The pinnacle of Ashland's Car Free Day celebration will be a mass bike ride down Oak Street.
Masses tend to make me uncomfortable. Messes, on the other hand, I'm completely at ease with. My housemate can attest to this.
But masses are mysterious. We seem to use the word mass for things that are not only big, but also enigmatic: gravitational mass, Catholic Mass, a mass of mashed potatoes.
And a mass of people: It just sounds scary. How many are there? How fast are they multiplying? Have they morphed into a giant multiheaded super-human? And has the mass mentality taken over?
Needless to say, I don't like crowds. I prefer to stay on the fringes, observing, reporting.
But, in honor of one of my favorite holidays, I'm considering joining a mass. A critical mass. Of bike riders.
You see, Wednesday is Car Free Day.
And if we're going to have people on this Earth, we're bound to have crowds and the people are going to have to get places. So the people are going to need paths. And, frankly, I'd rather my paths be peopled with cyclists than drivers.
Cars, most of the time, just aren't necessary. If you're not convinced, try this:
Go outside, to a street corner, and look around. Notice the cars. Notice how small the people look in the big cars. Notice how most of the drivers are enclosed in their cars, separated completely from the outside world. Notice the exhaust the cars are belching into the world.
And then notice a bicyclist. Notice a walker. Notice a bus rider. Notice how much less space they take up compared to cars.
I'm convinced that how we tread on the Earth matters. How we're getting somewhere matters just as much as where we're going. And as we're traveling on our paths, we should take care not to trample the paths of other beings.
Cars — big, gas-guzzling machines — seem to trample a lot of earth. Sure, cars are convenient. Sure, they're fast. And, yes, they're good at transporting big things.
But what kind of lifestyle do we really want to live? How important, really, is big, fast and convenient?
"We've tried this automobile thing for about 50 years or 75 years and what we're finding is that a lot of our problems now revolve around automobile usage," said Steve Ryan, a transportation commissioner who's helping organize Car Free Day. "People in cars become isolated in their little space bubble. They don't feel that they are connected to their space."
Ryan doesn't own a car. He rides his bike everywhere.
"It's just why I live in Ashland, actually," he said. "Riding my bike cuts a lot of complexity from my life and probably saves me $10,000 a year."
Since he started cycling, Ryan has become more involved in his environment, he said.
"There's no question about it," he said. "I can't tell you how many people I get to meet every day who are walking or having lunch somewhere."
It's easy for us to forget that protecting the environment means not only caring for forestlands, but also city neighborhoods, Ryan said.
"When you're talking about the environment, a lot of people still think about public lands or forestlands," he said. "But our environment also includes our streetscapes, our neighborhoods, our sidewalks. These are the first environments that we encounter in the morning. We all start out as pedestrians."
We don't have to climb into our cars every morning. We can ride bikes. We can walk. We can take the bus. We can create our own Car Free mass — every day of the year.
The pinnacle of Ashland's Car Free Day celebration will be a mass bike ride down Oak Street. It'll start at 5:30 p.m. in front of Standing Stone Brewing Co. City officials and other residents will ride en masse down Oak Street, which has been designed a shared road and marked with "sharrow signs."
"I'm hoping for 6,489 bicycle riders," Ryan joked. "But if we get 100, that would be as exciting as an event as we could possibly think of."
Hmm "… 100? Let's make it bigger. What was that recipe for multiplying? Can someone tell me how to morph into a multiheaded super-human? And how do you create a mass mentality?
If I'm going to join a mass, it might as well be magnificent. See you there.
Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at email@example.com.
For past columns see dailytidings.com/ecologic.