Just across the border from San Diego, where our cross-country bicycle ride starts Sept. 18, live some pretty brave cyclists.
Every Wednesday evening, according to a report today on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, several hundred of them ride the mean streets of Tijuana.
More than 800 people died last year in Tijuana, many at the hands of drug traffickers, NPR reported. One of the reasons for the ride is to maintain some semblance of normality in a community riven by violence.
A more immediate concern of the Tijuana cyclists, however, judging from NPR, are “giant potholes and lots of skinny, mean dogs — not to mention clouds of thick black truck exhaust.”
“But the biggest road hazard.” the NPR story said, “may be the random array of those circular yellow street reflectors that just seem to sprout out of the asphalt.” They’re called bolitas matadoras, or “little killer balls,” because they can cause a rider to crash.
“The ride dates to 2004, when a half-dozen cyclists began lobbying for bike lanes in the city,” said a Nov. 30 story in The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Getting no response from government officials, they just began riding, and the numbers quickly grew. Wednesday nights proved the most convenient time, and now the ride has become a tradition.”
Every Wednesday at 7 p.m., the bicyclists, who call themselves Ciclopista Tijuana, gather outside Tijuana City Hall and ride a route of about 14 miles. The organizers, NPR said, “are sticklers for safety and follow every rule of the road. They have monitors all along the route. They stop at every red light, and everyone has to wear a helmet.”
On the night that NPR’s Carrie Kahn rode along, 375 cyclists participated. The record is 429.
The narco bloodshed has altered lifestyles in Tijuana, said the Union-Tribune story. “Parents order children to play inside. Teenagers have stricter curfews. Restaurants, taco stands, movie theaters and nightclubs lose customers as the city shuts down at night.”
Mario Ortiz Villacorta, a retired high school literature and philosophy teacher and the officially designated chronicler of Tijuana’s city life, told the Union-Tribune: “Violence and crime are not in the nature of Tijuanenses. We need to keep living our lives in the best possible way and not lock ourselves inside.”
The Wednesday evening bike rides are part of that effort to take back the nighttime streets.
Anyone in our group arriving early in San Diego might consider crossing the border and riding in solidarity. Or not.