Saturday, September 29, 2007

Critical Mass Ride September 2007

This is a four minute version of much of my journey through the Minneapolis Critical Mass bike ride on September 28, 2007. For an excellent summary of the ride, see Chuck Olsen and The Uptake's documentary cut in a middle night frenzy from video shot by four different cameras.

I enjoy partaking in the Critical Mass rides because it is the one time a month that the streets of this town belong to something other than automobiles.

Streets used to be the center of the city. The streets used to be where community happened. I love Western movies, and one of the reasons that I love them is that they really show what the street meant to a community in the years before the automobile.

In Westerns, the street is where everything happened. It is where you got hung, where you did the shoot-out, and every good bar brawl worth its name broke thru the saloon door and ended up in the street.

Two of my favorite Westerns are about taking back the long-gone streets of Old West towns. In both "A Fistful of Dollars" and "High Noon," a pedestrian takes back the streets of a town from a group of violent bullies (or two groups of violent bullies in "Fistful").

At some point, we gave our streets over to the car. There was no vote on it. It just happened. Today, streets are where the opposite of community happens. If you took a bar brawl out of the saloon door and into the street everybody would just get run over and that would be that.

When the car dominates the street, everything about the street is about the car. Traffic signals, lane markings, pavement, everything about the street is about the movement and parking of cars. That means that if you are a walker, you must walk like a car, and if you are a bicyclist, you must bike like a car.

During Critical Mass, bikes dominate the streets, and just for a few minutes they marginalize cars in the same way that cars marginalize bikes (and pedestrians) the rest of the time. As a taxpayer who does not own a car, I feel like Critical Mass is the only time in the month where I really get to use the streets that I pay for.

The street under the control of bikes is a very different place. It is a fun place. It is a place where you can't stop smiling. It isn't such a hurried place. It is a relaxed place. It is a place where a jogger can run in the middle of the street and not get a tire stripe up his back (there was just such a jogger riding in the middle of the bike traffic this ride).

That is why I like Critical Mass, and why I have the delusion during the rides that I am the Clint Eastwood or the Gary Cooper ridding the streets of violent bullies, even if only for a very short time.

Enough talk. Here's the video, finally. And for more viewing options, visit here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

World Carfree Day

Today, September 22, is World Carfree Day. Events are happening around the world to point out the destructive impacts of car transportation, and how free life can be without that car ball and chain to weigh you down. I don't know about any events going on in Minneapolis to celebrate this day, so I'll throw up a little bit of confetti and give a hip hip.

Today, on World Carfree Day, I am reflecting on some of the city policies here that make it difficult to live without a car. These policies seem to me to really encourage car use and discourage use of other transportation modes.

First of all, during the winter, the city scrapes the snow down to the surface on all the streets but leaves sidewalk cleaning to the private sector. This means that carfree folks pay taxes to clear the streets that they don't use, and have to walk a hazardous tangle of ice and snowpiles on the sidewalk space that they do use. The city also pays for street repairs from its general fund and assesses individual property owners for sidewalk repairs. This seems to be a great way to get homeowners to hate walking when they look at their bills. The city also lights up the middle of the streets with its streetlighting system, but if people want streetlights that light up the sidewalk they have to pay assessments.

All these policies encourage car use. It's the whole chicken and egg thing: government is using your tax money to make it easier for you to drive so you do drive. It isn't because cars are better, it's because the state is forcing you to use them.

Despite all this, 20% of Minneapolis households do not own cars. These people are really paying for the transportation choices of the car households. Many of those carfree households are that way for economic reasons. This is really a social justice issue. The poor are subsidizing the transportation choice of those who are wealthier than they.

And that's what I'm thinking here in my carfree life in very car-intensive Minneapolis on World Carfree Day.

A family who lives near me recently went from a car family to a carfree family. Their car-aches and bus-aches and bike-aches and victories are all documented here:

And here is where you will find more information on World Carfree Day: