We mentioned on Friday that we had mixed feelings about the police presence at Baltimore Bike Party. Let us be clear now: those feelings are no longer mixed.
According to the BBP Facebook page the city has demanded that all riders stop at all red lights during the ride. The organizers and (for the most part) all of the riders complied with this, and the result was a chaotic mess of traffic mixing in with the group, giant chunks of riders being separated by multiple blocks at a time, and riders being forced to wait through 2-3 light cycles before crossing a single intersection.
We were among several participants who left the ride midway through. It was not fun. It was not something we will be doing again. It’s not something we’ll be encouraging anyone else to do again, at least not until some serious changes are made.
To be clear- we don’t blame the BBP organizers or volunteers for any of this. The fault lies entirely with the mayor’s office and police department. BBP’s Facebook also goes on to say that the city has threatened to deny various permits for the after party, and has threatened to force the group to apply for a prohibitively expensive parade permit for the ride itself. This is odious behavior on the part of the city, and is exactly the opposite of how they should be treating this event. It’s an especial slap in the face after having the mayor herself along for the ride earlier this Summer. Mayor Rawlings-Blake is absolutely the type of tone-deaf hypocrite politician that would seek a few photo ops and then ruin the same event she just pretended to promote.
The Bike Party has been drawing hundreds of people from outside the city and has been a great promotional tool both for bicycles and city life. It is mind-boggling to us that the city can have its own full time bicycle planner on staff and that his name hasn’t come up once that we’ve heard. Where is Nate Evans on this? BBP’s organizers have been very pliant and cooperative with the city, why has the city not shown riders the same consideration? The city should be offering help with things like route planning and traffic problems. It knows that the ride is taking place every last Friday… why not post a few signs or notices or god forbid even close a street or two? If the city had any idea what they were doing the inconvenience to motorists would be no worse than being stuck at a railroad crossing for a few minutes. Friday’s ride was as bad or worse for motorists than previous rides. Threatening cyclists has accomplished nothing.
The red lights were not the only problem. July’s after party did not include a beer vendor, and during both July and August’s rides we were reminded almost constantly that drinking was not allowed and that police were threatening to issue citations for open container violations. Needless to say, we call bullshit. The sort of drinking that’s been going on at Bike Party, both during and after the ride has been a non-issue. It’s the kind of drinking that goes on all the time at free concerts and outdoor movies.
Everyone recognizes that BBP is a family-friendly event and the riders respect that. At all of the Bike Party events we’ve attended the pre-ride or mid-ride drinking has been discrete and riders have taken pains to do things like make sure their empties find their way to a trash can. What’s more this group has always done an outstanding job of self policing and we’ve never heard of any alcohol related issues. Having the police threaten to cite riders for open containers or drunken bicycling is ridiculous and insulting and we won’t stand for it.
The organizers of Baltimore Bike Party are soliciting opinions via email, and we would urge anyone who’s read this far to weigh in at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our advice to them is this: The next time the city gives you an ultimatum take the other side. You’ve been as cooperative with the city as it’s possible to be, and it’s clear that the city will continue to push regulations and new rules on the ride. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that in the future the city could try to require all riders to wear helmets (as they did with Tour Dem Parks). What would happen if they decided that they wanted to disallow fixed gears or tandems or custom bikes for “safety reasons?” Even in a world where you do everything right and even get a parade permit, they can still limit that permit to a certain number of riders or miles or whatever… the threats and ultimatums may never stop. At least not until we get a new mayor.
Ironically, the only way to save Bike Party may be to kill it. If you keep pursuing a strategy of full cooperation the number of riders will diminish more and more every month. Will the ride even survive the Winter? We imagine a lot of people dropping off and complaining a little and then doing nothing much.
Right now, this month, you’ve got the attention of a lot of people both within the ride and the city. We’d suggest you determine what’s acceptable and if the city demands otherwise stay firm. In our opinion, staying to the right is a very acceptable request. Stopping at red lights and allowing traffic to mix with the pack is not. Perhaps the only way to force the city to change is to have a lot of pissed off people, and calling off the ride, even temporarily, will get a lot of people mad enough to let the city know about it.
And frankly, the city should be glad they’ve got this group of organizers to work with. If they regulate this ride out of existence it may well be replaced with something else, whether it be protests, a swell in Critical Mass, or group rides that are even less organized and more unpredictable. That’s not something the city should be eager for.
We would urge you to think creatively. City won’t give you a permit for an after party? End the ride at Power Plant Live or Union Craft Brewing or even book a club like Bourbon Street. There have got to be private establishments that would jump at the chance to have a 500+ person dance party booked every month. City wants to cite people for drinking on the ride? Let’s all request court dates and ride to the courthouse together.
Finally, we would also urge you to choose routes more carefully, and not just for things like wide lanes and red lights. We understand why the Bike Party takes routes through places like Union Square and Cherry Hill, but August’s ride just felt like a Tour De Ghetto. Again, we only attended the first half, but it felt like every effort was made to see as many housing projects as possible. Standing around in intersections waiting for red lights after dark on a Friday night in some of the city’s (some of all America’s) worst neighborhoods is not fun, and whether you agree or not, police and sweepers or not, it is not safe.
The comments on your Facebook about street harassment of women (some of whom were wearing swimsuits to fit the theme) and of pedestrians mixing into the group and riders not feeling safe or being left behind did gibe with our experience and is part of the reason we’re leaving the ride. There’s been a lot of gun violence this Summer and several shootings at events like block parties with multiple victims. We urge you to consider this seriously when planning routes and understand that worst-case scenarios of all kinds are very possible.
We’ve participated in several Bike Parties and we want to thank you sincerely for all the work you’ve done since the beginning. It’s been appreciated. We were even on the verge of making the switch from rider to volunteer. But instead we’re going to be dropping out entirely. Volunteering at this point would just feel like signing up to deal with headaches from the city and remind people they can’t have as much fun as they used to. It’s a shame, and it’s entirely the fault of the mayor and the police.