Last night I finally got to take part in a monthly event that I have wanted to experience for ages, but sadly the nightmare work situation the last 6 months meant that I usually was out of Santiago, forgot the event or was stuck in the office late working. Not this time! I finally became a furious cyclist and proudly took to the streets of Santiago to call for more awareness for cyclists and the right to a safe environment to use two wheels instead of four.
Let me explain a little more about the”Movimiento Furiosos Ciclistas” which dates back to August 2004 when for the first time a group of cyclists met at the social heart of Santiago (Plaza Italia) to protest for their rights to use bicycles as a safe, healthy and environmentally friendly form of transport! Plaza Italia has featured in various other posts and is the place where Santaguinos come to protest when they are angry about something, celebrate when they win something and mourn when someone special dies. Since that first day, on every first Tuesday of the month, the Plaza is taken over by bicycles of all shapes and sizes (and price ranges from what I could see) and from that meeting point the group literally takes over some of the biggest streets of the city, restricting traffic flow and causing chaos for cars and buses. All for the purpose of making cars and pedestrians aware of cyclists rights. All with the support of the municipalities and the police, so don`t worry mom, I am not participating in anything illegal.
Last night was the 201st cicletada and it was a special event in memory of a cyclist who was knocked down by a drunk driver 3 weeks ago. The driver is free and nobody is sure if he will be put on trial or not. It is exactly for this reason that events like this are so important in a city where every day more and more people are changing from using buses and the metro (and sometimes cars) to using bicycles. Yet the consciousness of motorists about the rights of cyclists is abysmal. I don`t know how many times I have had motorists hoot at me impatiently for crossing the road with a green pedestrian/bike light, where clearly I have the right of way, but they don`t want to wait for cyclists the same way they have to wait for pedestrians.
The crowd beginning to gather. Before long the plaza was packed with bicycles.
I should know by now that nothing starts on time in Chile and despite getting to Plaza Italia just before 8pm, we only started the cicletada about 40 minutes later. At least during the wait we were entertained by a bagpipe player with music as diverse as Auld Lang Syne and the theme song from the Last of the Mohicans.
The atmosphere for the event is provided by a solar powered sound system attached to a custom made bike (La Musicleta).
It was such an amazing feeling to be part of a HUGE crowd of cyclists (I estimate at least 4000 based on articles I read on the Furiosos Ciclistas website) all riding along cheering, singing, enjoying disrupting the traffic and especially enjoying the freedom of the road instead of dodging cars, pedestrians, dogs and goodness knows what else on our routes.
Sadly my photo skills on a moving bike are not that great and I discovered last night that the roads of Santiago have almost as many cracks and potholes as Johannesburg, so I had to concentrate more on not creating a Tour de France style pile-up instead of taking photos. However, here are a few shots on route…
This photo makes it look deceptively like there were not that many cyclists, but in reality most of the time the street was so jam packed with bikes that you really had to ride slowly and watch out on all sides to avoid an accident. Manouvering with so many bikes made me wonder how professional cyclists do it in races and at speeds much greater than ours…
Entering the Plaza de Armas in the centre of the city.
Besides the fun and music the cicletada had a serious message which I mentioned at the beginning. I don`t want to give the impression that Santiago is a dangerous place for cyclists because it is actually not that bad. In fact I think I saw more bike accidents in Oxford than I have seen here. But, the danger is always there and not only is there the need to create a consciousness amongst drivers, but also good conduct amongst cyclists. A couple of times I have wanted to hoot at cyclists doing something stupid, but without a horn and not quick enough to shout some retort in chileno, I have to say nothing. Maybe it is time to buy a bell at least!
Any way, the final photo of this post is a tribute to Arturo, the 28 year old who was killed by a drunk motorist recently only a few minutes from my house. One second changed his life permanently and he was doing nothing wrong at the time.