Mirth and myths

Oh, yes. On Monday, I had the pleasure and honour of cycling the newly opened sections of London’s Cycle Superhighways. And they make for tremendously good quality in space provision. It’s lacking perhaps in time provision at junctions and some niggly design details, but these humps and bumps are for another day to address. First of all we should not detract from this major leap into a better city – and we should celebrate! Thanks, London! Laura Laker writes up the experience beautifully here. And, yes, I did dress up for the occasion.

Photo credit Carlton Reid

Having started on interviews with some piloting, I am currently working on structuring the second part of the interview session. It’s the section where the interviewees’ views are challenged, probed , dug deeper into and prized apart a bit, and put back together. I want to fulfil my part of the bargain too, and come prepared to the interview, knowing, advising and above all to do some on-the-spot myth busting to further the conversation. I have been amazed in my nearly seven years of cycle campaigning to see even non-drivers quite automatically support road space exclusive for driving and car parking. A strong paradigm has been created over decades. We adhere to it, often unquestioned, and rather robotic.

Malene Freudendal-Pedersen has looked into this a bit more, and developed what she came to call structural stories. I try to condense and summarise structural stories in this paragraph. Traditions provide behavioural rules, short cuts, These are simplifications that make social interaction possible. Modernity and modern society has lost many traditions; and as a replacement we have created structural stories. These are stepping in to regulate and direct modern life, keep peace and harmony (and as it turns out, sometimes at a cost or price too). One such structural story is that “a car is freedom”, and many more stories are stemming from that.

How such a story is created? Out of some form of need, possibly. It probably originated as a natural reaction to a changing world. Technology pushed itself onto us, and we reacted, on the back foot. Not particularly having evolved to understand limitations in resources, or being good at future time projections and perhaps still a bit stuck in a cave man fighting spirit, the car seemingly came to humanity’s rescue, assistance and subservience. Or so we thought – hoped and prayed. We built, unwittingly a bastion, a fortress for the Car Kingdom. It had turned into habit, practice and socio-technical system of automobility, as the late John Urry terms it.

Bent Flyvbjerg argues that power has a lot to answer for. And lack of logic is systemic. Whereever there is power there is irrationality. Power dissolves rationality. In fact, rationality is the only weapon of the group who does not hold the power. Where you find power you will find rationalisation. Ideas, plans and systems get simplified. The end product often is so rationalised, that rationality has been removed. We see this in practices like highway engineering and transport planning (who abide by the structural story of “A car is Freedom” to the tee).

In other but very related news, please check out the new myth busting website, Cycling Fallacies http://cyclingfallacies.com/en/ and get your life back to do some real campaigning for change.

 

References/literature

Flyvbjerg, B. (1998). Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice (Morality and Society Series). Chicaco: University of Chicago Press.

Freudendal-Pedersen, M. (2009). Mobility in daily life: between freedom and unfreedom. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

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