The Critical Mass community bicycle ride in Albuquerque, New Mexico occurs on the last Friday of every month. It begins at the Duck Pond at the center of the University of New Mexico campus and then meanders through the city before ending (usually) at a local brewery. As the ride progresses, people drop off. By the end there is usually a much smaller group. It is loosely organized through social media and word of mouth and it is always a lot of fun. The diversity of riders, bicycles and routes makes for an inspiring and unique event.
The ride on Friday, May 31 was different.
Someone decided Critical Mass should be more than a long bike ride to a brewery. This individual coordinated three separate acoustic shows throughout the ride. The first two occurred at city parks while the final show took place at an undisclosed location.
It was beyond amazing.
The ride began with 100+ riders. We traveled up Lomas, overflowing out of the right lane. We turned onto Alvarado to Indian School then down Indian School to the first musical performance. We retained all of our numbers and added a few people. This was due to everyones excitement about the musical performances. This was more than just a ride through the city.
All of the music groups were talented and full of energy.
The first group, Karrie Hopper, played at Mirraceros Park. The sound of semis on I-40 slowly melted away as the soothing soulful sounds of the acoustic guitar and bass filtered through the trees at twilight. The band played a short set and then we were on our way.
Our next stop was nearby at Netherwood Park where our next performer appeared. AJ Woods played a melancholy mix of music. Against the background of the sun soaked Sandias, AJs unique combination of finger picking and Rocky Votolato-esque lyric style was impressive. As the sun set, his songs filled the bicycle covered hilltop.
Off to the final performance!
We collectively “bombed the hill”, lights flashing, and proceded to meander, lost through the neighborhood. A random rider took the lead, bringing us to the final location.
The Leaky Faces began to play. Loud, brash folk punk pierced the night, driving us into a dancing frenzy. Camera flashes from all angles turned the space into a covert club, if just for an hour.
The event ended there and we all dispersed into the night.
Lessons + Thoughts
Unlike previous Critical Mass rides, we were numerically strong until the end. Through the integration of local music, public parks and pedal power, a true grassroots gathering took root.
It demonstrated that Albuquerque is ready for the next level.
Our city leaders need to hear it, loud and clear: let’s retake the lead! For decades, our multi-use trail system was the envy of cities across the country. It continues to be amazing but it’s not enough. We used to appear as a Top 5 bicycle city year after year. It’s been awhile since that’s happened.
Across the country, other cities are taking the lead. The Green Lane Project is an example of this. Part competition and part study, six American cities have received grants to construct protected bicycle lanes. This project has created an interesting phenomenon: Memphis, TN, a city previously rated as one of the worst for bicycling in the country, is now on the cutting edge of the urban bicycling movement.
Elly Blue, a well known writer within the utility cycling community, wrote a fantastic series in Grist a few years ago called Bikenomics. In one of the articles, she explains the important economic reasons to promote cycling. Acording to her,
Communities designed exclusively for motor vehicles impose a major financial penalty on those who are compelled to take on the expense of driving. But if you’re one of those who lives in a bike-friendlier place, you’ll be doing your local business community a good turn and padding Uncle Sam’s pockets as well as your own if you trade four wheels for two.
More than anything, this event emphasized the importance of having diverse elements to create a successful urban experience. Quality cycling infrastructure is one thing; having a strong art, music and culture scene is crucial as well.
Albuquerque is already a major cultural hub. Unlike Portland, we have ethnic and traditional diversity. Our city has been here since 1706 and it’s been on an upward trajectory ever since.
Recently, Albuquerque has been witness to a growing out migration. We lack quality jobs so many young educated citizens have left. They go to Denver and Austin, regional cities investing heavily in culture and the core.
The missing piece in Albuquerque is a vibrant urban environment, a diverse and dense walkable core, an exploding Downtown warehouse district.
We have the bones. We have the thinkers, the great weather, the space and the desire.
What will it take?
It could begin with a commitment, a statement from the city leaders. They could choose to invest the most time and money in the core of the city. Right now, a huge percentage of our revenue pays for new roads and infrastructure on the West Side of the city. How does that investment help us succeed as a city? What is the return on it (for more on this topic, visit the Strong Towns website)?
It will take champions, people in our community who fight for and stand up for values they believe in.
It will take time and money. Most of all, it will require us to work together, to share, to collaborate, to make our voices heard.
Thank you for reading and please comment!