Next week will be the 93rd annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, DC. Bicicultures co-founder Adonia Lugo is now living in DC, where she works for the League of American Bicyclists. The two groups are teaming up to invite researchers to join us on Tuesday night. We’ll be at Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café in Dupont Circle from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. Look for us in the mezzanine! Note: venue prefers cash.
League of American Bicyclists and Bicicultures Research Network TRB Happy Hour
Tuesday, January 14
Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café
1517 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036
We are happy to announce that the video recordings from the Bicicultures Roadshow in Davis now available for public viewing. All sessions are now viewable at the Davis Media Access website.
They are arranged from last presentation to first on the site, so watch from the bottom up if you wish to view them in order.
Thanks to Jeff Shaw and all the folks at Davis Media Access for making this possible.
Appreciation also goes to the League of American Bicyclists for providing funding to help us improve online access to Bicicultures resources.
Session I: Is There a Bicycle Culture?
Speakers: Chris Carlsson, Luis Vivanco, and Kevin Wehr
April 16, 2013
This week, we’ll be posting about our Davis symposium panelists, starting with the opening session, “Is There a Bicycle Culture?” (Spoiler alert: there are many bike cultures.) To begin the conversation about bicycling and culture, we will hear “General Intellect’s Cavalry: the Bicycling Movement on the Front Lines of the Culture War” from Chris Carlsson, a bike thinker and San Francisco icon, “Techniques of the Bicycle and Other Perspectives on Culture and Bicycle Mobility” from Dr. Luis Vivanco, an anthropologist and Director of Global and Regional Studies at the University of Vermont, and “Visibility and Invisibility: Courier Culture and Co-optation” from Dr. Kevin Wehr, a sociologist at California State University, Sacramento. The three panelists will then be part of a discussion with conference attendees.
Chris Carlsson co-founded Critical Mass in 1992, and has long provided insightful commentary on bicycling, city life, and labor. He most recently co-edited Shift Happens! Critical Mass at 20 , a collection of essays about the impact the ride has had on cities around the world. His 2008 book Nowtopia chronicles a number of movements and spaces where people have joined economic livelihoods with personal commitment, investing value in tasks not recognized by conventional markets. A bike culture catalyst and scholar at the same time, Chris is uniquely positioned to talk about the crossover between community, research, and advocacy that we hope to investigate through this conference.
As an environmental anthropologist, Luis Vivanco brings a particular expertise to understanding the interface between a practice like bicycling and cultural life. His recent book, Reconsidering the Bicycle: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing, contributes to the push to examine the multiple social facets of this seemingly simple machine. At the University of Vermont, Luis is part of an interdisciplinary project on bicycling and quality of life, and he has been following the national bike advocacy scene as a board member at Burlington bike nonprofit Local Motion. Like Chris, he is already doing the kind of crossover work we want to highlight and discuss at the conference.
Rounding out the session is Kevin Wehr, an environmental sociologist and author of the 2009 book Hermes on Wheels: The Sociology of Bike Messengers. Kevin is a longtime bike enthusiast himself, and uses bicycling as a case for understanding countercultural critique and the co-optation of subcultural capital. Because he has conducted extensive participant-observation with urban cyclists, the people most associated with the notion of “bike culture,” Kevin’s work offers an ethnographic link connecting wider frameworks of bicycling and culture with the active life of particular bike cultures.
We’ve finalized our lineup of 18 researchers and advocates who will be speaking at the Bicicultures Roadshow bike conference April 16-17 at the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in Davis, California.
The symposium is open to the public. Registration will be open until Monday, April 8.
For the next week, we will be sharing details about each session’s panelists and their planned presentations. Stay tuned!
The Roadshow will feature an exciting lineup of participants exploring the relationship between bicycling and cultural change. Keep watching here for further updates on presenters and attendees.
This event is open to the public. Space will be limited, so if you plan to attend, please register promptly.
Discussions about gender and cycling on the Bicicultures listserv prompted us to bring the conversation to the blog. Two biciculturistas from different backgrounds were asked to share their reactions to a chapter on “Women in Cycling” by Jan Garrard, Susan Handy and Jennifer Dill in the recently published book, City Cycling.
Looking at Women on Bicycles
By Carlosfelipe Pardo
Carlosfelipe Pardo is a psychologist and urbanist based in Bogotá, Colombia who has worked on transport policy in developing countries and can write emails while riding a bicycle – despite some close calls. He is the executive director of despacio.org.
In my work on transport policy in cities of the developing world, it is always a struggle to find clear and concise arguments that illustrate a point about, for instance, why one should not build a pedestrian overpass but rather a signalized crossing, or why expanding roads is never a win-win solution. In the topic of cycling-inclusive policies, it is even harder to find useful documents that provide a convincing background to support many decisions, from the overall decision to create a cycling-inclusive policy to very specific ones such as making infrastructure more suitable for women’s travel needs and characteristics.
In looking for such arguments, I read the City Cycling book that John Pucher and Ralph Buehler have edited, and in particular the chapter on “Women and Cycling” by Jan Garrard, Susan Handy and Jennifer Dill. From my perspective as someone who promotes sustainable transport policies and is in constant need of useful information, I found that the book (and the chapter on women and cycling in particular) does a good job of providing a summary of the state of the practice, guiding people through difficult decisions, and just illustrating points. Though some experts in this subfield of transport policy may find that the chapter may not provide all the in-depth knowledge that is out there, I am sure the chapter is useful as an initial source for experts on other topics of urban transport. This brings me to my own take on the topic of women and cycling, which I describe in the following paragraphs.
The topic of women and bicycles has given us a lot to talk about. There are statements ranging from the absolute sexist extreme to more serious ones. More significantly, there have been thorough studies understanding women’s participation in cycling as a transport activity in various settings (such as those summarized by the authors I mentioned above). The important thing, I think, is to find ways to improve women’s conditions for cycling (and for mobility in general) based on all findings, opinions and perceptions.
More importantly, we should stop writing transport policies that are based on studies from tall, enabled, employed men (a point made recently by Maryvonne Plessis-Fraissard during the TRB Developing Countries Committee meeting January 2013).
There is one extreme which I find nice but relatively useless, which is when women’s beauty is used as an instrument to “lure” people into cycling. These visual statements can range from the totally sensual to simply “chic” images of women and bicycles. The outcome of this view is an aesthetic appraisal of women’s bicycle usage. This may be useful as a short-term advocacy effort, but it may present few opportunities for long term strategies to create a more equitable society or a more equitable approach to cycling and gender.
(Before continuing, I must clarify that I do not include in that extreme presentations of cycling as a symbol of liberty and sensuality. But this is too off-topic to address here, and has been beautifully addressed by Kern in his book The Culture of Time and Space, 1880- 1918.)
At the other end of the spectrum, commentators take women’s contexts, interests and physical conditions into account to understand their mobility patterns and needs. This is what I found most useful about the approach of Garrad et al. Practitioners can use such information to change policies, infrastructure, regulation, and in the case of other modes such as public transport, improve fare structures and routes. We have a long way to go in this respect, especially because data isn’t there (e.g. surveys and traffic counts seldom differentiate between genders, even in raw data), transport policies are normally “pendular” (i.e. they give priority to one-origin-one-destination mobility rather than trip chains, which are more common among women) and generally transport is a de-gendered study field to a large extent when it comes to policies and practice.
But research that focuses on women and transport is growing, and I’d like to present my own top list of publications (in no particular order):
As it may be clear from the above, I am definitely not an expert in the topic, and I know there are many other experts and publications that do great justice to women in transport and cycling. My interest in the topic, other than from the fact that I work in transport policy, stems from the fact that I have always promoted cycling in policy. And in my personal life, I have met many women who know that cycling can be a transport option but have found many more obstacles to using it frequently than men might. The reasons for this are presented most thoroughly by the authors I’ve cited above (and others!), and we must definitely start working to improve conditions. If we do, we’ll probably see what David Byrne, one of the “coolest” advocates of cycling, has predicted: get women on bicycles and men will follow.
Looking at What (Dis)Empowers Women on Bicycles
By Melody Hoffman
Melody Hoffman is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota where she studies the intersection of race, class, and gentrification in community bike advocacy. Only because it is the easiest way to commute, Melody bikes through Minnesota winters.
I first heard about City Cycling, edited by Pucher and Buehler, and its sole chapter on gender, “Women and Cycling” (Garrard, Handy, and Dill, 2012) via this blog post. Critiques of the blog post aside, I approached both the book and the chapter with apprehension. In researching the existing literature for my dissertation, “Our Bikes in the Middle of the Street: Community, Racism, and Gentrification in Bicycle Advocacy,” I have been disappointed by the social science/quantitative-oriented research on women and cycling. Because Garrard, Handy, and Dill’s chapter is largely a review of this literature, I remain apprehensive about the productivity of such research.
This chapter compiles ideas that may be familiar to those who cycle in the United States or study bicycling: women ride their bikes less in the “low-cycling countries” because of our travel patterns, being adverse to risky behavior, and the need to uphold particular social expectations of appearing feminine. The authors begin the chapter by asking, “why do these factors appear to constrain women in low-cycling countries more than women in high-cycling countries?” Although they end with many suggestions to get women cycling in greater numbers, this question is largely left unanswered. The authors are very upfront that, overall, there is a lack of research on women and cycling. And because this chapter is a literature review, the authors are documenting the dearth of research.
Overall, I wish the authors had problematized the research they summarized. For example, we need to talk more about the “psychological, social, and cultural factors” outside of cycling that may make women more averse to cycling (Garrard, Handy, & Dill, 2012, p. 225); we need to talk about why women are “very concerned about being mugged or attacked” while biking (Ibid, p. 222). In the United States, women are held to impossibly high standards concerning beauty, work life, childcare, exercise, and mobility. We must always show up to work looking our best and are not necessarily given time or space to freshen up before our shift starts. We are still the primary caregivers and household workers, despite the increase in mothers working full-time. We need to stay skinny but we cannot build too much muscle. And we need to travel in style; riding down the street with snot dripping down our nose and our mascara bleeding is just not acceptable. It is depressing to hear that women are afraid to bicycle for fear of getting attacked. When 1 in 5 women are victims of sexual assault in the United States, I suppose it should be no surprise. Until we change these standards designed by the smothering patriarchy including the rape culture that continues to grow in this country, then we will keep spinning our wheels wondering where all the women are at.
I am disappointed, too, that the authors did not discuss the fact that research on women and cycling tends to paint women cyclists as homogeneous. Ethnicity, sexuality, class, and ability are all erased in this chapter. Yet we need look no further than the Community Cycling Center’s study “Understanding Barriers to Bicycling” to see that working class people of color face much different barriers than what mainstream research would suggest. We cannot do research on women without discussing specific identity markers that uniquely impact their experiences of bicycling.
Beyond the unquestioned reproduction of women as a homogeneous category, there is an opposition implied between American women and women in other countries. This is consonant with a common assertion–many bicycle scholars like to discuss “high-cycling” countries as the vision to which the United States should aspire. The Netherlands, for example, has women-appropriate bicycles and no helmet laws (Garrard, Handy, & Dill, 2012, p. 228). The assumption is that if we model bicycle advocacy on the Netherlands, then we will see an increase in women cycling. This gets me to my main critique, which is not just about this chapter, but about cycling research in general. The United States is a neoliberal, capitalist, patriarchal, and white supremacist country. This stifles our ability to rebuild our cities so schools are blocks away from grocery stores and our homes. This stifles women seeing their potential beyond being perfect mothers and perfectly feminine beings. This stifles efforts by people of color to participate in city meetings that determine where bicycle infrastructure goes. And this stifles poor people accessing bike maintenance and adequate storage for their bicycle, lest it rusts out in their backyard. We are so far from the ideologies, values, and politics that drive places like the Netherlands that it is not even a fair comparison.
We can keep doing research that argues chain guards and drop crossbars will enable women to ride in everyday clothing. Or we can ask why women need chain guards and drop crossbars and men do not. Women are being held to an unfair standard even in the cycling world and it may be better to educate women about their options beyond the patriarchal confines that argue 1890s-inspired bicycle components will help them. There are bigger institutional and systemic barriers we need to face before we can normalize anything.
Bicicultures Roadshow: The Critical Bicycling Studies Tour de California
Call for Participants
April 16-17, 2013 in Davis, California
What is it?
The Bicicultures Roadshow will be a time for activists and researchers to talk, ride, eat, and play as we discuss and experience bicycling cultures. At this two-day conference, we will grapple with the shifting role of bicycle research and activism as it crosses lines between policy, recreation, and radical organizing. The event will take place in Davis, a Platinum Bicycle Friendly Community, home of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, and site of the first bike lanes in the U.S. This event is made possible through support from the University of California Transportation Center.
“Bicicultures” refers to the multiple social worlds of bicycling that co-exist, but may not overlap, in shared spaces. Rather than taking bicycling as a unitary object of analysis, we seek to investigate the construction of diverse meanings around the practice of cycling across time and space.
What will happen at the event?
Rather than following a traditional conference format of breakout sessions and individual papers, this event will emphasize ongoing discussion among all participants. Events may include keynote speakers, roundtable discussions, interactive panel presentations, workshops, field trips, and bicycle rides. We anticipate vibrant discussions about how diverse communities are using and thinking about bicycling as a tool to maintain and reinvent their worlds. Specific topics and formats will be formulated based on participant interest. We anticipate conversations around topics such as race, gender, class, ability, gentrification, activism, public space, embodiment, technology, design, recreation and sport, sustainability, mobilities, and more.
How can I participate?
We encourage participation from researchers and activists working in urban and transportation bicycling and in sport and recreational cycling, as well as those concerned with bicycling’s social and cultural life. To participate, please submit a short piece (~500 words) explaining your interest in bicycling cultures, and what research, project, experience, or knowledge you would like to share at this event. Depending on your inclination, this may take the form of a research abstract, description of activist work, questions for discussion, workshop ideas, etc. Include your name, affiliation (if appropriate), and contact information. Group submissions welcome. Participation may be limited, so please submit by February 10th for full consideration. Submissions and inquiries can be sent to Sarah Rebolloso McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org and Adonia Lugo at email@example.com.
What makes it a roadshow?
Prior to the Davis event, we will also participate in a field investigation of Los Angeles’ bicycling worlds in tandem with the Association of American Geographers conference (April 9-14th). This event will include organized rides and a roundtable discussion about the history and future of the LA bike movement. Participants in the Davis event are welcome, though not expected, to participate in LA events. Those who are able to attend all events will enjoy vibrant conversations with people dedicated to the study and practice of bicycling from a multitude of perspectives—from sanctioned bicycle events to autonomous actions, from bicycling street fair to bike repair garages, from cities to countryside. Participants are encouraged to attend as much or as little of the Roadshow as desired, all nine days or just an afternoon. Contact the organizers for more information about the LA components.
Photo taken at October 2012 CicLAvia by srd515, licensed under Creative Commons.