Miami

Thousands of cyclists to hit Miami streets after work Friday

 

jsimmons@miamiherald.com

On the last Friday of last month, thousands of bicyclists clogged the streets of Miami and Miami Beach, whizzing along Biscayne Boulevard and over the 79th Street and Venetian causeways as drivers behind them were stuck in traffic jams that lasted up to two hours.

People couldn’t get home from work, parents couldn’t get home to their kids, and emergency vehicles couldn’t get to their destinations.

Causing such frustration for drivers on the road is exactly the intent of some participants in Critical Mass, an international movement with a strong local presence.

The cycle activists want drivers to share the road with bikes, and cities to invest in special bike lanes where they can ride safely.

“We are entitled to use the road just like motor vehicles,’’ bicyclist Rydel Deed wrote in an email to the Miami Herald. “However, we are honked at, run off the road on a daily basis.”

Deed runs the website themiamibikescene.com, which posts routes for the monthly Critical Mass rides.

“Once we get treated with respect from all motorists,” he said, “then we won’t need Critical Mass.”

As many as 3,000 bicyclists are expected to converge after work Friday evening at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami, before heading out at 7:15 p.m. for their 11-mile ride through Little Havana.

This month’s route — it’s different each time — will take riders west on Calle Ocho just as the monthly Cultural Viernes festival gets under way, to the edge of Coral Gables and then back east on Coral Way.

The rides, held on the last Friday of every month, typically last an hour.

But for commuters trying to get home after a hard week at work, it’s an hour of angst.

“Critical Mass totally screws up the commute,” said Miami Beach resident John Felder, who has been stuck behind the ride several times heading home from work. “Traffic is just stuck there until they’re completely gone.”

The Critical Mass tradition started in San Francisco in 1992, where a few dozen cyclists held the first ride, calling it “Commute Clot” and riding to raise motorists’ awareness of cyclists’ rights to the road.

With less than 100 cyclists, that ride didn’t do much clotting. But the Critical Mass rides soon grew, prompting complaints from drivers, and, sometimes, arrests from police officers.

It’s also led to a number of injuries. During a Critical Mass ride in Brazil in 2011, a driver behind the wheel of a Volkswagen plowed into the stream of cyclists from behind, injuring 40.

South Florida cyclists started meeting for Critical Mass in Miami on the last Friday of each month in May 2007, said Deed.

Since then, the ride has drawn celebrities like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

But some drivers say the Critical Mass cyclists asking motorists to share the road aren’t sharing it themselves.

The cyclists often ride in a chaotic shoulder-to-shoulder pack instead of single file or two abreast, blocking one or more lanes.

They don’t stop for red-lights, so drivers at an intersection sometimes have to wait through green light after green light while the cyclists pass through.

“If these riders stopped at every red light and rode two abreast as required by law, then the citizens would really see what real gridlock we can legally cause,” Deed said.

Pembroke Pines resident Tania Johnson said she used to look forward to Critical Mass each month, but the ballooning, leaderless crowd has made the ride too dangerous.

“There’s a lot of people going and partying and not obeying the rules of the road,” she said.

Johnson, 48, said she won’t ride Friday.

But Miami resident Riselda Ruiz, who rode Critical Mass for the first time in June, said she will.

Before she went on last month’s ride, she posted about it on Facebook, drawing some ire from friends who’d been delayed in Critical Mass traffic jams.

“I could see where it could get out of control,” said Ruiz.

But Ruiz said drivers waved and people on sidewalks cheered when she rode in June, and she’ll keep going as long as she feels Critical Mass has support in the community.

“When we rode over the causeways and the beach, it was just beautiful,” she said. “It’s an amazing experience.”

The organizers of Viernes Culturales, the monthly festival in Little Havana, are ready for the Critical Mass cyclists to come down Calle Ocho just as their event is getting started. But they wish the cyclists would pick another day for their ride.

“Visitors love them, and they come and we clap,” said Viernes Culturales Executive Director Pati Vargas. “But then everybody gets backed up, because there’s like an hour when people can’t get through.”

In the past, the bike ride has delayed performances and made patrons angry, Vargas said.

“If it wouldn’t be because of the traffic, we would love to have them,” said Vargas. “It’s a great concept. It’s a bike parade, if you think about it.”

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