In Defense of Detroit’s Slow Roll

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.

 

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

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…

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.

RM: You can’t put a cap on the public commons. They belong to the people, and all of us have a right to enjoy the streets, organized or unorganized. This is Detroit, now go ride your fucking bike.

•••

[Edit note: a previous version of this article cited Hamtramck as unincorporated from Detroit. It has been updated as saying Hamtramck is separately incorporated within the boundaries of Detroit.]

18 comments

  1. Excuse me, but since when is Hamtramck an “unincorporated city within the boundaries of Detroit”? As the mayor of Hamtramck, I see you know absolutely nothing about us, nor did you bother to do the most basic research–even a simple google search, were you so inclined as a journalist, would have told you that Hamtarmck is an independent home rule city, incorporated as such since 1922, and previously incorporated as a village and a township (which, incidentally, covered most of the east side of Detroit). We have our own elected officials and city administration, and our own police and fire departments. Your statement is indicative of the disrespect for Hamtramck and its residents shown throughout your article.

    1. Certainly in this context the term ‘unincorporated’ was in reference to the relation between Hamtramck and the city of Detroit specifically. I must say it’s a bit delightful and confounding how a mayor has time to post a comment here, especially when your own press release would seem to support my assertion that Hamtramck police and Detroit police collaborate all the time, and it’s no big deal.

      I’m not sure where you’re seeing any disrespect towards your city in my article, unless you’re reading semantic hair-splitting of words as being somehow derogatory. I assure, that was not my intent. Hopefully you put as much effort into fostering positive relations with Slow Roll as you do in adopting a defensive attitude for your town.

  2. Is this just an article arguing with another article?
    Is the writer comparing slow roll to traffic/ parking at a Tiger’s game? Anyone interested or affected can find the schedule for Tiger’s games anywhere and they know exactly where they’re going to be. Also, “When do we start turning drivers away from sports stadiums? When do we start splitting parking garages into smaller, more manageable parking lots? ” Yes, this is a thing. All of the people going to the Tigers games are not parking in one massive lot.
    I understand bikes are a part of traffic but they are also supposed to follow the same traffic laws as people in cars, not the traffic rules for a funeral procession.

    1. Rebel Metropolis doesn’t usually do “article vs article” rebuttals, but in this case with so many ignorant remarks in the Model D piece, it was warranted. The reason mass rides, and many individual riders follow a different, unwritten set of rules of the road is for their own safety. Most traffic laws are designed for 3,000 lbs cars, not 30 lbs bicycles. More importantly, a group of riders is threatened when they’re split up from one anther by cars. Keeping the ride cohesive is well worth the benefit to riders, and certainly in the best interest of motorists, too, even if they have to wait a few minutes taking pictures and waving at the Slow Rollers ride by.

  3. Your article is great – its funny (ironic) how many motorize vehicle people feel they’re more entitled to the roadways and us bicyclists.

    I’d like to add that Hamtramck & Slow Roll representatives met and discussed the June 6th roll and published this statement on June 10th.

    This is a copy & paste of the Hamtramck Mayor’s FB post on June 10th.
    Karen Majewski
    June 10 at 12:47pm ·

    Some of you have been following the controversy over parking tickets issued in Hamtramck to Monday’s Slow Roll riders. Here is a joint statement on behalf of Slow Roll and the City of Hamtramck, expressing our intention to cooperate through Hamtramck’s official protocols on future rides.

    ?JOINT STATEMENT REGARDING SLOW ROLL IN HAMTRAMCK

    The City of Hamtramck and Slow Roll both celebrate diversity and inclusion. We agree there is value in bringing people together from across the region to explore Detroit and its enclave cities, and to better understand and appreciate those cities and the people who live there.

    Hamtramck has a long history of welcoming visitors. We believe there is meaningful and untapped potential for including Hamtramck in Slow Roll’s annual schedule. The leadership of Hamtramck and Slow Roll would like to realize that potential in 2017.

    Public attention has recently been focused on the Slow Roll that started in Hamtramck on June 6. This ride was on Hamtramck streets briefly, with the vast majority of the route in Detroit. The police departments of Hamtramck and Detroit work together, sometimes informally, to accommodate incidental overlaps with Hamtramck by the DPD. Slow Roll and the police departments utilized these informal mechanisms when Slow Roll rode in Hamtramck in 2015, so it was not unreasonable for Slow Roll to rely on the same informal mechanisms for the June 6th ride. However, it is apparent that reliance on informal communications was not effective this year. Slow Roll and Hamtramck agree that the growth in Slow Roll’s popularity make it an event for which informal mechanisms should not be used in the future, and Slow Roll will utilize Hamtramck’s special event permit process in 2017.

    We agree that Slow Roll riders have an independent responsibility to park their cars lawfully at any Slow Roll event – in any city. Slow Roll will continue to reinforce that message with its riders. Any Slow Roll rider who believes he or she received a parking violation in error may challenge it through the normal mechanisms and will be heard.

    Slow Roll and the City of Hamtramck look forward to cooperating to create a smooth and pleasant experience for Slow Roll riders and Hamtramck residents in 2017.

    June 9, 2016

    Hon. Karen Majewski, Mayor City of Hamtramck
    Jeff Herron, Chair Detroit Bike City, Inc. (Slow Roll)

    1. Agreed, the level of self-entitlement is downright pathological, and entirely reinforced by the automobile lobby. Thanks for posting the full press release, it definitely completes a fuller picture than the Model D hit piece would have us believe.

  4. I feel like I’ve entered bizarro world, because it’s usually Model D boosterizing the city and touting events like Slow Roll as “the most positive, participatory event in Detroit today.”

    City residents are getting fed up with Slow Roll. There is very little “positivity” that it brings to Detroit or cycling. When the suburbanites go home, after spending their hard-earned money on cheeseburgers and beer, which, according to every Slow Roller that gets interviewed by a major media outlet, entitles them to take a giant shit on our city every Monday and gives them immunity for following the most basic rules and code of decency, we who live here have to deal with the aftermath. Motorists take their frustrations with Slow Roll out on us, and we’re just trying to commute to our jobs.

    I have a hard time taking anyone seriously who has actually been to a few Slow Rolls and still thinks it’s a positive, net gain for the city. The first time I did slow roll, before it became an event that attracted 2,000 people, let alone 6,000, i was appalled at how people treated our city. The squad took Slow Roll through some of the most poverty-stricken areas of the city, an honorable attempt at bridging the gap no doubt, but riders proceeded to tear through people’s lawns, left trash and beer cans everywhere, and some even shouted racist stereotypes and slurs at residents. You think that because someone puts a smile on their face and waves at you, that automatically means they’re happy to see you?

    Then there was the case of the white male rider in “blackface” shouting the n-word at the top of his lungs for an entire ride, unchecked. Slow Rollers actually stood up for him when the behavior was called out on social media.

    And you clearly have no idea what you are talking about comparing Slow Roll “traffic” to cycling traffic. You know what we call a group of automobiles, who are given a permit to block traffic and run through red lights while people look on? A parade. That’s not traffic. If the streets were filling up with cycling commuters, and the roads were getting jammed up at rush hour every day with cyclists, you might have a point. And it’s not just cars that get blocked by your parade. I have, on more than one occasion, had my bicycle commute blocked by Slow Roll in the past as well.

    But this is the most offensive thing you’ve said:

    “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.”

    Fuck you. Seriously. Hamtramck is a sovereign city and the Detroit Police have no jurisdiction there. Just because it’s surrounded on all sides by Detroit doesn’t mean a thing. Would you all ride up to Birmingham, or Royal Oak, or Dearborn, with a parade of 6,000 bikes, unannounced, and have Detroit Police block traffic for you while you trash their city and park in front of their driveways? What makes you think that’s OK to do here?

    I hope the city starts to assess the damages and costs that are involved with hosting Slow Roll in the city, and take action accordingly. Then, when your yearly dues go up, or the parade gets shut down completely, maybe you’ll understand the negative impact of this event. But I doubt it, because just like most Slow Rollers I’ve seen, you have no respect for the city, its people, or the sovereignty of the neighborhoods you roll through.

    But a cheeseburger LITERALLY anywhere else if you don’t like that. We don’t need your money.

  5. Did you actually compare yourselves to a “sunny day”?!? Get out of your ivory tower and leave the entitlement. Slow Roll is awful and so was the perspective of this defensive narsicisstic article!!

  6. You are a collective group of idiots. Please go back to whatever ridiculous background you came from. And stay the fuck out of my Hamtramck

  7. Please don’t come to Hamtramck. Ever. Your ignorant, poorly written article just reinforces the argument that information is not truth, and any moron can blog inanities.

  8. Guarantee the author doesn’t actually live in Detroit. Sure, slow roll is great for outsiders; you get to drop in to someone’s neighborhood and take it over for your leisure and personal entertainment. As for me, and anyone else actually living in the neighborhoods, it fucking sucks to be unable to cross the street for a fucking hour when your just trying to get home from work. And your dumb stadium traffic analogy doesn’t apply. Those stupid things are downtown, where traffic is expected at anytime. We shouldn’t be bombarded with an unbroken traffic flow in a residential neighborhood. Riding your bike through a disenfranchised city makes zero impact on the betterment of that city. Try moving here and paying taxes, or renovating a home, or building a new home, or starting a business. You think because your riding your bike with a bunch of people it’s improving anything? Go fuck yourself. All your doing is inconveniencing people who live here

    1. This is perhaps the best ‘get off my lawn’ comment to date. I won’t waste our time detailing all the ways you’re totally wrong, but just know that line for line you are. Maybe even more so than the Model D author. Stay classy, Carmerican!

      1. Perhaps you should take more care to actually listen to the voices of those who are directly effected by Slow Roll rather than insulting and dismissing their opinions. A nonstop mass of 5,000 people is a huge obstacle whether they’re on foot, riding bikes, or in cars. People who are just trying to go about their daily lives, get home from work, etc. do not benefit in any way from a bunch of suburbanite gawkers blocking their way.

        The lack of respect Slow Roll, as an event and as an organization, shows for “others” is really disappointing. Pause the group every 5-10 minutes to let cars through. Release maps prior to the rides. Anything would be better than their current method

        1. Just admit the real problem for you here, that Slow Roll is challenging the monopoly of car use on our streets. That’s what infuriates you and others so used to having things your way. I got news for you, times are changing. And self-entited attitudes like yours are no longer being tolerated. You can learn to change with the times, or you can keep smashing your fists on your keyboard and scream ‘Get off my lawn!’ It’s your choice.

Comments are closed.