Letters to the Editor

Week of May 28, 2003

Messin' With the Mass

Don't even think about it, laptop boy:Two years ago, Matt Smith cautiously endorsed the notion of using bikes as part of civic action. Now, he argues that cyclists should denounce Critical Mass ["Critical Masturbation," May 14].

With the exception of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, I can't think of a single cycling public-interest group that actually doesn't already do so. And the SFBC has always distanced itself from Critical Mass. As have many mainstream cyclists.

But just as Earth First! makes the Sierra Club look moderate, CM makes the SFBC's request for stencils, bike parking, and bike lanes look tame. Even mainstream. In fact, CM seems to be having no noticeable negative impact on the Board of Supervisors and their embrace of the bike network. Opposition to bike lanes mainly has to do with 1) the impact on parking; and 2) store owners who think the lanes will cost them business. Even Valencia Cyclery back in the day opposed the Valencia bike lanes.

Smith doesn't bother to quote anyone who actually rides in CM. Why didn't he call Chris Carlsson, for instance? It's his prerogative as a columnist to write one-sided pieces, but good journalism is about fairness and balance.

I often ride in Critical Mass and have for more than seven years in three different American cities. And while I have my arguments with some of the riders (usually the young, male, and pissed off), I and my friends ride not to protest, but to celebrate. I've met some great people and turned some occasional riders into activists. And I also ride so that once a month I can feel safe on the city's streets, without constantly scanning parked cars and the front tires of moving cars.

Most CM rides aren't very disruptive. They are generally fun spectacles that pass within minutes. Just as many people seem happy to see a parade of bikes erupting on the streets as there are upset SUV drivers. Yes, there is some bad PR, mostly through media accounts that like to emphasize conflict, but there's good PR when folks see hundreds riding bikes on the city's dangerous streets. And having a fucking blast doing it.

Smith seriously misreads why cyclists are considered a major political force in the city. Much of that has to do with the continual presence of cyclists on the streets en masse and the monthly renewal of energy that CM provides to many cycling activists.

And finally, car drivers and cops will not give us our rights if we just give up Critical Mass and stop floating stop signs. Though according to Smith, Critical Mass is to blame for all of the following:

- The kids who threw a bottle at my head as I rode down O'Shaughnessy;

- The guy in the Mustang who intentionally rammed my back tire at a red light at 24th and Valencia when I was about to make a left;

- The driver who hit my friend as she rode across the Panhandle crosswalk at Masonic and Fell;

- The drivers who honk and ride my back wheel when I take the lane;

- The drivers who pass within inches when I try to be generous and not take the lane, even when I have the right to;

- Perhaps even Chris Robertson wouldn't be dead and his killer free if it weren't for Critical Mass.

Argue all you want for stencils, bike lanes, and the end of Critical Mass, but you are seriously mistaken if you think that will get you any respect on the road.

The car drivers who bitch about cyclists are mostly those who don't believe cyclists have a right to be on the road at all. Any excuse will do: bike messengers, Critical Mass, cyclists who treat stop signs as yield signs, and cyclists blocking car drivers' God-given right to turn right on red.

Ryan Singel
Via the Internet

A Mass of hooligans:Smith echoes my sentiments on Critical Mass exactly.

Many of my friends ride with the Mass and don't understand my feelings against it. I think it would be great to have special bike lanes and even bike highways like they have in Holland. I do, however, almost feel a spiteful urge to vote against pro-bike legislation specifically because of Critical Mass.

I understand the feeling that riding a bike is better for the Earth and the people living on it than dangerous and polluting cars that perpetuate the evil oil industry, and thus people who drive cars are "the problem." But get this: I am a pedestrian! I don't even own a car or a bike. And yet I have had bike riders scream at me to get off the street when I was legally crossing in a crosswalk. I have had Critical Mass riders throw glass bottles at me for standing on the sidewalk. I used to work in a store on the CM route and riders would come and block the door with their bikes while they were inside buying refreshments, cut in front of people in line, and when asked not to do these things the response was yelled at me, "We're with Critical Mass!"

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