Imagine the absurdity of somebody saying, “Detroit can’t handle 6,000 Tigers fans flooding downtown with their cars anymore, this has to be put to a stop!”
You’d be laughed out of town. But say the same thing about people on bicycles and somehow many nod approval.
That’s essentially the hack job Model D shat upon the internet this week in an unresearched rant titled ‘Slow Roll Has Lost Its Way‘. Right out of the gate the author even admits he’s never ridden the wildly popular and now world famous weekly Slow Roll bicycle ride, now a staple of Detroit’s come-back experience.
The best way to pick this eye-roller apart is to go through it line by line, condensed for brevity of course. Author’s original post appears in italics, my rebuttals in plain text.
Model D: If you didn’t know otherwise, you’d be forgiven for mixing up two major Detroit bike rides: Slow Roll and Critical Mass. The former is ostensibly a leisurely pedal for all age groups through a different neighborhood every Monday. The latter is a monthly ride designed to snarl traffic and raise awareness of the need for better cycling infrastructure by deliberately clogging city streets and tying up intersections.
Rebel Metropolis: I doubt the author has ridden either in Detroit. Critical Mass had its roots in snarling traffic for political reasons (as though bikes weren’t also traffic), but in the D, Mass is also a leisurely ride, albeit at a crisper pace than Slow Roll. CM’s size here is vastly smaller than Slow Roll, too. So nobody is going to mistake a swift group of 300 with a snail crawling 6,000, especially in a city that’s 138 square miles of flat, open, over-capacity surface streets.
— Karen Chambers (@Kamjers) April 14, 2015
MD: The events of the Monday, June 6th Slow Roll began and ended in Hamtramck [a separately incorporated city within the boundaries of Detroit] and have left me, and many others with a bitter taste in my mouth. Slow Roll didn’t inform anyone with the city at any time before the event. The only warning for residents and officials came from a Facebook post a few hours before the ride, written by a Hamtramck resident who happened to find out about it.
RM: Slow Roll (and Critical Mass) have met and/or meandered through Hamtramck many times before, much to the delight of those who live there. I’ve personally been a part of such rides. It’s not something that anyone would ‘warn’ somebody about any more than you’d ‘warn’ people about an impending sunny day. And Slow Roll organizers publicize ride location details weeks in advance (how the hell else would thousands of people know where to meet?), so the assertion that this was sprung on anyone is pure bullshit.
MD: City officials and police were simply never told that nearly 6,000 bikers would be taking over the streets in just a few hours. With a Detroit Police escort directing traffic. In an already parking-challenged city.
RM: Again, this is false, but even if it were true it’s not as though Hamtramck cops are somehow unaware of Slow Roll, or somehow shocked stupid at the sight of a Detroit-proper police cruiser rolling through their turf. Hamtramck is surrounded by the rest of Detroit. Unless you looked at a map, you’d have utterly no idea it’s technically another city. Nobody besides this author – not even the cops – would ever give a shit about something so meaningless.
Oh, and parking? That’s hilarious. Greater Detroit has so much surplus parking that there are parody accounts mocking this fact. Don’t get me started on this one, I’ll be on a tangent all night. Suffice to say even dense downtown is 40% surface parking or a parking garage. Could Slow Roll do more to encourage folks to bike to the ride instead of drive to the ride? Absolutely, and they should. But if people drive to the start of a bike ride, it’s no more disruptive than the tens of thousands of people who drive into Detroit to watch hockey, baseball, football, soccer, or basketball. So shut up, parking whiners.
Parking vs. Everything Else: An Aerial Map of Downtown Detroit
The above map, produced by Data Driven Detroit, comes to us though the satirical Facebook page Michigan Needs More Parking. It shows downtown Detroit with parking highlighted in orange and red: garages in orange, surface lots in red. “We must do something about all of these non-parking blocks holding back Detroit,” writes Michigan Needs More Parking.
MD: Cars were parked illegally and ticketed. Cars were broken into and laptops stolen from them.
RM: This happens every single day and nobody gives a fuck until bicycles are vaguely involved? No, you’re concern trolling, Model D. I see through you. Welcome to Carmerica.
MD: Much as they wish it were still a small group of friends rolling through town for a pleasant ride, the event regularly swells to thousands of riders, along with dozens of volunteers and a paid escort by the Detroit Police Department. In almost every neighborhood they ride through, that police escort shuts down major city streets.
RM: Here’s the one place where the author has a point, though they make it unintentionally, and without understanding what traffic flow actually is. My one gripe with Slow Roll is that it’s now controlled by cops. Cops still think cars own the streets, and they routinely stop the ride to let cars through, sometimes for over fifteen minutes at a time. This ends up being more disruptive than simply letting the ride itself move as traffic (as bikes already are) and allowing the ride organizers to do corking duties. But the author obviously meant ‘shutting down’ streets in the regressive mindset of cars being “open streets” and people on bikes being “closed streets“. They’re wrong. 180° wrong, actually. Ask anyone in the Open Streets Movement, they’ll detail this further.
MD: While Slow Roll might have started as a casual, vastly smaller group ride, it has grown to the point where much more stringent measures must be taken to ensure safety.
RM: Again with the concern-trolling, but this time they’re conflating being inconvenienced with being ‘unsafe’. Which is crap. Certainly nobody driving or walking or (God forbid!) WAITING for thousands of riders to pass by were ever in danger. So are they talking about Slow Rollers themselves? That would be even more absurd, but at this point, why not double-down?
MD: When does it need to start turning riders away, or splitting the ride into smaller, more manageable groups? At what point are the crowds and the traffic and the inconvenience more damaging to the communities through which Slow Roll travels than they are pleasant for the riders?
RM: When do we start turning drivers away from sports stadiums? When do we start splitting parking garages into smaller, more manageable parking lots? At what point is the gridlocked traffic chocking our freeways more damaging to the communities through which drivers travel than they are for said motorists? Yawn…
— Detroit Greenways (@DetroitGreenway) May 22, 2015
MD: If they don’t take steps to change, to get back to their roots and original mission of fostering a “positive energy and community driven atmosphere,” Slow Roll will lose the goodwill of the neighborhoods through which it rides. It already has in Hamtramck.
RM: Slow Roll is likely the most positive, participatory event in Detroit today, cementing Motown’s new legacy as a cycling city. It brings together thousands of both new and experienced riders – some locals, some tourists, as well as thousands more onlookers – and it pulls this off almost every single week. That takes organizing, yes. But it also takes the maturity to realize you can’t control everything and everyone, and it’s okay for crowds of people to act like crowds of people. There’s far worse things to worry about in this city: like 10,000 arsons, crumbling schools, poison water, and never-ending home foreclosures.
MD: Not every Slow Roller needs to be an ambassador for the organization. But it’s time for Slow Roll leadership to consider that the astonishing success of the ride necessitates better organization, and, yes, maybe even a cap on riders.