the meaning of infrastructure

Via Streetsblog, House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner was recently quoted about the prospect of adding more money into the proposed federal stimulus plan:

“I think there’s a place for infrastructure, but what kind of infrastructure? Infrastructure to widen highways, to ease congestion for American families? Is it to build some buildings that are necessary?” He stated. “But if we’re talking about beautification projects, or we’re talking about bike paths, Americans are not going to look very kindly on this.”

Via the OED, infrastructure is defined as:

A collective term for the subordinate parts of an undertaking; substructure, foundation; spec. the permanent installations forming a basis for military operations, as airfields, naval bases, training establishments, etc.

A collective term for the subordinate parts of an undertaking… Which might just suggest the question of what we’re undertaking (Though thinking about training establishments and what I’ve heard of Cub Camp or the Wolfpack Hustle or reading the description of this makes it possible to think about Los Angeles as really having some of the best bicycle infrastructure in the whole world if only we realize it like these rides do).

Part of me wants to write to Rep. Boehner to suggest that he pull his head out of the gas tank he’s been inhaling, but part of me wants to try to rise to a different challenge: What is it, precisely, that I am undertaking when I get on my bike? Alex has a really thoughtful post up at WestsideBIKEside about embracing the challenge of being a bike activist in Los Angeles, and he makes a really thoughtful point:

When we feel victimized as cyclists, we should remember that this is what we want.  We ride where we want!  We all choose to bike for many reasons, and part of that deal is that we’re going to deal with some crap.  It’s a small price to pay for independence, fitness, fun, and a totally different worldview, free of the oppressive confinement of a motor vehicle.

I’m not a bike activist. I like to ride, I like to write about riding, and I like to think about what it means to ride a bike in Los Angeles. But even though I can’t really consider myself an activist, I want to think that it’s worthwhile to ask of myself if there’s something more that I’m riding for, whether it be global warming or simply saving money on gas. It’s not anything I have an answer for, but maybe I’m learning to ask better questions about biking in Los Angeles; maybe I’m beginning to put some words to this undertaking of mine (of ours?), some way to say that investing in cycling infrastructure isn’t just about making the roads look pretty – investing in infrastructure is about asking questions of the horizons we face, asking in a really honest fashion, What is it that we’re undertaking?

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8 responses to “the meaning of infrastructure

  1. It seems to me that writing about riding is a kind of activism. This time last year there were maybe 5 people doing it regularly. Having a body of work out there about riding in LA is a great thing, because it offers something to other riders to sustain them and make them feel like they’re not the only one.

    How goes it?

  2. I was telling a friend in the bicycle industry about some things I’ve been trying to do off the radar, and he made the comment that it seemed like I was fighting a one-man battle.

    That got me thinking a similar thought process to the person above; that there’s so many of us writing about cycling now, but in a sense, we’re fighting a one-person battle.

    We should get together, as sort of a “think tank”. Nothing official. No organization. Just several like minded cyclists discussing the battles we’re fighting on our own, and lending a hand to others.

    Perhaps over beers.

  3. I should also point out that I’ve been watching a lot of the show Numb3rs in TiVo, and they are making a “think tank” on there, which I thought was ultra-cool, so that might have something to do with this idea too…

  4. @Alex – maybe writing about riding is activism in its own small way, but I don’t think I’m as invested in writing for activism’s sake. I want to write to assert that I’m on the streets and I am a life and a person. And if that’s activism, cool.

    @AC – “think tank” is a good idea; there’s also the Bike Writers Collective (Alex, anyone else, is that still in effect?). And honestly, your friend in the bike industry might just be coming from a perspective where he sees LA as so many people do: As a city built to drive in. Imagining people biking here is kind of strange, even for people who bike for a living. Wish I could say I’ve seen Numb3rs, but don’t have a television that picks up a signal. I read blogs instead. Go figure.

  5. Unfortunately, I think that was his response *because* he knows LA vs. The Bicycle all too well…

    He also has had the power and influence of a large bicycle corporation at his back for too long. When you become accustomed to saying, “I’m ___ with _____ Co.” and getting things done, you forget how the common person accomplishes things.

    Regardless, I think he’d be interested in this think tank idea, so I’m glad to have that “influence” available…

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  7. I’m slowly losing my memory of the lone wolf days and getting accustomed to having collaborators that add value, like AC’s friend.

    Yeah – the Bike Writers Collective is still alive. Sort of. I’m focusing on community organizing outside the public sphere, but if I were to refocus on political activism, that would be a starting point for me.

    I do think there is room for a kind of meeting of the minds as AC suggests. I would suggest that it not be a brainchild of any one crew though – such as the Bike Summit, which is, behind the scenes, very controversial and drama filled. I’ve had a lot of success on the Westside with a weekly meeting of the minds concerned with ride/event organizing. So, I think it’s a good approach.

    Y’all will see a demonstration of that success on March 28th.

  8. I am 100% in favor this being a group of people with only bicycles in common (and likely, blogging about it). I’d love to have you Alex, and Damien, Timur, and a host of others I can bring throughout the industry.

    “If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.”

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