12/15/10

Max Weber and Bike Commuting

Danes! They're always yelling at us because we don't bike everywhere. Here's the latest from Copenhagenize, comparing bike commuting and bike culture:
I've determined that the majority of bicycle advocacy in the Anglo-Saxon New World (and to some extent the UK) is focused on this thing called Bicycle Commuting. 

As though the main purpose of owning a bicycle is to get to and from work. This commuting angle really dominates the advocacy. 

There are many volumes written about the influence of protestant immigrants on the work ethic prevalent in North America and Australasia, every bit of written by people who know more about it than I. I think what finally made me try to get this into words is a used book I bought last week. One I've read before, many years ago. The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism, based on a series of articles by Max Weber in 1904-05 and published in book form in 1920.

I sure as hell won't be getting into this subject, but it certainly seems to have left it's mark on modern bicycle advocacy in these Anglo-Saxon New World countries. The bicycle is for getting to and from work. Period. (or maybe Comma, since you can also use it for 'fun' on the weekends when you're not working)

If we look at this from an 'overcomplication of a simple thing' point-of-view, this Bicycle Commuting angle is hardly cycling simplified. It is primarily advocated by 'avid cyclists' who happily commute long distances to get to work. Which is great for them. Unfortunately, it sends signals to the population at large that Bicycle Commuting is a hard slog, a work-out, a sacrifice - however rewarding. It paints a picture of long commutes, even though 50% of Americans, for example, live within 8 km of their workplace. 
Max Weber! Protestants! Inferior bicycling culture! This post has it all. Let's compare our ways to refined, European bike culture:
By saying "Bicycle Culture" I mean creating a culture of the bicycle where it becomes an inseparable part of daily life for regular citizens. Instead of something unique that stands out on the urban landscape.
I wrote about Behavourial Challenges regarding promoting urban cycling a while back and highlighted the massive growth in a city, for example, like Paris compared to cities where strong bicycle sub-cultures rule the debate.
Paris is only one positive example of emerging bicycle cities. I often point to Barcelona as another prime example. They've gone from basically 0% modal split for bicycles to 5% in about three years. Bordeaux has recently reached 10% modal split for bicycles in the city centre. Up from 1 or 2% three years ago. All over France, cities are increasing their bicycle traffic. Over 25 cities have bike share systems. Then there is Spain. Barcelona, San Sebastian, Seville, Zaragoza. Dublin springs to mind, too. Booming. Booming more than any city in North America or Australasia. 
Bicycle Culture is planting seeds in a garden. Cultivating a bicycle orchard. Bicycle Commuting is a spear-headed "do it like we do, exactly like this" approach and the plethora of how-to guides splattered across the internet is a testament to that. 
Orchards! Paris! City centres!Articles like this are fatiguing and a number of commenters from the (inferior) Anglo-Saxon world made the point. I'm likewise sorry that Washington DC isn't Copenhagen and that we all don't take bicycles everywhere. I'm also sorry that I don't ride to work in a outfit that's considered cycle chic and that I wear a reflective jacket and that my bike doesn't have a chainguard. But give us a freaking break! We're on bikes, we're advocating for more people to get on bikes and we're pushing local leaders to get better bike infrastructure. Geez.

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