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.
We turned off our lights and proceeded to a secret urban space. With walls covered in graffiti, plastic cups filled with small candles hung from the grates above.
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.
Want to know more about bicycling events in ABQ? Follow this Facebook group or visit the “Local Resources” portion of our page.
Thank you for reading and please comment!
10 thoughts on “Beyond Critical Mass: Bringing ABQ Back to the Cutting Edge”
I’m visiting Germany on a student exchange through UNM. The bike routes here are simply unparallelled. On most one-way streets with low traffic, bicycles are free to use the street. There are also ‘‘Fahrradstraßen’’ which literally means ‘bike streets’. Cars are not allowed. Riding my bike here is so fun. I wish that Albuquerque actually gave a shit about alternative transportation.
Thanks for the feedback and the perspective.
A couple of thoughts:
Most cities in Germany were built and designed far before cars. This means that when cars arrived, they had to be managed more carefully and it resulted in what you now see in most of Europe: a deemphasis on cars in urban areas. This is in contrast with most of the built environment in America and especially ABQ. Most of modern ABQ was built post-car dominance. Since our built environment is specifically designed for motor vehicles, it will take serious effort to evolve it into an environment where cars, bikes, people on foot and mass transit are treated equally.
In your last sentence, I presume you’re talking about the decision makers in ABQ. Some of them truly DO care about alternative modes. However, the transportation engineers have the final say about transportation infrastructure and many of them do not understand what “bike friendly” means. All they care about is how many cars can move through an intersection per hour. If they’ve never been to Europe, they might have no concept of how to make a street for a mode other than cars.
The institutions are partially to blame for this problem but the engineers themselves have a responsibility to create streets which safely serve the community. Unfortunately, people are dying in ABQ (and everywhere else!) because of how the streets were designed!
More than anything, it’s a public health and human safety issue and traffic engineers are the main problem.
If you’re interested in this topic, the book “Traffic” by Tom Vanderbilt is fantastic.
It’s happening bike fans… it’s happening. ABQ could be a global destination for rode-biking, mountain and a city-bike-friendly travel destination. Let’s put the pressure on city council by planning more Walk/Bike events and more routes offering safer car-free shopping and a more care-free urban community. It it possible. Make it happen.
What an amazing article!!!! I just moved to ABQ from CLE in October, and I have to say that I certainly enjoy the bike routes/bike lanes that abound this city – They are much better than what CLE has right now. I certainly look forward to helping this cultural revolution in ABQ by helping to spread the joys of urban cycling and helping to create a bike-friendly city!
Thanks Nikki! The links on the bottom of the post should help to steer you in the right direction.
Out of curiosity: what’s CLE?
Cleveland. (3 letter airport identifier CLE is Cleveland-Hopkins International)
As per usual, your writing is a joy to read. Clearly influenced by the excitement which compelled you to write, a quality which is usually refined out of articles, even those dealing with issues on a local level.
On top of that, it’s always great how clear-headed your suggestions are. The great thing with those two characteristics is that a reader is simultaneously inspired by the way in which you relay events, while also given a sense that their inspiration is strongly plausible, which I suspect leads many people to manifest it.
Good writing, Dan. I hope to catch you in one of these rides in about a month. Keep on with the good words.
Thanks, Dan, for posting this!
I was just recounting this miraculous Critical Mass to a friend today, and now I will send her your account.
Some footage to add — feel free to embed these links as well, if you like:
Karrie Hopper: http://t.co/PxfFcW1rMd
AJ Woods: http://t.co/5ujHXY6eEp
Leaky Faces: http://t.co/PAs16DwPMQ
Here is some video from this amazing event to add:
Karrie Hopper: http://www.mobypicture.com/user/ChrisBurbridge/view/15394446
AJ Woods: http://www.mobypicture.com/user/ChrisBurbridge/view/15394558
Leaky Faces: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqK3jWAGK_Y&feature=youtu.be
Feel free to embed in original article if desired.
Indeed, I have been to Critical Mass’s all over the USA, and this was one of the coolest things I have ever been to. ABQ has creativity, energy, and heart. It’s very awesome.