August 01, 2013

Two-Wheeled Revolutions

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

 This year the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) will take place in New York City. As much as I’m looking forward to spending a long weekend with thousands of sociologists from around the world talking about all things sociological, what I’m really excited about is not taking place within the confines of the conference.

The highlight of my trip to New York City will be riding the Citi Bikes—New York’s bike share Citibikeprogram that recently started this spring after a year-long delay. I’m particularly interested in trying out a Citi Bike during the Summer Streets festival. Summer Streets is an annual event in New York City where seven miles of city streets (from Central Park to the Brooklyn Bridge) are closed for traffic and open for walking, biking, running and playing.  

Bike mapNew York’s bike share program and auto-free days are new developments for the biggest city in the United States. But around the world, programs that support non-motorized transportation have been occurring for decades. Bike share systems like the one in New York City allow individuals quick, easy, and temporary access to bicycles so that people can commute, sightsee, and run errands without relying on cars, taxis, buses, or subways. It’s hard to get an exact figure on the number of bike share programs around the world but the prevailing estimate is that there are about 500, with new ones popping up each month. There are some interactive maps to see where bike share programs exist and even a real-time map to tell you if bikes are available at a particular docking station.

Traffic-free days are also a global phenomenon that are increasingly being initiated in U.S. cities. One of the original and most well known of these programs is Ciclovía in Colombia. Started in the late 1970s as a way to make the city safer and reclaim the use of the streets from automobiles, Ciclovía now attracts nearly 2 million individuals (30% of the population) each Sunday morning in cities throughout this South American country. As the following video illustrates, cycling is just one of the many activities in which people engage.


I realize that my enthusiasm for these bicycling initiatives is a bit subjective. After all, I would much rather get from point A to point B on a twenty-pound vehicle with two wheels than in a four-thousand pound vehicle with four wheels. Despite my somewhat biased perspective, there is no denying the increasing influence and effect that bicycling is having around the world.            

Whether it is being used for exercise, recreation, socializing, commuting, or work, the bicycle is the preferred mode of transportation for millions of people worldwide. In fact, nearly 50 years ago bicycles were produced at the same rate as cars. Today, the production of bicycles far outpaces that of automobiles—a sign that the car culture might be waning. In fact, a recent study by two researchers at the Transportation Research Institute of the University of Michigan found that the between 1983 and 2008 there was a significant decrease in the number of young people who had a driver’s license.

World bicycle and car productionDespite its global influence, bicycling has not attracted much attention among sociologists. I did a quick search of the preliminary program of the upcoming ASA Annual Meeting and I found only one session that had bicycling or bicycle in the title. It is somewhat surprising that sociologists are not interested in studying cycling because there are numerous sociological issues connected to bicycling: inequality, sustainability, social change, social interaction, and well being, to name just a few.

Susan b anthony quoteAn example of the connections between cycling and sociology can be found in a new report published by the League of American Bicyclists and the Sierra Club. The New Majority: Pedaling Toward Equity details the rise of cycling in the U.S. but focuses particularly on the increasing ridership of youth, women, and non-whites. According to the report, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian-American cyclists significantly increased their usage of bikes from 2001 to 2009.

The new majorityThe report also noted that these populations would like to further increase their time spent on the bike but are dissuaded from doing so because of faulty and unequal infrastructures. This point is demonstrated quite clearly with the Citi Bike program in New York. Currently, the Big Apple’s bike share program only exists below 60th street in Manhattan and in a few “trendy” neighborhoods in Brooklyn near the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridge. If you are not familiar with the landscape of New York City another way to say this is that Citi Bikes are currently only available in neighborhoods that are largely white and affluent.     

 The bicycle may not be the panacea for the world’s problems but with rising greenhouse emissions New majorityfueling global warming and obesity rates skyrocketing worldwide, increased bicycle use can certainly address some of our most serious environmental and health crises. For this two-wheeled revolution to reach a critical mass what will be needed is a dedicated shift—a cultural change—away from our reliance on and romanticization of motorized transportation. So the next time you need to run a short errand or visit a nearby friend, think about getting there on two wheels instead of four. If you need more convincing, just calculate the personal, financial, and environmental benefits that will be gained by making this shift and you’ll be riding in no time.


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I greatly agree ! Many health problems are as a result of luck of exercise. Biking is the way to go for fun recreation and health. Thank you for informative post.

Hello Peter
thank you for sharing suck informative and useful article
Keep up the good work

I love how you describe it - The bicycle may not be the panacea for the world’s problems but with rising greenhouse emissions New majorityfueling global warming and obesity rates skyrocketing worldwide, increased bicycle use can certainly address some of our most serious environmental and health crises.

I love your website you share amazing information

exellent work..i love your work

i love bikes

wao amazing post best of best!

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