CRITICAL MASS CYCLING

Critical Mass cycling in Miami a mix of protest, party

 
 
Bicyclists took to the streets of Miami en masse in July, backing up traffic.
Bicyclists took to the streets of Miami en masse in July, backing up traffic.
Peter Andrew Bosch / Miami Herald staff

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A few weeks ago I witnessed Miami’s version of Critical Mass — a cycling event where a couple thousand bike riders appropriate city streets on the last Friday evening of every month, for what one Mass cyclist described as “a political protest disguised as one hell of a party.”

Over the last few years I began hearing more about the cycling phenomenon , which originated in San Francisco in 1992 and spread like wildfire to cities throughout the world. Miami was a latecomer to what can be considered the seedlings of a social movement. Also, over the last several years, I’ve heard a good number of complaints by motorists and business owners who are unhappy with the ride’s ill effects on traffic and thereby on local stores and restaurants.

Rydel Deed of MiamiBikeScene.com explained that, “The mission of the rides is to create bicycle awareness and educate motorists that they need to share the road with cyclists as we are entitled to it.”

Safety for cyclists and pedestrians should be of paramount concern in Miami-Dade County. A recent Slate.com study rated Miami-Dade County drivers as the worst drivers in the nation.

And while Deed and his fellow cyclists are joyfully pedaling through the urban core, there are hundreds of South Florida motorists who are experiencing long delays as the throng of bikes glides by. The delays can be as long as 45 minutes, which can understandably lead to great frustration if you’re stuck behind the wheel. Community activist and five-year Critical Mass participant, Dario Gonzalez, told me he understood some drivers are upset and suggested “motorists can learn of the Mass routes online so that they can plan accordingly.”

As much as I appreciate Gonzalez’s and other Mass cyclists’ free-spirited, rebellious vibe, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t maneuver my car through a herd of bike riders if my daughter was in the car with me and was not feeling well.

While on the issue of public safety, the other night as I watched many families biking together on the Mass ride, I saw too many children riding without helmets. Event organizers need to be more stringent about safety rules — especially for minors.

City of Miami officials and police have shown great restraint in dealing with Critical Mass, though the calls complaining of the event are increasing. “We want to be supportive and better serve all parties involved. Permits would be a welcomed step because it would allow us to redirect car traffic and also ride along with the cyclists and look out for their safety,” said Miami Police Maj. Delrish Moss.

There is also the issue of the angry merchants.

All along Calle Ocho, business owners expressed their displeasure during the most recent Mass ride.

Pati Vargas, executive director of Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays), a potpourri of cultural events held on Southwest Eighth Street on the last Friday of every month, expressed her concern for Critical Mass’ “blatant disregard” for the monthly event. “I want to work with them, but they need to be a little more sensitive to the needs of the Little Havana merchants.”

There is a unique and refreshing sense of sharing that takes place during a Critical Mass ride.

The participants appear to be decent, law-abiding Miamians who are having a good time with friends and family while making a valid point about bike safety.

The trouble is one group’s rights, no matter how well intentioned, do not supersede the rights of others. Miami should embrace Critical Mass rides — accent them with our own Magic City flavor.

However, organizers of the bike events need to be a bit more yielding to authorities to make the rides safer and more enjoyable for everyone involved — on and off the bikes.

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