Tag Archives: cycling

“On Yer Bike”: Sociotechnical Perspectives of Cycling

Jen Dickie

Complex Cycle Lane Markings. I'm glad I was walking! At the junction of City Road and Middle Street, Beeston.  The copyright on this image is owned by David Lally and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Cycling hit the headlines last week when David Cameron announced that £94 million would be invested across eight cities and four National Parks to promote cycling in England.  The scheme, described by the prime minister as the start of “a cycling revolution” is reported to be the largest single injection of public money into cycling in England.  Whilst pro-cycling campaigners welcome this investment, they argue that more funding, spread consistently over future decades, is needed if Britain is going to “transform into a continental style ‘Cycletopia’”.

Haroon Siddique and Peter Walker report in The Guardian that the fund will pay for both upgrades to existing cycle networks and create new ones in a bid to make it easier and safer for people who already cycle, and to make cycling more appealing to those who don’t.  The government is encouraging local councils to “up their game” to deliver cycling-friendly infrastructure from the design stage, and will assist this process by cutting the red tape that “stifles” cycle-friendly road design.  The government’s press release outlines a wide variety of improvements that will be implemented as part of this scheme, including; expanding the network of 20 mph zones in urban areas and 40mph limits in rural areas, the introduction of ‘Trixi’ mirrors at junctions so that HGV drivers can see cyclists more easily, contraflow measures so that cyclists can use one-way streets, mini-signals at cyclists’ eye height, filter signals, trials of different roundabout designs and options for larger advanced stop lines at junctions.

Before implementing any changes, the government should perhaps look at experiences of similar schemes, such as the Launceston Bike Network in Tasmania, Australia.  In their paper for Area, Roger Vreugdenhil and Stewart Williams describe how this scheme became subject to “intense community conflict” or “white line fever”, whereby the seemingly innocuous white lines depicting the cycle lanes were likened to acts of vandalism, causing confusion to road users and were seen to increase territorial ‘them and us’ behaviours.  They argue that cycling and infrastructure should be reconceptualised as an “urban sociotechnical system” and that by recognising this, transport policy and planning may be able to overcome such resistance in future schemes.

The public response to the English scheme has been interesting; the BBC published a report outlining the details on Monday 12th August, by Tuesday morning there were 1051 comments posted from the public.  It is well known that there is conflict between road users, particularly car drivers and cyclists, and this is well reflected in some of the comments.  There are, however, some who show a more balanced view, recognising that a cultural change is needed and that all road users need to be more educated if we are to become a cycle-friendly country.

books_icon Roger Vreugdenhil and Stewart Williams, 2013, White line fever: a sociotechnical perspective on the contested implementation of an urban bike lane network, Area, DOI: 10.1111/area.12029

60-world2 Government shifts cycling up a gear, Government press release, accessed 20th August 2013

60-world2 Cycling groups welcome announcement of £77m government fund, The Guardian, 12th August 2013

60-world2 Cycling gets £94m push in England, BBC, 12th August 2013

Area Content Alert: Volume 44, Issue 1 (March 2012)

The latest issue of Area is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

Continue reading

Cycling Geographies and the Tour de France

by Fiona Ferbrache

It is that time of year again when le Tour de France makes its circumnavigation of the country, temporally transforming villages and towns along its route.  This mega-event is global in scale, not least through the media attention that it receives; you may have seen the spectacle on television, and read about it in the newspaper or online.  Swapping my academic hat for a yellow cap, last week I stood cheering with my neighbours as we watched the peloton pass within 1km of our village.  Normal life was postponed for a day as we designed a banner, set up a trestle table laden with sunflowers and feasted on local produce.  For us, the Tour provided an opportunity to celebrate local and regional culture as a village community.

There are many ways through which the Tour de France is celebrated.  Prudhomme, the Tour’s director claims that the sport of cycling remains popular “because the bicycle is regaining its place at the heart of many cities…. Cycling will undoubtedly have a glowing future if the link can once again be made between the bike Mr Everyman uses and that of the sport’s champions” (le Roch, 2011).  Academic interest in cycling perhaps has a glowing future too.  This month’s Area publishes two commentaries on cycling (Cupples, 20011, Koglin, 2011) (see also Cupples & Ridley, 2008, Spinney, 2010) while the forthcoming RGS-IBG conference includes a session entitled “New perspectives on walking and cycling”.

If the Tour does not encourage you to don a yellow jersey or cycle up your nearest mountain, then perhaps it may inspire you to explore emerging geographic literatures on cycling.

Cupples, J. (2011) Cyclists, environmentalists and equitable urban ecologies: a response to Koglin. Area. 43.2 pp.228-230

Cupples, J. & Ridley, E. (2008) Towards a heterogeneous environmental responsibility: sustainability and cycling fundamentalism. Area. 40.2 pp.254-264

Koglin, T. (2011) Planning for cycling = planning for equity: a response to Cupples and Ridley ‘Towards a heterogeneous environmental responsibility: sustainability and cycling fundamentalism’ (2008) Area. 43.2 pp.225-227

Le Roch, G. (2011) “The only rule is that there are no rules”.  Interview with Christian Prudhomme in Le Tour de France 2011 Official Programme.  pp.64-66

RGS-IBG Annual Conference programme

Spinney, J. (2009) Cycling the city: movement, meaning and method. Geography Compass 3.2 pp.817-835

Official Tour de France website  (in which one can view the geology of France on each state

Cycling: transport, ‘new’ mobilities and Le Tour de France

by Fiona Ferbrache

Lance Armstrong riding for Astana in Le Tour, 2009

Today, I write from an altitude of 1800metres near the Col du Tourmalet in the French Pyrénées, where I excitedly await arrival of this year’s Tour de France. 2010 marks the centenary of Le Tour in the Pyrénées and the route through the mountains is particularly challenging this year.

Cycling, as a form of transport and observable mobility, provides an example of the ‘new’ mobilities concept discussed by Shaw and Hesse (2010) in TIBG. Their paper argues that while transport geography and ‘mobilities’ have tended to be studied separately, “there ought to be a closer working” between the two. Following Shaw and Hesse, mobility lends a cultural-geographic perspective to Le Tour by providing a framework for exploring the ways in which it is practiced, experienced and embodied. Such representations of Le Tour construct it as more than a cycle race and help us think about it as ‘a way of being in the world’ for riders, teams of technicians and medics, media persons and spectators.

One link between this epic race and cycling as transport is the enthusiasm that people express by purchasing or climbing onto their own bikes around this time. Consider, for example, how retail bike sales rose following the success of the British cycling squad in the 2008 Olympics (see, Thompson, 2008).

It is not long now until the helicopters, police motorbikes, journalists and leading rider(s) will descend on this peaceful mountainside…just long enough to chalk my favourite cyclist’s name onto the road in support.

Thompson, J. (2008) Retail: The real Olympic winners. The Independent. 27 August, 2008

Shaw, J. & Hesse, M. (2010) Transport, geography and the ‘new’ mobilities. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 35,3. 305-312

Le Tour de France – official website, 2010

More than just getting from A to B – experiences of cycling in the city

Cycling in the cityBy Jenny Lunn

Promoting cycling as a form of urban transport is lauded by politicians and planners as one way of creating sustainable cities. Despite efforts to establish more cycle lanes and networks, Britain’s cities are still not bike-friendly environments and anyone who takes to the saddle needs to be “a rugged fearless individual, wholly responsible for your destiny”, according to Janice Turner in an article in The Times.

Justin Spinney’s research focuses on urban cycling in a western context. His latest article in Geography Compass, suggests that most geographical research into cycling has focused on why people choose that particular mode of transport to get from A to B and what routes they take. Instead, he draws attention to a neglected area: the line between A and B and the experience of travelling. He seeks to draw transport geography into a dialogue with cultural geography by proposing different research methods for investigating “less tangible aspects of daily mobility”, in particular using video.

But I wonder what the video-journey of an average London cycle commuter would reveal. Two wheels having to share the tarmac with 18 metre long bendy buses; illogical one-way systems; drivers turning left without using their mirrors; the struggle to find a safe place to park your bike when you arrive at work; the stolen wheel when you return to collect your bike. Equally, it could show some of the bad behaviour of cyclists: listening to music on headphones; jumping red lights; using pavements; not wearing safety helmets. Spinney’s proposed research methodology could reveal as much about the state of society as about the experience of mobility.

60-worldRead the article by Janice Turner in The Times

60-worldRead the article by Justin Spinney in Geography Compass