Political obstacles are one of the biggest single challenges in the development of more sustainable transportation. Motorists, car producers, road builders, and others with a vested interest in the continued domination of the private automobile are a powerful political bloc, while professional experts in town planning or traffic engineering tend to privilege cars over alternatives. While there have been successes at promoting sustainable transportation in a handful of cities around the world, the political power of the car continues to hold sway in most places, creating powerful resistance against any policy efforts to promote walking, cycling, or transit. This article uses a case study of the history of bike commuting in Canada to show how sustainable transportation practices can grow and win political victories despite this resistance. Canadian cyclists have had several such victories, despite the hostile context in which they find themselves. Much of this is due to the fact that they were able to form effective social movements to champion their interests. Using the literature on policy feedbacks and communities of practice, this article shows that these successful movements emerged out of a confluence of material, cultural, and political developments; and that there are ways for policymakers to encourage these developments as a form of policy feedback. It concludes by discussing the implications of this not just for cycling policy, but also for sustainability transitions more generally.

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Energy Research and Social Science
School of Public Policy and Administration

Roberts, C. (Cameron). (2020). Into a Headwind: Canadian cycle commuting and the growth of sustainable practices in hostile political contexts. Energy Research and Social Science, 70. doi:10.1016/j.erss.2020.101679