On the last Friday of every month, hundreds of bike riding enthusiasts take to the streets for Critical Mass in Porto Alegre, Brazil to raise awareness of cycling in a city dominated by motor vehicles -- but at their most recent event, the unthinkable happened. As the lively group of cyclists pedaled together down the street, one disgruntled motorist decided to accelerate through the crowd, running down dozens of riders in a disturbing hit-and-run.Note: The following video isn't particularly graphic per se , but the driver's blatant disregard for human life may be a bit too disturbing for the faint of heart.
Miraculously, considering the speed with which the car plowed into the riders, no one was killed, but over a dozen had to be treated for their injuries. According to Brazilian media, the driver fled the scene and abandoned his car.
One of the event's organizers described the scene on the group's blog:
Yesterday, as on every last Friday of the month Critical Mass was held, which is a manifestation of what happens in the world when cyclists seek space in traffic, to raise awareness that we ARE PART of the traffic. Bicycles are a self-sustainable, less expensive, and environmentally friendly alternative, even if they're commonly associated with leisure and recreation.
But what happened yesterday was beyond any expectation we could have had. A driver / killer ran over our group of cyclists. What happened was very scary, and I did not understand what was happening, because we could hear screams and the sound of people falling on the ground, the sound of bodies in the hood, windshield, on the asphalt. I saw legs in the air, helmets, bicycles, arms, all mixed together with parts of the car... all flying and making noise. It was like a horror movie.
Many in Porto Alegre's small, but growing cycling community are disappointed by the response of police and media reports surrounding the incident -- with many referring to it as an 'accident' rather than a deliberate assault. The authorities found the damaged vehicle abandoned, but have yet to apprehend the owner. Instead, the driver's lawyer says the suspect will turn himself in to police next week.
Porto Alegre, like many large urban centers in Brazil, has virtually no infrastructure in place to encourage cycling, despite the fact that motor vehicle traffic is notoriously troublesome. Drivers in the city are often aggressive, failing to yield even for pedestrians, with traffic signs, speed limits, and stoplights frequently disregarded entirely. For these reasons, many cyclists are forced to ride on the sidewalk or along quieter streets.
The local chapter of Critical Mass has been more than just an instrumental force in raising awareness of cycling; to some, it's the only opportunity to bike in the city without feeling bullied or intimidated. Following this latest act of aggression towards bikers, however, that feeling of collective safety has been jeopardized.
Someone summed up the sentiments of cyclists in the wake of this disturbing incident, painting on the street where it occurred "Mais amor, menos motor" (More love, less motor) -- a simple call for civility where blood has been needlessly shed.
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