Louisville Bicycle Club
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September-October 2002 Newsletter

From the President
Critical Mess

by Earl Jones


I think that weíll look back on the 2002 season as very important one for the Louisville Bicycle Club. Weíre in the middle of a mess. Although others made most of the mess, we can blame ourselves for some of it. Whatís critical is that we extricate ourselves and fast.

The Critical Mass mess is in the first category. The groupís antics escalated this year and led to a confrontation with police one evening in July when CM members impeded rush hour traffic on Bardstown Road. This group rides bicycles and talks a lot about bicycles and about the rights of cyclists to use the roads. But thatís all we have in common. We fight to share the road not block other users. To find constructive solutions for conflicts not to fight for the sake of fighting. And we fight for cyclists and for facilities that accommodate cyclists, not for lifestyle or environmental or resource allocation issues, all worthy causes but causes for which the bicycle is incidental, not central. We are for and about bicycling. And if we intend to last into our second century weíll make sure everybody understands that fact and the difference between them and us.

The need is becoming clearer every day. Critical Massí antics seem to have given license to motorists to express their frustration (or worse, their hostility) at having to share the roads. How many of you have had to explain that the LBC doesnít engage in those tactics? How many of your friends have recounted close calls with inattentive or disrespectful cyclists? After steady progress in our advocacy programs and support from the local government for bicycle-related improvements we seem to be on the defensive.

Letís make certain that our rides are not confused with that other groupís gatherings. If we donít, weíll make a mess bigger than the one being made for us.

The Tuesday evening rides from Cherokee Park are a good place to start. Since these rides were added to the schedule as a regular event last year, theyíve become the Clubís most popular. On a good weather day more than 100 riders participate. Itís wonderful to see so many cyclists enjoying the sport and each otherís company.

But the rideís popularity has also become its biggest problem. The excitement generated by that many riders can make you oblivious to the possible intimidating impact of such a large group, especially on pedestrians and inexperienced cyclists who use the Scenic Loop. That same excitement can diminish the ridersí normal caution around automobiles. It can lead them to take chances they wouldnít take in other situations.

I received an e-mail complaining about the conduct of some of the riders on the Scenic Loop, which I read to the riders the following week. After some discussion the riders agreed experienced cyclists should stay out of the recreation lane and that no one should race in the park. I think our efforts to police ourselves would have been successful and that might have been the end of it.

But the recent activities of Critical Mass forced the hand of the Louisville Police Department, which says theyíve received complaints. Several squad cars showed up at Hoganís Fountain on their first visit, fewer on the subsequent ones. Theyíve been nice about it, although they did follow the riders through the park.

Iím optimistic that this isnít the beginning of a serious worsening in our relations with the community. But itís certainly a time of testing. Become familiar with your rights to and responsibilities while on the road. Get involved in our advocacy program when the call for volunteers goes out. And if you know someone out there making a critical mess, set them straight.


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