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Off the Computer and Into the Saddle: Local Cycling Media and Community Engagement

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Presentation at 2010 International Association for Media and Communication Research conference in Braga, Portugal.

Presentation at 2010 International Association for Media and Communication Research conference in Braga, Portugal.

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    Off the Computer and Into the Saddle: Local Cycling Media and Community Engagement Off the Computer and Into the Saddle: Local Cycling Media and Community Engagement Presentation Transcript

    • Off the Computer and Into the Saddle: Austin Cycling Media and Community Engagement Chris McConnell University of Texas at Austin IAMCR, Braga, July 2010
    • The Project
      • Austin has seen the emergence of a few large casual bicycle rides in recent years
      • Participation in bicycle-advocacy has increased
      • What role have local cycling-oriented media such as blogs and ‘zines played in this?
    • The Study
      • Semi-structured interviews with 25 cyclists
      • Approached at two large rides, Critical Mass and Thursday Night Social ride
      • Subjects were queried about media use, social ties, participation in lobbying or advocacy
      • Additional 18 months of participant observation
    • Bicycles
      • Low-cost form of transportation
      • Minimal environmental impact
      • Lack of enclosure improves sociality
      • Sometimes difficult to integrate into motorized transport infrastructure
      • US is particularly bike-hostile
    • Austin, Texas
      • State Capital of Texas
      • Home to University of Texas
      • 786,382 population, 1,705,075 metro
      • Doubled in size in approx. 25 years
      • About 118,000 university-level students
      • Youthful population
      • Faces substantial transportation and planning problems
    • Cycling in Austin
      • Long home to a transportation cycling community
      • Lance Armstrong is a local hero
      • >1% of commutes are done by bike, about twice US average
      • Silver-level rating from League of American Bicyclists
      • Many streets have bike lanes or other accommodations, but no integrated network
    • A typology of Cycling
      • Sport
        • Rides for exercise, competition
      • Transportation
        • Commuting, shopping, utility
      • Casual
        • Rides for fun, some exercise or utility
      • This paper is primarily interested in Transportation and Casual cyclists
    • Austin Cycling Media
      • ATXBS.com: blog listing casual rides with some commentary
      • BicycleAustin.info: advocacy site with forum and email list
      • Social Cycling ATX: spread across social media platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter
      • The Dropout: print ‘zine on bike culture
      • Variety of personal blogs, organizations
    • Critical Mass
      • Monthly civil disobedience ride in rush-hour, performed in cities worldwide
      • Performed since 1991
      • Attracts about 75-80 cyclists in Austin
      • Furness (2009) performative/embodied communication practice.
      • “ It’s kind of an outlaw ride,” Al, 60
      • “ There’s something really empowering about riding with a big group of people. It’s a thrill you can’t get anywhere else.” -Melissa, 19
      Critical Mass
    • Thursday Night Social Ride
      • Weekly casual ride, ends at bars
      • Began in 2008 by Social Cycling ATX
      • Organized and promoted through Facebook
      • Participants are expected to follow traffic laws, stop at red lights.
      • Draws as many as 300 riders in nice weather
      • Not overtly political, but engages in some advocacy
    • Thursday Night Social Ride
      • “ The more rides like this, the better image we have. The more rides like this the safer it will be for everyone.”
        • Keith, TNSR organizer
    • Other Rides in Austin
      • Midnite Ridazz
      • Skellies
      • Tuesday Night Yoga Ride
      • World Naked Bike Ride
      • Full Moon Cruise
    • Information about Rides
      • Although SCATX and ATXBS broadcast ride announcements, most subjects indicated that they knew where and when rides started
      • New riders said they discovered rides through these sites.
      • Many riders said they learned of rides through friends.
    • Subjects on ATXBS
      • ATXBS was almost the only blog mentioned by subjects.
      • “ It’s definitely created a sense of community.” - Sara, 28
      • “ There’s always a different ride.” - Joseph, 28
      • Enjoy irreverent tone, presence of editor on rides
    • Bike Media
      • “ Biking is kind of like an outdoor thing while the Internet is kind of a sit-on-your-ass thing.” Melissa, 19, “addict”
      • Most subjects said they did not go online to learn about cycling or bikes.
      • In fact, many subjects just thought this was strange
      • Few reported going online for information about bicycle advocacy
    • Motivations for Participation
      • Social Capital/Community
        • Participants go to rides to see friends meet new people, be around other cyclists
        • “ I just like the social aspect of cycling; it’s just a real positive vibe.” - Troy, 60
      • Identity
        • “ Everyone doesn’t have to be the power-bar eating, spandex kind of biker.” - Rachel, 28
    • Politics and Advocacy
      • Few subjects reported the desire to make a political statement as a reason for participating, even in Critical Mass
      • Few subjects claimed to have an interest in bike advocacy, although they would like to see more bike lanes, better police treatment, etc.
      • Still bike-related political events see good turnout
    • Conclusions
      • The regular casual rides seem to be mostly about the formation and maintenance of social capital
      • Batterbury (2003) advocacy as social network rather than social movement, single-issue emphasis
      • Influential bike blogs like ATXBS can use their social captial to deploy cyclists for advocacy purposes
    • Further Directions and Questions
      • Conduct interviews at city forums and advocacy events
      • More interviews with media producers.
      • The local bike media does seem to have an influence over this bike community, yet the bikers don’t talk about it.
      • How is it that they influence this group?