Models, experiments, and intra-metropolitan difference: emerging geographies and practices of infrastructural reconfiguration for cycling in Mexico City and Toronto


  • Thomas van Laake University of Manchester




After decades of marginalization in transportation policy and infrastructure design, a growing consensus on urban cycling as a central element of transitions to sustainable mobility systems has informed efforts by city governments to improve conditions and stimulate modal shift. Nonetheless, and despite widespread reference to ‘model’ cycling cities, processes of infrastructural reconfiguration for cycling have proven complex and contested. In seeking to overcome institutional inertia, the obdurate material legacies of car-centric transport planning, and entrenched social and political resistance to change, researchers and policymakers alike have increasingly turned to ‘experimentation’ as a heuristic and method for urban intervention (Bertolini, 2020).

In juxtaposing the increasingly global range of cases of cycling infrastructure implementation with the burgeoning literature experimentation and transition in urban mobility policies and street design practices, a critical tension between the development of new practices and the replication of best practices becomes apparent. On the one hand, the implementation and extension of cycling infrastructures often involves experimentation with novel design practices and policy mechanisms (Hahn & te Brömmelstroet, 2021; Sosa López, 2021). On the other hand, the scaling up of interventions demands a certain degree of standardisation and replicability if cycling policies and infrastructures are to remain coherent, compatible, and continuous (Hess, 2009; Lagendijk & Ploegmakers, 2022).

Seeking to ground critical discussion of experimentation and standardization in empirical study of cases of mobility transition, this paper analyzes Mexico City and Toronto’s processes of infrastructural reconfiguration for cycling. The discussion is presented in three empirical vignettes: (1) the adoption and subsequent institutionalization of a cycling infrastructure policy; (2) the development and scaling of feasible and effective design models and implementation mechanisms; and (3) the extension of infrastructural reconfiguration across urban difference and jurisdictional boundaries.

In examining how cycling interventions are being extended and adapted across the heterogeneous infrastructural and urban contexts of Mexico City and Toronto, this paper aims to contribute to discussions of experimentation in street design and mobility transitions, as well as to broader literatures on urban transitions, policy mobilities, and sustainable mobility infrastructures.


Bertolini, L. (2020). From “streets for traffic” to “streets for people”: Can street experiments transform urban mobility? Transport Reviews, 40(6), 734–753.

Hahn, T., & te Brömmelstroet, M. (2021). Collaboration, experimentation, continuous improvement: Exploring an iterative way of working in the Municipality of Amsterdam’s Bicycle Program. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 9, 100289.

Hess, P. M. (2009). Avenues or Arterials: The Struggle to Change Street Building Practices in Toronto, Canada. Journal of Urban Design, 14(1), 1–28.

Lagendijk, A., & Ploegmakers, H. (2022). Bicycle highways as a ‘liquid’ policy concept. Active Travel Studies, 2(2).

Sosa López, O. (2021). Bicycle Policy in Mexico City Urban Experiments and Differentiated Citizenship. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 45(3), 477–497.