- Bicycle Culture by Design: Practical Symbolism in DC

It’s the new bicycle parking terminal outside Union Station in Washington, DC. Opening very soon, if not already. There’ll be, if I recall correctly, parking for 150 bicycles, a shop/workshop, changing rooms for the cyclists who go too fast [:-)] and lockers. Outside of opening hours subscribers can gain access with a card.It’s a useful and practical addition to the city but it’s much, much more than that. Firstly, it’s an eye-catching design. A little architectural monument. It sends many more signals than “see, I’m a pretty, modern building!” It sends signals to the city at large that the bicycle isn’t really going anywhere. That the people riding bicycles you’re seeing around town are here to stay. There may even be more on the way. Get used to it.It’s an important visual landmark that with it’s permanence is telling the citizens that bicycles are, and deserve to be, an accepted, respected and increasingly established transport form.

It wasn't open yet when I visited but here's one of the employees parking his bike.This symbolism is all a part of marketing bicycle culture. It's quite simple, really. It's like sitting someone down in a chair and showing them an endless stream of flash cards. Bicycle symbols, parking, pictograms, bike lanes, cycle tracks, bicycles in all styles and colours, people using them in the urban theatre.After a time, a sense of recognition and of permanence will filter through into the person's consciousness. Show enough positive flash cards and they will gradually accept the motives on them and perhaps they will even be encouraged enough to try a bike for themselves.On the other hand, if you keep flashing images of danger and destruction, the person's prejudices will merely be enforced and confirmed. No bike in their future.

Here's the bike racks once again. It's a bold move, a brash symbol. Nice.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, dual symbolism in play. :-)Addendum:This just in from Catharine:

We're open! Bike and Roll Washington DC ( is managing the building and offering rentals, retail and service (tours will begin spring 2010) Memberships for secure parking is handled by Bikestation ( Memberships can be arranged online or in our shop m(though either way, Bikestation will need to mail you a fob/access key. We're psyched to be there - glad you stopped by and were able to check it out.

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