Dissertating About Urban Cycling

An interesting little tidbit arrived in my inbox this week.   It was an email from Lund University in Sweden about a study on mobility, planning, and cycling.   The study, officially titled “Velomobility – A critical analysis of planning and space”, was conducted by PhD student Till Koglin at Lund University.

It’s a comparative analysis of urban bicycling and planning issues between Copenhagen, Denmark, and Stockholm, Sweden, and it delves into how cycling infrastructure and planning evolved in different ways between the two cities resulting in Copenhagen being a “better” (their phrasing, not mine) city for cycling than Stockholm.

My first reaction upon reading this was, “Oh gee, another person raving about how great Copenhagen is for cycling.   I’ve never been there, but it sure looks amazing, so stop rubbing it in already!”

But then I realized there was a lot more going on in this email.   This study actually attempts to explain why and how Copenhagen became such a great place to ride a bike, but there were a few other things about it that caught my attention, as well.

One, I also happen to be working on my PhD, and I don’t believe my university goes around sending out press releases about recently completed dissertations to the types of individuals and organizations who might be interested in the results.   Though quite frankly, that’s genius.   It’s like, “Hey, let’s actively work to deliver science beyond the academic realm!”   Yes, please and thank you, I’d like some more of that!

Two, this recently completed dissertation was being circulated with a nice press release and a video.   A video I tell you!   All right Lund University, now you have my attention.   Because honestly, though a reluctant academic I may be, I’m more likely to watch the video than read the whole dissertation.   In fact, it sort of reminds me of the “Dance Your PhD” Contest…only not.   Anyhow, it’s pretty darn cool that this PhD student took the time to make a video about his dissertation.

Let’s take a moment and watch said video.

Ok, the video does leave a little bit to be desired.   For one, it doesn’t say anything about the actual study, nor does it mention Stockholm.   However, the associated press release definitely gives more details on the research.   I’m a bit curious about the origin of this video and press release.   Is this something all students at Lund University are expected to produce?   This is the first such thing I’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been missing out on something.

Anyhow, since I know how incredibly hard it is to finish a dissertation in the first place (ok, I don’t know, since I’m not done yet), I’m still super impressed that Mr. Koglin took the time to make a video.

Three, the press release is somewhat jargon heavy: “power relations”, “urban mobilities”, “spatial dimension”, “urban space”.   This is somewhat counter to the idea of sharing the science, since it’s still a little hard to dissect.   But it still grabbed my attention, since I’m a Geographer, and Geographers love to talk about space.   No, not outer space, but space as in the places in which we exist and where earthly phenomenon occur.   Our space impacts us, and we impact our space.

So the overall gist of Mr. Koglin’s dissertation is that if space isn’t constructed to favor cycling, cycling will not be as, well, favorable.   He’s arguing that cyclists are often marginalized in space due in part to certain historical conditions that either empower or disempower cycling and cyclists.

I’m not sure if I managed to de-jargonize that or not…

Anyhow, I found this particularly interesting, as I’m planning to dive into a series of posts here about my experiences cycling in two Arizona cities: Tucson and Flagstaff.   I recently relocated from Tucson to Flagstaff, and my experience commuting by bike has been drastically different between the two.   So in the spirit of this dissertation and my new bike commuting environment, I’ll be embarking on a comparative study of bike commuting in Tucson and Flagstaff in the coming months.   But I’ll keep it jargon-free!

So what do you think of the video, press release, and the dissertation if you looked at it?   And congrats to Mr. Koglin for finishing that dissertation.

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10 thoughts on “Dissertating About Urban Cycling”

  1. Joel says:

    Dear Melanie,

    First impression: very cool that we have dissertations (and dissections) about bicycle usage.

    Think about that idea in the American train of thought. I was just reading some articles and very animated discussion about how “Who Pays for Roads” on this website regarding Portland arguments to support bicycles and the arguments presented by many motorists who rebuff such arguments.

    I agree with many motorists that bicycles are seen as outliers. We are viewed as flaunting existing motor vehicle laws and are not licensed. I have bicycled year round for over two years and it is true in many cases. I see my fellow cyclists ride on the wrong side of the road and not use common sense (lights at night with a reflective vest). No one can know the frustration as I ride on the right side of the road, display enough lights that someone would think that I am a low flying helicopter, wear a reflective vest, only to have another cyclist on the wrong side of the road expect me to move into traffic so they can safely ride closer to the curb for them! I do not curse, I do not lecture them, I just stop and make them move into traffic to avoid me. They get the message, I do not need to lecture, and they rarely do it twice.

    It is great that the discussion to ride bicycles has approached a dissertation.

    My greatest argument for Americans is economic at this juncture. Cities that welcome bicycles are winning the educated youth who are not tied to automobiles. “Times are A-changing” to quote a transistor radio graduation march in the 1960s. Anyone who understood that last sentence knows exactly what I mean (you either researched it or you are about sixty-five years old and lived it).

    It is not that bicycles are for everyone, it is not that we know it all, but is is that the existing status-quo commuting model is under serious attack for social and economic reasons.

    Besides all of my letters and sentences, do you know that I just like to ride my bike?

    1. Hi Joel,

      Hey, I like to ride my bike too! I agree, it’s pretty cool bicycling is worthy of a dissertation. I thought about taking mine in that direction…but I didn’t want to suck all the fun out of something I love. 🙂 And you’re right, Americans are driving less, and cities that cater to the younger generation with bike infrastructure will win out in the long run, I think.

  2. Island Dave says:

    I like the idea of no bike lanes with traffic, cyclists and motorists mingling.

    Cyclists are vehicle operators and belong in the road.

  3. Andy says:

    Very cool content in his paper. Thank you for pointing us to it.

  4. BluesCat says:

    I totally agree with Doctor Till’s contention that motorized transportation priorities dominate urban space worldwide, and that this lock on how we get around must be broken if we are to create city environments which are friendlier to self-powered transportation methods.

    Unfortunately, a roadblock to that noble goal for some of the cities in the southwestern United States is they might not even exist — or would not be the size they are today nor as livable as they are — without the automobile and Ike’s Interstate system. This has led to automobiles being as embedded in the culture of the Wild West is as the idea of the six-shooter toting gunslinger.

    We will need some across-the-board culture changes if the bicycle is to become anything more than a miniscule part of the American transportation infrastructure.

    1. Hi Blues Cat,
      Yes, size definitely matters. Many cities in the Southwest are huge, and long distances are a barrier for many people when it comes to cycling. That’s a very different issue in many European cities or US cities with higher densities and smaller footprints. Sprawl makes it harder for change to occur in the SW, but things are improving year by year.

  5. ret3 says:

    Almost nobody else shares that view, though. If they did, there would be a great many more people riding bikes on the road. Most prefer the security of bike lanes or other paths.

  6. listenermark says:

    At a recent academic conference the key note speaker took the stage, scowled at the audience, and asked: “Do you people actually read the crap you write?” True story.

    Your de-jargonization of Koglin’s dissertation is spot-on.

  7. NYCeWheels says:

    Thanks for another great blog. This one is particularly interesting for me as a biker in NYC, which is geographically very small, full of cars, but also bike lovers. The last decade has been a battle to make the city more “bike friendly” in spite of incredible density of cars and and limited spaces for bike lanes. Solution? Hovering bike paths? Subterrainian no car routes? Who knows what the future will bring – Jack

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