Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mayors' Bike Ride

Some Labor Day in the last decade or so, the Mayor's Bike Ride was born in Cedar Rapids, as a way for bicycling organizations to interact with elected officials. Soon the mayors of other towns were included, and the apostrophe migrated to the outside of the now plural possessive adjective. (Yes, I care about such things. I'm sorry if you don't.)

This year Labor Day was exceptionally beautiful, sunny and cool, which seemed extra-special after two weeks of unseasonable heat. That brought a record number of riders; according to the Linn County Trails Association, there were 456 participants, including the mayors of Cedar Rapids, Ely, Fairfax, Robins and Springville. We gathered in Ellis Park on the Cedar River...

...Cedar Rapids's largest park (47 acres) and one of its oldest (1901). There were no snack and drink vendors this year as there have been in the past, but there were volunteers checking in riders...

...a booth where the Linn County Trails Association had information about current and future bike trails...

...as well as one representing the Blue Zones group.

I left for my post about 9:45, apparently before any elected officials arrived, though the Cedar Rapids Gazette had a picture of Mayor Corbett in striking red bikewear so I know he was there. My post was the corner of 3rd Avenue and 10th Street, by the historic Immaculate Conception Church.

I killed the time by chatting up the talking traffic light. Though he was amazingly skilled at counting backwards, he didn't say much beyond that besides "Wait!" and "Crossing 10th Street." Well, as a friend once remarked, we can't all be Oscar Wilde. Meanwhile, other volunteers took their posts, including John Chaimov (in red), on his way to guide them around the turn at 13th St.

Eventually, the bikers arrived. I could see the first phalanx from several blocks off. They came by in clumps. I mainly contributed by pressing the "walk" button on the traffic light. Despite the holiday, there was a pretty steady flow of traffic up 10th Street, so red meant red. There were a few awkward minutes--well, three. One was a driver's fault (began to roll through a right-on-red before noticing that several dozen bicyclists were bearing down on him), one a bicyclist's (cut in front of a car), and one just bad luck (car caught trying to make a left onto 10th Street when the light changed).

According to the LCTA (of which I am a member), the goals of the ride are to promote trail development and a multi-modal transportation network, which I take to mean both off-road recreation and on-road commuting. (The route was mostly streets, but did head back downtown via the Cedar River Trail.) It is certainly impressive to see so many people out on bikes! and I hope that made an impression on everyone.

I have, as usual, a couple of reservations. First of all, a sunny holiday morning, while ideal for riding, is an artificial picture of what commuting by bike is like. There is little traffic, police get us through the tough intersections, and time is not of the essence. It's not to say we shouldn't do it, just that I don't know how many people make the leap from 'what a fun annual event' to 'I could do this every day on my way to work.'

Secondly, while riding with 455 other people certainly makes the presence of bikers visible to drivers, I wonder how many drivers see this as an unpleasant surprise and even an intrusion. One thing is the ride is not well-publicized outside the community of bikers; the Gazette published a small note in the "Things to Do" column Monday, and there was no route map. I think a map would at least prepare drivers for the presence of a squad of bikes. How to legitimize the presence of bicycles is a tougher nut to crack, but my inclination is to do it in as friendly a way as possible. Probably a lot of the solution is just getting used to "multi-modal transportation." Even so, confrontations are inevitable, even in friendly Iowa; I think more people would be encouraged to bike if those confrontations could be minimized.

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