July 27, 2008
A Very Disturbing Critical Mass Story out of Seattle
As regular readers know from March of 2003 to November of 2005 I extensively wrote about the movement called Critical Mass, my own troubling experience of it, and my debates with those who founded the movement, and support it.
I am not a fan, and my coverage constitutes a comprehensive Exhitbit A for why I , and many others, believe it is the wrong approach to Cycling Activism, and is most defintely NOT a spontaneous, un-organized event, as its more radical desciples feed the public, and the naive cyclists who think it cool to "join the fun", often with kids in tow.
Now comes an extremely disturbing story out of Seattle, reported by 1st time participant Ryan McElroy, a Motorist, and Cyclist:
Today, I participated in my first ever Critical Mass, a large, loosely organized bike ride that starts at the Westlake Center in downtown Seattle around 6:00 pm and meanders around the town, directed by the whims of whoever is in front. The ride is somewhat controversial in that the riders manage to stay in one cohesive group with a tactic known as “corking” where cyclists place themselves strategically to block traffic, allowing the group of cyclists to continue, even through red lights. Nevertheless, the whole procession isn’t that big of a deal — at most, drivers are inconveniences for about 5 minutes as the group rides by.
As a cyclist, I learned today, it is a ton of fun. We just ride around Seattle hooting, hollering, and ringing bells, putting on a show for downtown drivers and having a good time. In fact, as you ride, you enter into a bit of a mob mentality: you’re having fun, surrounded by bicycles, exploring the city, not really worrying about where you or anyone else is headed.
As a frequent driver myself, I can understand how another driver could become frustrated by the cyclists’ apparent lack of concern about the temporary traffic jams we create (”we’re not blocking traffic, we are traffic,” goes the mantra), but I can’t understand very well what happened today.
JESUS H. CHRIST ON A BICYCLE!!
I hadn't thought to ever write about CM again, but this is a story I could not pass up.
What happened is disturbing on several levels, and lends so much ammunition to Cyclists who hate Motorists, Motorists who hate Cyclists, and everyone who has issues with the Police, and the Mainstream Media that it is impossible to comprehensively list everything even remotely applicable to the situation that pertains to what would fill up each Ammunition Holder.
The comments are many, mixed, and still coming, and I encourage you to read them (As well as follow the links to news coverage, and the reports and opinions of others on the situation on otehr websites, and blogs.) but 2 stand out as essays in rationality, and common sense, and I include them here so that they do not get lost in all the hubbub...
From a Motorcyclist named Jonathan McKay:
I am not usually a biker, but I feel that critical mass hurts one of the primary goals of bicyclists. When I am on a bike, I hope that cars will respect my right to be there, and follow the laws of the road that I know and understand.
I often read the bumper stickers ‘Same roads, same rules, same rights’ and I completely agree.
But, this pact is destroyed when bicyclists do not obey the law.
Small violations abound- no helmets, lane splitting, running red lights, switching between riding on sidewalks or off. Critical mass is even worse because it is a community wide flagrant disregard of traffic law, with the expectation that everyone else will obey the rules.
If bicycles are traffic (a proposition which I agree with) drivers like myself wonder why bikes are allowed to break the rules, while vehicles can’t.
I cannot imagine a similar event existing if it were a group of motorcycles doing the same thing.
Every time a bicyclist breaks traffic laws- even if it has no real impact on traffic or safety it undermines the community’s perceived right to be on the road....
By disregarding the law, bikers (and drivers) open up a brave new world roads where they are no longer protected, where nobody has rights.
Clearly, he was in the wrong to cause property damage and risk lives, but in his mind, if you are not going to respect the law why should he? Every step that bicyclists take against drivers is brinksmanship that the craziest drivers will call.
In the end, what is he going to think for the rest of his life about the bicycling community?
What will his friends think?
What will all those who watch K5 think?
In the end, does critical mass make bikers safer?
Avid Cyclist Scott Houck writes:
As an avid road cyclist I have big problems with things like “Critical Mass”.
What they do is extremely unsafe and gives responsible cyclists a bad name.
They do many things that, while might be legal, are terrible.
For example, riding in a big pack is not what is supposed to be done on busy streets.
You are always supposed to stay to the right and ride single file when possible. Not doing this only aggravates drivers, and rightfully so. I could go on and on about how they break general road etiquette, and sometimes the law. While drivers need to be respectful of cyclist, cyclists need to be respectful of drivers.
“Critical Mass” on bust city streets is not showing drivers much respect.
I will always put a large amount of blame on a person who gets hit by a car while participating in something dangerous like this. It’s so unsafe and only makes drivers hate all cyclists and thus makes the road more dangerous for me.
Just my opinion (a similar opinion to many cyclists I have encountered). I know a lot of people disagree and they are entitled to.
This driver is a total asshole and deserves to be punished severely.
I am very glad to hear that nobody got hurt or killed.
That’s what’s most important.
Ryan did himself much credit by posting these views, and here is his reply:
To Jonathan and Scott: Thanks for sharing your views — I definitely understand where you are coming from. Honestly, I have to agree that critical mass probably makes cyclists a little less safe and a lot less respected among a good number of people.
I am a pretty bad example on a bicycle.
I usually don’t wear a helmet (I understand that it is a stupid decision, I understand the risks I am taking, but I still don’t like them), I break laws pretty frequently when I consider it safe to do so, and I often don’t ride in the bike lane even when there is one (in my opinion its much more dangerous to be on the side of the road than in the middle — case in point is 2nd Avenue downtown, where the bike lane is next to parked cars that are constantly pulling in and out; it’s also in the left lane where lots of people are turning left. On this road, I ride in the middle lane where I feel an order of magnitude safer because of the higher visibility I have and the lack of laterally moving, stop-and-go traffic.)
The point is, critical mass isn’t that far off from what I do anyway, its just in a larger group.
I appreciate that there are some laws against what I do; I just don’t care very much.
Why must cyclists form a single file line to the right? Why not cars have to stop when a cyclist is nearby for safety? Its just that today, cars rule the road, but during critical mass, that changes.
In my opinion, that is pretty cool, but as you can see opinions definitely vary.
All that being said, I hope the driver’s life isn’t destroyed.
He messed up big time, and he should definitely (in my opinion) pay for the bike he destroyed, all medical expenses of the guy he ran over, and get the opportunity to deal with his car on his own, but I don’t think jail time would do anybody any good in this situation.
The cyclists who were arrested is a murkier situation;
They were responding to a fellow cyclist getting bowled over by a car; defense of fellow cyclists can certainly be claimed, but their actions clearly went above what was necessary.
Still, without them, the driver of the car was showing every intention that he would have driven off and left the scene.
So were their actions justified? I can’t say yes for sure, but neither so I want to say no. It’s just a crappy situation that I wish hadn’t happened.
The fun was before the incident, not after.
A final point: there is a law against driving faster than the speed limit, but I do that all the time. There is a law that I have to wear a seat belt, but I sometimes drive without it (mostly to spite the law). There is a law against texting or talking on a non-hands-free cell phone while driving, but I do both of those activities as well.
The point is, most people, especially me, break laws every day in ways that we consider safe, ethical, and moral.
Critical Mass, in my opinion, isn’t much different.
Its just done as a group event.
You are right when you say that safety is often at odds with the law.
On my motorcycle I encounter this often, and I the bike lane issue makes sense.
Everything that you have done on a bike I’ve done or seen done on a motorcycle.
I suppose I don’t have the same feeling of being downtrodden in traffic, as the speed of a car combined with the maneuverability of a bike means that we pretty much always can feel like we ‘rule the road’. In a perverse way, the venting of anger at critical mass does bring attention to the issues and may put bikers’ complaints on the map.
However safe, ethical, and moral the initial law breaking was, it exacerbates the immediate problems while offering little progress for achieving a real solution.
Yet the media response has shown that such a hope is still a long way off, or perhaps entirely misplaced.
As another commenter says...Ugh, what a PR disaster for bicyclists, and the backlash has already started (If you have high blood pressure you might want to pedal clear of this as it is quite intense.)
Ryan has been amazingly open, and patient, in responding to many of the comments, and I again commend him.
From long personal experience I can vouch for how defending your views, related to cycling, can be a lesson in maintaining constructive dialogue.
The debate on his blog has so far been a civil one.
To give one Seattle paper credit its Assistant Metro Editor contacted Ryan, and expressed interest in publicizing his side of the story, and Ryan links, this morning, to that story, and one by the other local paper as well, and reports that he was interviewd by the local TV station (A short, but balanced, Video.).
November 21, 2005
CycleDog on CM, and on Cycling
Why do people ride a Bike?
Ed, the Cycledog, says this:
...somehow I don't see cycling as advocating any particular political viewpoint. Sure, there are some who ride as a statement against Big Oil and consumerism, but there's a much larger group that rides simply for the fun of it, or the exercise, or to save money.
How very true!
It is those people, like me, who have made cycling a part of our life as a fun way to exercise, commute to work, and/or get out and see the world around us.
Last week, in the midst of my correspondence with Chris Carlsson, I wrote Ed, who has been a Road Cyclist since the 70's, and an activist just as long, for his thoughts on the subject and he sent me an e-mail reply that he re-edited for placement on his Blog ( The Comments are also worth your time ):
I wish to share my thoughts at the same time that I share his essay:
So let's begin:
Kiril, you and I are at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, and I really don't have any problem with that. We're both cyclists, and that supercedes political interests. Who knows? We may even disagree about cycling, but if we can do so respectfully and without descending to personal attacks, our arguments are stronger. I may disagree vehemently with someone's ideas, but I rarely malign their character.
I agree that a common interest in cycling SHOULD supercede political interests.
To paraphrase: Some of the best Cycling Advocates I know are Liberals.
I don't hold that against them, and hope to show that folks on the Right, like myself, have just as much to contribute to the discussion. ;-D
Like you, I find CM disagreeable in the coyness with which they approach their intent of disrupting traffic, disobeying the law, and just generally raising hell. But I'll admit there was a time in my life that I would have reveled in the anarchy. I'm older, and presumably, wiser now. If a group of motorists acted in a similar manner, no one would extend them any sympathy when the police arrested them. No one would accept their self-serving justification as mitigating the offense. Why should we treat cyclists any different?
Reveling in the Anarchy once appealed to me a well and so i rode in an ordinary CM in LA 1 one time, and enjoyed myself, despite the bad cycling I witnessed, enough to want to ride in an event at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.
As I've chronicled in an earlier post, my experience there cured me of any interest in participating in CM, and set me on the path of disagreement with its practices, and the misguided co-habitation of many with non-cycling political causes.
I also agree about the analogy about car drivers.
The difference in how the 2 are reacted to, by the Far Left anyway, comes down to Political Correctness.
The Chainguard site has a slogan: Same Rights, Same Rules, Same Road.
Yes! It sould not be so damn hard to edumicate cyclists about this, but it is.
Same with car drivers.
Is it because too many people look at the Bicycle as just an expensive "Toy"?
When I wrote about CM earlier this week on the state advocacy list, I said:
What constitutes a critical mass of bicycle riders? Two riding side-by-side? A group of 4 or more riding two up? A bigger group? Or can a critical mass consist of just one cyclist riding legally and responsibly, thereby showing the motoring public it's entirely possible to negotiate traffic in safety and comfort?
I'm thinking about this from the standpoint of how many cyclists are necessary to have an impact on motorist's thoughts and behavior. I submit that a critical mass (lower case!) can consist of merely one law-abiding vehicular cyclist.
Now THAT is such an awesome, yet simple, statement of fact that is it any wonder it gets lost amid all the political posturing?
If I didn't think 1 person can make a difference i would never have begun The Cycling Dude in the 1st place.
When I ride my bike I carry a pack of "business cards" to pass out to cyclists I encounter.
I strike up friendly conversations with cyclists, and car drivers, when I see them doing something unsafe, in the hopes of educating.
It is in these encounters that I often discover how ignorant, or just plain afraid, people on both sides are.
I don't think the simple act of riding a bicycle requires any political agenda, so in effect, I take a simple approach: I ride my bike because I like to ride my bike.
Yes, it all comes down to that basic concept: I LIKE to ride my bike!
We all have a common interest in safe cycling, better laws, better, and more, places to ride, and everthing else, and it all comes back to the fact that we ENJOY this activity of bicycling.
But there was a time I would have reveled in the anarchy of a CM ride. Blowing through intersections en masse and pissing off motorists would have been a cheap thrill. Does that really advance the cause of cyclists? If we believe in "Same Rights, Same Rules, Same Road" it certainly doesn't!
An individual or a group can be a critical mass simply by riding responsibly.
The fact that CM DOES NOT advance the Cause of Cyclists was why I wrote so much about, and against, it.
But I've realized that doing that takes valuable time away from the main focus of why I do this Blog.
People with more time, and resources can do a better job than I in keeping an eye on CM, and holing the movement to account.
I want to concentrate on spreading the joy of cycling through what I do best: Writing about my rides, spreading the word about cycling stories, issues, and websites, and doing all I can to encourage folks to get off their asses, or even out of their car, for a few hours of exercise, and exploration.
Kiril, I've been a road cyclist since 1972. I learned the hard way about riding on the road, and my learning curve went way up when I took the Road1 and LCI course through the League of American Bicyclists. Riding a bicycle isn't a death-defying feat. Cyclists are not near-suicidal thrill seekers. Yet many of them are absolutely terrified of riding in traffic. I think CM represents an over reaction to that fear, and it's a chance to 'take revenge' against all those motorists whose transgressions are real or imagined. The unstated principle seems to be that unless cities do something to accommodate cyclists, then the anarchy will continue. In my opinion, even if a city were a cycling Mecca, the anarchy would continue. It's just too tempting to the yobs among us.
A very perceptive analysis of CM.
I don't think the protests would stop if they got all they wished for related to cycling. The focus of the rides would be turned elsewhere by many.
I became an instructor through that LCI class. We stress the importance of riding predictably in traffic. Traffic law is all about predictability. When anyone operates outside the norms, he creates problems for himself and others on the road. And when a cyclist’s fear causes him to ride unpredictably, he jeopardizes his safety instead of enhancing it.
The sad thing about being a vehicular cyclist is that most folks, cyclists, and car drivers alike, think such cyclists are "operating outside the norm" by taking lanes, making left turns, etcetera...
Critical Mass is this same fearful behavior amplified by the number of cyclists. It won't produce positive change in government policies or motorists behavior. The most effective approach is to get involved in government. Sit in those boring committee meetings and pore over planning documents. The dull nuts-and-bolts approach clearly doesn't have the panache of raising hell in the street, yet it's a better way of producing results. And more to the point, it actually works.
Getting involved in your community....
THAT is the best way to improve things for cyclists in your city, county, state, or nation.
The involvement you describe will do more to improve the lot of cyclists, and the impression people have of cyclists, than any disruptive mass ride during rush hour, or at a political event.
That is why I have links to websites for the Congressional Bicycle Caucus, and the British equivalent known as the UK House of Commons: All-Party Parliamentary CYCLING Group.
Americans can see if their state is represented in the Caucus, and see the current state by state, and even political, make-up of the membership.
It is my hope that this info will encourage people to get involved by contacting their leaders, or visiting city, county, and state websites to find information on bicycling laws, and facilities.
I plan on doing this myself for Orange County, in the coming year, along with plenty of bike rides, so people in MY community will be made better aware of the state of affairs here.
November 20, 2005
Mr. Smith Writes to Cycling Dude
After writing about the article by San Francisco Weekly Reporter Matt Smith I let him know of the recent verbal fracas chronicled here.
Yesterday I recieved this e-mail:
Dear Mr. Kundurazieff,
Thanks for flacking for me against the anarchy zealots "cyclists". As you've noted, engaging the know-nothing fringe of this group -- who sadly happen to be the most obsessive communicators of the pro-tying-up-traffic point of view -- is a thankless, wearisome task.
My Pleasure. ;-D
November 17, 2005
No more Critical Mass
In the last 24 hours I have been reading, and thinking about, a letter that was sent to me by someone with 30 years experience as a Road Cyclist, and in cycling activism.
I have been looking for this type of perspective on CM, and cycling advocacy, for a long time.
I was initially reluctant to cover CM on my Blog because I knew the reactions from them, and their supporters, that I would get, but I felt it was important to educate the majority of cyclists, at least a little, about what these people are truly all about.
The correspondences I've had over the last few days have done more than I ever could, in years of posts, to expose the movement, and they do it all for me by their own words.
That letter is giving me some important food for thought, and a much needed perspective on what is important in the advocacy of bicycling.
I am going to read it again before sharing it, and trying to form a response, here, but in the meantime I have decided that, except for any final responses I may get from Hugh, and Carl, to wrap up our correspondence...
I will NOT be covering Critical Mass again.
My collection of CM Links will appear at the end of this post, and are removed from my sidebar.
The Mainstream Media, and even Independent Media outlets, and writers who disagree with CM, have more time, and resources than I ever will, to report on them, and ordinary cyclists, and cycling advocates, who sympathize with their politics are, I've seen here and there, beginning to express doubts about the usefullness of Critical Mass.
The writer of this letter said something in it that struck a chord with me, and is a part of my outlook on cycling:
"What constitutes a critical mass of bicycle riders? Two riding side-by-side? A group of 4 or more riding two up? A bigger group? Or can a critical mass consist of just one cyclist riding legally and responsibly, thereby showing the motoring public it's entirely possible to negotiate traffic in safety and comfort?
I'm thinking about this from the standpoint of how many cyclists are necessary to have an impact on motorist's thoughts and behavior. I submit that a critical mass (lower case!) can consist of merely one law-abiding vehicular cyclist.
I don't think the simple act of riding a bicycle requires any political agenda, so in effect, I take a simple approach: I ride my bike because I like to ride my bike."
The cause of cycling is universal, and there are better, more productive, ways to go about advocacy, and spreading the news of cycling than the way CM does it, and giving them undeserving attention on my Blog.
My correspondent, and others I've come into contact with in the past year, have been activists far longer than I and give me a much needed perspective on the overall scheme of things, and what's important.
I have wasted too much time on Critical Mass during a year and a 1/2 when I've had many things pre-occupying my time, and life.
I need to get back to exploring the many other important websites I link to, and sharing my thoughts on them with you my readers.
I need to get out and ride my bike far, and wide again, as well. ;-D
Those activities, more than anything Critical Mass will EVER do, will accomplish more good for the cause of Bicycling.
Let me assure anyone who wishes to toss in their 2 cents on any post related to Critical Mass that the Comments are ALWAYS OPEN....
Just subject to my approval before posting to keep out spam. ;-D
My Critical Mass Links as collected thru November 15, 2005: Explore them if you are interested, join in their activities if you are so inclined, but take my coverage here over the last 3 years into consideration before you participate...
Talk Fast Ride Slow responds
I have recieved 2 missives from Hugh D'Andrade, of Talk Fast Ride Slow, to my series of correspondences with Chris Carlsson, and the article responding to Matt Smith that his group wrote.
I see you found that article yourself, good for you! There is in fact a live link to that page, but it must be accessed through the Writing Section of my site, as I said before. (I'm not a web designer really.)
I'm not sure if the word "powerful" in your post is meant to be sarcastic. Certainly the SF Weekly is not taken very seriously by myself, the Critical Mass community, or San Francisco in general. I wrote that reply because Matt Smith's point is a common criticism of Critical Mass that is easily refuted.
I advised Hugh of the Error Message on his site due to a slightly wrong, or possibly outdated URL for the article, and provided him with the correct link.
I hope he makes the change.
As for the Weekly: Of course folks who disagree with its agenda would not be impressed with it.
As for the Voters of San Francisco, and their Government:
In light of recent developements, this month, and over the last few years, it is safe to say that, now, more than ever, most of the rest of America, if not California, take their misguided antics very seriously.
There is much to be concerned about.
All the wonderful Bicycle Facilities, and cycling opportunites in town, notwithstanding. ;-D
Hugh's 2nd letter begins as a friendly, reasoned, support of my contention that Critical Mass, where ever it occurs, is not a "spontanious, un-organized, monthly happening".
Of course, I'm sure he didn't intend it that way. ;-D
Howdy! I'd like to reply to simply one part of your "critique", since the following section from the Talk Fast Ride Slow site was written by myself and not Chris Carlsson:
"That said, we plead guilty to having played a crucial role in helping create and maintain Critical Mass over the years. Several of our members are founders of Critical Mass and have created flyers, invented tactics, planned strategies, and otherwise helped organize the ride in an organic, participatory, non-coercive manner."
I remember thinking, when I wrote this, that there was a possibility that it could be misinterpreted, and apparently that is what has happened here. You seem to have taken this quote to mean that there is in fact someone in charge of Critical Mass, as if there were some sort of "board of directors" of this large scale social movement.
The fact is that there are some people who put more time and energy into Critical Mass than others. Mostly, this consists of creating flyers, discussing strategy, sharing information, etc. Ackowleging this fact does not mean that such people are "in charge", or that Critical Mass is somehow organized in a top down fashion.
Countless people, often independently of one another, have played these roles at Critical Mass. People step up, offer ideas, energy, suggestions, then step back and let someone else contribute. When we say "self organization", this is what we mean. For me, as a participant in Critical Mass since the beginning, this is one of the inspiring aspects of the ride that have kept me involved for many years.
I understand that you object to the disruptive nature of Critical Mass, but I would like to remind you of the enormous changes in traffic norms and infrastructure that have taken place here in San Francisco over these 13 years. More people than ever before cycle in this city, there are bike lanes and bike parking everywhere, and, more importantly, a shift has subtly but powerfully taken hold in the minds of motorists, in that they acknowledge our right to the road. These changes did not happen at the ballot box (nor could they have). They happened because of the large numbers of us took to the streets every month to meet, cycle, collaborate and demonstrate a better way of life. Whatever you may think of our tactics, they work.
That is the type of response I had hoped to get from Chris: One that takes my questions, and concerns seriously, and does something to address them in a rational manner.
Then he goes and gets all Leftist Political Radical on my Ass, and completely ruins the mood. ;-D
PS: I understand that you would like to engage the Critical Mass community in some sort of dialogue, but this is not possible with the sort of malicious red-baiting that you are engaging in. ("if you don't believe in America, and its freedoms, then why live in this country?" ).
I have wanted to say something similar to supporters of the Bush regime! If you support a government that is rounding up people, holding them in secret gulags without trial, access to lawyers, the Red Cross or independent observers, where these un-accused persons are tortured, raped and murdered, than I suggest that it is you who should be shopping around for another country. May I suggest Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, or China?)
My response to his correspondence:
Thank You so very much for replying to me in such a friendly, informative, fashion.
I really do appreciate that.
If you read my CM Archives you will see that I am not engaging in Red Baiting, just pointing out some very disturbing things that need to be responded to.
And asking questions.
Too many on the Right run, and repent, at the first sign of acusations such as yours despite the fact that they are right to be concerned and express those concerns.
I was once "drummed out of" the Democratic Party by a former friend who ordered me to apologize on my blog before he'd consider being my friend again. ;-D
When we fight back, it annoys the Left.
And, yes, the same can often be said in reverse. ;-D
Anyway, like I said to Chirs: I wouldn't link to CM if I didn't think it did SOME good.
I know that there is no single, central, leadership of CM, but the fact remains that to continue to say that it is a "Spontanious, un-organized, monthly happening" goes in the face of the evidence to the contrary.
I find fault with the willing association with Radical Left political causes, and anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, anti-war, anti-Bush, etcetera causes as I don't see the connection with cycling advocacy, and think cycling advocacy is harmed tremendously by that when it occurs.
Like I asked Chris: If you know of linkable stories that put CM in a more positive light, and websites I should begin to explore then please feel free to let me know.
So far no response has been recieved to this letter.
November 16, 2005
Sanity and Insanity on 2 Wheels
I Sent a response to Chris Carlsson's 1st missive, and his response to that one exposes the difficulty a person like me, a bicyclist with political leanings decidely to the Right of the political spectrum, may sometimes have being taken seriously by Radical Leftists who mix their hatreds with their love of bicycling.
Since I don't agree with him politically, I am not worth engaging with in a reasonable discussion, and therefore anything else I may be doing, of a cycling nature, to increase knowledge of, and interest in, bicycling, is not worth commenting on at all.
MY LETTER ( minus links ):
Wow! That's tellin' me, Chris!
Just ignore him, and the little Right-wing Parasite will just go away. ;-D
Sorry, it ain't that easy. ;-DIf I had your attitiude I'd never have put links to CM on my Blog, allowing readers to judge the movement for themselves, and decide if they want to participate, or found something nice to say about Time'e Up in NY.I would have let readers know of Matt Smiths old piece taking San Fran. CM to task, but NOT shared your groups well reasoned, though misguided, response to it. I fully expected this reply, by you, so was not suprised.
Just very disappointed....
I have long had an open invitation to my readers to contribute essays to this blog ( LINK ):
But not only have Critical Mass supporters not taken me up on it, but neither has the National Green Party, even after a lengthy, back and forth, correspondence over their support of Critical Mass ( all detailed in my CM Archives ).
Left pedal of bicycle argues with itself ( LINK ).
Left pedal of Political Bicycle ignores Right ( LINK ).
If you have suggestions for articles I should read to bolster your arguments in behalf of CM I'd love to know of them.
If you have CM, or other cycling advocacy, related websites you'd recommend I look at and consider adding to my collection of links, please feel free to send them to me.
I may disagree with Critical Mass, and even the politics of many of its supporters, but we all share in common an interest in bringing more people to cycling, and improving conditions for cycling, and gaining more cycling facilities.
Republican or Democrat...
Leftist Pinko Radical or Radical Right Winger...
We both like to ride our bikes. ;-DSincerely yours,
A fellow recreational, and commuter, bicyclist.KIRIL KUNDURAZIEFFThe Mad Macedonian!
Ok, call me an optimist, but I had hopes of a reasonable response.
Instead I get the following:
I am sorry that you feel snubbed or whatever it is you feel, but I truly see no point in engaging with your arguments.They are transparently unconvincing and to engage in a process with you or those ideas is to get pulled into a classic flame-war scenario in which much energy and bluster is spent for no purpose since neither party thinks the other has anything to offer.I'm glad you like to ride your bike, but am horrified by your blithe acceptance of the barbarism being carried out by the United States... and to characterize the Iraqi insurgency as "terrorist" is just mind-boggling.Would you just get down on your knees and thank a huge mechanized army for invading and destroying YOUR country?You parrot the brain-dead and blatantly false propaganda of the Cheney regime.Why would I think there's a rational mind at the other end of this?
November 15, 2005
Left pedal of Political Bicycle ignores Right
I am a Bike Blogger, and as such am an opinionated soul ( especially when it comes to Critical Mass ) always looking for cycling stories to share with my readers, and pontificate on.
And so I stumbled upon your essay in IndyBay on the 13th anniversay of CM.
Needless to say I had to respond to it. ;-D
A fellow cyclist, both recreational, and commuting,KIRIL KUNDURAZIEFF
thanks for tipping me off about your "dissection"... doesn't really excite me to get into it with you, but hope you find your fellow conservatives and voters and Americans are with you in your thoughts...
Left Pedal of Bicycle argues with itself
After 10 years of Activism in San Francisco Critical Mass came under some pointed, and well deserved, criticism, and analysis, by a writer for the Left-leaning, self-proclaimed Independent, San Francisco Weekly, in the May 14, 2003 issue:
The long-running pro-bike protest known as Critical Mass is a form of ritual self-abuse that hurts the cause of city cycling.
That's the sub-title of the article by Matt Smith. ;-D
What I'm going to do here is share parts of this piece, and a published, though probably not well known, response by The Committee for Full Enjoyment at Talk Fast, Ride Slow.
There are links to both where you can read them in full.
For anyone trying to understand Critical Mass these articles are MUST READING.
Matt Smith's marvelous essay crystalizes for me, better than I have been able to so far why, despite a few positives, I think Critical Mass is the wrong way to promote the cause of Bicycling.
The Committee's response shows that the Radical Left just doesn't, or refuses to, get it.
Matt Smith writes:
1. throughout my life, important memories have always included bicycles. And like good thinking people everywhere, I've come to see bicycles as one of the keys to making a better, more peaceful world.
This week is Bike to Work Week in San Francisco. Thursday is Bike to Work Day. There may be no better moment to say the obvious: Isn't it about time this city's bicyclists relegated Critical Mass to the memory bin?
2. Critical Mass is, of course, that monthly festival of traffic-ordinance-breaking that, participants say, will somehow, someday, convince people to give greater rights to bicyclists. A thousand or so bicyclists gather at Market and Embarcadero the last Friday of each month, then ride together through congested streets at rush hour, briefly tying up traffic by blocking intersections.
I've cast my mind back over the six years since the famous Critical Mass demonstration in 1997, when police ran amok and over bicycle protesters. And I can't for the life of me figure out how breaking traffic laws -- which are the only real friend bike riders have when it comes to surviving amid cars -- is supposed to make streets friendlier for bicyclists.
The monthly demonstration infuriates motorists, and most voters in San Francisco, for good or ill, are motorists. It pisses off the police, and police are the only people in San Francisco charged with enforcing laws on the street. It undermines bicyclists' claim for equal rights. (It's hard to ask for equal protection when you're breaking the law without expecting to be punished.) It's made hoodlums of bicyclists, who, in any other city, are considered a wholesome, all-American group.
Mainstream environmentalists routinely denounce their nasty, tree-spiking little brothers in Earth First! AIDS activists publicly distance themselves from radical groups such as ACT UP. What better way to celebrate Bike to Work Week than for bicycle activists to likewise jettison their own nasty, mud-throwing little brothers?
3. There isn't a week of my life when I'm not reminded that bicyclists are regarded as arrogant hoodlums here. It's an attitude I've found in none of the other dozen or so cities where I've lived, and when I ask non-cycling people about this view -- that cyclists are irritating brigands, at best -- sometimes the non-cyclers explain by invoking the drug-inspired bicycle messengers of San Francisco legend. Usually, though, the anti-bikers bring up Critical Mass.
4. Here's my theory: Despite this city's pacifist pretensions, many people live here precisely because San Francisco is a permanent war zone....
Our acrimonious political culture has emerged from a proud tradition of fine-grained participatory democracy and hair-trigger dissent. But the tradition has been accompanied by the myth that squabbling is the best way to advance the commonweal. Plenty of other cities and counties have managed to make themselves bike-friendly without bicyclists making a nuisance of themselves. Here, the bicyclists protest mightily at the end of every month, and manage to set their cause back mightily in the process.
5. It's actually possible to promote bike use without irritating people. Bicycles, after all, are by nature not nearly as irritating as cars or trucks. Bikes never jackknife on freeway ramps; when they run stop signs, they don't kill pedestrians. When bikes suffer mechanical failure, they don't close whole traffic lanes. Bicycles don't generate 5 million deaths per year. Automobiles do.
6. Though bicyclists see the police as their enemy largely thanks to the 1997 crackdown on Critical Mass, hostility between the two groups is not the result of conflicting essential natures. Traffic rules like the ones that make road rage illegal are the most important allies bicyclists have -- regardless of how many bike riders think they should have the right to run stop signs. (On an interesting side note, Chief Alex Fagan's son -- that's right, the famous, fajita-linked one -- is an avid cyclist.)
There's no reason to think the Police Department couldn't be persuaded to do more to make our streets safe. Bike lanes, midlane stencils, and other bicycle-friendly measures should, and probably would, be an easy sell here, but for Critical Mass-generated animosity.
The full piece is here: Critical Masturbation.
All I can say is... WOW! If more people wrote pieces like this one, and more people read them, both cyclists, and non-cyclists the lot of the cyclist would be bettered, and Critical Mass would go from nuisance to irrelevant.
The response, by The Committee for Full Enjoyment, was instructive:
1. During San Francisco's Bike to Work Week as bike activists were working overtime to promote bicycle use in the city, Matt Smith wrote in the SF Weekly that Critical Mass is damaging the bicycle cause...
It would be easy to write off a swipe from the corporate Weekly. The paper is as famous for being a flagship of the alt-weekly chain New Times as for its hostility to activism. Some might consider anything in the paper illegitimate, or just irrelevant.
But it seems a shame to let Matt Smith’s piece disappear into the recycling bin without comment. He has written a reasonable sounding critique — entirely missing the point, but nevertheless making an argument that deserves a worthy riposte.
2. [ About the claim that CM is angering citizens, and cops ]
We’re familiar with these points. We’ve been hearing them since we started this event....
The backlash never materialized. In the 10 plus years that we’ve been riding home together, San Francisco has become vastly more bicycle friendly. There are more bicyclists, more bike lanes, more bike awareness, and issues that cyclists care about are on the agenda for good.
3. To be fair, the SF Bike Coalition, and not Critical Mass, can take the credit for many of the visible changes to bicycle infrastructure around town. The SFBC has worked doggedly over the years to demand changes in public policy, and things have changed for the better to a degree none of us thought possible ten years ago.
But would anyone have listened to the Bike Coalition if Critical Mass had not been putting the issue of biking in the city on the front burner every month? And where would the Bike Coalition have gotten its army of volunteers? Where would its hard working employees have found the enthusiasm to face the city bureaucracy day in and day out?
4. [ On rejecting "Noisy Public Activism" and working within the system instead ]
Needless to say, we reject that unspoken logic by our very presence here at Critical Mass. We know that the creative use of direct action and the patient nurturing of organic social movements has had positive effects throughout history. These ideas and methods have re-shaped the world repeatedly, and we’re happy to be part of a movement putting them to work in our home town.
5. In fact, Smith has made the common error of seeing Critical Mass as a protest, and as a part of what he calls San Francisco’s “acrimonious political culture”. While Smith makes a reasonable plea that people “stop the war” .... he fails to see that Critical Mass has managed to avoid falling into exactly this trap — the trap of divisive, angry, accusatory politics.
6. Critical Mass is not about bicyclists against motorists, or bicyclists against cops. Ultimately, it’s not really about bicycle advocacy, either. It’s about changing life.
When you go to the website of Hugh D'Andrade you must click on the H for a pop-up from which you click on the W to read the full piece excerpted here.
A well reasoned attempt at a defense of the movement.
Oh, and if you STILL think Critical Mass is "Spontanious", and "Leaderless", then this piece puts yet another nail into that particular coffin. ;-D
November 13, 2005
Making the case for Critical Mass at 13 and Dissecting it
Critical Mass, as a movement, is now 13 years old, and yes, that is cause for notice.
Even as non-cycling elements co-op many events, and cause problems that call for police intervention, thus allowing the Mainstream Media to show the world that "CYCLISTS" who protest are a dangerous lot, and many in the CM Movement don't mind being associated with these causes, there is some reason to praise the good that the movement has accomplished.
As much as I've reported on the troubling aspects of CM, and express reservations about how the rides are carried out, and their effectiveness, in the face of angry car drivers in disrupted rush hour traffic who thus take away negative images, and develope negative opinions about ALL cyclists, I am not averse to sharing one writers essay of celebration.
And dissecting it from handle bar to rear reflecters.
And boy, does it need dissecting!
Read on, and educate yourself.
But be warned! It's long! ;-D
So here is Chris Carlsson last month on Indybay:
Amazing to think it's been 13 years since the first “Commute Clot” brought together about 50 bicyclists at “PeeWee” Herman Plaza at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco. Within a few short months it had gained the moniker “Critical Mass” and the excitement and euphoria and sheer novelty of an “organized coincidence” that fills the streets with bicycles instead of cars was rapidly reproducing itself across the planet....
Now there are websites galore documenting Critical Masses in towns everywhere, from Australia to Italy, Chile to Canada. Of the more than 400 places where Critical Mass rides have taken place, hundreds continue to ride every month....
Hundreds of rides occupy the streets of US cities on the last Friday of each month, from big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, to the smaller burgs in the hinterlands like Cincinnati, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Portland, Oregon. And of course thousands of us are still riding after all these years at the birthplace here in San Francisco....
Ok, enough with the celebration, on with the analysis about why cops, and others in authority, express "anger, and belligerence" toward an innocent "simple crowd of Bicyclists"....
A lot of cyclists, when confronted by the curiously vitriolic anger and belligerence of the police (not just in New York, either, but in SF, LA, Portland, Minneapolis, Austin, and more), are puzzled. Why do the police react so strongly to CM? Why does a simple crowd of bicyclists seem to inspire such fear and loathing on the part of the authorities? We have to take a deeper look to understand it.
When you have thousands of cyclists disrupting traffic, and many of them are anarchists, and other troublemakers, with agendas other than cycling, why wouldn't the cops take strong action to police a supposedly "un-organized, spontanious" event?
Not to mention the fact that these same type of troublemakers run around on Bicycles at non-CM protests, thus fueling further the negative impression of cyclists.
Granted, Cops have sometimes over-stepped their bounds, but such actions are not the every day occurance the Left would like everyone to believe.
Individual police are usually people who more or less blindly believe in the “American Way” of life.
And what the heck is wrong with that? if you don't believe in America, and its freedoms, then why live in this country?
There are plenty of Communist, and Socialist, nations in the world that share your views of America, Democracy, Freedom, Capitalism, and more, so, please.... explain to me why you would rather live in the United States.
Could it be because "The American Way of Life" allows you to express your misguided opinions, ride a bicycle with a crowd, in rush hour traffic, and live a life in various stages of comfort, and those other countries would not?
That means they've literally “bought in” to the automobile/oil debt cycle for themselves and think that embracing the bicycle as alternative transportation is childish and immature.
NOT TRUE! I know of many Cops, and there are certainly many Pols, and ordinary people, who are Conservative, who also ride bicycles for recreation, if not maybe for commuting as well ( This Conservative does both ).
They believe that the way things are in the US is truly the “best of all possible worlds.”
And the African Continent, Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, much of Europe, much of South America, and much of the Middle East ARE?
Why do you think all them Mexicans, and South Americans, sneak across our border, and Chinese hide in cargo holds of ships, just for the chance to live here illegally?
Why do you think so many Cubans turn Chevy's into boats?
Why do you think England, and Europe are full of immigrants from their former African Colonies?
NONE of these desperate people are fleeing Paradise.
They are coming here for the same reason my Father did, from Communist Yugoslavia in 1951.
They are coming here for the same reason people have come here for centuries:
To build a new life, in freedom, in a land where the life they build for themselves, even a humble life, will be 100 times better than what they left behind.
They find it deeply disturbing (as do some motorized citizens) to encounter an amorphous crowd of people on bicycles rolling through town (and stoplights), talking and laughing, tinkling bells and generally having fun while suspending the “normal” (anti-)life that predominates on the streets.
What they find disturbing is the disregard for the rules of the road, and safety, that many folks on these rides display as they pedal along blocking, and disrupting, traffic.
Police officers, who are not instructed otherwise, feel it's their duty to punish these scofflaw cyclists and to impose a price on them for their ostensible pleasure.
When the basically innocent cyclists protest being ticketed, manhandled, and otherwise abused by the police,
Why is it so hard to admit that such cops are a miniscule minority?
And sorry, but, while I feel for the innocent, and join in the general displeasure at mistreatment, I believe that most tickets given out are deserved, as are most arrests made, and don't feel too sorry for some hate spewing, anti-American Slogan waving, MASKED ( or un-masked ) Asshole who gets bopped on the noggin as the cops try to keep control of an unruly mob.
Like me, at the DNC CM in 2000 in Los Angeles, most innocents will pedal their asses out of harms way, or leave on foot, when the troublemakers cause things to get out of control.
it only fuels the rage simmering inside the locked-down, uninspired, uncreative brains of the boys and girls in blue. In other words, these moments become a front-line confrontation in a vast, confusing and inchoate Culture War that is in some ways reproducing historic cleavages that divided Americans during the Vietnam era, and even longer ago during the Civil War era. Vicious racism and manifest destiny (white man's burden) imperialism are underlying forces driving the conflict between those who would “progress” to an era of cooperation, mutual aid, peace and tolerance against those who fear change and cling with violent intensity to a world palpably collapsing around them.
The Culture War, such as it is, has been going on since the drug-induced haze of the 60's as the Left has infiltrated Academia, and held sway in the Halls of Power.
Since the Reagan Era Americans who don't care for the future the Left envisions for their beloved Country have been slowly, actively fighting back and, as seen by the behavior of the Bush Haters, Conservative Despisers, and America Bashers since the start of the Bush 2 Presidency, the Left can't stand it, and has no answer to their eventual defeat.
I used to be just as misguided, but eventually came to my senses.
People who embrace cycling and come out to ride in Critical Mass come from all walks of life, widely varying incomes and housing situations, and cannot be characterized accurately as part of a “class” as it is commonly understood. Also, the folks stuck in traffic in cars or on busses are clearly more like than unlike the riders who are temporarily altering the rhythm of urban life by seizing the streets on bicycle.
True on both counts. With regards to the cyclists, however, many of them come to some CM events with kids in tow, expecting a family event, and are horrified when when things turn out differently, and ideas, and behaviors, they would prefer not to expose their kids to occurs.
They then realize that CM is not the best way to fight for Cycling causes.
Nevertheless, Critical Mass cyclists are the most visible practitioners of a new kind of social conflict. The “assertive desertion” embodied in bicycling erodes the system of social exploitation organized through private car ownership and the oil industry. And by cycling in urban centers in the heart of the Empire, we join a growing movement around the world that is repudiating the social and economic models controlled by multinational capital and imposed on us without any form of democratic consent.
I thought CMers were a spontanious gathering of fun loving folks out for a friendly evening bike ride without a care in the world other than showing everyone the joys of cycling?
Then again the San Francisco "Critical Mass Website", Talk Fast Ride Slow, on its F.A.Q. page puts the lie to this"
Critical Mass is a grassroots bike event wherein bicyclists organize themselves and collectively occupy the streets in a fun, celebratory reclamation of public space.
The only folks "Practicing" anything are people using the excuse of a CM event to try their damndest to foment trouble as they try to build "a growing movement around the world that is repudiating the social and economic models" of Western, Democratic, Capitalist, mostly Christian, Civilization.
As for "Democratic Consent"... If you are registered to vote then do so.
To all of you who stayed home, and didn't exercise your right I can only say:
Don't complain if a law you don't approve is passed, or a politician you disagree with is elected.
You had your chance to have a say, and you blew it.
You change the world around you for the better by LAWS, not anarchy.
Peaceful Civil Disobedience can, and has, led to change through new laws, but riots in the streets by people determined to destroy, and not build, accomplishes nothing.
This mass seizure of the streets by a swarming mob of bicyclists without leaders is precisely the kind of self-directing, networking logic that is transforming our economic lives and threatening the structure of government, business, and (as more imaginative military strategists are coming to understand) policing and war-making too.
"Without leaders" my Ass! That is, and always has been, a convenient fiction that is used by individuals, and organizations, to try to absolve themselves of responsibility when things go wrong.
Oh, and how can a "spontanious" gathering be "networked"?
The above mentioned website, when answering the question of whether they are in charge of CM answers this way:
No! Well… Yes! Critical Mass functions on a decentralized basis, with no leaders, central planning, or corporate sponsorship. There is no one in charge on Critical Mass – which is really a way of saying that everyone is in charge!
That said, we plead guilty to having played a crucial role in helping create and maintain Critical Mass over the years. Several of our members are founders of Critical Mass and have created flyers, invented tactics, planned strategies, and otherwise helped organize the ride in an organic, participatory, non-coercive manner.
Thanks for making my case. :-D
So the local police and authorities often respond with great frustration and confusion to the eruption of a tactical flexibility for which they're simply unprepared.
"tactical flexibility" in a spontanious, unplanned bike ride?
And in classic patriarchal fashion, they lash out with physical punishment as best they can, trying to repress what they cannot understand or control. But like the insurgency in Iraq, or any guerrilla war, when a blundering monster attacks in classic old-style ways, the new, mobile, decentralized networks just vanish, leaving the attackers swinging at air (perhaps they “catch” a few individuals now and then). The structure that is threatening them remains intact and often grows stronger—just like Critical Mass has in most places it has been attacked.
Finally! I was waiting for a comparsion of the Critical Mass Movement to the fine upstanding terrorists in Iraq.
Read my lips! Al Quada, and its foot soldiers, are TERRORISTS. They do NOT have the best interests of their fellow Muslims in mind , and they, and their comrades in other movements in the Middle East, have been fighting the Great Satan, the Jews, and the liberalizing of their homelands for over 40 years.
To compare CM to the actions of TERRORISTS is unconcionable, and does an unpardonable disservice to bicyclists everywhere.
Especially those working through peaceful, legal, means, to bring about change in the world around them.
These TERRORISTS see the dissent in this country against waging a war against their insidious behavior, as weakness, and are encouraged in their efforts.
They can't abide the fact that Democracy is replacing Dictatorship in Iraq, and the slow liberalization of other Middle Eastern nations.
The fact that Iraqis, and Jordanians, are targeted by bombings, and The Palestinians are such a mess after all these years, shows that these "insurgents" don't give a rats ass about their own people.
So on our bucolic 13th birthday ride in San Francisco we should take some time to reflect on the larger national and international dynamics of which we are a small part. We can be thankful that our local police have been taught to tolerate us, but that gift to us comes with an interesting obligation: to extend the logic of our resistance and innovation into new areas of contestation, to link up with people elsewhere who are not so lucky and provide material aid and strategic support whenever we can.
"Taught to tolerate"? How condescending is that?
As for that "obligation"....
So much for Critical Mass being someting that is spontanious, and unorganized.
Too often it is just one more tool in the arsenal of Leftist, Socialist, Propaganda.
But smart people, with more time, and resources than I, have been telling the world that for 13 years.
Chris has a Blog called Attitide Adjuster.
On it he writes about cycling on occasion.
He also links to Blogs of a decidedly Liberal, Left leaning, Anti-Bush bent.
Just as I have a link on this blog to my OTHER Blog, and its disgusting collection of links to a shitload of Rightwing Hacks.... ;-D
Alongside more refined links of a non-political nature, of course. ;-D
There are a lot of CM related cites online, and I hope to find time to visit, and write about them, and add some links to the CM list in the side bar.
As I've done before I'm not averse to sharing positve stories about CM, but will not shy away from the negative either.
If that upsets some CMers, and Lefties in general, then so be it.
My previous coverage of Critical Mass. ( Including the 7 consecutive entries in this series, that followed this entry. As a result of this series, I will no longer be covering the subject of Critical Mass on this Blog ).
Huge Critical Mass in Hungary possibly largest in history
In Sept. Hungarian Bike messengers, assisted by other, non-cycling related, groups organized a show of numbers to send a message to Hungarian Officials about the need for better cycling facilities in the country.
Budapest, Hungary has experienced its greatest Critical Mass bike ride ever on September 22, 2005. Estimates range between 24,000 and 30,000. This would therefore also make it one of the greatest Critical Mass rides in history.
Budapest, Hungary has experienced its greatest Critical Mass bike ride ever on September 22, 2005. Estimates range between 24,000 and 30,000. This would therefore also make it one of the greatest Critical Mass rides in history.
The last year has seen a mushrooming participation in Critical Mass rides in the Hungarian capitol. The initial breakthrough came on World Carfree Day in 2004, when 4,000 riders participated. This was followed by an Earth Day Critical Mass ride on April 22 of this year with a staggering 10,000 people. The trend is still in progress. Bicycle messenger groups are in a large way to credit for organizing and publisizing this event. Otherwise organizations like the Hungarian Young Greens (Zöfi) and Clean Air Action Group have also helped in the organization.
This is especially good news for the city of Budapest, as it otherwise does not have a very good bike lane network, nor is motorized traffic usually very respective of cyclists. So far the city government has not showed very much interest in bike riders, but this is now changing, as the talk of the town has turned to bikes and Critical Mass.
To view 2, minute long, videos of the event check out the article on Indybay.
At least one commenter on the proceedings is a bit cranky about this.
Some guy named Steven wrote that "This was no way to help the cause."
Didn't Critical Mass start as a movement to promote more biker and pedestrian friendly streets in and transportation in North America? European cities are already very biker and pedestrian friendly. It is driving a car there that is a pain in the ass. 30,000 bikers in Budapest will in no way help get SUVs out of American suburbs create larger sidewalks in urban centers or whatever you are trying to promote.
Well, as you can imagine, a few people responded, but the best thing about the message board where I found the comment was the large number of wonderful photos of the event in Hungary.
From all appearances it looked peaceful, and everyone got along with the cops.
The folks in New York could learn from this. ;-D