Change is in the air with the inauguration of a new American President and many protests planned around the country. It got us thinking about how the bicycle has been used as vehicle of protest over the years and in different parts of the world.
Here are some examples of the bicycle as protest that immediately come to our minds. Please comment with other examples to share.
Critical Mass is a misunderstood direct action that involves hundreds and sometimes thousands of bicyclists meeting in one location at a designated time and riding through the streets en masse. It started in San Francisco and spawned hundreds of other regular monthly rides around the world. The rides have no leaders or designated route. While some people argue that Critical Mass is more a celebration of the bicycle than a protest, in the early years Critical Mass was an opportunity to visibly demonstrate what public streets could look and feel like when the bicycle, and not the car, is the king or queen of the road.
Buddhist Nuns Protesting Human Trafficking
We love this story about 500 Buddhist nuns in Nepal and India completing a ~2,500 mile bicycle trek to highlight human trafficking issues in their region. These women are awesome. Who doesn’t love nuns on bikes?
The Good Roads Movement
In the late 1800s, before the rise of the automobile, the bicycle was taking cities by storm and it led to the Good Roads Movement. The Golden Era of the Bicycle galvanized hundreds of thousands of new bicyclists to protest and organize for better roads. Popular demand for bicycles led to improved road conditions, which ironically, set the stage for better roads for automobiles once the car supplanted the bicycle as the aspirational choice for private transportation.
Women’s Rights in Iran
When the Supreme leader of Iran issued a fatwa banning women from riding bicycles in public in 2016, it called attention to the disparity in women’s rights in a regressive regime. In response, women around the world starting highlighting the issue using hashtag #IranianWomenLoveCycling. The bicycle represents independence and freedom and a ridiculous ban of public biking by any group is an affront against everyone.
Advocating for Sensible Traffic Enforcement and The Idaho Stop Law
When the police start cracking down on non-harmful, non-dangerous traffic violations like bicyclists rolling safely through intersections, it can sometimes lead to a counter-response. San Francisco bicyclists organized a massive protest against police efforts to cite bicyclists for simply rolling through intersections at a popular bicycle route called The Wiggle. Hundreds of bicyclists demonstrated what traffic might look like if every bicyclist obeyed traffic laws “literally.” Many of these activists have been fighting for city leaders to support the Idaho Stop Law, which basically “allows cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign, and a red light as a stop sign.”
Amsterdam Protests For Safer Streets
Much has been written about the 1960s efforts to reduce child fatalities in Amsterdam from fast moving automobiles. These organizing efforts helped put bicycles front and center as the preferred, safer mode of transportation within the city core. Pedestrians and bicyclists shared similar goals to create safer public spaces for everyone. All of this led to policies and city planning that eventually helped Amsterdam become the bicycle capital of the world.
Change comes from many places, within and outside of government, but it also comes at the ballot box when we elect our local City Councilors, Mayors, statewide and national elected officials.
As advocates of the bicycle and public spaces as important gathering places (even for protest), we at PUBLIC recognize that protests can serve as organizing tools to encourage more people to make substantive changes through voting and by pressuring lawmakers, whether your cause is healthcare, immigrant rights, women’s rights, or even the rights of bicyclists to safely move through our cities.