Name: Tanya Mooza Zwahlen
I am: Wife, mother of two, city planner, Massachusetts native
Years in Rochester: 10
Current Home: Highland Park

Dear Rochester: On Wednesday, August 24, 2011, my five year old daughter, Claire, learned to ride her bike without training wheels. I stood in the road with four or five of my neighbors and their kids for several hours that day, watching as they rode up and down the street. Every few minutes someone would yell, “CAR!” and we would step to the curb to let a car pass.

Sometime around dusk, a group of 30 bicyclists turned onto the far end of our block. I remember hearing a boom box and seeing the group move quietly down the first half of the street. After a few seconds, a few of them let go of their handlebars, sat up and clapped their hands. One of them excitedly shouted Claire’s name, and they all hooted and hollered. She stopped pedaling in little circles around the street and looked at them in amazement. We all did.

After a few seconds, they were upon us. Thirty people on bikes. Taking up the width of the street. All of them smiling. A few of them high-fived Claire. One of them was our next door neighbor, Scott.

The group was Critical Mass, whose purpose is to “celebrate cycling and to assert cyclists’ right to the road.” They choose different routes each week. That night, Scott had shared with them the story of Claire learning to ride, and suggested they swing down Mulberry Street to congratulate her.

As quickly as they had come and enveloped us with cheers, they were gone. Off to explore the rest of the city. Those few moments transformed me. That night, I thought long and hard about this little gesture of encouragement, made by 30 strangers to my daughter, and it made me realize that I really love this city.

It is remarkable in and of itself that Scott, a bachelor, noticed that Claire had learned to ride her bike that day. It is more remarkable that he convinced 30 people, some of whom he didn’t know, to alter the course of their night. That would not have happened in the suburban Massachusetts neighborhood where I grew up. There were no biking advocacy groups cruising down our cul-de-sac. It would not have happened in the North End of Boston, where I lived after college. Critical Mass was active, but the roads were too busy for children to ride and we didn’t know many of our neighbors. I’m not even sure it would have happened in Ithaca, a community known for its appreciation of alternative modes of transportation, where we lived during graduate school.

It happened here, and I am so proud that it did. Rochester, thanks for being a city where people encourage each other. I love you.

Claire (and Hartley) Zwahlen, August 24, 2011, moments before critical mass came down the block.