"When We Have a Bicycle, We Need to Be Elegant": An Investigation into the Cultural Discourses of Velomobility

By Jason Ponto.

Published by Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies

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The bicycle is a healthy, cheap, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation, and cities around the world are seeking ways to increase cycling rates. The cities with the highest rates of cycling have developed infrastructure, policies, and programs designed to make cycling quick, cheap, and easy. Although these efforts undoubtedly contribute to relatively high rates of cycling, they do not tell the whole story. Based on semi-structured interviews with cyclists conducted in Paris, Zurich, Freiburg, Munich, Berlin, Groningen, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen, this paper examines the cultural discourses of velomobility that circulate in those cities. It discusses multiscalar politics in Groningen, environmental discourse in Freiburg and Paris, the general tensions between safety discourse and discourses of identity, and the role of the Dutch state in enabling cycling as a normal activity in the Netherlands. By examining the cultural discourses of velomobility, this paper seeks to understand the social relations that underlie and enable the high rates of cycling in these cities. Only when we comprehensively understand the regime of mobility in which infrastructure, policies, and programs have found success can we thoughtfully and coherently consider what might lead to success in another regime of mobility.

Keywords: Mobility, Cycling, Governmentality

Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies, Volume 6, Issue 2, June 2015, pp.21-32. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 688.982KB).

Jason Ponto

PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada