Bicycles Making Social Changes…Again!

In 1991, the Federal Government passed a law, ISTEA, which is legislation that advanced the idea that federal transportation moneys would support the development of bicycle transportation projects, laying groundwork for grant writing by states to fund bicycle projects. Later on in the 1990’s,  fifteen bicycle businesses networked together to form what is now known as The  Alliance for Bicycling and Walking. Their current focus is on providing training for advocacy groups to learn how to conduct advocacy campaigns. The development of this group and its efforts has been recognized as a critical step in the maturing of the bicycle cause. This created a segue for the bicycle to become a tool for social change, once again. It had a very significant role in the development of women’s rights at the turn of the century from 1800’s into the 1900’s.  The bicycle as a social movement ties itself to a grass roots or bottom up movement that now includes sustainability, climate change,  environmentalism, and anti-autocentricity. The gambit of activists fall into several categories from political wonks, politicians, manufacturers and retailers, neighborhood associations, recreationalists, fitness specialists, transportation planners, ride organizers, educators, and others. All vary in their assertiveness or aggressiveness in their advocacy methods. The critical issue at hand in 2017 stems form the lack of organized, cohesive efforts to produce change. One of the most significant changes that produced lots of ripples started with millennial choosing not to buy cars, and to more deliberately choose places and jobs that did not require use of a car. Lots of heads turned from the federal level to auto manufacturers, to city planners feeling the crunch of employers that now needed better transportation alternatives. Indianapolis can be viewed as a good example of the scramble to provide new alternatives in the city to draw in the cream of the millennial crop.

The statement being made here is that by riding bicycle you choose to make a statement. You choose to participate in the bicycle movement. When you ride somewhere in town, choose to ride where you belong, with a nod to following the rules of the road, you make a statement to other drivers about how you expect to get around. Just choosing to ride to commute for an errand, work, or school creates a statement in and of itself that sends a message- the bicycle is a movement! When you choose bright clothing, bright lights, or other means of being visible on the road, you make a statement. I hope you feel some comfort with knowing this as it is paramount pos supporting the advocacy efforts raging on many other more national fronts.  Growing up the bicycle meant wheels and freedom! We rode to just about every nook and cranny of our community. We had access to playgrounds, ball fields, wood lots, candy stores, and friends. No matter the age, bicycles provided freedom- freedom from high costs of gasoline and running a car. Freedom to go places that cars did not fit or just were not as convenient such as beaches, trails, alley ways, and byways that provided an entirely different view of the community/world. A bicyclist can reach a very sustainable level of freedom in meeting more needs at a much lower cost, which is a type of freedom!

Cyclists fill inner thoughts and feelings stemming from their ride experiences. Some people struggle with getting into a car, feeling some sense of regret over the pollution and carbon foot print they leave with each mile. Others see the bicycle as purely a pragmatic episode in getting from point a to point b. Others find the road magical as a result of the work they performed on the bicycle they ride. Other people feel a sense of individualism, a type of do-it-yourselfness that inspires and motivates.  This leads on to a current conversation about the level of durability being manufactured. The current growth in the trend towards vintage bicycles has at its roots the idea that parts were made more durable back when. There is little real backlash to current manufacturers by consumers that grow in their sensitivity to the more throwaway approach manufacturers have taken. IT is also a statement being made by the rapid growth in frame builders around the country. Recognizing that quality indeed must be a standard we need to get back to in many things, not just the bicycle. Now the recourse is that this quality may be untouchable by many due to the high cost of such efforts. One of the backlashes sees the introduction of bike materials such as the bamboo bicycle frame, rims, and other parts.

The current Active Transportation movement seeks to combine the trends in manufacturing, transportation, urban planning, health promotion, and social/cultural implications for using human power for transportation. It has evolved out of the fragments of eco-movements and health promotions that have recognized the disastrous course Americans head toward due to a lack of physical activity. Bicycle urbanism strives to produce an integration of healthy lifestyles, social interaction, sustainable transportation, and a grass roots type of economics that can be classified in Active Transportation choices. My hope is that active transportation can be a catalyst for helping to more adequately organize more of the efforts that can thrust bicycles into the limelight for a more sustainable, healthy future for our children and their children!