April 29, 2015

A Feminist Reflection on Bike Lanes

Recently, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I decided to embark on an ice cream crawl. I plotted three of Vancouvers best-rated ice cream parlours on a 35km route, and set off for a delicious, albeit very long walk. Around kilometre 22, I realized this adventure would have been far easier by bike. However, this thought was relatively fleeting, for Im far too anxious biking in the city. In sum, this prompted another 13km of reflection on the intersections of feminism and urban planning – particularly the potential of bike lanes in creating more equitable urban space.

            In urban studies and planning, an understood right to the city is the right to mobility and circulation within the city. Given that feminism advocates equality across genders, surely the ability for all genders to freely and safely navigate the city is a feminist issue. Theres no doubt that cycling is awesome. Its great exercise and one of the most sustainable forms of transportation. Yet sharing a busy arterial street with speeding tonnes of steel is highly unnerving. Around 7,500 cyclists are seriously injured each year across Canada, and of the fatalities, 18% are under the age of 16.

            I will concede that these concerns air slightly dramatic, and may reflect an individual who is unreasonably risk-averse. However, this is where the conversation ought to *cycle back to patriarchy; women still widely serve as primary care-givers to children and other dependents, and I would be reluctant to transport groceries, yet alone my children, by bike along such crowded corridors. My mobility and capacity to efficiently circulate the city as a (particularly female) cyclist is compromised by the lack of designated safe cycling-space.

            Around kilometre 30 and ice-cream #3, I also realized bike lanes hold significant place-making potential relative to other forms of transit – namely skytrains or subways. Relocated above or below ground, these latter forms of rapid transit completely remove traffic from the street-scape. This actively detracts from senses of place and community, as these locales become fly over/under-zones. In contrast, bike lanes and cycling facilitate localized movement, and prompt interactions crucial to creating vibrant neighbourhoods and city-spaces.

            Renowned urban theorist Jane Jacobs links this vitality to security of street and locale. Combined with the understanding that having eyes on the street makes it relatively more secure, such neighbourhoods facilitate social, economic, and political exchanges which build collective identities and accountabilities of place. Bike lanes represent an assertion of equal mobility and urban access for all genders, and thus subvert patriarchal and exclusive conceptions of community.


*see what I did there?

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