Love it or hate it, Critical Mass provokes strong emotions.
San Francisco is abuzz, again, about Critical Mass following an unfortunate confrontation with a motorist during the March ride. The situation was agitated further with an inflammatory article by a team of notoriously manipulative San Francisco Chronicle columnists. (For one thing, there weren't 3,000 bicyclists at the start of the March 30 Critical Mass--I was there--which makes it highly unlikely there were 3,000 at 9 p.m. as reported by this intrepid pair.)
For bicycle commuters who face the hazards of traffic solo everyday, Critical Mass provides a monthly opportunity for solidarity, empowerment, and community. Combined with strong organized advocacy, Critical Mass can also help push politicians to act on behalf of bicyclists. San Francisco bicyclists wouldn't have made the gains we have achieved without Critical Mass, period.
The following is a letter I sent today, which likely will go unpublished. Many suspect the Chronicle is purposefully sensationalizing this incident to blunt the momentum for Healthy Saturdays in Golden Gate Park, a campaign led by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
April 5, 2007
Letters to the Editor
San Francisco Chronicle
RE: "CLASH REIGNITES ROAD WARS" (sic) 04.05.07
Every day a "critical mass" of motorists takes over San Francisco's streets, assaulting our lungs, our ears, and too often our bodies.
And yet, what grabs the headlines? An isolated incident between a motorist (who may have provoked trouble) and some overly rowdy idiots who happen to be on bicycles.
The real story is the lack of any proactive vision from Mayor Newsom about how to tackle the plague of cars afflicting The City.
If the mayor spent as much time thinking about transportation as he does his dating life, we'd be making far more progress on reducing congestion, improving health, enhancing safety, saving energy, and limiting climate change impacts.
Critical Mass arose originally to, among other things, call attention to the monopolization of public space by cars. Nearly two decades later The City's transportation crisis continues to burn as the mayor fiddles.
San Francisco CA 94114
P.S. NOT FOR PUBLICATION: In Matier and Ross' typically inventive telling of history, they credit Willie Brown with shrinking Critical Mass. ("In 1997, then-Mayor Willie Brown tried to control the rides. The result was anarchy and mass arrests. Since then the rides have shrunk in size.")
Huh? A better explanation might be that Da Mayor conceded defeat, started talking with the advocates, and implemented a few necessary improvements. This helped fuel the growth of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (from under-500 members in 1997 to more than 6,000 today). Simply put, the SFBC's effectiveness everyday has provided a more attractive voice for bicyclist discontent than a once-monthly bike ride.
For a more accurate account of the 1997 events, you could do worse than my article "Pedaling to Save the City," written for the San Francisco Urban Institute at San Francisco State University.
Image: Web capture. Critical Mass in Hungary, 2007.
Visit: "Demonizing bicyclists," San Francisco Bay Guardian, 04.05.07
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips