Open Letter from Midnight Marathon Originator

Dear Midnight Marathon Riders,

Now is a good time to fill you in on what's going on with the Midnight Marathon bike ride this year (it's still happening, but after months of questions and back and forth). But first, a few words about last year, the most successful Midnight Marathon bike ride to date...

I woke up the morning of the last year's 2013 Boston Marathon monday dehydrated and sore, in a state of extreme euphoria. Just a few hours earlier, the Midnight Marathon Bike Ride had gone off without a hitch. Over a thousand of you showed up to ride bikes in the middle of the night, even though the temperature dropped to freezing and many of us couldn't feel our toes by the end.

700 tickets sold out in under 12 hours for a special Midnight Marathon train the MBCR & MBTA chartered for riders.

Grassroots efforts to charter buses brought another 120 people out for the ride, and countless others carpooled or biked all the way to the starting like from Boston. Local businesses and groups sponsored water, snacks, and bike lights for the ride.

On the ride, volunteers helped warn other riders across dimly lit train tracks along the route to cross at a safe angle, and I finished 26.2 miles on my bike surrounded by not only people on bicycles, but longboarders, rollerbladers, and a new friend I met at the starting line who completed 26.2 miles on a unicycle. A group bike ride I had instigated with just a few friends five years ago had grown into a true community event. Feelings of awe, excitement, and hope swirled in my head from how far the ride had come in just five years and what unprecedented community involvement, especially with the MBTA, could mean for all kinds of community events like this in the future. As I was downing my first glass of water and sustenance that morning, I just could not stop smiling.

But then news of the bombings sent me into an emotional downwards spiral.

The sudden transition of emotions from extreme high to extreme low hit me like a ton of bricks. The last story to air on WBUR before sudden coverage of the bombing was a story of Midnight Marathon by a reporter who was on the ride just hours earlier.

I knew it would be even more important to the community for the ride to continue after the attack, and that any security forces would find a way to work with us to continue to make the Midnight Marathon Bike Ride a meaningful experience for everyone. Unfortunately, this thought may have been a little too optimistic.

This year, the MBTA didn't return our e-mails.

Five months ago we tried to get in touch with the MBTA to talk about a train for this year, but never received a reply back. Then we learned it was because the MBCR (who managed the commuter rail lines) lost their contract to Keolis, another commuter rail management company, and many of the MBCR staff who had helped us organize a dedicated train last year no longer worked for the commuter rail. Our e-mails weren't just being ignored - there was nobody on the other end receiving them.

And the B.A.A asked us to put a "pause" to the ride this year

The Boston Athletic Association, the private organization that puts on the annual Boston Marathon, called us into their office to talk about the Midnight Marathon ride this year. They laid out their concerns to us about this year's challenges organizing the first Boston marathon after last year's bombing tragedies, and how this year's marathon with have tightest Marathon security to date. We sympathized with their concerns, and asked how we could help.

They asked us not to have a midnight bike ride this year.

We told the B.A.A. that the Midnight Marathon ride has grown virally into a community tradition that exists outside our control, as evidenced by the many chartered busses, car pools, and independent group rides that had zero involvement from us. Not to mention the countless social media posts from people promising to ride whether or not we would. Pausing Midnight Marathon this year would not only be impractical, but impossible.

Since the ride has grown over the years and depends on public roads that are open during the time of the ride, people would still ride on the route, and discouraging a ride that happened on public roads would not only crush community spirit of a wonderful public event in a time when Boston needs it most, but be counter-productive. Even if we asked people not to ride this year, hundreds would anyway, but without our ability to communicate the safest means of doing so, nor our ability to organize volunteers to help those whose bikes break, nor with phone & SMS support for riders who get off track.

The MBTA said they weren't providing a Midnight Marathon train this year.

The statement from an MBTA representative quoted in the Boston Globe was the first news we had heard about their decision to not provide a special train this year as requested by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). MEMA first cited security concerns in Boston Magazine as the reasons for wanting to discourage the ride from happening this year, but when asked by the Globe, instead cited safety and noise concerns and called the ride "an accident waiting to happen"

So we reached out to MEMA to talk it out.

MEMA representatives assured us that their concerns were not related to security of the marathon this year, but rather about the general safety of lots of bicyclists riding on roads in the middle of the night - for bicyclists and drivers alike. We assured them we'd follow the rules of the road (such as using reflectors and lights) and always have. After a number of helpful discussions, MEMA informed us that they will not be doing anything physically to stop people riding prior to the Marathon road closures.

While neither MEMA nor the MBTA are changing their stance this year, we have come to an understanding of each other's concerns; that MEMA has a responsibility to think about public safety, and that Midnight Marathon will continue regardless of what we say. We came to the conclusion that statements discouraging the ride would do more harm than good. We also came to an agreement that it would be a great idea if riders stayed away from the marathon start and finish line installations. The entire Copley Sq. area including the finish line will likely be closed off the night before the Marathon anyway.

We agree with the Boston Globe editorial and the public's response: Midnight Marathon Bike Ride should continue this year.

A few weeks ago, the Boston Globe editorial board released an editorial calling Midnight Marathon Bike Ride a "civic asset," and that "IF ANYTHING, the popularity of a midnight bike ride along the course of the Boston Marathon is a reason to keep doing the event, not to discontinue it."

We couldn't agree more. Boston's unique community energy keeps us together. As Shawn Musgrave, who recapped the 2013 ride for the Dig put it

There is a very real risk that city authorities and residents alike might target the unfamiliar, unwieldy and unorthodox as threats to security. This would be a dire mistake. Grassroots-led, impromptu, and seemingly chaotic projects like the Midnight Marathon Ride distill the very best of Boston, those aspects of our city that ought to be magnified in wake of tragedy.

As the city wrestles with grief and self-assessment between now and next Patriots' Day, the security conversation must not obscure what we ought to protect: the unique (and often unpredictable) community energy that runs through Boston.

So this Sunday Night, together, WE RIDE!

In the past few months I've had more strangers than I can count approach me at work, at the gym, and at red lights on bikes tell me that they intend to participate in the Midnight Marathon this year regardless of whether I encouraged it or not. They were not just committed to a tradition, they were committed to participating in riding bikes in the spirit of riding as a community, and not letting terrorism win.

Show the strength of community.

On the night the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers came to an end, I followed friends to Davis Square to grab a beer of relief. Even though people were celebrating, I still felt emotionally exhausted and crushed. Then a few strangers approached me to tell me how much they enjoyed the Midnight Marathon and its ability to bring together friends and strangers alike. That was the first time I smiled since the bombing.

Click here to find out everything need to know about Midnight Marathon bike ride 2014

And be sure to invite your friends to the event page on Facebook

See you there,
Greg Hum