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The Helena Arkansas Daily World - Helena, AR
  • Critical Mass shows U.S. cities the power of the bike

  • A nationwide effort called Critical Mass began hosting monthly bike rides around Springfield, Ill., in 2008. The intention for the rides is to promote awareness of bicyclists using city streets to get around, instead of just recreational bike trails.

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  • Dark clouds worried Magdalena Casper-Shipp on a recent Monday morning. It wasn’t because she didn’t want her street to flood in Springfield, Ill., but because she rides her Gary Fisher Wingra bicycle to work. And to friends' homes. And to pick up dinner.
    Casper-Shipp, 25, is part of a community in Springfield that chooses to use bicycles as a primary mode of transportation.
    "It is the most sustainable method of transportation there is. I feel that, as someone who tries to live other parts of my life in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner, it is only fitting that I try to go by bicycle as much as possible," she said.
    The Chicago native moved to Springfield in 2008 to be closer to her fiance, now husband, who teaches at Lincoln Land Community College.
    Accustom to the bike-friendly atmosphere of the Windy City, Casper-Shipp joined the group, which was organized to foster a similar cohabitation in central Illinois.
    Critical Mass, a nationwide effort spawned in 1992 in San Francisco, began hosting monthly bike rides around the city in 2008. The intention for the Springfield chapter's rides is to promote awareness of bicyclists using city streets to get around, instead of just recreational bike trails.
    "(The rides are) to try and show that bicyclists do want to ride in the street and not feel threatened by cars," Casper-Shipp said. "(We're) trying to be a little bit more visible as a mode of transportation rather than a recreational sport."
    Group project
    This year, turnout has been inconsistent. Five bicyclists showed up in April, but that number rose to 20 in May.
    The group meets at 5:30 p.m. on the last Friday of each month at the same location for a ride that snakes through the major thoroughfares in downtown Springfield. 
    Nationwide, Critical Mass rides have been designed to disrupt traffic and are perceived as a bit menacing, with hundreds or thousands of bicyclists halting car traffic in big cities like Chicago and San Francisco.
    "In Springfield, the group's focus has definitely been on the promotion minus the disruption, while I think there have been car drivers who thought what we were doing was disrupting traffic," said Wes King, the group's current organizer –– if the participants were to name officers. "I have definitely disrupted traffic before, but that is the natural effect of a group of cyclists asserting their legitimate right to ride bikes on public roads in a legal fashion following the rules of the road.
    "If we had bike lanes in areas of town where people actually ride bikes to get places ... it might not be as much of a disruption. But when you have 10 bikes riding as a group following the rules of the road, which allows cyclists to ride two abreast, you become somewhat of a natural disruption."
    Page 2 of 2 - The group does not require helmets, or anything, really –– just a bike.
    "But we try to keep pace of the slowest rider; no one should be left behind," Casper-Shipp said.
    She said she would like to see bike lanes on local roads, but she acknowledges there's little room for them.
    Former Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin established a bicycle advisory committee in 2009 to address those concerns. Since then, there are still few bike lanes on major city streets, but new bike trails have been created to connect the west side of Springfield.
    City spokesman Ernie Slottag said the planning and zoning commission is developing recommended bike routes through the city so it will be easier for people to bike without battling traffic.
    King also said he would like it to be easier to bike in Springfield.
    "I think if the city encouraged and made it easier to bike as a mode of transportation with bike lanes that go places people need to get to, encouraged new development to be more compact and biking and walking friendly, and if drivers on Springfield streets were more respectful of bikers, there would be biking more," he said.
    "I know some of the people who have come to (Critical Mass' rides) do so because it takes away from the intimidation factor that comes with riding on city streets."
    Molly Beck can be reached at 217-788-1526.
     
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