc. Trafc calming techniques, such as lowering speed limits or
installing physical barriers separating bicycle-dedicated paths, have positive
externalities for public safety and environmental health. Furthermore, as
more politically respectable and leverage-wielding populations begin regu-
larly cycling, their demands for more safety and increased infrastructure have
(unfortunately but often) proportionally larger policy outcomes that result in
city planning based less on the policy fulcrum of the carand more on
bicyclists, pedestrians, and mass transit. The virtuous circle of increased cyc-
ling, in the best cases, leads to better city infrastructure to support cycling and
green space, removing the barriers of personal risk to allow the normalization

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of cycling as a valued activity and viable mode of transport for women,

children, the elderly, and other populations. Refocusing cycling as an aspir-
ational mobility mode and identity also lightens the stigma of cycling for
those reliant upon it.
Publicly exposing oneself to actual outside conditions, rather than remain-
ing inside ones constructed quarantine, allows for a more honest assessment
of public priorities. Engagement with other citizens holding differing opin-
ions, as well as with the natural world, harnesses broader perspectives for
interpreting our own roles and identities. Contact with the outside world
(both environmental and social), beyond our bias-conrming routine, gains
us the treasure of entertaining new possibilities for our personal and social
identity. Bicycling accomplishes this.


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