Monday, June 15, 2009

Just what are we promoting here?

(That is, "we" as in "I" and "here" as in this space.)

Over at Carbon Trace recently, Andy has been looking a little more carefully at the vocabulary he employs as an advocate of cycling. In response to my first Front Porch Cycle Chic post, for example, he examines--and decides to ban from his vocabulary--the word "lifestyle" when discussing cycling. Then this past Saturday, he posts the at first startlingly-titled "I No Longer Like 'Commuting.'" Here's what he means:
I certainly commute to work by bicycle, and I recommend it to anyone willing to give it a try. But there is general cultural block that makes riding a bicycle to work seem terribly difficult — especially for women. How to dress. Fear of sweating. Time pressure. Social pressure. Traffic fear. All of these and more play a role in the perception that bicycle commuting is difficult.

I now think emphasizing bicycle commuting as a part of bicycle advocacy is a bad idea. It just throws up too many culturally-bound barriers and fears.
He decides that a better way to promote cycling is to emphasize its utility through his idea of "the 1-Mile Solution" (which I've also discussed).

At one level, I could easily say: Well, part of Andy's day job is teaching rhetoric--of course he's going to fret over little stuff like this, poor guy. But you know, MY day job is teaching English, so language is kind of a big deal with me, too. So, I got to thinking about the cause(s) that Cycling in Wichita speaks on behalf of and the language it uses in doing so. After all: I took up cycling at all primarily because of its usefulness for getting to and from work cheaply. I thought back to the conceiving of this blog when I was thinking about its title, some clunky versions of which would have included some form of "commute." I have spoken many, many times on behalf of the connectivity of already-existing bike paths so as to make them more useful to would-be bike-commuters, and on behalf of the inclusion of bike lanes in future planning to facilitate on-street cycling. Though I have been known to engage in riding just for the sheer pleasure of it (on Saturday, for example, I rode to the Old Town Farmers' market and then visited several of the Delano District's neighborhood garage sales for the best reason of all: Just Because), I barely mention recreational or sport cycling here. And finally, I'm doing a little thinking about a project, soon to be announced here, that I came up with specifically with the needs of bike-commuters in mind. So, I asked myself if all that may have caused some of the more casual visitors to this site to shy away from the idea of just cycling more, and to more places, than they might otherwise.

Short answer: I hope not.

As regular visitors here know, I don't post exclusively on the details of my own commute or on commuting generally. But I do have lots to say about re-framing the way cycling has historically been thought of here in favor of a more-inclusive view whose ultimate goal is a bike-friendlier city: the above-mentioned connectivity between already existing bike paths and more on-street cycling-specific infrastructure, yes; but also fundamental re-thinking about street design and development in general: how and where to design walkable (read: livable) urban environments--something I hope the good people of WDDC are giving thought to, of course, but so also should every neighborhood association. The less car-centric and more people-centric city planning is, the more livable a city becomes.

I don't know . . . maybe Cycling in Wichita is too narrow a title . . .


Patrick said...

Well, you could drop the "Wichita" bit, but then you aren't left with much. And I suppose including the place is important.

It's a good name. Stick with it.

acline said...

Next up: Introduce the the concept of "discourse community." :-) Thanks for the mention.

John B. said...

Thanks to both of you for stopping by and commenting.

Patrick, for my purposes, having a place-name in the blog's title is important. I don't want to get too navel-gaze-y here, so I'll just say for now that the place-name, I think, is an aid in helping people visualize cycling occurring in a place that's not the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of cycling. So, I'll be keeping "Wichita" in the title. Also, of course, the name helps people using Google to find information on, um, (bi)cycling in Wichita, but I promise you that that wasn't something that had entered into my thinking; I started seeing all these hits and thought, Well, duh!

Andy, you speak truer than you know about introducing the concept of "discourse communities" into these discussions. At least as regards the local dynamics, I could write a great deal on just that subject; but I still don't know enough to assess things fairly and accurately.