We Put the Spring in Springfield
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Critical Mass shows U.S. cities the power of the bike - Freeport, IL
By Molly Beck
GateHouse News Service | Posted 15-Jul-2011 @ 10:38 AM
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
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,"
The Chicago native moved to Springfield in 2008 to be closer to
her fiance, now husband, who teaches at Lincoln Land Community
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."
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
King also said he would like it to be easier to bike in
"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."