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Rickshaws in South Asia

Introduction to the Special Section

M. William Steele

The rickshaw, invented in Japan in 1869, helped to produce a revolution in mobility for millions of people in Asia and Africa. By the 1930s, the everyday mobility offered by the hand-pulled rickshaw gave way to several of its off spring: the cycle-rickshaw, trishaw, pedicab, cyclo, becak, and the auto-rickshaw. The three articles in this special section describe how these “primitive” non-motorized vehicles continue in the twenty-first century to play a valuable and irreplaceable role in urban and rural transport in South Asian cities. The authors are traffic experts, geographers, and urban planners who live and work in contemporary rickshaw cultures. Despite the reality of urban hazards, the articles describe cultural, economic, and environmental reasons to keep rickshaws on the road, now and in the future.

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Media Ecologies of Autonomous Automobility

Gendered and Racial Dimensions of Future Concept Cars

Julia M. Hildebrand and Mimi Sheller

The imagination of automated automobility puts into question the control of the vehicle by a masculine driver and potentially disturbs feelings of safety, power, security, and freedom. Given that systems of automobility and communication technology are already gendered and racialized in particular ways, this article explores how recent “premediated” depictions of automated car technologies reconfigure and reproduce the historically gendered and raced representations, meanings, and practices of (auto)mobility. This inquiry employs a media ecological approach within the qualitative analysis of two concept car previews by Nissan and Volvo. Rather than a degendering of the driver, we suggest a multiplication of gendered and racialized technologies of mobility via several forms of hypermediation. We also explore how the autonomous car continues to evoke utopian spatial metaphors of the car as sanctuary and communicative environment while allaying fears of dystopian metaphors of the vehicle as traffic trap, virtual glass house, and algorithmic target.

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The High Line

An Exhibit Review of New York's

Tracy Nichols Busch

An abandoned freight track on Manhattan’s West Side, considered by local businesses to be nothing more than an eyesore and an impediment to development, became the cause célèbre of New Yorkers in the early twenty-first century. Efforts to “save the High Line” resulted in one of the largest creations of public space in New York history. The 8.8 metertall High Line, which stretches 12 blocks between Ganesvoort Street and 20th Street, features both permanent and temporary art installations that inform visitors of their movement through space and its implication for the natural and constructed worlds. A post-industrial yearning for a more harmonious relationship between humans and the natural world can be detected in New Yorkers’ affection for the High Line. The elevated nature of this raised railroad track creates an ethereal and otherworldly sensation. The traffic below becomes an abstraction and pedestrians, always vulnerable on the streets, are lifted above the fray.

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Jeffrey T. Schnapp, Speed Limits Charissa Terranova

Mark Simpson, Trafficking Subjects: The Politics of Mobility in Nineteenth-century America Cotten Seiler

Tim Cresswell and Peter Merriman, Geographies of Mobilities: Practices, Spaces and Subjects Gopa Samanta

Aharon Kellerman, Personal Mobilities Marcel Endres

Matthew Beaumont and Michael Freeman, eds., The Railway and Modernity: Time, Space, and the Machine Ensemble Dorit Müller

William D. Middleton and William D. Middleton III, Frank Julian Sprague: Electrical Inventor and Engineer and Frederick Dalzell, Engineering Invention: Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry Bob Post

Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us) Clay McShane

Lee Friedlander, America By Car Charissa Terranova

Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon, Two Billion Cars: Driving towards Sustainability Rudi Volti

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Marc Augé

The nomads traditionally studied by ethnographers have a sense of place and territory, a sense of time and of return. This nomadism is thus different from the metaphorical nomadism of our current mobility; that is, “overmodern” (surmoderne) mobility. The meaning of “over” in the adjective “overmodern” or “supermodern” has to be read in the sense that it has in Freud’s and Althusser’s expression “overdetermination,” where it indicates the profusion of causes in a particular phenomenon that complicates the analysis of its effects. Overmodern mobility expresses itself in the movements of population (migrations, tourism, professional mobility), in immediate general communication and in the traffic of products, images, and information. It corresponds to the paradox of a world where we can, at least in theory, make everything without moving and while moving all the time.

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Building a Hybrid Highway System

Road Infrastructure as an Instrument of Economic Urbanization in Belgium

Michael Ryckewaert

This paper investigates the conception and construction of the Belgian highway network since 1945. It focuses on the formative decades of the 1950s and 1960s, when the network was designed and an important financing mechanism established (the 1955 Road Fund). A distinguishing characteristic in the construction of the network is the use of highways as a vector of urbanization for economic development purposes. Combining long-distance traffic with local access to adjoining services, these highways fulfill a twofold role defined at the conception of the network in 1951. Incorporating ring roads, expressways, regional highways, and a high density of exits into a transnational system, the Belgian network is a "hybrid" highway system.

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My Way or the Highway

Introduction to the Special Section on Roads

Thomas Zeller

Roads matter. They define spaces, spur economic development, provide ways of seeing cities and countryside, and enable generally faster forms of moving around. While the history of mobility and transportation has paid lots of attention to automobiles, trains, and airplanes, fewer scholarly accounts of streets, roads, and highways exist. For one, roads, unlike cars, almost never become individually owned objects of personal consumption. While some iconic highways such as the myth-laden “Route 66” in the U.S. exist, the majority of roads are nameless except for combinations of letters and numbers. As is the case with so many other everyday technologies, most observers only notice roads when they are dysfunctional: during traffic jams, when they contain potholes, during periods of construction and maintenance.

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Mobilizing Transport

Media, Actor-worlds, and Infrastructures

Gabriele Schabacher

The article deals with the relationship between media and transportation infrastructures and analyzes their links to the concept of mobility. It examines the assumption that infrastructure systems themselves are mobile, in the sense that they develop and have to be maintained constantly. According to such a perspective, they are to be considered not primarily as “structures,“ but as specific processes of mobilization (infrastructuring) that constitute the basis for mobility in the sense of transport and movement. Drawing on historical knowledge of transportation, it will be shown that a broad understanding of traffic as exchange, communication, and transportation has narrowed in the twentieth century, whereby the originally implied idea of transport as transformation became suppressed. Recent approaches in mobility studies, Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) can be combined in a fruitful way to unfold the specific dynamics of infrastructure as a process of mobilization (Callon) and technical mediation (Latour).

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Geetam Tiwari

Cycle rickshaws continue to play an important role in meeting the mobility demands in South Asian cities. Current transport policies, however, do not support their use. Rickshaws are viewed as a cause of congestion and a profession in which rickshaw owners exploit poor people. This article presents data from published studies to argue against those views. Data from Delhi metro users suggests that as cities expand their public transport services, rickshaws will continue as an important feeder mode in the future. Recent studies also suggest that if separate lanes are created for non-motorized vehicles (which can be used by bicycles as well), then rickshaws and motorized vehicles will experience less congestion and non-motorized vehicles will be exposed to lower traffic crash risk. This article advocates the collection of relevant data concerning rickshaw trips and the number of rickshaws in future travel surveys and that appropriate infrastructures should be designed to facilitate their movement.

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Malini Sur

Life Cycle ethnographically and visually documents the everyday use of bicycles among Kolkata’s city dwellers. Winding through the city’s congested thoroughfares and narrow by-lanes, we follow daily wageworkers, including migrants from eastern India, environmentalists, teachers, and activists, who cycle for a living. In this documentary (forty-two minutes) and the broader ethnographic project within which it is situated, I investigate how cycling mediates people’s changing relationships to cities in South Asia. Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), the largest city in eastern India, is the primary focus of Life Cycle. This city has 1.68 million cyclists, records 2.5 million cycle trips a day, has the least amount of road space (6 percent) in metropolitan India, and has the second highest air pollution level. By 2017, traffic regulations prohibited cycling on seventy city roads.