Notes from an aspiring cycle paradise, far, far away

Still in Taipei and making good use of the free hotel wifi (ubiquitous free wifi in Taipei), I am starting to reflect – well, my mind started to kick in on that subject, I feel I am not much in charge of it. At this moment in time (05:30 in UK), this blogpost is kind of “ghost written”. The last six or seven days are a flurry and a blur. Conferences seem to be like that. Conferences held in a continent new to me, in a new city with new culture, smells and environments, even more so. I generally consider myself an uneasy traveller. There simply is too much to take in, not enough time to give justice to all these new things. Leaving me overwhelmed.

From the beginning of taking interest, culture was something I wanted to unravel for the needs of cycling. I have come away from another conference feeling that culture and cultural differences have nothing to do with cycling. It’s the urban design, stupid. Many at the conference agreed. Sometimes people express this more explicitly, most likely you see it implicit in a person’s descriptions and accounts. And some have not fully swallowed the red pill yet. As an example, the blindness to our urban environment is alive too in Taipei people. Many times the scooters were mentioned by officials as the big traffic problem – when it starkly is the private car and its spatial uptake. But the scooter is more easily identified as a person, a loud little person-thing and the anonymous machine car (bizarrely or not) blends into the murky background, again. Fascinating how we fade out car damage in urban environments. Is it acquired blindness, or a blind acceptance, a silent bow to our car dependence?

What interests me now is culture of decision-making. My PhD will touch on that, that’s the plan. And with many more things (social norm, confidence) it’s not for the masses to attain, it’s for the policy and decision-making level to acquire to turn around the urban sustainability tide that climate change poses to our existence. Yes, cycling is an intrinsic part of that answer and yes, cycle-supportive urban design is key to that vision of better transport systems coming true in cities. Similarly academia, advocacy and activism can learn from an eco-sociological approach too.

The last slide at my conference talk, was this one

image

And I stick by that. Confidence, diversity and resilience. If we get those three things into UK (and German perhaps too?) cycle campaigning, we are onto a winner. With people like John Burke, CEO of Trek, we can make a difference. He challenges his colleagues to get into urban design, connecting with campaigners and political lobbying. Urban design, because if changed, holds tremendous opportunities for selling cycles. Who could argue against John’s logic? If the cycle manufacturers (cycle industry on the whole too) put their money where their mouths are, we could do leaps and bounds in informing and educating decision makers. I’d think this could be through organising relevant conferences, making decision makers think and contribute to the debate, and using this to be clear about the future needs of cities: to include cycling designs in cities is a glorious mega project, any politician could be proud of taking on. The advocacy support is there or thereabouts, in need of a bit of herding and sharpening perhaps.

Back at conference, I was surrounded by many “old men with grey beards” who lectured and explained age-old things to me. I listened patiently to their same failed rhetoric, same myths and spoke against them. I was left wondering if I were heard at all, and how often the Beards have put down these views before. Despite some good presentations, the academic pre-meeting day on Friday rather unfortunately was riddled with that “old beard” attitude (und unten im Keller rasselt die Bartdrehmaschine). I came away with no idea how my research fits in with their aims, or the strategy or what, let alone an invite to participate in this network in the first instance. (Mental note, submit an abstract next year for VeloCity Arnhem-Nejmegen). When, quite clearly to me, the women I talked to at the conference (academics and advocates) were much more aware of power differentials and what needs doing, changing and challenging.

When will we get a voice?

The message will be more inclusive, if it comes from a more diverse background. Together we can be much more resilient in our messaging and campaigning direction.

Like I was never much of a cyclist before entering the UK, I have never been much of a feminist either – until I discovered through activism the pushes of patriarchal power for myself. It pushes against change, both externally (politics, decision making), and internally (activism landscape) too.

So it’s no surprise I decided to contribute to the Women And Cycling meeting in Hereford this May. See you there, women and friends of women and women-led initiatives. Thanks for the invite to speak and lead a workshop! My pleasure.

Taipei, you ask?

Worth a visit. Stay for as long as you can. A country and people so alien as they are most warmly welcoming. Everyone seems an entrepreneur in Taipei. The shops, all tiny and independent, selling all sorts of wares and food stuffs – everywhere, offering a variety that is most staggering to the stale European retail experience. Thanks, Yi-Li, for arranging to meet Titan and Nora, who showed me the welcoming spirit of the Taiwanese first hand. Now it’s time for me to head to the bus station and start my long journey back home. Time to say Thank You and So Long to Taipei.

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