In Search of New Riders: Affective Exclusions and Bicycle Planning in Minneapolis/Saint Paul

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In Search of New Riders: Affective Exclusions and Bicycle Planning in Minneapolis/Saint Paul

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Riding a bike is typically viewed as something most people can simply do without thinking, an automatic response latent inside one’s body from childhood. Thus, in a useful way, the cliché “it’s just like riding a bike” refers to the connection between technology and the body, which can bypass the consciousness-based model of behavior in provocative ways. But at the same time, the phrase subsumes a complex relationship within a seemingly automatic response. The fact that riding a bicycle is often taken for granted erases subtle differences between how and why people ride. Rather than an innate human capacity, for many people riding a bike is an experience that offers a wide range of emotional dynamics. By examining how “riding a bike” differs depending on specific bodies, spaces, and technological relationships, we can learn how subjectivity forms in relation to social and material environments. The complex relationship the body, bicycle, and space challenges assumptions that govern urban systems. Current bicycling trends have shifted debates around bicycling in ways that challenge traditional approaches of bike planners and advocates, particularly in attempts to attract new riders. Yet without a careful understanding of how and why bicycling differs from dominant automobile-centered transportation, urban decision makers risk re-inscribing existing patterns of mobility at the expense of a more impactful future. In this dissertation, I examine how differences emerge around everyday bicycling as a relational capacity to act, locating my approach within the field of “mobilities studies.” I use the concept of the affective assemblage, a concept that describes the relational dynamics of the bicycle, bodies, and diverse kinds of urban space. I then describe how bicycle planning debates that emerged in the 1970s pivoted around assumptions that privileged specific age, gender, race, and class positions at the expense of others. I extend these debates into the present by looking at how contemporary approaches frame design debates in ways that simultaneously include and exclude certain ways of moving. Next, drawing on urban spatial theory and qualitative research, I examine how bicycle riders employ tactics based on social capacities for feeling “in place to negotiate pathways through changing urban terrain. These spatial practices are connected with a nonlinear urban landscape that displays spatial gaps fundamental to developing bicycling habits in different ways, and lay the foundation for affective difference. Next, drawing on crowd theory, I outline how patterns form around particular aspects of the bicycle assemblage, so that clothing or riding style signify a larger affective connections, combinations of emotional attitudes and capacities for action. Using interviews, I show how these patterns form an affective taxonomy that describes how different modes of experience and capacities sort bicyclists. Finally, I look at how affective difference relates to current planning policies that attempt to appeal to new riders. As decision makers have begun to recognize the limitations of traditional bicycle planning, they are experimenting with design and policy approaches aimed at diversifying the affective range of bicyclists, for example, bicycle boulevards, “open streets” events, and bike share systems Yet in practice, while these approaches circumvent automobility logics in specific ways, they remain limited by both political and institutional constraints, and the affective assumptions made by advocates.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. September 2015. Major: Geography. Advisor: Arun Saldanha. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 257 pages.

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Lindeke, William. (2015). In Search of New Riders: Affective Exclusions and Bicycle Planning in Minneapolis/Saint Paul. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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