BY KEITH UHLIG • WAUSAU DAILY HERALD • JANUARY 18, 2010
A year and a half ago, bicyclist Caitlyn Schoenfeld was hit by a car at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Thomas Street in Wausau.
Now, the 21-year-old Wausau woman is organizing a Critical Mass group bicycle ride to call attention to the intersection’s dangers and to “raise awareness about bike safety in general,” Schoenfeld said. “It’s about changing the mentality of the drivers.”
She’s rallying cyclists to meet in the parking lot of Cafe Le Grand at 4:45 p.m. Thursday. They’ll then ride as a group to City Hall, where they’ll attend a meeting of Wausau’s Parking and Traffic Committee. Schoenfeld hopes to convince its members that the traffic lights at the Grand Avenue/Thomas Street intersection need red arrows for traffic making righthand turns.
Schoenfeld suffered a severe brain injury in the July 25, 2008, incident. She has facial paralysis and double vision as a result, although she recently had surgery that she hopes will improve her eyesight. She still rides a bike, though, both for fitness and transportation.
A student at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Schoenfeld is using Facebook, posting fliers and sending e-mails to drum up support for the Critical Mass ride, and she said 50 cyclists have said they will attend.
“How many actually show up, who knows?” Schoenfeld said.
Critical Mass rides are similar to civil rights rallies for bicyclists. Typically done in large cities, they are loosely organized rides in which cyclists flood into a spot and ride in the streets. The idea is to demonstrate how many cyclists there are and to make the point that bicycles have the same legal rights as any vehicle.
They can be contentious, and some rides have run afoul of vehicles and police. Others have gone on without incident.
Schoenfeld wants a peaceful ride. She’s encouraging cyclists to obey traffic laws, wear helmets and have lights on their bikes.
“It’s going to be a very peaceful protest,” she said.
John Nowaczyk of Rothschild is an avid cyclist and the owner of a new bicycle shop, Sprocketz, set to open Feb. 1 in Weston.
He supports Schoenfeld’s goal of raising awareness about bicycle safety and also changing the Grand/Thomas intersection.
“I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been almost hit at that intersection,” he said.
But Nowaczyk is torn about the idea of the Critical Mass, because such rides “sometimes can be negative things,” he said.
“If you keep it under control, and you’re doing it to raise awareness, you’ll get a positive reaction. I’ve read stories where 500 people have participated in Critical Masses and they went off without a hitch. In others, 30 people have created almost a riot.”
Schoenfeld wants it to be a positive experience, and she want to make a positive impact.
She was nearly killed at the intersection, and she holds no grudge against the driver who hit her. But she’s angry that the intersection — which many agree is a danger — hasn’t been changed.
“They (city officials) haven’t even tried. I want to flood (City Hall) with people,” Schoenfeld said.