Giong to Mass With the Mayor
Mayor Tom Potter Rides With Critical Mass!
I was running a little late, as I had to fix my light. Normally, I wouldn't be late for such a small detail, but at this Critical Mass, riders were asked to be VERY LEGAL, as the MAYOR was riding with us.
That's right, I said the mayor; at Critical Mass. I've never heard of such a thing before, so I just HAD to be there!
When I got to the North Park Blocks, the Mass was still waiting for stragglers like myself, so I was in luck. I spotted Mayor Potter right away, and he wasn't busy, so I approached him, shook his hand, and thanked him for riding with us. He was very cordial, although he seemed rather nervous. I would be too, if I were a public figure, taking such a big risk.
Now, I grew up here in P-town, and I remember Police Chief Potter (and Mayor Bud Clark) very fondly. I have much respect for our recumbent-riding mayor, and I was truly thrilled that a candidate I had voted for had come willingly to a demonstration. Days like this reaffirm any faith in democracy I might have left.
Some people were greeting riders, handing out lights to those who didn't have one, and handing out maps of a pre-planned route, along with information sheets. The sheets explained:
"A few of us have been working hard to communicate with new city councilors Commissioner Sam Adams and Mayor Tom Potter regarding Critical Mass...
... We think the city needs to take a new look at police enforcement policies and practices on the ride, given the last two years of heavy-handed and unfair police treatment of Critical Mass. We are hoping that the police presence in the future can be limited to a smaller contingent of bicycle officers with positive attitude that will primarily act as a deterrent to rude behavior by overly-aggressive motorists and cyclists alike."
It went on to list a few rule-like items, about being polite, and safe, and having a good attitude.
As the final riders assembled, I had time to circle the park and count heads. Now, I am pretty good at this, as I teach Sunday school, and volunteer in the public schools, and children are much harder to count than adults, as they rarely stay put (they also need frequent counting, as they tend to run off unexpectedly). I counted a whopping 187! Later, I heard that someone counted the riders as we left the park, and got 190. That makes sense to me, as I didn't count the 3 riders in police uniforms, who rode inside the Mass, as a participant would.
Well, it turns out that riding VERY LEGALLY is actually pretty dangerous. Ideally (for the riders), if the Mass hits a red light, or the light changes as the Mass passes it, someone will volunteer to "cork" the intersection, in other words, hold up traffic, until all the riders go by. This keeps everyone together, and the Mass moving at an even speed.
Obviously, corking and running red lights is not legal. The argument for riding legally is that it should be safer. Here's the rub: When cyclists stop, motorists think the Mass has all passed, and they will turn right into the middle of it, and then they're REALLY stuck! Now, this is great, if your goal as a Mass rider is to snarl up traffic. This particular ride was a traffic nightmare. It didn't feel safe, though, with all those cars and bikes tangled up together.
Another drawback of stopping for every light was that it was easy to get rear-ended by the crush of cyclists piling up behind you. I saw a guy get literally wedged between the guy in front and the guy behind. This made me worry for less experienced cyclists, and those with poor brakes (I started to worry about the fixed-gear riders, but it's useless to worry about those maniacs, they're just going to hot-dog around, and no one can stop them, anyway).
Because of the stoplights, the Mass became divided into many small groups, so the folks in front started pulling over to wait ,every once in awhile. Smart thinking. This kept most of us more-or-less together, which is always safer on bikes.
After we crossed the Burnside Bridge, we hit that tricky spot where you have to turn right onto Grand, before you can double back, down Ankeny, onto MLK. Because we were being VERY LEGAL, each of the cyclists used their hand signals in unison as we turned right, then left. It was beautiful, with all the flashing red lights and ringing bells, like a ballet on wheels.
Now, up to this point (over an hour and a half into the ride), the police presence had been minimal. This changed radically, as we turned onto MLK. Downtown, we had been joined by a handful of bike cops, who were friendly, and did very little to limit us (one cop, whose name I didn't catch, so I called him "Officer Get In The Right Lane," was copiously keeping the left lane open to cars. That was the only friction I saw.).
On the east side of the river, the story was different. Five motorcycle cops herded the Mass into the right lane, and controlled the riders very strictly. Police cars, marked and unmarked, "corked" several intersections along MLK, corralling the ride along its pre-planned route with military precision. I wasn't wild about the situation, as it's kind of scary to have a motorcycle riding so close to you, and I started sneezing from the fumes. Even though it was a little nerve-wracking, the police were very well behaved, and the whole ride was generally a happy one: no arrests, no threats of arrest, just good, clean fun, really.
I hope Mayor Potter had as much fun as I did. I also hope that he and the police noticed that stopping the ride for lights creates a safety hazard.
Finally, I hope to see him again sometime, and I pray that this is the beginning of a new era of co-operation between the city government, who tries to keep us safe, and political demonstrators, who strive to keep us free.
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