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The Bicycling Commons

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I'd like to present for about 30-40 minutes and then facilitate a discussion with this as the starting point:

A Bicycling Commons is a curious concept. Rather than referring to a specific land or landscape, it refers to a shared state of mind and a shared set of experiences. What animates the notion of a Bicycling Commons is that so many people who have chosen to bicycle in cities feel they are a part of it. How does this relate to actual political projects to reclaim and reopen commons? When did the Bike Commons emerge? From where? What kinds of political antecedents helped shape this sensibility? And is it an ongoing reality or is it best understood as a passing phenomenon of a very particular transitional period between the 20th and 21st centuries?

I would argue that the bicycle is an incidental—or accidental—facilitator of an urgent need to address a wide range of issues. At one time or another in our lives, most cyclists came to identify bicycling as a way individually to embrace social change. Perhaps we concluded it was the key to unraveling the dangerous traffic nightmare plaguing most of the world’s cities, or to reclaiming a more convivial public space from the domination of private cars. Or we connected bicycling to a refusal to participate in oil wars; or a refusal to accept the mountain of debt associated with car and oil dependency; or a refusal of the massive pollution by fossil fuels that is wreaking havoc with the world’s climate.

... presentation covering the history and evolution of Critical Mass in San Francisco, with sidebars on various other cities around the world.

This surprising turn to bicycling as transportation has been both a successful fruit of the Bicycling Commons experience, and paradoxically, has also been a sign of the rapid decline of the Bicycling Commons. As more and more people choose to bicycle as everyday transportation, fewer experience the euphoria and transformative experience that was once transmitted through Critical Mass. Prior to mass adoption of daily cycling, it was easy to feel connected to other cyclists in various urban environments, as one shared the sense of being a hardy minority, soldiering on in the difficult choice to cycle through social and infrastructural hostility and obstruction. The bicycling culture that gave rise to the sense of a Bicycling Commons started to disintegrate precisely as more and more people were choosing to bicycle as their everyday transportation. By 2018, bicycle culture—and especially the solidarity that bound cyclists together—has practically disappeared, at least in San Francisco.



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