Critical Mass in the News

Does Critical Mass help or hurt the cause of bicyclists?  This question is as rife with tension as the big helmet question.  Neither is a debate I’m interested in dredging up here.  Personally, I think Critical Mass in Chicago is great, but I can understand and respect arguments to the contrary, subject to the same caveat I have for any argument: that it be thoughtful and intelligent.

This week, some guy who wants to sell his book on “urban cycling” wrote a highly inflammatory post against Critical Mass, using the horrifying photo of a car driver crashing into (and killing members of) a group of cyclists in Mexico with the caption, “When is something like this going to happen in Chicago thanks to Critical Mass?”  The text of his post is as bad, with gems like this: “Critical Massholes are to fundamentalist terrorists what Islam is to cycling.”  That does not even make sense, but you get the idea.  His book cover is equally awful, a yellow and black graphic of a bicyclist plunging over a car.

I am very tuned in to Chicago’s bicycling scene, but I had never heard of this guy or his blog until today.  I’m not buying what he’s selling and I won’t link to his site from here, but apparently his distasteful publicity stunt is working, because he also got the attention of the press.

Earlier today, Chicago Tonight, a local PBS/WTTW news show that I watch nightly, had a discussion about Critical Mass, featuring this guy, along with Gin Kilgore, a Mass participant and creator of Bike Winter and all-around awesome woman, and Ethan Spotts of Active Trans.  Host Phil Ponce did a great job moderating.  Overall, I thought the segment was a positive piece for Critical Mass.  You can check it out for yourself below.  After the intro, jump ahead to 3:25 for the discussion.

I am not interested in starting a Critical Mass debate, but I do want to share this video and point out that there are ways to argue against the Mass with dignity and respect. It’s a shame for both sides when those who fail to do so get the attention.

  • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance
  • Jenn

    I thought Gin did a great job calmly talking about the positives. Nice work. There sure are a lot of amazing bike women here in Chicago.

  • Victoria See

    Ay yi yi … Critical Mass down here in Dallas is about 50 strong, on a good month. And even if an event has a couple hundred people, it’s one evening a month. If you can’t handle a large group of cyclists once a month, you have bigger issues than Critical Mass.

  • http://www.anniebikes.blogspot.com anniebikes

    Thank you for this wonderful video of a constructive discussion of critical mass. For years I have had mixed feelings about these types of events. It’s nice to see some of my feelings voiced. We have critical mass in Burlington, Vermont, gathering about 100-200 cyclists.

  • janalb

    His bio says he is from Los Angeles. I wonder what part of LA he cycles in. There is some history with Long Beach critical mass and LB police. Long Beach is making the most amazing strides in becoming a bike friendly city. This may be an understatement as everytime I turn around we have new lanes, bike racks….We even have these realy cool signs with the route numbers on them.

    Anyway – I don’t here a lot about CM here anymore but I am not really tuned into it either.

  • Anonymous

    His bio says he is from Los Angeles. I wonder what part of LA he cycles in. There is some history with Long Beach critical mass and LB police. Long Beach is making the most amazing strides in becoming a bike friendly city. This may be an understatement as everytime I turn around we have new lanes, bike racks….We even have these realy cool signs with the route numbers on them.

    Anyway – I don’t here a lot about CM here anymore but I am not really tuned into it either.

  • http://twitter.com/mulveyr mulveyr

    I think the biggest issue is that you really can’t discuss CM like it’s a single organization. From what I’ve read, some cities have awesome CM groups. In my encounters with two local CM rides ( as a non-participant ), their behavior was so egregiously horrible I would have cheered if a convoy of police cruisers showed up to throw them in jail for a few hours. Or days.

    It really all boils down to that you have to frame pro or con arguments against CM in terms of specific places and times, not the nebulous umbrella they operate under.

  • http://bicyclingsd.blogspot.com Sam

    Thank you for posting this.

    I enjoyed how the urban cycling guy tried to insinuate that the 600 billion dollar deficit was somehow tied to CM. That was hysterical.

    For me, I was afraid of riding in CM for years but the first time I did it, I suddenly had a glimpse of what the world would be like if everyone biked. I felt so safe and so sheltered not worrying about cars or constantly checking over my shoulder every few seconds. That mental agony just vanished! And when I rode in Copenhagen earlier this year, it was exactly that same feeling….pure, unadulterated bliss.

    And yes, some drivers do get antagonistic. But they are antagonistic when I’m all alone and don’t have a few thousand friends who’d readily jump up to defend me. But by and large, most of the witnesses not on a bike do see CM here as a celebration and jump and cheer as we ride by. The other grumps…well, they will always be grumps.

  • Ghostrider

    Ugh…I am reviewing the book you mentioned, and I have the exact same objections you do!

  • RobW

    Compared to the south, that much airtime dedicated to cycling is fantastic. As a discussion/debate show, all sides did a good job of making their points without losing their cool, which is great as well. I like the idea of cyclists getting together, and being part of a fun time, as long as there isnt a “anarchist” attitude, or “flashmob” mentality that leads to laws (or bones) being broken. Bicycle rides good, ambulance rides bad. :-)

  • L(lem)

    ‘Does Critical Mass help or hurt the cause of bicyclists?’

    I think if every participant of CM abides by the traffic rules (highway codes) and shows the consideration for all other road users and residents, it would encourage greater :
    1. use of bicycles and 2. respect for cyclists in general.
    L

  • Gordon Inkeles

    Have to disagree here. He’s got a point. Out here in Arcata (rated Bronze level bicycle-friendly community by The League of American Bicyclists) CM is a strictly a “flash mob” sort of thing. No permits or police escorts. Our roads are narrow and during the CM “events” they get closed down for a half hour or more by a jeering mob on bikes. A couple of years ago a woman in labor was prevented from getting to the hospital during a CM “demonstration.” Another time they rode into Freeway traffic attempting to close down US RTE 101. Critical Mass casts cyclists in the worst possible light. We would be better off without this selfish attempt at street theatre.

  • google

    That guy (I don’t want to mention his name either) is a terrible advodcate for cycling and is purely trying to promote his own book. His vitriolic blog against critical mass is all about pissing off motorists yet on camera he claims that he would support it if it was a paid for event!
    Unbelievable – don’t give him airtime and nobody buy his book.

  • freewheeling bill

    at the September 2011 CM flash mob in Arcata, CA, while riding around and around the Samoa Blvd. roundabout, the cyclists got the ire of a “man of the cloth” who said he was en route to the hospital. he got out of his car and started gesturing and yelling, obviously upset. after a few more loops around the roundabout, the mobsters rode on and the priest continued on his way.

  • Clothesinteralia

    I like the idea of bikers riding in mass to promote safety in numbers and draw attention to biking as an alternative way of transportation. I dislike the execution of critical mass in Chicago due to the consistent violation of traffic rules and the rudness and harassment that bikers dish out to confused drivers and pedestrians who don’t know what’s going on and are simply trying to cross streets at traffic lights in accordance with traffic rules.

  • Barbara

    The thing is, Critical Mass is not new. Critical Mass is actually how the Danes got the government to support new bike lanes and infrastructure. So for me that is a plus. But, I have never seen of participated in a Critical Mass so cannot be objective. I do believe that if the movement is organized, country wide, with concrete objectives and requests, then it can only be positive.
    If it worked in Copenhagen in the 1970′s, there can be hope it will work today!