It is no surprise to people living in U.S. urban spaces that bicycling continues its ascent into popularity. Neighborhoods and cities across the country are now committed to making their spaces welcoming to bicyclists which include bicycling events, bicycle lanes, and businesses that cater to cyclists. In my time as an urban bicycle commuter, I have noticed that a particular bicyclist is being hailed by neighborhoods and cities--one that has both racial and class privilege. Through my ethnographic research in three U.S. cities I have confirmed my suspicion that the bicycle signifies different values and meanings to different bicycling demographics. In this dissertation I ultimately argue that the "rolling signification" of the bicycle contributes to its ability to build community, influence gentrifying urban planning, and reify and obscure systemic race and class barriers. I begin my dissertation with a case study on the Riverwest 24, a 24-hour bicycle race, and how its organizers and participants build community but I complicate this understanding of community building by exploring the neighborhood's long history of activism and its spatial connection to a major segregation line. The importance of a neighborhood's history as it intersects with bicycle advocacy is made clear in my second case study in Portland, Oregon where neighbors clashed, along racial lines, about renovating a specific bicycle lane. And thus I argue that the Black residents and history rooted in Black culture in Portland's Albina neighborhood produce a haunting (Gordon, 1997) within the reconstruction of that bicycle lane. In my final case study I explore whether the theory that bicycle lanes can lead to gentrification holds any merit. In Minneapolis I have found evidence that the local government is coopting bicycle infrastructure to recruit educated, upwardly mobile people--with little regard to its impact on residents who fall outside of that demographic. This cooptation is wrapped up in power relations that allow the city government and "creative class" to define what a sustainable and livable city looks like. This dissertation makes a rather large intervention in Communication Studies as it illustrates the importance of rich description, spatial analysis, and ethnography in our scholarship.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2013. Major: Communication Studies. Advisor: Dr. Mary D. Vavrus. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 256 pages.
Hoffmann, Melody Lynn.
Our bikes in the middle of the street: community-building, racism and gentrification in urban bicycle advocacy.
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