In a city driven by car culture, the efforts and messages of bicyclists, city planners and the Department of Transportation all intersect on one subject: safety.
More than 70 bicyclists will descend upon the streets of central Phoenix on Friday for the monthly meeting of Critical Mass, a group ride to promote awareness between bicyclists and motorists.
This month’s ride is the first since Phoenix received its first-ever honorable mention from the League of American Bicyclists as a bicycle-friendly community Sept. 14.
“Phoenix has made significant efforts in the areas of engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation as they relate to bicycling,” said Joseph Perez, Phoenix bicycle coordinator and traffic engineer. “That’s pretty good, considering that we have more than 5,000 miles of road. We have a lot of ways to get better.”
The Phoenix chapter of Critical Mass, which serves as the city’s melting pot for 70 to 80 bicycle enthusiasts and recreational riders, has also improved, according to participants.
“It’s about having a fun, safe ride,” said Mark Patton, who attended his first Critical Mass in May 2010. “The thing about riding with the group, it takes you back to when you were a kid riding around with your friends.”
Because he is accustomed to riding alone 30 miles a day for his commute to work, Patton said the group event is unique.
“One of the positive things about Critical Mass is that it makes people look at bikes a little more,” he said. “We have a lot of people and everybody sees you; we definitely get noticed.”
Today Patton’s vintage and modified bicycles are his sole mode of commuting, despite his dream Jeep parked in his driveway.
“The more I rode, the less I drove,” he said. “Everybody kind of rides for a different reason. Some people ride for the fun of it, some are just mad at traffic. You can’t talk about cycling in the city without talking about traffic.”
Patton said he has talked to plenty of drivers who express their frustration for bicyclists getting in their way, and his typical reply is that he feels the same way about cars.
“I’ve had stuff thrown at me and people yell out the window,” said Patton. “It’s pretty hairy out there.”
Doug Nintzel, Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman, said that even though the number of bicycle-vehicle collision-related fatalities and injuries are down from 2006, bicyclists should still ride defensively.
“A bicycle is a vehicle, and when you are on a bicycle, it should be driven according to the rules of the road,” he said. “Cyclists have the right to be on the road. Drivers need to know that and give them some room.”
Phoenix offers four groups of bicycle facilities, including 371 miles of bike lanes, 124 miles of bike routes, 65 miles of unpaved paths and 53 miles of paved paths, said Perez, the city bicycle coordinator.
One effort being made by the city is a Bicycle Boulevard, which will connect downtown Phoenix to the Grand Canal at 44th and Washington streets.
The project, which is projected for completion by the end of the year, will be the biggest bicycle facility Phoenix has installed in at least four years, Perez said.
Additionally, ADOT is developing a Bicycle Safety Action Plan that is geared toward keeping cyclists safe on Arizona’s state highways.
The top two safety recommendations Perez offers riders are to wear a helmet and to ride with the flow of traffic.
As for safety measures taken by Critical Mass riders, Patton said staying together as a group and getting through lights quickly and safely are the priorities.
Critical Mass takes place worldwide and made its United States debut in San Francisco in 1992. Since then, various cities have joined efforts to establish a geographically separated yet somewhat unified bike ride that takes place on the last Friday of each month, in most cases.
Catie Raya, Critical Mass Phoenix organizer, took charge of the program in June 2010 and posts monthly updates, route maps and final-destination details on the group’s Facebook page. Phoenix riders meet at Steele Indian School Park, parking lot D, at 7 p.m., but times are subject to change based on the season.
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