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It is no surprise to people living in U.S. urban spaces that bicycling continues its ascent
into popularity. Neighborhoods and cities across the country are now committed to
making their spaces welcoming to bicyclists which include bicycling events, bicycle
lanes, and businesses that cater to cyclists. In my time as an urban bicycle commuter, I
have noticed that a particular bicyclist is being hailed by neighborhoods and cities—one
that has both racial and class privilege. Through my ethnographic research in three U.S.
cities I have confirmed my suspicion that the bicycle signifies different values and
meanings to different bicycling demographics. In this dissertation I ultimately argue that
the “rolling signification” of the bicycle contributes to its ability to build community,
influence gentrifying urban planning, and reify and obscure systemic race and class
barriers. I begin my dissertation with a case study on the Riverwest 24, a 24-hour bicycle
race, and how its organizers and participants build community but I complicate this
understanding of community building by exploring the neighborhood’s long history of
activism and its spatial connection to a major segregation line. The importance of a
neighborhood’s history as it intersects with bicycle advocacy is made clear in my second
case study in Portland, Oregon where neighbors clashed, along racial lines, about
renovating a specific bicycle lane. And thus I argue that the Black residents and history
rooted in Black culture in Portland’s Albina neighborhood produce a haunting (Gordon,
1997) within the reconstruction of that bicycle lane. In my final case study I explore
whether the theory that bicycle lanes can lead to gentrification holds any merit. In
Minneapolis I have found evidence that the local government is coopting bicycle
infrastructure to recruit educated, upwardly mobile people--with little regard to its impact
on residents who fall outside of that demographic. This cooptation is wrapped up in
power relations that allow the city government and “creative class” to define what a
sustainable and livable city looks like. This dissertation makes a rather large intervention
in Communication Studies as it illustrates the importance of rich description, spatial
analysis, and ethnography in our scholarship.
The number of bicyclists is increasing in the United States, especially among the working class and people of color. In contrast to the demographics of bicyclists in the United States, advocacy for bicycling has focused mainly on the interests of white upwardly mobile bicyclists, leading to neighborhood conflicts and accusations of racist planning. In Bike Lanes Are White Lanes, scholar Melody L. Hoffmann argues that the bicycle has varied cultural meaning as a "rolling signifier." That is, the bicycle's meaning changes in different spaces, with different people, and in different cultures. The rolling signification of the bicycle contributes to building community, influences gentrifying urban planning, and upholds systemic race and class barriers. In this study of three prominent U.S. cities--Milwaukee, Portland, and Minneapolis--Hoffmann examines how the burgeoning popularity of urban bicycling is trailed by systemic issues of racism, classism, and displacement. From a pro-cycling perspective, Bike Lanes Are White Lanes highlights many problematic aspects of urban bicycling culture and its advocacy as well as positive examples of people trying earnestly to bring their community together through bicycling.