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Cycling Around Town

VtmaxThe New York Times is featuring a story called Spin City about the cycling-friendly prospects of New York City. The story follows the author, Lydia Polgreen, through her adventures and wanderings aboard her trusty wire donkey.

Are psychogeographers making use of the bicycle as a means of discovering the place in which they live? Is cycling catching on here in the states like it has in Europe? Have popular conceptions regarding the danger of cycling or the potential for theft kept people from actually riding around their urban environments?

To overcome a lot of the misconceptions regarding cycling, cycling advocacy is stepping up it's profile these days. At the gardenLab show I attended last weekend at Art Center, the Los Angeles urban planners were talking about the potentials of cycling in west coast urban environments. I had a very good conversation with some of them after their talk where we thought about the contrast between east coast and west coast urban settings. Urban planners in the west are hoping for a change towards cycling as it is faster than walking, and it allows people to travel farther distances in relative ease. So far, cities like Seattle, Portland and San Francisco are the leaders for cycling communities.

Europe has always been a head of the US for cycling. I would have to assume that oil prices have an effect upon this, but also the basic urban layout of the European cities. Cars were not the basis for development here. Movies like The End of Suburbia attribute the poor urban planning in the US to a car based society. Having a friend in school for urban planning, he attests to this from his own history classes. In his program, new urban structures of getting back to walking and cycling based communities are pushed.

Burning Man takes the progressive attitudes of the west coast cities and the urban building techniques of Europe to develop it's urban way of life. Burning Man's area is huge, the climate is hot and there are a lot of possibilities for getting knocked down while you ride. I often regarded the urban nature of the event as a west coast set-up for cycling. Broad streets for service vehicles, large expanses of desert to cover to get from one place to the next, but only the bike is accepted as transport (except for mutant vehicles, but not everyone can have one). What this shows is a re-occurring experiment in contemporary development for eco-friendly travel in large urban settings. What is found here can be implemented in other urban contexts, which would theoretically make all urban settings much more cycling friendly.

While Larry Harvey and the rest of the Burners would like for the ideals of Burning Man to make it back to urban settings, it's much harder than it seems. It is hard to make the leap to cycling as a primary form of transportation because it seems as if the whole world is against you. As Lydia Polgreen attests in her article, it can be dangerous, the weather can be miserable, you might get mugged and you'll probably be sweaty. Or not. Even though she tells tales of this, she concludes after a ride that she "has never felt better". As artists that make use of the city, it seems as if we should be at the front of pack for riding around. Interactive events like Critical Mass and Burning Man, articles in the New York Times and movies (as a start), the potential for creating cycling friendly environments are in the artist's creative hands.

Posted by Gabe in culture :: subculture | Permalink


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not only oil prices in europe but city centres are so convoluted and small that they take so long to negotiate that cycling usually cuts the time in half at least.

Posted by: hilary O' Shaughnessy | Aug 8, 2011 11:50:28 AM

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