Vacuum Cleaner Advocacy

BikePortland has a recent post about a talk given by Copenhagenize’s  Mikael Colville-Andersen. He’s touring the US promoting urban cycling. He makes an interesting point about the difference in approach to cycling in Denmark. In Copenhagen he says, “Our relationship to the bicycle is much like the vacuum cleaner. We don’t have five of them that we keep polished and well-oiled, there are no vacuum cleaner enthusiasts… The bicycle and the vacuum cleaner are just tools. One of them we clean our homes with, the other we use to transport ourselves around the city.”

This is something I noticed immediately in Germany. Arriving to find cyclists everywhere, I assumed I’d find a huge, thriving ‘bike culture’. In fact, it appears to be the opposite. There is not that strong of a sub-culture of cyclists because they’ve been absorbed into the culture at large. Sub-cultures don’t tend to stay distinct when your mom, grandma, and little sister also do the same activity. In the US, most cyclists view their riding as part of their identity, an activity that defines them. At least among the middle class who don’t ride purely for financial reasons. The shared identity as cyclists binds groups that otherwise have little in common. What will happen to these sub-cultures as their advocacy slowly changes cycling from a fringe activity into just another tool.

Colville-Andersen says that this is not just an outgrowth of increased cycling, but also a key approach to take when planning cycling infrastructure. “Enthusiasts” will go out of their way to do an activity, no one else will. Infrastructure needs to be built where people are and linking the places they want to go.

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