Austin, Texas: Reflections On Austin’s Innovative Ride of Silence

The Ride of Silence honors fallen cyclists.
Cyclists’ Video Evidence
prevents collisions,
hopefully ending
cycling tragedies.

 

A Ride of Silence serves a number of purposes.  For many, it is part of their grieving process.  That was why it was started in 2003, and this is important to remember.  My focus on the advocacy side of things is not meant to take away from that.  But, I am sick and tired of checking the local news and reading about yet another cyclist who has been killed by a reckless driver.

A Ride of Silence is the perfect place to introduce cyclists to the idea of riding with cameras and reporting incidents of harassment and reckless driving.  All of the riders are there because they understand how bad the roads can be for cyclists. And, a Ride of Silence is also a kind of demonstration, albeit a very law abiding and peaceful one.  I try to make my rides educational as well by talking about safety equipment and good riding practices such as signaling and taking a lane.

On Wednesday, May 15th 2019, I led my third Ride of Silence in North Austin.  Or route was varied and included bike lanes, gravel trails, quiet neighborhood streets, arterial roads, and back alleys. This was deliberate.  Each Ride of Silence is unique, and I wanted to use mine to show people how it is possible to move through a poorly connected suburban environment.  I had guessed that most of the participants would not be regular cycling commuters, and I wanted them to think about the possibilities of using their bikes for transportation and not just recreation. The more cyclists we have out on the roads, the safer it is for more cyclists.

Although I had advertised my ride in quite a few places, I only had a handful of people show up.  I would like to have had a few more, but I actually think there is something to be said for having a smaller group.  What I would eventually like to see – if I can’t have more first choice of safe roads and courteous drivers – would be more small rides covering more suburban areas around Austin.  If each ride completed a loop of 8 miles, but we had 10 loops around town, we would increase our exposure to many more people.  Others may disagree, arguing that a huge mass of cyclists is the best way to get attention.  And this is probably true for more urban areas, like downtown Austin, where a group of 10 cyclist would not really stand out.

With that in mind, I have a few post-ride thoughts on what our group did right, and would could be improved on.  As with my earlier post, this is all based on my particular situation, and others interested in leading a ride should adapt or ignore my ideas depending on their own unique circumstances.

What worked well:

  • Signs: Having signs on a trailer let people know who we were.
  • Hard stops: Giving slower riders a chance to catch up and keeping the group together to cross major roads meant no one felt rushed. No one ran a light to keep up and so we modeled good behavior.
  • Point and Sweep: Designating riders to both lead and follow at the back kept the group together. We counted heads at the start and so my sweep could give me a quick thumbs up at the stops so I knew we were all there.
  • Planning ahead: Arriving early to hand out maps and Cyclist Video Evidence brochures allowed us to start on time.
  • Pre-riding the route: Being familiar with the route helped me when explaining the obstacles we would encounter.
  • Reviewing cycling skills: Discussing the lane changes we would make helped inexperience rides feel more comfortable taking a lane when necessary.
  • Building community: Collecting emails from year to year allows me to send out Ride of Silence reminders as well as occasional updates on local cycling issues.

What to improve on:

  • Involve law enforcement and elected officials. As I said, a Ride of Silence is a kind of peaceful demonstration, so let’s bring our rides to the attention of law enforcement and representatives.  From now on, I will be inviting every one of my representatives, from my US Senators to my City Council member. Even if none of them want to actually ride, maybe one can be on hand to stay few words at the start.  This would get them on the record supporting cycling safety.  My ride goes near a police station. I will think about creative ways to get our local patrol officers involved.
  • On my fliers and promotional information, I had suggested we could all hang out at the local café after the ride. No one really wanted to do that, and I had to get my grandkids back home anyway. Next year, I will make sure I have some post ride refreshments on hand at the finish.  I can ask for donations of soft drinks and ice cream from local businesses.
  • I will encourage others, especially in the suburban areas around Austin, to sponsor a Ride of Silence.
  • Distribute loaner cameras. If I can find some sponsorship, I could get some inexpensive cameras to let people try out on the ride.  While enjoying post ride refreshments, I could transfer some of their files to flash drives for them. Maybe if they came away with some video files of their own, they would take the next step and start riding with a camera and file incident reports.
Most of our group
Most of our group
Entering the bike lane on Bratton Drive
Entering the bike lane on Bratton Drive
Our route included some gravel
Our route included some gravel
Taking the lane with a seven-year-old
Taking the lane with a seven-year-old
Using a back alley to avoid a dangerous road
Using a back alley to avoid a dangerous road
Be visible and model good cycling skills
Be visible and model good cycling skills

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