Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Rant

It came to me last night that I need to be angrier. At least here. What about cycling makes me angry? Besides the French, I couldn't immediately come up with anything. Then it hit me, one of the few cycling subjects (besides the French) that will get me steamed. Critical Mass.

I have browsed a few websites, seen a few gatherings (here in Fairbanks only, I must admit) and come to one conclusion. In general, Critical Mass lends itself to lawless mob type actions and is itself a danger to myself and cyclists everywhere. While I understand that at the heart of their beliefs is the desire to promote bicycle advocacy, their leaderless and aimless movement actually seems to work against that desire. It is rare that great things are accomplished without some sort of leadership, bicycle advocacy really isn't special in that regard.

The people I have seen show up for Critical Mass events are not folks that I generally see riding elsewhere in Fairbanks. In fact, the only time I see most of them on bikes is at one of their gatherings. That being said their equipment (read bicycles here) are generally to be ashamed of. Please don't think me a bike snob. I rocked a Trek 4300 for the first couple winters I rode because it was what I could afford at the time. Realistically it is still all I can afford, but an addiction is an addiction. I had a less expensive bike that was well maintained, because I relied on it. The bikes I have seen here at Critical Mass rides are suspect to say the least. Which leads me to wonder, why are you advocating cyclists rights if you don't even love your own bicycle enough to maintain it? If you are reading all this and steamed because you are actually a person who shows up to these things and rides the rest of the year as well, please feel free to drop by the shop and introduce yourself and tell me what exactly it is that I am missing.

The worst thing by far, in my opinion, about Critical Mass is their tendency to block traffic, often illegally. It doesn't take any sort of special education to tell you that this will piss off motorists. For those of you that don't know, there are basically two kinds of motorists, those that hate bicycles, and those that are indifferent. My guess is that every Critical Mass gathering successfully converts X number of indifferent motorists into motorists who hate bicycles. X is a number based population size of your town, size of the ride, and the number of fixed gear single speeds contained in the group. I don't have the formula totally worked out yet, but you get the picture. That being said, Critical Mass folks are offered a certain amount of protection riding on a Friday with big group during rush hour evening traffic. It is protection that I don't have early in the morning on a Wednesday in January when I am riding to work.

In short, Critical Mass folks, I think your tactics suck. I wish you would just stop it. I know you really don't care what anyone thinks (which is strange, because that is kind of the opposite of advocacy), but if you insist on having your silly rides and want to keep me happy, please feel free to show up at my house any given morning and ride with me into work. It will make me lots less nervous about unexpectedly finding out which motorists out there you have pissed off in the past.


Unknown said...

Critical Mass in Chicago is basically a rolling block party. Some motorists are angry, but most just laugh and enjoy the festivities.

In the middle of the summer it can get too much. A few thousand. The winters are good though with a few hundred that only block traffic for a few minutes.

Banger said...

I waited a bit before responding to this. Because I didn’t hear any malice in the comment, so I wanted to make sure I responded appropriately.

I am glad that you are having fun riding. However, a group ride is not an excuse to break the law. While there may be very silly laws out that don’t really serve any purpose, traffic laws don’t fall into that category. Traffic laws are there to give us the basis to move around at high rates of speed and at least have some measure of assurance that we won’t crash into each other. When a particular group (cyclists in this case), present themselves as above the law, it upsets a very delicate balance. Quite frankly we already enjoy the most freedom on the road. The laws are written as such that we are allowed to use both roadways and walkways legally. Additionally we don’t have to pay anything for this privilege. Although there are politicians out there pushing for a change in that.

All that being the case, I see us as the group out there with the most to lose should any major changes occur in the way laws are written concerning traffic and bicycles. I find it highly unlikely that we will somehow earn additional privileges over other road and walkway users out there. We should really be content with the protections afforded to us currently. I am all for advocating for wider bike lanes, more bikes paths and additional construction to make cycling safer and car/bicycle interactions less likely. It’s just not polite to go breaking the law, especially when you are already the most privileged class of travelers on our roadways.

Unknown said...

I believe many would argue that we're not the most privileged by far. For an idea of this, look into the recent post on legal justice for cyclists.

Many of the massers would argue that the rules that are mostly followed are for safety. It's typical for the front of the mass to wait at a red light, but once the group is flowing through they will block the light.

The police in Chicago agree with this. Mostly for the reason of speed. If the mass had to break up at every light, then it would take much much longer for it to pass and to let "normal" traffic continue.

The safety issue is that many of the massers believe that if the followed traffic laws and didn't gather into such a mass that they would be easily harassed by automobiles.

Yes, there are massholes, and the are also polite people on the ride. Some cars are always let through for one reason or another.

In many places it's become a tourist attraction to ride in the mass, which is sad, because originally it tended to be a protest and show of support for many people. (Some have always thought of it as a party)

If that is what it is, a protest, or march, then I can't blame them for running lights, just as any other protest or march would. Though that gets into argument of a more general kind or wither you need a permit or not.

I'm sorry that the mass in your neck of the woods leans more towards the bad kind.

Banger said...

This is interesting enough (and yet still so civil!) that I am writing a whole post about it. It can be found here.