On September 26 & 27, 2015 Pope Francis came to Philadelphia as part of the World Meeting of Families, which included an outdoor mass on September 27. In order to facilitate an estimated 1 million pedestrians ability to move freely, a 4.7 square mile area of Philadelphia was closed to motor vehicles. It was announced months in advance so everyone could prepare.
About two months before that weekend an event appeared on Facebook, the PopeRide on Saturday, September 26. The PopeRide was going to follow a route through the the closed section of Philadelphia to celebrate car free streets. Organized by Alexandria Schneider, she thought that this ride was going to be her and a few dozen friends.
On the day of the ride 1500 people had signed up on Facebook and the belief was a third to half would show up. However on Saturday morning more and more people started showing up, far more than anticipated. The final count was 3000 participants. Since then, not a summer has gone by where Ms. Schneider has not held a large scale ride through the streets of Philadelphia. This year is no different.
Ms Schneider took a few moments out of her schedule to give an interview for the Philadelphia Bicycle Journal.
Prior to the PopeRide had you ever done anything like this before?
Nope! I'd biked with friends, but that was it.
What was your reaction at the PopeRide when you found out 3000 people showed up?
Honestly, I was exhausted from the ride the night before, but when I got the call saying that 3000 people were at the start line, I went straight to a MASSIVE adrenaline high and didn't come down until about 8PM that night!
What was your inspiration for this ride (Cycle en Couleur)?
For this ride? Maria and I had been talking about good-naturedly teasing Diner en Blanc for a while, but I was stuck on single-color rides. Roulante en Rouge came and went, Bike in Blue was a flop, but then Maria brought up Cycle en Colour, and it stuck!
How much time does it take to put together a ride like this?
It depends on a few factors, but generally a week or so to kick around and firm up the ride concept with co-organizers, maybe an hour or two to draw up the route, and then a few hours a week in the lead-up weeks for prep, like pulling materials together, and promoting.
What are some of the key things you have to plan for when creating large scale rides?
The biggest thing is "location, location, location". You need to find a starting location that's big enough for a potentially huge group, make a route that's fun and has nice views but has enough safe street space for a bike mass, and find an ending location that gives people space to stay if they want to, but can leave easily.
When you're not planning a ride what else do you do?
My day job is in IT, and when I'm not doing that or riding, I love baking, shooting sports, cooking, gaming, and listening to music.
Every time you hold a ride you have perfect weather and a massive turn out. What is your secret? Do you make an offering to Taranis, God of the wheel and if you do, what is it? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taranis)
Well, I've had one ride that didn't have those, Byko's Safe Bike Ride, but that wasn't supposed to be massive. But either way, I legitimately have no clue. I DO obsessively refresh Weather Underground and yell at the sky beforehand though. I also don't say the word for that thing that falls from the sky during a storm before a ride. For theatre folks, I treat it like you treat the name of The Scottish Play :P