Judging by how hire bikes are kicking off in (some) cities around the world (even coming to Newcastle, again, apparently), I would see that as an early sign of change. It’s something that councils are not used to but they do it anyways. It’s something new, and they are doing it. So, as a thing that fits into theory of change, I welcome this. However is it enough of a push? Will we get cycleways?
Gabriele Schliwa posed that question about cycling and the Trojan Horse at C&S Symposium. I am thinking, maybe hire bikes are the real Trojan Horses. These machines start to be readily let into the (more or less) fortified town walls, waved in by the council themselves, and voila, they may bring change. A hostile takeover, if you go with the Greek analogy. The Trojan Horse people win, anyways.
How can change happen? A change of perception for a more positive stance towards bikes, and cycling in general, would be welcome, certainly. But again, talking about animals – where does that leave the Elephant (in the room, eh, city)? Cities need transport transition, mode shift away from the private car. City air is thick and the urban airwaves are filled with vroomvroom. So. Motor traffic reduction, roadspace reallocation to the civilising and communal modes, walking and cycling, and public transport. Building cycleways from parking spaces. Building pedestrian places to linger and be oneself (not someone stuck on a stinking, noisy not quite tropical ‘traffic island’).
I have been thinking about Capitalism a lot recently. It started when reading Zack Furness, and then continued through some feminism books, through to spatial justice / critical geography literatures. (Feminism does not critique capitalism that much per se, they are forgiven… they simply called it Patriarchy there.) In a system that worships and depends on greed and selfishness, like Capitalism and Patriarchy do, anything to do with people showing interest in small cheap things is a threat. Bikes seem to be butting up right against that. Alarm bells go off. A threat to Capitalism and Patriarchy (CAP)!
The big thing is this. Bikes undermine one particular thread that the CAP system depends on, heavily. The car. The oil-road-car complex is a big engine of CAP. It makes it tick over. We need wars for its upkeep. On a smaller scale, it splits up community into tiny fragments of human existences (people sitting in cars), it splits us by motorways and on ordinary roads, our places are wasted to cars. The car intimidates and rules space. Cars get bigger and bigger, demand more space, squash all else to the fringes. They marginalise cycling and walking. The car system pushes risks along… CAP intimidates cyclists, so cyclists cycle on footway and intimidate pedestrians. It is an ingenious self-fuelling maintenance of the system. The CAP system works through intimidation, bullying and discrimination. Car is King (what ever happened to Queen Car, I wonder?). The car is the perfect CAP vehicle. It makes the perfect automaton consumer, and ensures the better(safer, faster, bigger)-than-the-Jones’ is kept up, and up.
Modern cycle advocates want to see cycleways built. We ask for space from roads – yes, not just any old space. Roads. And that space has to be delineated, separated, made safe and comfortable and, also important, not compromise walking – we demand! Can you see where this is going? We are in direct confrontation with the car system, and in indirect confrontation with CAP itself. So, in conclusion, how much hire bikes can be the Trojan Horses in our cities remains to be seen. The proof is in the cycle networks that get built.