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The purpose of Critical Mass in Jacksonville.

July 21, 2011

Since puberty we, the majority, began our journey away from the limits of the street on which we grew up by way of two wheels. Our bicycles were our ticket to the great and wondrous beyond, as seen through the eyes of our youth. Or at least our ticket to a little freedom to the neighboring subdivisions beyond our street before succumbing to the call of Mom’s dinner bell. However, somewhere between the familiar comforts of our home street and the mundanities of our daily 8 to 5 commute, we, still the majority, have lost our way. Slipped through our fingers each passing year, this completely unsullied fascination for the thrill of the bi-wheeled way of life, all for the gain of an extra pair of wheels – our cars.

Do you remember this time; this time when you used to ride bikes with your buddies, fighting, fresh-faced and tiny though you were, your weary but admirably determined ways through traffic? All the woes and tribulations that accompany the act of riding one’s bike as a child didn’t matter to you back then. You were just happy to be out there, about and free in the elements. Even the rain couldn’t keep you from riding your bike. In fact, the only force that could have kept you from riding to impromptu congregations with your buddies or sneaking hand-holding dates at the mall with your crush, was Mom. Am I right?

So Jacksonville, I beg to ask, what happened to you? What happened to your bike? Did you ever end up growing into any newer bikes to fit that great and towering adult body of yours? Where is she? Is she collecting a nice layer of dust cake and rust freckles, tucked away in some dark little corner of your garage?

Take her out.

Polish her up.

Ride.

We, as a whole here in America, drive more often than what’s respectively fair and logical. 40% of all urban travel is only two miles or less, and yet a whopping 90% of that is by car. Considering these numbers, why not ride your bike when your trip is two miles or less? I may have been tugging at your childhood nostalgia strings earlier in this note, but this isn’t kid’s stuff, folks. This is logic. I’m not suggesting we all should revert back to the days of our bike-loving youth and all ride just as we did when we were 12. What I’m suggesting we do is seriously contemplate these statistics and consider mashing some crank-based, thigh-powered pedals to the corner store more frequently, rather than putting those tired old gas-sucking pedals to the metal like we all too often do.

Some of us are actively pursing that lifestyle right now. But there have been problems concerning the safety of cyclists and walkers here in Duval County. And the need for demonstration is at hand. That’s where Critical Mass comes in.

What is Critical Mass about in Jacksonville?

Critical Mass is an order of cyclists, ideally vast in number, who seek the acknowledgement and respect of fellow four-wheeled travelers. Critical Mass of Jacksonville, (organized on the last Friday of each month at 5:00pm sharp, the take off point at Memorial Park) specifically, adheres to the rules of the road as best as humanly possible. It serves as a form of quiet and peaceful protest in the hopes of someday gaining a mutual respect from fellow car drivers. But, however peaceful this protest will be, however hard we try to follow the rules of the road, it will never be perfect and will never have the ability to satisfy each individual opinion. Recall any peaceful protest in history’s past, there you’ll find reality’s inevitable imperfections. But do you honestly feel they never should have taken place? Do the risks outweigh the matter?

Jacksonville has been rated the third most dangerous city in the U.S. concerning cyclists and pedestrians; third in the nation in fatalities of pedestrians both by foot and by cycle. When considering the outcome of change, these risks associated with the otherwise peaceful demonstration that is Critical Mass, pale in comparison. It is worth the risk. We ride in the hope more drivers grow compassionate, and in the end, more lives will be preserved. We ride en masse so that we may be a noticeable presence in our city. Surely the only effective way to demonstrate a movement in road-sharing is to ride. And great numbers of warm-bodied pedal mashers speak volumes. Critical Mass, however controversial some see it, is just that – Critical.

When such statistics in pedestrian fatalities are so blatantly off the charts, so out of control, a peaceful demonstration to exemplify our inalienable rights as human beings is undoubtably in order. If you feel there is a time and a place for protest, I can tell you right now, my brother, I agree with you wholeheartedly. So wouldn’t now be the time? Wouldn’t this great city of Jacksonville, with all its vast abundance in street-sharing potential, be the place?

Brake for your bi-wheeled brothers. Eventually it will be someone you know. Perhaps even someone you care about.

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