Bike ride speaks for bike rights
The group rode through the red light, blocking traffic in all directions. People in cars honked and cheered. Pedestrians waved. The riders, who snaked down University Avenue from North-South Drive to Newell Drive, waved and cheered back. The parade-like atmosphere which swelled from the corner of University and Fletcher was hard to believe. By nature, parades are surreal. But this wasn't a parade at all. This was a Critical Mass bike ride. And that made this back and forth cheering even more bizarre.
Forty-five minutes after the approximately 65 bicyclists left the Plaza of the Americas on the University of Florida campus, they were returning to the starting point. Along the way they picked up more riders, pushing their numbers close to 100. According to the hand-drawn map passed out at the Plaza, the ride was scheduled to end at the Shands Hospital visitor parking garage. Momentum carried the riders past the garage, up North-South Drive and back down University Ave again to the Plaza.
At the beginning, and even as the ride progressed, none of the riders knew what to expect. Critical Mass rides have no organizers and therefore no set rule as to how it is to progress. A group of bicyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers--anyone with a non-fossil fuel propelled vehicle--gathers on the last working Friday of each month (in Gainesville they meet at 5:30 at the Plaza of the Americas) and take to the streets. A proposed route for the ride and copies of the bike laws were passed out to riders. The riders pinned the laws to themselves and set off into the street. There were clean-cut students, athletic riders, punks, business people, families with kids on bike seats, a tandem bicycle, ten speeds, dirt bikes, mountain bikes, beach bikes. People you'd hardly expect to see gathered together in one place, doing the same thing (though for different reasons) created a moving mass of people, colors, bikes, and noise.
Thanks to the hard-earned reputation of the San Francisco and Bay Area Critical Mass bike rides (the home of Critical Mass) as being highly confrontational encounters with both motorists and police, a small wave of anxiety swept through the ranks of riders. Anticipating the unknown mixed with the more positive feelings of freedom, euphoria and empowerment--feelings which can only be enhanced by riding a bike down the street without fear of getting squeezed off the road--kept the riders going at a steady pace, despite lanes of cars backed up behind them. No motorist on the streets of Gainesville knew what was coming. Since one of its purposes to make motorists more aware of bicycles, the Critical Mass bike ride was a success.
In the January 14th edition of Moon Magazine, County Commissioner Bobby Summers said, "I have a problem with bicyclists. They don't pay any money towards our roads." The County Commissioners have adopted a less friendly attitude towards cyclists. While Gainesville does have a number of bike lanes on its streets, the county has no plans to include bike lanes on any new or improved roads.
Though definitely not "anarchy on wheels" nor a "critical mess" as Critical Mass has been called in newspapers around the country, the ride through Gainesville wasn't without incident. The Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff Department seemed indifferent to the Critical Mass riders, but a few motorists became enraged at the slow pace of the bike traffic. One person held up in traffic stopped his car and shot at the cyclists with a pellet gun. No one was hurt.
The ride ended after the parade past Fletcher and University. The ride ended on a very positive note, with everybody vowing to be back again next month and expecting the next ride to be bigger and better.
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