Inhabiting infrastructure: exploring the interactional spaces of urban cycling

Latham, Alan and Wood, Peter R. H. (2015). Inhabiting infrastructure: exploring the interactional spaces of urban cycling. Environment and Planning A, 47(2) pp. 300–319.




Contemporary cities are thick with infrastructure. In recognition of this fact a great deal of recent work within urban studies and urban geography has focused on transformations in the governance and ownership of infrastructural elements within cities. Less attention has been paid to the practices through which urban infrastructures are inhabited by urban dwellers. Yet in all sorts of ways infrastructures are realised through their use and inhabitation. This paper argues for the importance of attending to the ways that infrastructures are reinterpreted through use. Focusing on a case study of commuter cyclists in London, it explores the ways in which cyclists accommodate themselves to (and are in turn accommodated by) the infrastructural orderings of London’s streets. Confronted by the obduracy of a road infrastructure designed primarily for motorised traffic, cyclists show a diverse range of approaches to negotiating movement through the city on bikes. The paper describes how this negotiation can be understood in terms of the more or less skilful processes of navigation, rule following, rule making, and rule bending. This involves a polymorphous mix of practices, some common to driving, others to walking, and yet others unique to cycling. In conclusion, the paper suggests that transformations of infrastructures found within cities need to be understood as much through emergent changes between their elements, and that close attention to how infrastructures come to be inhabited offers productive avenues for thinking about ways to improve them.

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