“Can roads be a place to have fun and be a way to get around?” That’s what one rider asked at the end of a recent twilight bike ride PEC sponsored, along with the Charlottesville’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative.
About two dozen cyclists gathered on the evening of June 21, garlanded their bikes with lights and reflective decorations, and set out for a relaxed four-mile celebration of the Summer Solstice. The route through Charlottesville followed a combination of quiet neighborhood streets and roads with bike lanes. The colorful and musical procession elicited reactions of surprise and delight.
Riders noted onlookers dancing, giving thumbs-up, and motorists substituting encouraging horn toots for angry klaxons. “I was actually surprised how polite the drivers were,” observed one new Charlottesville resident. “Back in Richmond, there’s a ride almost every week and they were often quite confrontational. Drivers started to become noticeably more aggressive toward cyclists.”
While observations of this kind are difficult to quantify, his point gets to the ride’s central purposes: to entice people to ride bikes for pleasure (as well as transportation); to foster a road culture in which cyclists are visible and valued; and to jumpstart an advocacy community for casual riders–an in a manner that is less about prevailing in an argument and more about winning allies.
Our focus groups and survey have indicated that in order to have successful greenways, Charlottesville and Albemarle will need to undergo something of a culture shift in which advocacy is spread more broadly beyond the so-called “usual suspects” of dedicated cyclists and self-aware outdoor enthusiasts. That means reaching into other sectors such as health, hospitality, and business but it also calls for a broader definition of what alternative transportation can be–and who can be a part of it.
After the ride, which took about an hour, riders shared refreshments and a facilitated debriefing/discussion. There was consensus that everyone had fun (the primary goal), that the experience was positive, and that something like should be repeated, perhaps on a monthly basis.
The next ride is scheduled for Wednesday, July 25, 7:00 p.m. (sharp) starting and finishing at Washington Park (lower parking lot). Watch for details on the next ride soon.