Saturday, January 28, 2012

My nightly ride meets Critical Mass

I'm sure to the horror of some who will read this, the house that Adrienne and I have bid on is on the border between Overtown and Wynwood, the nearest major intersection is NW 2nd St and NW 20th Ave, just a little to the east of the University of Miami hospital. Since our current place is in the Design District, near NE 2nd St and NE 45th Ave, it's just a hop, skip and a jump over to whereabout our house will hopefully be, so I've been riding around, exploring that neighborhood. (And would greatly appreciate it if they finished up with the Venetian Causeway construction. It's bone rattlingly bad in places and I'd like to ride over to South Beach and with the MacArthur Causeway's bike lanes closed . . .)

Since I grew up in bad neighborhoods all my life, the fact the Overtown side is sketchy isn't a big deal to me - it feels like home. I guess I must be reasonably streetwise because I am finding the people to be friendly and such. I *like* working class, urban people and get on with them just fine - as I am one, myself. Regardless, I like the neighborhood and I'll like it more when I learn which streets aren't dead ends!

None of that is the point of this post. Here goes the point:

Last night, I was out riding - again, don't worry. I have lights, helmet, a flag, the whole nine yards. The neighborhoods I ride in are pretty used to people who take far fewer precautions than I do to be seen at night. I'm a pretty safe rider, I generally obey traffic laws (the one I most often break is running red lights because my trike isn't noticed by any sensors, so otherwise I'd have to wait until a car came and triggered it, ugh) - both as a matter of personal safety and because I wish to set an example.

Apparently, the last Friday of every month, a group called Critical Mass does a ride around about the neigborhood that I hope to be calling home, soon. I encountered them at several points during my own ride.

First off, looking at their rules, they break several of them. They say they obey the traffic laws, but they don't. They run red lights, they take over several lanes of traffic, they don't yield to anyone - this is typical behavior of cycling groups, but it's to be noted.

Second, it was not a very Miami crowd. It was, how to put this, mighty white. The neighborhoods through which they ride are pretty black. No, check that. They are *extremely* black. Wikipedia tells me that Overtown is 75% black and that certainly checks out with my rides through that part of town. Wynwood and about 60% Hispanic and 15% black, so not precisely neighborhoods full of blond dudes with pale skin.

Additionally, in my experience, Wynwood and Overtown have a very high number of actual cyclists. Like, a lot. More than I've seen than in other other neighborhood in Miami-Dade, with the exception of Miami Beach (which has a lot of tourists biking around). And with this whole "buying a house" thing taking six freaking months, I've have opportunities to more or less *scour* Miami. I've been through pretty much every neighborhood north of Homestead (and even some of that) and south of Pembrook Pines looking for neighborhoods that I believe to be undercapitalized. That Overtown, the poorest neighborhood in Miami, should have a lot of cyclists is not strange - way cheaper than a car, right? There are a lot of cyclists and many of them are black in the actual neighborhoods through which Critical Mass drives.

It hit me: why hasn't Critical Mass canvassed these black cyclists to participate? They're literally riding through the neighborhood, part of the reason for the ride is to raise awareness of cyclist issues (totally legit in Miami; Miami is a dangerous place for both cyclists and pedestrians, far moreso than the national average). But the very people who would be best served by increased awareness and who need more bike lanes as a simple matter of public safety *are not included*! So, white people come to a black neighborhood, ostensibly to address an issue that is important to the neighborhood, and seemingly make no effort whatsoever to include the people *in that neighborhood*. And while they're doing it, they're often riding bikes that are six months salary for the median resident of Overtown.

Needless to say, I won't be participating in any Critical Mass rides until this issue is dealt with. I'm trying to frame a letter to the organizers bring up this issue and how, y'know, offensive it is. I'm not good at writing polite letters, I tend towards the, uh, forceful. D'oh! Yet, I'll try.

They also said that recumbent bikes are welcome, but I got a number of hairy eyes from dudes when I chanced to be going the same direction as the Critical Mass ride. It was weird. Everywhere I've ridden my trike, the response has been overwhelming positive . . . except among a bunch of cyclists. I'd heard and seen on the Internet that there was some weird beef between recumbent riders and upright riders but I'd never felt it, before. In my letter to Critical Mass, I'll leave that part out. Maybe it was because I was wearing headphones in violation of their rules (yeah, and the law, and I know it's not even a stupid law, but that's my one general concession to riding safe, I need my tunes, man; and as a rule I was *definitely* riding safer than them . . . which is a rationalization, but I recognize that). Still, it was weird.

Anyway, I'll stop rambling, now.

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