Date of Award

August 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Linda McCarthy

Committee Members

Kristin Sziarto, Ryan Holifield, Anne Bonds, Joel Rast


Automobility, Bicycle Transportation, High-speed Rail, Level of Service, Politics of Mobility, Wisconsin


In this dissertation research, I investigate two cases which exemplify a larger politics of multimodal transportation in Wisconsin: the 2010 Wisconsin high-speed rail (HSR) debate; and the 2011 debate over whether to add a bike path to Milwaukee's Hoan Bridge during its redecking. In both case studies, I trace the politics of these projects, and investigate how the decisions not to pursue these projects came to be legitimized. I approach these case studies using a transportation-focused politics of mobility framework, located at the intersection of transportation geography and new mobilities paradigm scholarship. Employing a range of qualitative methods, I find that not only were certain stakeholders (such as newly-elected politicians in state government, and Department of Transportation officials) significant in making decisions against these projects, but the way that transportation was thought about among the general public in Wisconsin served to legitimize the end of these projects. In the case of Wisconsin HSR, the original contribution I make is to demonstrate how the manner in which Wisconsin HSR was spatially conceptualized in the debate was ultimately significant for how the decision to abandon the project came to make logical sense to a majority of Wisconsin residents. Further, this case study contributes original insights into the meanings that HSR had for people in Wisconsin, which serves as a caution against overly rigid, national-scale explanations of why the project failed. In the case of the Hoan Bridge bike path, the original contribution is to empirically demonstrate how the tools of traffic engineering have embedded within them particular visions of how mobility and its spaces ought to be, and that this embedded bias can be concealed by claiming that such tools are scientific, and by implication, value-free. In addition to revealing this embedded bias, the case study demonstrates that the representation of these tools to the general public can be political. Taken together, these case studies suggest that productive work can be done at the intersection of transportation geography and mobilities research by using this politics of mobility framework. Further, these case studies underline the fact that debates over transportation involve a range of competing interests, beliefs, normative values, and meanings that are bound up with transportation, and that these aspects deserve greater attention in transportation geography and mobilities research.

Included in

Geography Commons