What a great day for a bike ride! Around 5:30pm on Friday, June 30, the weather was beginning to cool down as I rolled into Loring Park. What a site! Gathered around the fountain that greets you at the park entrance were about 200 people, ready to become traffic. On this last friday of the month, the “happy coincidence” of bike riders assemble all across the nation in metropolitan areas as a show of solidarity for people-powered transport. This was now my third Critical Mass ride, and has now become my favorite. This one I will remember for a long long time.
This, to me, is what building an impromptu community is like. Everyone having their own ideas in the mix of this diverse crowd. Decisions are made in a kind of “group consensus” when they happen. We all ride together, are friendly to one another, and have a good time together, even if we might not ever meet in the same social circles on other circumstances. I think that we all know what it’s like to try to ride a bike in a car dominated culture. We’ve all been told to “get off the street”, and we all know too well the risks of getting on the bike in the midst of stressed out, cell phone addicted, road-raging, fast flying motorists, who barely pay enough attention to see us. Some folks see the bicycle as part of a “revolution” to get un-addicted to oil, bunk the establishment, or simply a way of life that is more economical or meaningful than driving.
My favorite parts of the ride this time were:
- The folks on homemade two-story bikes, who used their foot on the back wheel for braking
- The guy who raced out of his house with his bicycle to join us
- The guy on his skateboard who made superhero flying motions with his arms
- The kid who yelled “whoa! There’s gotta be a hundred bikes!”
- Everyone waving other bicyclists to join us
- The “bike stands” at Lyndale and Lake, and on Hennepin Avenue, where folks would lift their bikes over their heads in the street, as we all circled around them.
However, around Hennepin and 6th Street, the mood of the ride, along with the cheers from supporters on the street, turned bitter and disgraceful.
I looked back to see a guy fall off his bike in the intersection, then looked forward to see a police officer literally YANKING a guy right off his bike, pulling the guy’s backpack to almost rip it off his arms. I stopped to grab my camera to take a few shots of this, as I couldn’t believe it. He was just pulled off his bike.
Then I heard the yelling and cheering. After glancing away from the screen of my digital camera, I saw all 200 bike riders stopped - cheering, yelling, and witnessing this act - blocking all lanes of traffic on Hennepin Avenue. I was right in front of a Metro Transit bus. I got out of its way to let it go past. My partner, who drives bus for them, would have been proud.
On the other side of the street, I heard the rest of the story of the guy who crashed on his bike. He was grabbed off his bike too. Folks were yelling, “Did he hit his head?,” as an officer handcuffed him and pushed his face into a corner of a building. A woman was yelling, “Why are you handcuffing him? What is his charge?”
The officer then told another officer to grab her. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the other police officer quickly grab her wrist. I was genuinely moved by the expression on her face. Looking right into the officer’s eyes as his hand wrapped around her wrist, she was silent. Her expression seemed to ask, “Why are you doing this?” as she simply allowed this man to take her wrist. She offered no resistance.
I was shocked. Then I heard the police cars behind us, and the announcement to “move along” and to ride in the bike path or the right lane only. The pack started moving again, some complying and some still defying. Some were still stunned and watched on the sidewalk with other pedestrians.
Further down Hennepin Avenue, I saw a Metro Transit Police Van, along with four other officers on bikes pull over a guy for running a red light. They surrounded him on his bike, and he calmly pulled over for them. They were writing a ticket (later I heard they wrote numerous tickets) and I snapped a photo of him and the officers. It seemed peaceful. No rough contact, no handcuffs, and no disrespect. I heard someone say, “I’ve run maybe a thousand red lights on my bike, and maybe someday I’ll get that one ticket like that guy.”
On my ride home on Washington Avenue, the scenes just ran through my mind. How could they just pull these guys off their bikes? Why were two guys so brutally treated when one was pulled over for a traffic ticket in the same manner as any motorist? How would a motorist feel if an officer just yanked him out of his car in front of 200 other people?
We were peaceful. We looked out for each other. We had people who would help us stop traffic for that two minutes when they might have had to wait at a green light to let all of us pass. Is that two minutes waiting at an intersection because of a once-a-month critical mass worth the treatment that these two bicyclists received?
When I finally reached the bike trail at the Hiawatha Light Rail tracks, I saw a parked Metro Transit police car at the entrance. I thought of all the environmental damage that happens on that trail due to their cars as they take that trail. All you see is tire tracks on the grass - some of them deep trenches just filled with water. I wanted so badly to hop off my bike, grab my U-Lock, and just bash in it’s headlights, since there was no one sitting in it. But, I re-thought my desire, and chose a better road. Enough damage was done today. I chose a path towards peace, and continued on home.
I’m bummed I can’t join next month (every last friday at 5:30 we leave from Loring Park), but I’ll be back to ride with everyone again in August!