The sounds a little boy made on Sunday as he sped down 30th Street toward South Park on a miniature bike supported by training wheels could have been screams of terror. But they weren’t. They were shrieks of unfettered joy. OK, maybe a little terror. But he was smiling all the way downhill, his friend or his sister trailing behind, just as happy, if not as noisy.
The boy might have been concerned about flying too fast, pulling the handlebars ever so slightly to one side and eating it at the bottom of the hill. But he wasn’t at all worried about cars, about which he’s surely been admonished over and over again by his parents. He was free, and the excitement seemed almost too much to bear.
The child was part of a steady stream of people cruising up and down the main thoroughfare between Grant Hill and North Park on a perfect summer day. Sunday was CicloSDias: six hours with no cars, hordes of people bicycling, rollerblading, walking, running, pulling wagons occupied by toddlers, pushing strollers and at least one guy riding backwards on a unicycle. Volunteers gave away free water and ice cream. Musicians played on corners. A female police officer patrolling a street crossing playfully greeted a dog who’d stopped to say hello. Folks created their own impromptu block parties. Residents set up chairs on their lawns to watch the parade.
It was a sweet day, with just a touch of bitterness if you stopped to think about how it all came together. If you knew who was responsible for the event, it was, in part, downright tragic.
This magnificent day was brought to you by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. Bicycling advocates have been trying to make something like it happen for years but couldn’t get anywhere. Samantha Ollinger, executive director of BikeSD, was introduced to Filner during last year’s mayoral campaign and pitched it to him. Filner ran with it. He gave it a name, talked it up during the campaign and set it in motion after he was elected. He put his former campaign manager, Ed Clancy, in charge of bicycle initiatives, and Clancy grabbed the baton and executed the ambitious plan. Filner, Clancy and the city’s cycling advocates got it done.
This is one reason why we’re so angry with Filner. CicloSDias was a glimpse of what could have been if the mayor hadn’t been done in by his uncontrolled lust and his inability to see women as people deserving of respect.
CityBeat was an early caller for his resignation. A month later, he hasn’t resigned. He could be negotiating a resignation deal with the city attorney and Gloria Allred, the lawyer for Irene McCormack, the former Filner communications director who’s sued him for sexual harassment. He could be waiting to see if criminal charges are filed. Maybe he won’t resign at all, deciding to take his chances against a difficult-to-qualify recall effort that’ll be launched on Aug. 18, when proponents are allowed to officially start collecting signatures. But even if he manages to continue to occupy City Hall’s 11th floor, he’ll still be a pariah among many of the people with whom he’d otherwise work to make cool things happen.
And that’s a shame for those of us who were so excited about Filner’s potential to reshape San Diego from the bottom up and the middle out, rather than from the top down. CicloSDias was a radiant example of Filner’s idea of what community means, and who knows what he could be planning right now if he were in the Mayor’s office and not in hiding at home—or wherever he is— taking “personal time,” his lawyers say, fresh off an unknown amount of behavioral therapy. When he emerges, his energy will be consumed by his mounting legal troubles and his battle against recall.
Fortunately, CicloSDias can become a regular event far into the future, replicated in other parts of town, with or without Filner, and it absolutely should. If we do end up needing to pick a new mayor, we must insist that candidates tell us whether or not they’ll carry the torch for such community-building endeavors and reject those who can’t adequately articulate specifically how they’ll do so.
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