What has 75 heads, 150 wheels, is two blocks long and one lane wide, begins at the Capitol building and ends at a bar? Two years from now, the answer might be Butch Otter's gubernatorial motorcade. But for now, it's the Downtown Bike Shutdown.
The Shutdown, as anyone who happened to be downtown on the nights of April 16 or May 21 couldn't help but notice, consists of nothing more than a line of bicyclists pedaling in a circle and taking care to make the appropriate hand signals and obey traffic laws when possible. Passersby have been reported to cheer at the sight of the swarm, and sometimes even run with the bikes, Pamplona-style. Police have been tacitly supportive, while irked drivers have been known to bump back tires and intone visionary insults like "Get a car!" and "Nice bike." But according to the event's founders, it's all in good fun. Sure, a taxi or two gets enveloped, and a few of the hangers-on have unexpectedly begun chants rhyming "oil and gas" with "up your ass," but this really isn't a protest. It is, according to co-founder Mike Runsvold, "Cruising for cruising's sake."
Runsvold and his buddies Taylor Bell, Nick Bock, Jeremy Katich and Brian Harvey, all self-described "service-industry twenty-somethings" who own cars but prefer bikes, came up with the idea while biking from a concert to a bar in April. A week and a few homemade posters later, 30 people showed up for the first version. A month later, over 75 showed up, some in costume, others on tricycles, tandems, recumbents, custom cruisers and low-riders.
At similarly foot-powered events like Critical Mass in San Francisco, streets teeming with bikers have invariably led to hurt feelings and bent derailers. But the founders-dubbing themselves the "Spokes"-have no such intentions. As Bock says, "We have no political agenda. There's no chance of violence unless it comes car-side." As long as they maintain that lack of vision, the law seems to be on their side.
"When you get in a circulation area with 20 to 25 mph speed limits, bicycles have just as much right to a lane of the road as a vehicle, as long as they can keep up," explains Mark McNeese, Idaho Department of Transportation bicycle/pedestrian coordinator. "It's the safest place to be, whether it's just me, or if there are five bikes with me." However, because the bicycle code is worded only to apply to small groups of cyclists, McNeese admits the Shutdown appears to reside in a legal gray area somewhere between bike commuters and a parade, which would require event permits and other administrative protocol. The Boise Police and Ada County Highway departments did not return calls concerning the Shutdown, but McNeese posited that "Generally, event permits are regulated for highly organized events. I don't think it would qualify as that. It sounds like bicyclists going out for a ride."
The event's founders readily agree, but add that they have high hopes to legitimize their event with a guest appearance by a certain local politician known for riding a cherry red 1969 Schwinn Typhoon to work.
"We want Dave Bieter," Bell says. Barring that, the group says they'd be happy with a visit from their second choice, Fox news anchor Shannon Patterson.
The Downtown Bike Shutdown begins at the Idaho Capitol Building's front steps, rain or shine, on Saturday, June 18 at 9:30 p.m. Glowsticks will be provided.