David and Goliath Have Coffee Together. Establishing a Dialogue with Pedestrians Regarding Bikes and Cars

Published: 22 February 2021

Liliana López León | LinkedIn | ResearchGate | [email protected]
The author is an enthusiast of cycling culture and sustainable cities. She is interested in studying the relationships between human beings, nature and technology.

Selected final essay, published 22 February 2021
Unraveling the Cycling City MOOC on Coursera

These are my thoughts after taking the Urban Cycling Course:

Mexicali isn’t what you would call an ideal place to go out for a walk or a bike ride. Winters there are dry and the temperature can drop to 3°C. On the other hand, summers are humid and sunny, and the temperature can rise to about 50°C. Its system of road transport is specially designed for cars. There’s this widespread perception that only those who are unable to afford a car, use a bike or public transport. However, the subject of transportation has been taken more seriously in recent years due to various circumstances regarding an air quality crisis. Pollution turns out to be an urgent and common element which makes more and more people take an active interest in this cause.

@victormedinafoto 2020

I have tried to use David and Goliath’s parable to explain how I think negotiations on urban mobility are perceived in Mexicali: there seems to be an uneven match in which the adversary is bigger and stronger. Nevertheless, I believe that it is possible to open up more space for harmonious dialogue and reflection. In the end, we all are in the same boat, and whether we ride a bike or drive a car, we all are still pedestrians after all. This also means a call to peace and partnership in a country where being an activist is considered a life-threatening matter (United Nations, 2020).

In this regard, the fact that the issue of sustainable cities is gaining momentum among public agendas in my hometown and the country of Mexico in general represents a small achievement. This implies that a budget for non-motorized mobility is considered at one point, and greater prominence is given to data collection in order to make better decisions. And although we still need to gain ground on journalistic ethics (there’s victim blaming everyday) in the face of traffic accidents, positive changes are being noticed little by little. All these small won battles indicate that the disputes lead to a better understanding of this situation, or that they at least are being diversified.

@victormedinafoto 2020

This dialogue, with all the tensions that it entails, gives opportunity for collaboration. And although it is beneficial to have better laws for coexistence on the streets, they do not solve the lack of empathy. If initiatives to promote cycling or “pedestrianization” remain on a superficial level, they might only become something politically correct, such as taking a selfie to post on social media, but not as part of a change associated with better shared mobility experiences (Marshall, Piatkowski, & Johnson, 2017, p. 824).

When I think about the different ways in which spaces for dialogue can be better, I think about how I feel when I’m riding my bike. At first I am nervous, but after riding a few meters I feel free and attentive to my surroundings. When I started to use my bike as a means of transport, I realized that I had to work on my attitude of serenity because I was in a senseless rush, and I let myself be carried away by the rapid movement of vehicles in the city. Not to mention the occasional insults from motorists. Even though I’m always on the lookout for the sake of my own safety, I try to focus more on enjoying myself and staying calm despite everything else.

I think of this attitude of serenity as necessary to establish a dialogue. In order to understand a city, it is necessary to recognize it as a complete system, built of different elements and sets of elements. Each of them having relationships with each other and with their environment. This has been mentioned previously (Brömmelstroet, Nello-Deakin, Quillien, & Bhattacharya, 2018) and helps to consider that mobilities also have an impact on human behavior. At the same time, there are so many needs in the ways of moving (or not moving), as well as there are specific points of view that do not fit into the categories of pedestrian or vehicle (Forsyth & Krizek, 2011).


There are approximately one million people in Mexicali, more than a million cars and about 5,000 cyclists. How could so many people focus on establishing a dialogue to reach at least temporary agreements? There are social networks, which are considered platforms that can be used to build communities, as well as tools that help manage and promote cycling events (López, 2017). However, in these spaces the opening to different ways of thinking is not encouraged. On the contrary, the way in which algorithms and faceless communication work makes it easier for personal stances to reaffirm, and for messages to be decontextualized. All of this without even considering the digital gap, which does not allow everyone to participate in the same way.

A consideration that has to be taken into account is that the automobile as a gear of progress is obsolete; however, as a speech it is still very present when it comes to discussing the improvement of cities (Oldenziel & de la Bruhèze, 2011, p. 32). Since we all are pedestrians, I suggest to place the spaces for discussion on the human scale, just as urban design would also consider it. In other words, while initiatives such as Critical Mass and Reclaim the Streets provide visibility and vindication to the road pacification movement, other more relaxed and smaller junctures are also required. Furthermore, it must be taken into account who the people involved in such junctures are and what their context looks like.

This issue poses the question: Is it advisable to establish relationships and build community fellowship before proposing urban interventions? Or is it possible to carry out urban interventions while trying to build a community amidst the controversy that public space always unleashes?


Spaces do not have unique answers. They are in constant dispute (Nello-Deakin, 2019) and therefore under construction. A design based on open, frequent and accessible dialogue for all is as important as a design that considers functionality, safety, the environment and aesthetics.

Consequently, David and Goliath might face each other off, and win one; certainly, winning both would be better. And it is the turn of the strongest one to be courteous, and step down from the automobile before engaging into a conversation.


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