Incisive critique of cycling research

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There are two perspectives on this page, the one I particularly find appealing is the one on the right, by Melody Hoffman.

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.

I would not like to describe myself as a negative or pessimistic person, however this particular quote really hits home for me when it comes to promotion of bicycling and discussion of bicycling culture.

I would describe my own position as fairly minimalist. I believe that when it makes sense for people to get around on bikes, they will do that. I believe that people are fairly well informed about the options they have, and that what Chamberlain calls privileges that they do not have are apparent to them. In other words, there isn’t much that simple persuasion can do to change people’s minds about getting around on a bicycle.

If the conditions change, however, then people will change their minds. So I support changes to the street grid to make it easier for buses and pedestrians and bicyclists, to the explicit detriment of private motorists, because I would like things to be easier for buses and pedestrians and bicyclists (I am one), and I don’t care so much about the private motorists (I am not one). I also recognize that absent those changes, people won’t change their ways very much.

With my New York perspective, I do not believe there are secret paths to getting around that people don’t know about. I myself like to get around on bicycle, but I recognize that the choices I make to enable that, and the privileges I have, are instrumental to that preference.

As to the basic question, “How can we get more women cycling,” my answer is, the same way we get more men cycling. We make it easier for them to cycle. Hoffman discusses some of the systemic reasons why this is so hard. Chamberlain discusses why it is easy for her, in the process shedding light on why it may not be so easy for other people.

In general, I think both writers do a good job at explaining why we cannot create our own private Netherlands just by hopping on bicycles. More so, we should not expect that a directed process to make our streetscape more like the Netherlands should result in anything of the sort, given as Hoffman notes that our sociopolitical environment is completely different. As Lugo reflects, “The desire to make bicycling “normal” seems odd to me, when there are many existing cultural ideas about transportation.” The Netherlands is an admirable model for society in many respects, but it is obvious that Dutch and Americans do not typically hold the same cultural ideas about transportation. I do not think that this necessarily inhibits New Yorkers from planning grand changes, only that we should be mindful of the cultural traction that current ideas and mores have when looking to improve our built environment.