portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article coverage portland metro

bikes/transportation | environment | police / legal

Critical Mass a success in Portland!

Last Friday's Critical Mass in Portland was the most successful the event has been in months. Around 200 cyclists participated, no tickets were given out, and only bicycle police accompanied the ride for it's first half. There's a new mayor in town, and he rides a recumbent.
January 2005 Critical Mass: Potter! Sustainable! No tickets! Fun!

Critical Mass - a size, number, or amount large enough to produce a particular result or sustained reaction

I arrived at North Park Blocks at about 5:30. Some of the mainstream media had arrived, and more followed soon, having picked up the story of the mayor's intentions from indymedia (where the real news gets reported). Various corporate broadcast media reporters were looking for 'typical' Critical Mass riders to interview; I declined.

Mayor Tom Potter arrived a little before 6PM. With so many people crowding N. Park Blocks, the throng around the mayor was only a little denser, and it was hard to tell where he was. I heard that Sam Adams came too, but I'm not sure about this. Several of the more conservative and/or accountable elements of the Portland bike community were also in attendance.

Shortly after 6, the ride started, with about 200 cyclists. In a change of pace for Portland Mass, someone produced and distributed a route map. The route went around downtown, then up to NW 21st and 23rd, before crossing to the east side and heading north (on MLK/Grand) for the post-Mass movie night.

The influence of the new mayor on the police force was very evident. No citations were given out, and no arrests were made, an incredible reversal to how the cops treated Mass under Katz.
At the ride meeting point, the cops were handing out a single-sided 8.5x11 sheet saying how they were accompanying the ride to ensure the safety of cyclists and motorists alike. (if anyone still has a copy of this, please post the text from it)
On the west side of the Willamette, the ride only had bike cops: more approachable, less noisy, less smelly than their motorized coworkers, and not in freakin' cars or vrooming bloody motorcycle engines. (and less expensive for the taxpayer) Alas there was no corking, but there's hope for it in future. Certainly having the ride broken up by lights makes it much slower and requires more police to keep cops with each mass-let . The cops asked us (that's right _asked_ us) to keep at least one lane of travel clear most of the time. This did cut down on the fun some, but cyclists who wandered into the lane were simply asked to keep it clear, not ticketed for using something they have a legal right to use. Potter stayed with the ride for about 1/2 an hour; pretty good considering that Katz never gave us the time of day. (Tom Potter you have very small shoes to fill) The ride had to work hard to stay together. The front had to go slow in a few places, and more than once the ride pulled over to regroup. In celebration, we did a bike lift (everybody lifts their bike in the air and cheers) at a gas station at about 18th & W Burnside.
On the east side, the motorized cops came out, burning fossil fuels, and being more intimidating. Cops on motorbikes (10+?) and cruisers (4+?) rode along with the ride, as we went north on MLK. At the the entrance to I-84, two cruisers, lights flashing, were there to stop the ride from descending onto the freeway. Reportedly there were more motorized cops waiting off the ride route, in case things got out of hand. But still no tickets were handed out. The police even corked in a few occasions as the ride got further north. At about MLK & NE Knott, an official-looking black sedan was parked as the ride went by; supposedly Tom Potter was in the back, watching how the ride progressed.

Without the constant threat of harassment, the ride was a lot more fun than it's been in a long time. Throughout the ride, whoops, yells, cheers, and choruses of bike bells rang out. And some Critical Mass culture came out: a few tall bikes, some flags, a few costumes, and at least one sound system...all adding to the bike festivity.
But, I still felt like the cops were "giving us permission" to ride Mass and/or "protecting us". I don't need them to give me permission, and I don't want their protection. Nonetheless, the shorter leash that the new mayor keeps them on made this ride hundreds of times more pleasant than it was under Katz. (No Vera, we don't miss you.)

The ride ended at Liberty Hall in North Portland for a movie night, featuring the Critical Mass documentary "We're not blocking traffic, We are the traffic!", about the birth and development of Critical Mass in San Francisco in the mid-90's. This was followed by a film from Berkeley by Jason Meggs about Christmas trees, cars, bikes, and mating rituals (amongst other things).

So Portland, you're Critical Mass is back. Please come out and ride; it's a lot of fun. Next ride is Feb 25, and there will be a post-Mass event(TBD). You no longer need to fear police harassment, ticketing or arrests, just for riding your bike. Be creative: costumes, signs, crazy bikes, dogs, and please, let's get more sound systems out there :P

The challenge remains to make these improvements permanent. This will take effort from Critical Mass riders, like yourself, lobbying and working with the city government. Remember, it's your Critical Mass.

For more information on this, or to get involved, try the Portland Critical Mass mailing list on riseup.net:
or the Portland Critical Mass website:


If anyone has pics, please post 'em! or even short video clips

PDX Critical Mass - Last Friday every month 5:30PM, N. Park Blocks (NW Park & Couch)
Ride, represent, celebrate.

homepage: homepage: http://www.subluna.com/criticalmass/

add a comment on this article

Help Me Understand... 01.Feb.2005 16:50

Critically Challenged

For all of those who called me a liar (I am the man with the puppy who had his headlights smashed in without confronting anyone in the Mass ride) you are woefully wrong. I am not a police officer, nor am I against demonstrations. In fact, I am an activist at heart and thrive on making better changes for our world. Yes, vehicles cause emissions that pollute our environment. I wish making parts for bikes, heating our homes, cooking dinner, etc... all didn't *also* contribute to the world's pollution. I want my children and your children to live in and enjoy this beautiful Earth. I am sure the Mass rider that smashed my front lights in was a *rare* exception to your group. I understand that and I have moved on. In fact, I have seen other Critical rides and have smiled and supported them. I know there are always the few exceptions to any group that can wreak havoc on the movement. What I don't understand is what Critical Mass is doing for Portland. I really would like to be enlightened and am not trying to be confrontational. Portland has done a phenomenal job with bike lines everywhere (not just Downtown) and TriMet's bike racks, etc... If I was able to ride my bike everywhere I would. But when I live *way* out in North Portland and need to get to Wilsonville (for example) to work I have the options of driving myself, carpooling, or riding mass transit. So sometimes I drive my Super Ultra Low Emission vehicle (VW Jetta TDI) to get around. If you want drivers to pay more attention to cyclists I personally believe there is a better way to get the point across but I am unsure of how to do it. Not all drivers are idiots. Most people have ridden a bicycle in their lifetime. We *all* need to slow down - drivers, bikers, humanity in general. What can we do so that Critical Mass enhances driver's reactions to bicyclists for the better? Also, what can we do so that CAR MANUFACTURERS produce LOW EMMISSION vehicles versus the Hummer hoopla? It is the consumer who choses what vehicle to buy, but ultimately if there isn't a hydrogen or electric car that is practical we really don't have choices but to purchase what the manufactureres give to us. Just a few thoughts... :)

wtf 02.Feb.2005 06:55

dumb troll

get over it... that was so last year.

it was so much fun 03.Feb.2005 10:50


i am so gonna decorate my bike for next ride
its gonna rock
mabey some extra bells and horns

ride daily celebrate monthly!

check this out

Like so last decade 03.Feb.2005 14:30


The Critical Mass ideology expressed by this author is like so last decade. Back then we had a cause to fight against the road hogging SUV's who thought they owned the road; who were discourteous to anything else on the road but in fighting the enemy Critical Mass has become the enemy and has embraced the enemies ideology. They have become a self centered, self important group that enjoys using their "mass" to push others around just like their SUV cousins. If they held true to their slogan "We are traffic" then they would obey traffic laws but they can't be bothered by delays or sharing the road; so like their SUV cousins they have become a bunch of rude road hogging vehicles whose ego is inflated by their own misplaced sense of "I am better then anyone else." They treat others on the road they way they do not want to be treated and that is not right. If Critical Mass is about a power trip then go ahead and dream of corking and taking all available travel lanes but if it's a celebration of the bike then take some time and regroup after lights smile and wave while being courteous to your fellow vehicle. Bicycle clubs all across the world have managed this for years before you came along. We cyclist appreciate the attention that you drew to cycling and helped pave the way for the improvements that we now see (and will see.) But it's time for you to move on and get a different slogan, a different way of viewing the world. Don't be so stuck in the past that you can't see the changes around you. There is still a lot for a Critical Mass to accomplish but it needs a current and relevant point to the protest if you don't move on you will cause more harm then good to cycling. Be the change you want to see in the world. - Gandhi

Viva la Velorution 04.Feb.2005 10:40


Congrats on this important step towards a funner friendlier critical mass ride. Yeah getting costumed or decorated or bring on abstract fun bikes is the way to go. The Velorution is a not agresive form of revolution. More change will happen through fun than through agresion and well... war.
Thank you for passing this on.
ride on
in solidarity with velolove

Critical Mass's goals can't be defined narrowly 04.Feb.2005 12:22

voter, taxpayer, bike community activist

Don't make the mistake of defining the purpose of Critical Mass too narrowly. Critical Mass is extremely diverse in it's constituents, their motivations, and what it can and does achieve. In saying that Critical Mass is only one thing, or only a few things, you underestimate its power.

Yes, Portland has developed some pretty good bike infrastructure. But take a look at it. It's empty most of the time. Where are the cyclists? (Answer: They are in cars.) Compare how many bikes go by on a given interection downtown or in inner SE (people ride other places too, but these are fairly core areas). Even on a bike boulevard (Salmon, Clinton, Ankeny,etc.), there might be one bike for every car that goes by under peak usage. Ditto for key linking roads with bike lanes such as SE 7th, NE 12th, or N Vancouver/Williams.
Critical Mass is a great way to get and keep people excited about riding their bikes. It generates a readily approachable community (if one isn't dissuaded by the mainstream media hype). Bicycle community is a very powerful force for transportation change. It gets/keeps people excited about bikes. It gets people connected with others who choose the bike as a primary form of transportation. It gets people talking about bikes, exchanging and forming ideas about bikes, developing and discussing bike projects, whether they be a new trail in SW or a pedal-powered sound system. It gives people the chance to be in a social group where the car-free (or car-lite) lifestyle is the norm. Most of inner Portland knows that our fossil fuel-powered transportation system is undesirable on so many levels, but how many of them will use a bike for their next trip? (Answer: Not many.) But this knowledge and pretty good physical bicycle transportation infrastructure aren't enough. We need bicycle social infrastructure to keep pace with our physical transportation infrastructure; Critical Mass is an excellent way to do this.
I am basically a product of Critical Mass. Sure I was a bicycle commuter before, but I essentially lived my bike life in isolation. I had given up the internal combustion engine(as my primary transportation means), but that was as far as I'd gotten. Now, as a result of bike community groups and projects, many of which are (bastard) descendants of Critical Mass, I am heavily involved in bike community. Critical Mass opened my eyes to bike life beyond just the vehicle between my legs. This takes many forms: bike fun, bike safety advocacy, youth outreach, infrastructure advocacy. But if it weren't for Critical Mass, I'd ride my bike home after work, turn on the TV, and tune out: from my neighbors, my community, and the world.
As more cyclists use our existing bike infrastructure, more will be built. Oregon's Bicycle Bill is based on the belief that if you build it, they will come. (i.e., if you build bike infrastructure, people will use it.) Well, I don't want to wait around for government table scraps to get people riding. If you make cycling fun and socially meaningful, they will come. Critical Mass does that, and without any involvement or legislation from the government.
In summary, perhaps Portland no longer needs Critical Mass as a force to develop a basic level of bicycle infrastructure. But we do need Critical Mass to create more lifestyle cyclists.

Last Friday of the month, 5:30PM, N. Park Blocks -- See you there!

add a comment on this article