Cyclists unite to promote safety in San José

March 1, 2013

By Stacey Auch | Special to The Tico Times

Early Sunday morning bustled with excited energy in downtown San José at Parque Nacional during ChepeCletas’s second Eddie Cycles San José (Eddie Van Cleteando Por Chepe) sponsored by the Dutch Embassy. The event aimed to promote zero-emission methods of transportation. 

As attendees on bikes started to trickle in as early as 8 a.m. the anticipation intensified and organizers announced the ride would start at 10 a.m. Riders found themselves with an hour or more to wait for the four-mile, police-escorted bike ride around San José’s city center.

A DJ quickly started spinning dance music, keeping everyone in a playful mood, and many amused themselves with making new friends over a discussion of bike accessories or catching up with old friends from the nearby neighborhoods. Less serious riders were able to take advantage of a bike mechanic to tighten brakes, pump up tires and make basic adjustments.

At the blow of the horn, almost 800 riders of all ages and nationalities exited the park donning orange “I Rode with Eddie” T-shirts given to participants as free gifts. They headed north into Barrio Aranjuez.

As the orange mass wound its way east on the calm streets unclogged by cars through Barrios Amón and Pitaya up to La Sabana, one could overhear stories being told of bygone times, “my mother grew up here” or  “I had my first kiss over there.”

Among all the nostalgia, however, several challenges to being on a bike became apparent. Firstly and unsurprisingly, the conditions of the roads in San José provide challenges for cyclists. With one wrong move from a nearby car, cyclists were aware that they could easily wind up in the large, uncovered gutters.

Additionally, many holes, uneven pavement and gravel tracts make the terrain treacherous. The most shocking problem, however, was the outright animosity displayed by some drivers on the road. For many it seems, the bike is just another obstacle to overcome while driving in the city.

Other drivers happily embraced the idea, honking in encouragement. And probably the most gratifying salutations were from the neighbors in all of the barrios, standing in their doorways with curiosity, cheering on the cyclists as they passed. Whether it was through the more humble Paso de la Vaca or the more affluent Barrio Don Bosco, downtown residents seemed welcome to the bicycle and its champions. One could feel a real sense of community growing as the ride continued and returned west after passing the National Stadium.

Since the group started three years ago, support from many sectors has grown. “We are starting to see assistance from businesses by way of sponsorships and product offerings,” said Roberto Guzmán, one of the ChepeCletas founders. “In addition, our number of volunteers has increased allowing us to offer more activities to help spread awareness. Volunteers are critical to the success of this effort.”

Municipal support was also apparent in several forms, from the use of Parque Nacional to the number of bike police officers that joined the group, stopping traffic to let the riders pass busy streets including all four sides of La Sabana. Most of these officers seemed to enjoy the ride, while a few others were put to work calming tensions between cyclists and impatient car drivers.

As awareness and enthusiasm continue to grow for cleaner-emission transportation, there will continue to be a need for education with the general public and compromise with all who use the public roads. Guzmán knows this effort can’t be done alone. “People can’t wait for change to fall from the sky. San José residents need to work for the change they desire,” he said.

To find out more about ChepeCletas or to participate in the upcoming March and April events in Escazú and Santa Ana follow the group on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/chepecletas?sid=0.1214279301930219 or visit their website http://www.chepecletas.com.

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