Building practice

The ‘building practice’ approach consists in an intervention in the material environment, i.e. the provision of infrastructure, an innovation in technology or a modification in the material objects used to perform the practice. The most common form of ‘building’ the practice of urban transport cycling is the provision of specialised cycling infrastructure in the form of cycleways.

I argue in my thesis that the provision of cycleways is an inherently political issue. Limited urban space is divided between modes of transport and the retrospective integration of a cycleway removes space from other modes of transport. Where and how cycleways are provided is an expression of political priorities.

Based on the data from four case study cycleways in six respective municipalities in Santiago de Chile, I argue that the competition between the practices of urban transport cycling and driving private motorised vehicles in Santiago in 2011 was expressed in the entire planning and design process as well as the individual design decisions and the resulting individual situated experience of cycling. The dominance of driving shaped the planning and design of specialised cycling infrastructure, directly through regulations and standards and more subtly through general understandings and myths which shaped the vision of particular plans and designs. The competition between the practices could be clearly seen in the struggles for standardisation and stabilisation of the planning and design process.


Wesslowski, V. (2014) Facilitating a Contested Practice: Building and growing urban transport cycling in Santiago de Chile. PhD thesis. The University of Manchester, p. 240.

The figure above summarises the genesis of building practice interventions. The research suggests that in the case studies interventions to build the practice of urban transport cycling actually emerged from the core of the system of automobility. The system of automobility was mirrored in the planning regulations and design guidelines. The infrastructure interventions provided a space into which cycling could expand. However, the blue colour of the provided space in the figure above symbolises that this space is still shaped by the dominant practice of driving within the system of automobility.

Providing cycling infrastructure in order to facilitate urban transport cycling may not be the straightforward ‘techno-rational’ process as which it is often portrayed by transport engineers. In the context of a transport system in which motorised transport is still widely prioritised, the provision of cycling infrastructure may be shaped significantly by the established norm of driving private motorised vehicles. The building practice approach is a set of political negotiations in which practices compete with one another through regulations, guidelines, general understandings and constructed myths.