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Critical Mass and the Community

Are you ready to do the hard work of compromise to truly effect change or do you feel riding around in circles in downtown Portland is accomplishing your goals?
Reading the first premise of Criticial Mass, "A leaderless, spontanous bike ride through the streets of Portland", I don't see how anyone believes this is occurring. Spontaneous is spur of the moment. These rides are "planned" in advance, occurring on a certain day, beginning at a certain time and announced in advance. There is not one ounce of spontaneity in that.

"A time to ride your bike without fear through busy downtown streets". I don't really understand how this is a pleasurable experience if done with the idea of "fun" and "family oriented" Riding through a higher density of exhaust fumes with the oh-so-beautiful scenery of concrete is fun? Just because I could do it with a lot of other people, does that make it fun? Then there is the anger energy that occurs. Does it matter whether it is generated from within or without - its still present - does that make it fun?

If I want to break a law and am successful, does that make it fun? What have I truly gained in that one moment? Who have I educated and what have I taught them?

Critical Mass was born as an alternative action and its been around for awhile. The first Critical Mass ride was in September 1992 in San Francisco. That was 14 years ago. Its sprung up all over, but because of that fact, does that alone make it "successful"? After 14 years, it appears to have reached its peak.

Another Critical Mass philosophy is "A visionary projection of what our future might look like". After 14 years, the future has arrived and Critical Mass appears to be at its peak or already reached that summit a few years ago. What do you see in this future that has arrived?

Then I take a look at an organization like Cascade Bicycle Club, originally formed in 1970 Yes, they work "with" police, corporations and legislative bodies. Their vision is simple. Creating a better community through cycling.

By realizing that police, corporations and legislative bodies are not going to vanish into thin air, through the years they have negotiated numerous benefits to cyclists.

In 1971, Bicycle Sundays started on Lake Washington Boulevard. This Boulevard is heavily traveled but was closed to all motorized vehicles. In 1972 they began lobbying for the Burke Gilman Trail. Seattle has about 28 miles of shared use paths, 22 miles of on-street, striped bike lanes, and about 90 miles of signed bike routes. This was accomplished by working with the Seattle Department of Transportation Bicycle Program.

This organization is realizing its vision. It has benefitted the community and they did this by understanding that compromise is a highly effective tool. They have reached into the mainstream and have made a difference.

I especially enjoy the fact that EVERY DAY of the year they have a different daily ride.

Similarly in Portland, there is the Portland Bicycle Transporation Alliance. I read about the proposed Bond Measure coming on the November 2006 ballot to voters to approve a $227.4 million measure to preserve natural areas by purchasing lands near rivers and streams, enhancing trails and wildlife corridors and connecting urban areas with nature. This will have the opportunity of creating more cycling paths. It's also another opportunity for non-voters to rethink their position.

Portland Bicycle Transportation Alliance will also be hosting a Bike Summit on June 17th at PSU.

Compost this article immediately 02.May.2006 11:26


bashing Critical Mass should not be allowed on this site. Please compost. thx.

sigh 02.May.2006 12:17

2wheel terror

I've been around long enough to remember when BTA was radical. Those days are gone.

To Shadow 02.May.2006 12:29

ping pong ball

This article was written with the intention of taking a serious look at what Critical Mass is achieving and gives examples of things which occur during it that are in conflict with its own stated principals.

That you would view this as bashing is not surprising seeing that your action to see it composted and hidden from view is present. Reminds me of the far right that wants books censored so no one is exposed to views they disagree with.

I welcome what you view as good about Critical Mass. Given that the last Critical Mass generated over 40 comments, it seems to be a topic of interest and passion.

I don't believe anyone can honestly say they are the same person they were 14 years ago. Humans change in some manner, adding and casting away. Shedding skins and growing more. Stagnation comes in being unable to view all aspects of our being.

It leaves an opening for dialogue and evaluating Critical Mass and everyone is entitled to their own thought process. I posed many questions and actually look forward to your response.

working from within is another form of action 02.May.2006 12:48

flat tire

ping pong...your points and examples are good, but critical mass is just another form of action. in my humble opinion, all forms of energy directed towards a more noticeable and growing bicycling presence are important.

to shadow...is censorship is better than allowing someone to voice their opinion?

check out the CM movie 02.May.2006 12:50


ping pong ball makes some criticisms that reveal a lack of understanding. While the rides are planned in advance, what happens after riders meet IS spontaneous. The ride CAN be pleasurable, despite the downtown location, when it plays out properly. You must have missed the rides of summer 2002, where there were musical instruments, costumes, a lot of props and flyers for events being passed out. The whole point is to provide an environment where cyclists can feel more safe due to riding in numbers, in a place usually hostile to cycling. For many, the first time they ever ride in traffic is to ride the CM. You seem to be confused about a few things, if you watch the movie "We Are Traffic" by Ted White it will clear some things up for you:

Haven't noticed posts from new subscribers on the CM mail list, this is the best place to discuss CM with the biking community:

you should all buy my book 02.May.2006 12:56

hyperbole strikes again

If you don't buy my book you're all CENSORING it from your houses.

Shadow suggests that flamebait be moved elsewhere. I tend to agree. This isn't news; it's shameless self-promotion in the guise of asking questions. There's good things about BTA and good things about CM, and the 2 are very different, so why create antagonism where none is needed.

Mozart 02.May.2006 14:19


This reminds of the quote from the movie "Amadeus": "[the characters in their operas] are so bloody elevated they shit marble!"

Sometimes people are not trying to be "elevated," not trying to influence or impress various highminded policymakers, etc. Sometimes people are just trying to be human, to enjoy the fellowship of their neighbors in the streets, while they ride home from work. To enjoy public spaces that have been expropriated by capitalist industrial mechanization. And they have a human right to do so, no matter what all the cops, judges, lawyers, and politicians in the world have to say about it.

My vote 02.May.2006 14:21

is with Captain Planet

Captain gave a clear articulated response prefacing it with " some criticisms that reveal a lack of understanding". An individual viewpoint and, in an effort to educate, suggests viewing "We Are Traffic". I have not previously viewed it and intend on doing so. I choose to do so because Captain sat at the dialogue table. It may or may not change my perspective on this issue. I hope others view it also.

To hyperbole, I don't expect anyone to believe as I do, nor am I self-promoting. I am neither connected to Cascade Bicycle Club or Portland PTA. The genre of this article was commentary, not reporting. I did not create antagonism. As I said previously, with over 40 comments regarding the last Critical Mass this is a passionate issue. I observed antagonism bouncing back and forth in some of those posts...like a ping pong ball.

if you don't like CM then don't ride CM 02.May.2006 18:11


Your point appears to be that because orgs such as BTA exist they should bear the full burden of broadening transportation options. I doubt they'd appreciate you putting even more on their plate. Sure BTA has made gains for cyclists, but their's is not the only method. There is certainly room for a number of different approaches in expanding transportation options.

Your suggestion that Critical Mass is useless because it's funner than working with government or corporations seems like the curmudgeonly groanings of a true fuddy-duddy. Getting together with a few dozen or a few hundred cyclists once a month to ride as a group regardless of what the supposed "authorities" think can be a real hoot.

Your assertion that Critical Mass is somehow dated and must be rethought is premature. Critical Mass, if nothing else, sparks discussion and controversy. The fact that it still gets next to grousing douchebags like yourself PROVES that it is still relevant.

If you truly detest CM, I'd suggest that you get up from your keyboard and do something constructive. Organize your own ride, fix up bicycles for children whose families cannot afford one, buy a bunch of blinky lights and give them away to unsafe riders, etc... BUT QUIT YOUR GODDAMN BITCHING!