Students promote alternative transportation

By Gus Bode

Factoid:Critical Mass meets every week at the Interfaith Center, 913 S. Illinois. For more information, contact the center at 549-7387.

A dozen bicyclists hit the road in protest Friday night, at one point taking up two lanes of Route 13 and backing up rush-hour traffic for several blocks.

“We have the same rights as cars,” said Kandace Vallejo, a sophomore studying anthropology from Tampa, Fla. “We want to take back the streets.”

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The riders, as part of the worldwide “Critical Mass” movement to encourage alternative transportation, take to the street every Friday to protest Carbondale’s lack of designated bicycle lanes. In Carbondale, it is illegal to ride a bicycle on sidewalks.

“We do this to show that although Carbondale has lots of bicycles, it has very little bike lanes,” said Raphi Rechitsky, a senior studying sociology from Chicago.

Halfway through the demonstration, Carbondale police pulled over the bicyclists, saying riding in two lanes was dangerous. Police forced the riders to use one lane, but no citations were issued.

Carbondale City Councilman Chris Wissmann said the council approved a plan to construct more bike paths in the city in March 2004, but it could take years to implement because of a lack of funding.

“We’re dedicated to doing it,” Wissmann said. “There’s a lot of people in Carbondale who don’t have cars. It’s a priority.”

The plan would move the bike paths onto the sides of city streets and designate new ones for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

According to critical-mass.org, the movement began in 1992 and pushed for healthier means of local transportation around the world. While many people show up to support the cause with bicycles, the movement also supports other forms of transportation, such as walking or skating.

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Rechitsky said the idea behind Critical Mass is to make alternative transportation visible, and he hopes to encourage others to walk or ride to school instead of driving, which can reduce pollution and gas consumption while encouraging a healthier lifestyle.

While some of the organized events can bring hundreds, even thousands of riders out into the public on the last Friday of every month, Carbondale’s group is rather small and more frequent, usually having around a dozen riders for each event taking place on every Friday, Rechitsky said.

The group hopes to make its movement more visible by making the ride weekly instead of monthly.

“It’s fun,” said Sean Lynch, a junior studying plant and soil sciences from Hurst. “We’ll make more of an impact. We want to show people that they don’t always need to use cars and that there should be more bike lanes.”

Reporter Julie Engler can be reached at [email protected]

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