BEYOND TRANSPORT: MOBILITY CRITERIA FOR SUSTAINABLE CYCLING

Cycle Routes
17.04.2018
Tomás Marín De La Cerda For Lofscapes
(1) Popular science monthly (08.1925) © Harvey W. Corbett

Some have said that the bicycle, which does not pollute and is cheap and efficient, could be an optimal replacement for cars in the city. However, it has not been said enough that thanks to the bicycle’s ability to offer a unique sensory experience, it is also a symbol of meeting people, capable of connecting different dimensions of community life. Despite this fundamental virtue that has allowed the bicycle to insert itself strongly in urban planning, the objectives of sustainable development have focused on transport issues. This has left behind those topics associated with mobility, a concept that we present as an indispensable tool to imagine the role that cycling infrastructure must take on.

The bicycle as a dimension of human mobility cannot be understood solely as a means of transport and, for this reason, its contribution to the sustainable development of cities should not be relegated exclusively to this position. Mobility and transport spaces are effectively social constructions: organized relationships that create a web of links that materialize in space and build the city. This means that urban infrastructures, such as bicycle lanes, are not only functional in terms of displacement but also represent a response to collective needs that highlight the potential of bicycle use within the framework of social sustainability, beyond the mere movement of people from place to place.

Although the concept and value of sustainability arise from a clear social mandate – ensuring the harmonious evolution of civil society, promoting cohabitation and social integration – progressively, this origin has been neglected when focusing on biophysical aspects and economic sustainability, from which arise the main discussion points used in terms of transport. This change of focus is the reason the spaces for the bicycle in the city are in the form of bicycle lanes. This type of space prioritizes the capacity for speed and flow, forgetting the social potential of the bicycle for sustainable urban development, such as meandering, riding in groups, and even disputing for space with cars and pedestrians, instances that become relevant only when observed from the frame of mobility. It is through this lens that we are able to understand why the bicycle has acquired such strength in contemporary urban topics; it has allowed new voices to emerge that defend other forms of displacement, of relating to one another and living in the city. These voices not only consider the need to move from one point to another, but also to observe and understand the way in which we live together. As transport expert and academic at the University of Westminster Dr. Rachel Aldred explains, “mobility tends to bring the non-rational aspects and experience of the movement to the forefront, while the geography of transport is usually more quantitative, positivist and oriented towards pre-existing political paradigms”(1).

(1) Rachel Aldred, “The New Mobilities Paradigm and Sustainable Transport: Finding Synergies and Creating New Methods. In Stewart Lockie; David Allan Sonnenfeld; Dana Fisher; Routledge Handbook of Social and Environmental Change. (London ; New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group , 2014) p.4


From the perspective presented, sustainable development, in addition to establishing parameters of efficiency, emissions or density, requires also explaining the social value of movement to understand the way in which people relate to and give meaning to the space where they live. Assuming that non-sustainable development is due in large part to the relationship of capitalist production with the pursuit of efficiency and not necessarily the quality of experience, the importance of the above then lies in the ways of applying the idea of sustainability. Thus, cycling can effectively be constituted as an instrument capable of “assisting in the reproduction of the dominant discourses of neoliberal governance, but which also has the potential to question those structures of power while the city is being formed” (2). This means that, in spite of all its potential, the bicycle can follow the same logic as the car (from which it tries to differentiate itself) by integrating itself into a productive routine, or it can be a means to question and doubt such dynamics. If transportation seeks to provide the facilities to arrive at a destination faster and without polluting, such mobility exposes the distances, the efforts, and the motivations that movement implies to discover the logic that underlies daily movement.

(2) James Collard, Cycling the City: Locating Cycling in the Continued (Re)Structuring of North American Cities ( 2014).


With this in mind, this presents an invitation to pay special attention to the way in which cycling is inserted in urban planning processes, remembering that displacement is more than an efficient, ecological and low-cost movement; it is also a social means through which to interact with the environment. Thus, the way in which these spaces for mobility are created influences the daily life of the people who use them. In this context, I invite you to ask yourself: Are we considering these infrastructures as real public spaces? What are the dynamics of cyclists that go beyond the idea of transport? How does the sensory experience influence the design process? How are spaces for the bicycle redefined from the notion of public space?

Tomás Marín. Geographer, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Researcher in mobility and intelligent cities. This column is based on the degree seminar entitled “Mobility spaces for cyclists in the community of Providencia, an analysis based on planned uses, built space and spatial practices.”


(2) Alan Latham & Peter R H Wood, / Inhabiting infrastructure: exploring the interactional spaces of urban cycling (2015) © Environment and Planning
(3) Alan Latham & Peter R H Wood, / Inhabiting infrastructure: exploring the interactional spaces of urban cycling (2015) © Environment and Planning

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2019-10-28T18:03:24-03:00