Friday, January 31, 2014

Cycling and Hartford Conclusion

Cycling and Hartford: Coda

So where do we go from here? I don't know, because the big picture looks (note "looks" in italics, i.e. not "is") bleak. If I try to put a positive face on it, I could rationalize that pragmatism has also a positive flip-side and, that is, it's important to solve small problems first. Politics is often very adept at that, too, especially when it originates with grass roots movements. One hopes then that the chain of interlinking solutions to local problems then creates a new kind of attitude and practice (let's call it an ethos) that leads to even more significant changes. In this sense the Flower St. closing (in Hartford) is symptomatic of the larger problem of a more sustainable Hartford. The city and the state have built the busway in part because it will help relieve traffic congestion in the city. This is very good, of course, and it's also apparently in line with increased sustainability. At the same time, however, closing Flower St. to cyclists, pedestrians, and, in fact, local inhabitants essentially ignores the quality of life of these groups, who don't need the busway and who have the most invested in the city (because they live there). This is not sustainability. Some will argue that the street closing is a necessary tradeoff that serves a greater, public good. In pure numbers, perhaps this is true. Even if the busway were to serve many more people than expected and even if, then, these commuters were to frequent local businesses, etc… couldn't the city and the state have found a better solution than closing off the street? (The pedestrian and cycling detour is not just an inconvenience it's an added blight, also.) After all, isn't the best longterm investment and resource of a city the people that populate it? The Flower St. closing has been on my mind, not because I personally feel aggrieved by it, but because it is symptomatic of the things we need to do better.

The Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, wrote that we must be intellectually pessimistic, but we must also have an optimistic will. With Hartford's rich cycling legacy, you would think that we would have a lot to build on for a sustainable future, beginning with the bicycle.

A short list of sources:

Russell Arben Fox, "Bicycling and the Simple Life." Cycling: Philosophy for Everyone: A Philosophical Tour de Force. Eds, Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza & Michael W. Austin. Sussex, UK: Wiley, 2010:94-105.

Todd Balf, Major: A Black Athlete, a White Era, and the Fight To Be the World's Fastest Human Being. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2008.

Wiebe E. Bijker, "King of the Road: The Social Construction of the Safey Bicycle." Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs. Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995:19-100.

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities. Transl. William Weaver. New York: Harcourt, 1974.

Connecticut History Online.

Stephen B. Goddard, Colonel Albert Pope and His American Dream Machines. The Life and Times of a Bicycle Tycoon Turned Automotive Pioneer. Jefferson, NC & London: McFarland & Co., 2000.

David Herlihy, Bicycle, The History. New Haven: Yale U Press, 2004.

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