Transformations: Bicicletada in São Paulo (Shift Happens! excerpted)

September 19th, 2012 by LisaRuth

Shift Happens!: Critical Mass at 20 takes a ride through 31 cities.  We’re profiling them all here! For some macro- and micro-views of the effects of Critical Mass in São Paulo, Thiago Benicchio and Tatiana Achcar take us through that car-congested city.

Thiago Benicchio’s “Critical Mass is Dead. Long Live Critical Mass!” gives a great account of the rise and fall of Critical Mass in São Paulo:

Critical Mass, called Bicicletada in Brazil, has been going for a decade, but was never that big in São Paulo, except for on annual World Carfree Days. In São Paulo, Critical Mass was the “Big Bang” for all the public and private initiatives concerning urban cycling, and also a significant inspiration to many other cities in Brazil. From the idea that regular people do use bicycles to move around, to the recent public spaces opened by the city, it’s undeniable that this small and creative crowd was responsible for starting real changes in a car-centric city with 12 million inhabitants. On the other hand, São Paulo’s Bicicletada wasted a lot of its power as a social movement, and in recent years suffered from the boredom of becoming just another bicycle ride without any deeper political, cultural, or artistic expression (even those related strictly to bicycles).

The Internet was a very important tool for the growth of Bicicletada in a huge city that’s also short of public spaces. Articles, photos, and videos published first on the Indymedia website, and later on corporate social media sites … helped to spread the idea. …When I joined Bicicletada, I started a blog called Apocalipse Motorizado, with a monthly report advertising the ride, and following up with multimedia coverage of the rides.

The Internet, of course, is just a medium used to spread ideas; the noted websites were in fact supported by dozens of citizens taking pictures, shooting videos, or writing articles about the monthly rides on social networks and in email groups. The street actions and the strong group of people willing to participate and promote Bicicletada every month were the main reasons for its growth and importance.

Whether in New York City or San Francisco, the moment when Critical Mass lost its early aura perhaps was due to police repression. In São Paulo the moment in which the Bicicletada substantially lost its transformative potential perhaps took place in 2007, and has very different roots. As traffic congestion continuously worsened, especially in the expanded center of the city, the little ant-like work done by some dozens of individuals during Critical Mass and on our blogs and social networks caused the number of bicycle riders to grow substantially, at least among middle-class people…

For the reasons behind the “death” of Critical Mass in São Paulo, pick up a copy!

And Tatiana Achcar recounts her personal journey of “Inventing an Autonomina,” or how she created an autonomous life through getting on a bike and participating in São Paulo’s Bicicletada—to start…

On the first bike trip I took through the center of Brazil, a truck driver, from way up on his enormous truck, shouted rather loudly as he passed our group: “Buy a car!” That phrase somewhere between a joke and an expression of disgust, made me think that the man simply couldn’t imagine how we were enjoying ourselves tremendously in the process of transporting ourselves with our own bodies.

I was caught up in the sense of freedom on two wheels and my bicycle took over larger and larger parts of my life. But I have to admit that the daily struggles of being a cyclist in São Paulo were depressing. I felt very insecure, like an alien, and I didn’t know how to behave in traffic or how to ride safely. A bike activist friend, Eduardo Green, took me along and I discovered the Bicicletada and joined the group, rather small at the time. I didn’t understand exactly what it was: A ride? A protest? With what purpose and what destination? There was a spirit of resistance there and the slogan menos carro, mais bicicleta (“less cars, more bikes”), shouted along the huge avenues, was proof of that. Through this crowd I also discovered some anarchist collectives that I found interesting… São Paulo had become too small for me. I needed to carve out a sense of autonomy and see the world. By undertaking a journey, I recalibrated my life forever. I packed my bags, gave up my apartment, and left. Thus began an intense and unforgettable series of firsts.

Find out where Tatiana traveled to and the discoveries she made along the way when you order your copy of Shift Happens!

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