Entrenched Habit or Fringe Mode: Comparing National Bicycle Policies, Cultures and Histories

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Abstract

After the Second World War, the bicycle was superseded by the car as a mass mode of individual transportation throughout the Western world. Since the 1970s, cycling has increased again in several countries, and many governments have introduced policies to promote pedaling in daily transport. In order to underpin these policies, social-scientific and traffic engineering studies have addressed the development and facilitation of bicycle use. However, there seems to be no correlation between the policies implemented and the actual share of cycling in traffic. Similar policy measures have in fact produced widely different outcomes. To explain this divergence, this article questions basic presuppositions of current bicycle policies and research. I argue that the influence of historical and cultural factors on levels and practices of bicycle use has basically been underestimated if not overlooked. Highlighting the different histories of bicycling in the Netherlands and Denmark versus that in several English-speaking countries and Germany, my analysis suggests that the diverging effects of cycling policies can largely be attributed to historical differences in national bicycle cultures. These cultures are characterized by the collective meanings attributed to cycling and interrelated attitudes, experiences and habits. Such factors have largely taken shape in long-term historical trajectories, and as such they are beyond procedural rationality and can hardly be influenced through traffic engineering and social planning in the short term.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInvisible Bicycle
Subtitle of host publicationParallel Histories and Different Timelines
EditorsTiina Männistö-Funk, Timo Myllyntaus
Place of PublicationLeiden and Boston
PublisherBrill
Chapter3
Pages48-97
Number of pages49
ISBN (Print)978-90-04-28997-0
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

SeriesTechnology and Change in History
Volume15

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