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The Bicycle – Different Perspectives from Afghanistan to London

by John Symon

December 30, 2013 – The bicycle has become a powerful symbol of hope for women in Afghanistan and may be emerging as a powerful political symbol in North America as a major U.S. newspaper cites Toronto’s Mayor Ford on this point.

In Afghanistan, American volunteer worker, Shannon Galpin, recounts how daring women have formed a cycling team reports The New York Times. It is considered immoral and taboo for women to ride bicycles in some Muslim countries, including Afghanistan, and the team members are risking death threats.

One 16-year-old Afghani rider declares her intention to wave the Afghan flag at the Olympic Games. Afghanistan only began sending women athletes to the Games in 2004. The country now counts 45 licensed female cyclists according to the UCI.

Public attitudes toward women cyclists in Afghanistan today probably resemble those in North America in the 1880s or 1890s noted Galpin. “Women were often deemed promiscuous if they rode bikes in the street.”

Meanwhile at home here in North America does seeing bicycles as the enemy unite conservatives? Anger against cyclists seems to have become the new rallying cry for the right wing according to a column in the Boston Globe. That article singles out Toronto’s Rob Ford as “perhaps the most anti-bike politician in the world.”

Before becoming mayor, Ford declared that roads were designed for only buses, cars, and trucks; if cyclists were killed using the roads, it was essentially their own fault. Under Ford’s administration, Toronto paid $300,000 to rip up bike lanes. Apparently, a political scientist has found that a voter’s method of commuting was the strongest indicator of voting preferences when Ford was elected in 2010 – car commuters apparently were Ford’s base of support.

Clearly it would be a mistake to paint all Conservatives with the same brush. Boris Johnson, the Conservative mayor of London, England plans to transform the British capital into a more bike-friendly city with fully segregated bike lanes.

To do this, an infrastructure spending plan of £ 1 billion ($1.74 billion CDN) has been announced over 10 years reported The Independent in March. And a recent rash of cycling deaths – including six in November – is putting pressure on the mayor to accelerate his plans, this time according to The Guardian and AFP.

Women cyclists in Afghanistan – read article here.

Is the bike the conservatives’ new enemy? Read article here.

London UK bike investments. Read article here.

Read Boris Johnson article here.

Read London UK bike investments article here (French).

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