Thursday, August 19, 2010

Critical Mass rides promoting pedal power

Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner

Last month I thrilled to take part in Barrie’s first Critical Mass ride. And next Friday, I’ll be at it again – with many of you, I hope.

Critical Mass is a fun, active, family-friendly way to build confidence in cycling and awareness in the community, especially amongst drivers. Too many citizens are afraid to ride their bikes on our streets because drivers don’t pay them enough respect. Those that do ride face unacceptable risks.

Bike lanes are part of the solution, but we already spend billions of dollars building roads; why can’t we share them safely with other modes of transportation? I believe we can, and that’s what Critical Mass is about. Neither a protest nor a demonstration, it’s a celebration of cycling as a mode of community transportation.

Here’s how it works. On the last Friday of each month, participants meet at a central location and then just go for a ride together, wherever their whim takes them. Last month we had close to 100 participants, and this month we expect more. There really is nothing to match the exhilarating feeling of being part of a huge, supportive cycling group instead of facing hostile or indifferent traffic alone. Bikes fill the whole lane and spread over a block or more, and cars simply have to respect them as fellow vehicles and wait their turn. For a few short minutes, one day a month, the car is no longer king on our public streets. We, too, are traffic!

This event has special meaning for me. Almost two years ago, my cousin Sam was biking home in London from classes at Fanshawe College. While waiting to make a legal left turn, he was struck from behind by a full-speed SUV whose driver apparently didn’t notice him despite his reflectors. Bike helmets can’t protect against this kind of impact and he was killed instantly. I hadn’t ridden my bike since, until last month.

Sam’s death didn’t have to happen. Drivers need to know that cyclists are part of traffic and watch for them. Cyclists should be able to trust drivers to see and respect them. We all deserve to share the roads that we all pay to build and maintain. That’s a big part of what Critical Mass promotes. Cycling is a healthy, fun, and environmentally friendly way to travel, but it can’t catch on if we live in fear of being cut down by our fellow traffic. Cycling together lets us overcome those fears through safety in numbers, and creates the visibility to change attitudes.

On the last Friday of each month, Barrie’s Critical Mass meets at the Spirit Catcher from 5:30 pm, then hits the streets at 6 to ride joyfully for about 90 minutes. The ride is suitable for all levels of cyclist – you don’t need to be a Lance Armstrong to come along. We adjust speed to suit the participants, and try to respect the rules of the road.

I really hope to see you there.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

1 comment:

  1. Erich, I'm very sorry and shaken to hear about the tragedy which befell your cousin and your entire family. I am, however, very encouraged to hear that you've returned to your bike, and are participating and promoting the incredibly worthwhile Critical Mass initiative.

    In Sudbury, the Sudbury Cyclists Union has been doing something similar throughout the summer, holding rides through our community's downtown and surrounding areas on Sunday afternoons, starting at our local Farmer's Market. I understand that these events are starting to crop up throughout the nation, and I believe that there is excitement in the air regarding cycling.

    Later this month, 8-80 Cities will be hosting a cycling ride in Sudbury featuring local Olympian Devon Kershaw, who lost his beloved girlfriend to a cycling tragedy back in 2002. We hope to line the streets with a 1000 cyclists. Certainly, cyclists from Barrie who wish to join us in Sudbury on August 31st at 5:30 in front of Science North are more than welcome to come out for a great night of cycling!

    Thanks again, Erich, for this touching blogpost.