140 characters is not enough to respond to an offensive exchange I got roped into on Twitter. Normally, I ignore the peanut gallery on Twitter and other internet forums, etc. The internet allows people to spout off like idiots. I don’t care to get roped into arguments with “with white dudes on the internet“.
My pal Adam (pro cyclist, coach) re-tweeted this video (from Boston his home), some one else had originally posted to Twitter with the comment: “critical mass: like a guy beating his wife to get her respect. they’re not cyclists; they’re morons.”
While offensive, I completely agree with the sentiment. Taking over a busy intersection and riding in a way that no cyclist would ever do regularly without being caught up in the mob mentality + breaking very basic rules of the road? What the fuck is the point of creating a traffic jam with bicycles?! To demonstrate that bicycles, just like cars, can create a traffic jam? That bicycles can frustrate and piss people off just like cars can?
There is a point to Critical Mass. I’m not claiming to be in a position to define it. When I regularly participated in Critical Mass in the late 90′s in San Francisco, it was an urgent, organic, action. 15 years ago, there was shitty bicycle infrastructure, minimal bike lanes and cyclists did not have a voice. We broke laws, ran lights, blocked intersections. Got our bikes run over, got in fights with drivers, got beat up by the police. I was part of a crew of riders that led Critical Mass up and onto the Bay Bridge (which ended up with a bunch of people getting arrested and pummeled by the cops). I participated in Critical Mass for years in the Bay Area, NYC, Los Angeles and finally in Portland, Oregon.
Critical Mass means a lot of things to a lot of different people. I don’t agree with all of them.
Now, someone on Twitter wants to press the issue, there are some exchanges between them, Adam and I. With Adam and I saying basically the same thing.
That we do not condone shitty, dangerous, illegal and inconsiderate behavior on the roads from cyclists and drivers alike. Both are bad, dangerous and not productive. Critical Mass, club rides, unsanctioned races, group rides, whatever. If you are breaking laws and riding dangerously, that sucks. It gives all cyclists a bad reputation and does nothing to help improve the perception of bicycles. Riding in circles blocking an intersection during Critical Mass is moronic, while fun and empowering (I’ve done it myself), not a single driver stuck in traffic behind that is thinking positive thoughts about bicyclists. It is just not productive. Sure, keep telling yourself it fosters cycling community, and ignore how many enemies your are making with the people you really need to foster community with: non-cyclists.
The final straw for me was the response: “bike/ped commuters die more than 10/day in US. Reaction manifests in crit mass & other ways. Have empathy.”
Have fucking empathy?
I’ve had people who were friends, lovers, co-workers, team-mates and countless acquaintances killed while cycling. By cars. Killed by cars hitting them. They are dead. I’ll never hear their voices, never hold their hands, never see them smile again.
When I was a bike messenger, I saw, with my own fucking eyes, a bike commuter crushed by a semi in downtown San Francisco making a wide right hand turn. I heard her scream before she died. (the driver was devastated, he was just doing his job, driving slow and safe, used his signals and was obeying the law %100, the cyclist was not paying attention and tried to pass on the right, I saw it with my own eyes)
I watched as a car hit and plowed over a commuter right in front of my bike shop here in Portland. Crushed.
Nothing I could do to save any of my friends, any of those people I’ve seen die.
What did I do after they died? Did I go to Critical Mass? No. I went to their memorials, I went to their fucking funerals. I consoled their partners and friends.
And you want to spout statistics at me? You want to assume that I do not have empathy? That I have no experience with Critical Mass, with protests, with activism and with being a bicycle commuter? That I am just some privileged PRO bike racer, without a clue and with no real connection to the average cyclist? That I am not run off the road, screamed at, threatened and have shit thrown at me everyday, sometimes several times a day when I am out on my bike?
Back to the original point: I still think Critical Mass riding in circles blocking an intersection is moronic. That is less actual activism and more like a parade/party. Try to explain the positive connection between that kind of riding, and people that are killed by cars; to the drivers sitting in that traffic jam just trying to get home or to work. That kind of activism is short-sighted, divisive and quickly creates enemies, not allies.
I still loathe inconsiderate, illegal and dangerous behavior by drivers and cyclists alike.
Critical Mass does not in itself create safer roads or foster improved riding conditions and safety. Get involved in your city’s Bicycle Association, government, infrastructure or urban planning. Do something tangible to improve road safety versus putting so much value on what has fundamentally become a parade.
Not that there is anything wrong with parades!