I can’t help but see the urban cycling renaissance as fundamentally a product of social media, like the revolutions in Syria and Egypt. While authors of papers like this one and this one have given policy makers the empirical evidence to justify investment in segregated cycle tracks, it has been social media wizards like Mikael Colville-Andersen and Eben Weiss whetting our appetites for European infrastructure (in the case of the former) or for looking and feeling as though we’re au fait with every detail of cycling since PK Rippers, as Weiss makes us feel when we laugh with him at newbies. Just looking at cycle chic, it was such a conspicuous example of the power of facebook, twitter and blogging, that IBM used it as a case study.
At least 5 years has passed since Mr. Cycle Chic and Bike Snob were furiously blogging to establish their fame. Bike Snob is no longer updating daily. Perhaps he’ll return to his day job, rejecting bad books for a literary agency. While Mikael still blogs and keeps cycle chic primed with fresh photos of fresh Danish lassies on Omafietsen, we sense his main focus is his growing consultancy. You might think now would be the time for someone like me, who rode on each of their coat tails, to make a charge for either Mikael’s or Bike Snob’s position as a leading bike blogger.
I would, but the party is already over. I would be like Ukraine, who thinks Eurovision is still a song contest. All the great bike blogs of a few years ago are now just in maintenance mode. Their authors have brainstormed all the key concepts, settled on all the best terms and are now becoming establishment figures, with no time to provide cheap entertainment to readers. In hindsight I could say that I too used blogging to win myself a career change, marrying my professional skills to my love of cycling. One irony is that now cycling is central to my day job and work interests, I can no longer write blog posts with quite the same irreverence that, for a while there, could bring my blog five or six hundred hits every day. The traffic has halved for me, and I’m sure it has for the better known bloggers as well.
Looking to the horizon, are there any shots in the arm that might keep the internet’s bicycle transport crowd blogging and tweeting? Will anything keep us enthused, when it will be increasingly easy to feel as David Hembrow must have felt when he wrote this?
One thing to look forward to are changes in the medium (the internet) via which we have been communicating. We’ve been struggling like missionaries who don’t speak the language to explain to each other the dilemmas of bike infrastructure in our particular countries. All we have had to play with though, has been text and video. Within 5 years I hope a few of us will own VR machines such as this, and headsets like this. Then we will be able to fully immerse each other in real and imagined environments. One of my projects is an architectural simulation application of this technology. It is a waste just using bicycle VR for racing training. (Of course the only reason I know about cycling VR, is that I am a race nerd myself.)
Something else I believe we’ll be talking about when dutch bikes and bike share are tired, are bike friendly accreditation schemes, of various kinds. To be awarded platinum accreditation from BizCycle, and that way attract the best staff, Seattle businesses not only have to provide bike parking on their premises and be located near bike infrastructure, but must also become demonstrably active in bicycle advocacy. While I personally feel BizCycle overstates the importance of showers, and fails to differentiate between high and low quality bike infrastructure, they nevertheless are so close to perfecting their model that I would love to see it rolled out or copied. The only problem is, unlike some certification rackets, BizCycle does not make a profit. Still, there is an opportunity there for someone who can strike the right balance.
While we wait for VR (or ignore VR) there will be a resurgence I think in good old face to face bicycle advocacy. One dividend of the social media revolution is it has improved the vocabularies of local bike advocates who 5 years ago would not have known names like John Forrester, or terms such as “barrier protected cycle track”. Most accepted the world as presented to them in their own little towns. The information revolution has equipped us all with constructs to speak to each other and city officials with a degree of intelligence.
But let’s not get too carried away with the lingo. I’m sure professional traffic engineers must cringe when I use jargon like “shared space” or “capacity”, not really knowing either term’s complete history or nuances. I laugh myself when bicycle advocates become overnight experts in “place making”, “urban design”, “permeability” and other core notions within my field of expertise. Outside our fields, we are still dilettantes.
It is this realisation that is steering me back toward my field of expertise. Hopefully this explains the greater gap between blog posts these days. Moreover, I hope I have explained to myself that a halving in web traffic should not be taken to heart. Spare a thought for my Primrose who thought it would double, then double, and that we would soon be raking in advertising bucks. To fulfil that ambition she has had to start writing a blog of her own.