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Pedaling forerunners have already done the dangerous work of preparing SA streets for two-wheelers

Photo: Photos by Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Photos by Michael Barajas

Last Friday night ride with the Downtown Highlife Bicycle Club, September 30, 2011.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photos by Michael Barajas

James Odom, San Antonio's solitary bicycle messenger.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photos by Michael Barajas

Young riders at Síclovía, Sunday, October 3, 2011.


Last Sunday’s Síclovía, the mass ride that brought 15,000 people to bicycle, skateboard, and jog down a four-mile stretch of Broadway for four hours while autos were rerouted, was the first SA edition of the international ciclovía movement (Spanish for “bike path”), a fresh-air party celebrating fitness through human-powered transportation. In a town where more than 67 percent of residents are obese or overweight, the City-sponsored focus on exercise was as fresh as the new cooler temps by last week’s weather.

Appropriately, the event came three days after the City Council updated the bicycle/pedestrian master plan and mandated a “complete streets” policy that will require all new road projects to be considered through the lens of all road users — that’s pedestrians, bicyclists, bus riders, and drivers. Plans to extend our 210 miles of bicycle-friendly roads to 1,700 miles by adding bike lanes and shared-use paths still needs to be ironed out, and adequate funding to fulfill the new policies is yet to be obtained. And while the Council sent VIA back to the drawing board on an ambitious rail plan, Mayor Castro and the Council voiced support for rail. A mixed-transportation New Urbanism paradise will be hashed out in the details.

And while it’s unlikely many of Síclovía’s organizers have ever heard of it, it’s unlikely the event would have happened without nearly covert community actions like the 2007 San Antonio Bike Gang Summit. Billed as “The First official San Antonio Bike Gang summit since the 1940s,” when SA’s own Bandidos Motorcycle Club organized outlaw biker meets, the 2007 event brought together pedal-bikers in a night ride that culminated with a screening of the art-house film “Pandora’s Bike” on the banks of the San Antonio River Tunnel Inlet, now the site of the Pearl Brewery complex. Organized by downtown artist/provocateurs Justin Parr and Mark Jones, the ride definitely had a political-art spin, with participants dressed as their favorite felons in wry protest of the negative view that motorists often have of bicycle riders as rude, crude, and a general nuisance on city streets. The ride happened twice, but more importantly, it helped bring the spirit of the Critical Mass movement to San Antonio.

Critical Mass rides began in San Francisco in 1992, and have now spread to over 300 cities worldwide, where they are often held on the last Friday of the month. The term comes from the Chinese practice of bunching approaching bicycle riders at an intersection until they have reached a large enough number to fill the lanes with bikes, a critical mass that cars won’t mess with. It’s a fitting description of the street presence that bicyclists must develop to usher in policy change.

The Bike Gang Summit was the first of many open-participation rides organized by the Downtown Highlife Bicycle Club, and five years later they’re still riding. Jones ran the informal group until med school started demanding more of his time; Tito Bradshaw, who spoke with the Current before last Friday’s monthly ride, now heads up Highlife.

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