Monday, July 28, 2008

Critical Mass In The News Again... For All The Wrong Reasons

It's a shame that you don't hear about the 11 months out of the year that Critical Mass pulls off their fun protest rides without incident. Like most news I suppose, you only get to hear about when things go south.

No need to link to all the news outlets' stories, surely you've seen them already. Perhaps I can shed some different light on the subject, with an eye-witness account from someone we'll call "B":

What I witnessed Friday on Aloha was (imo) terrifying. Drivers will sometimes get angry when they're being corked, but this guy ended up getting rather violent. My story (I feel obligated to share since the news really screwed this one up) is as follows:

Some of us were riding by as this guy in his Subaru decided he wanted to merge into bicycle traffic. Coming close to hitting us, a few cyclists asked the driver to wait, and the driver got angry and yelled that he had a reservation and didn't want to wait for the cyclists to finish passing. Conversation got a little heated and immature, and I didn't feel like participating in that, but I wanted to make sure everybody was safe in the end, so I stuck around on the sidewalk waiting for everything to settle down and the guy in the Subaru to leave. After the driver backing up really quickly out-of-the-blue, the cyclists expressed more concern about safety and about 1 minute after that, he decided to gun his car towards the cyclists. The cracking, crunching and screaming was unreal. The driver didn't just nudge or try to bend bikes in front of him as sometimes drivers do..he rammed into a group of human beings with obvious disregard for their safety. One guy got his leg ran over, another girl got her ankle hurt(broken?), and another guy was forced onto the hood, then roof of his car from the impact. The driver then sped off down the street (going between 30 and 35) with a cyclist hanging on to the roof rack for dear life for a block or so. Concerned for the safety of the man on the roof-rack, and the others on the road, I decided to run after the car to make sure I could help the guy if he fell off the car. A few others were running behind me and we were able to catch up to the car. One person used a knife to slash the left-rear tire and it was obvious he did this to try and prevent the driver from running any further and not to be malicious or thuggish. One guy with a u-lock smashed a hole into the rear window and started banging on the car. More cyclists began to rush the car as the driver made a choice to get out and appoligize. The same guy that smashed the rear window (some not-so-smart thug) came between me and the driver and whacked him in the head with a kryptonite U-lock and the drivers' head started bleeding. After that I ran around to make sure everybody was OK and waited until the police showed up.

In the end, I am happy that most (except the person with the u-lock and others that may have nagged the driver) of the cyclists were helpful and non-violent. I'm just disappointed that the news made the driver look like a victim...amazing. Anyways, maybe it was the thug with the u-lock that gave reason for them to skew the story, but still... they should get their story straight imo.

Surely both sides took things a little too far, but what I can't stand is how the media (and apparently the cops) jumped on the drivers side right away. I don't condone hitting anyone in the head with a U-Lock, violence is lame 100% of the time. But a car can be used as a deadly weapon, and in this case it seems like that's exactly what happened.

I think both the driver, and the U-Lock attacker, should be charged with assault. The driver apparently hopes that nobody is charged, and I'm sure that includes himself.

One thing that few CM-outsiders seem to grasp is that Critical Mass is a form of Civil Disobedience. And as with most forms of protest, the point isn't just to piss people off, but the point is to make a point. And "the point" here is that, as the CM motto goes, "We aren't blocking traffic, we ARE traffic!"

So when I ride with CM, I'm not thinking "this will change the minds of all those drivers." I'm thinking, "Every damn day is Car Day, why can't one day (really just a few hours) out of each month be Bike Day?"

And please don't give me that "but it makes us look bad" crap - drivers have been mowing down cyclists, etc, probably since the first Model T's rolled off the lots. If CM went away tomorrow, you'd still be left with a bunch of drivers who "didn't see you, sorry."

Anyway, I'm going to make a point to go to CM next month, and see how it goes. And if something goes south, again, I'll be able to write up my own eye-witness account of it. And take pictures. Long live Critical Mass!


Anonymous said...

Hey Matt. Nice blog. I’ve been reading this for a while now and to be honest your ride reports have got me interested in joining S.I.R. So, if I see you out there, it’s your fault.

I have to admit that this whole CM thing rubs me the wrong way. I’m all about cyclists rights and approve of most everything out there that promotes safe cycling. I’m a commuter (5 days a week), racer (Avanti Racing Team) and a family man. I value the benefits of cycling and the benefits of life. That’s why this weekend, when I read the report in the news (although I knew it was only one sided) the first thing I said to my wife was “Shit, Monday’s gonna be a tough commute.”

Cyclist have a responsibility to be there own activists. Ride responsibly and within the law and the majority of cagers don’t care that you are on the road. They leave plenty of room. Every cyclist should act this way and there wouldn’t be the hostility that there is. Granted, jackasses exist. Both in cars and on bikes. Critical Mass, in theory is a great stage to promote cycling and get the word out to the community that we are out there. But get a few jackasses in the mix ie; the rider that only rides once a month during this 2 hour window only to cause chaos, makes the whole group look like jackasses. I began riding Critical Mass a few years ago, when it was smaller and more controlled. The ride was fun and people seemed to genuinely believe they were doing for the right reasons. I stopped going after a few bad apples were spoiling the bunch and causing more harm for all of us than good.

I respect your beliefs and your opinion on CM. Your feelings on CM reflect what CM used to be, at least for me. Keep riding and I’ll see you on the road.

matt m said...

Thanks, Dan, for sharing your thoughts!

I can see what you're saying - but if all the "good apples" stop going to CM, it will surely devolve into something useless.

Maybe it's already headed towards uselessness, but the next time I go I plan on keeping the "bad" apples in check.

Definitely hope to see you out on some SIR rides - there's a brevet series starting up now, the next one (a 300k) is on Aug 10th I think. Hope to see you on the road!

Anonymous said...

I think the original concept of CM had some validity. It's been so long since I lived 'urban' that when CM arrived it was pretty much irrelevant to me.

But as BSNYC notes just about anytime you get a crowd together, the stoopid breaks out. And as you noted, it's not only velosaints that are attracted to crowds of cyclists.

I agree that raising awareness that cyclists ARE traffic, just like taxis, and delivery vans and 18 wheelers, but to be honest I doubt very much that any motorist affected by CM ever gets that message and I would also bet that if you were to rndomly survey CM participants there would be a pretty low percentage that understand that sending the message is the pprpose of CM.

But the stoopid does not break out on just one side or the other. Check this out:

Yr Pal Dr C

Anonymous said...

Matt: I read your blog frequently and enjoy it very much. You have a great writing style and your ride reports are always entertaining. That being said, I really didn't need to know about your support of Critical Mass. I don't subscribe the "civil disobedience" justification for these demonstrations. There is no higher principle here; they are NOT traffic, they are a mob doing nothing more that deliberately blocking traffic because they can. There is a word for this: anarchism.

Anonymous said...

Well I guess I can't be all things to all people - glad you "found out" about my leanings towards Critical Mass! This is not something I want kept secret, not in the least.

I enjoy having readers on the blog, but I'm not about to water down any content to please everyone. You can expect many more positive writings about CM from me, and probably some CM ride reports too.

Critical Mass is not something new, in fact there were bike protests in similar fashion in SF back in the early 1900's! So it's not just a bunch of wannabe-hippies doing something for the last 10 years. Nor is it just an American thing - they happen all over the world! Point being this is a bigger movement than you may think, and it won't be going away anytime soon.

I invite everyone who has second thoughts about CM to attend one, before doubting it. The media just isn't going to give you the full story on this!

I, for one, will be at CM to keep it in check, to keep it safe & fun. Most CM riders have a positive attitude on the ride, it's the 1% that get us in trouble. And if it REALLY causes that much trouble in the city, wouldn't the cops have cracked down on it long ago?

Currently they pretty much ignore CM, and the reason for that, I think, is that it actually doesn't do any more "harm" than already-existing traffic jams do. Sure they may be an SPD escort for the next CM, but barring anything crazy, things will be back to normal in September (e.g. no police escort required)

Anyway, see you on the road!

Anonymous said...

The fact that your response is nothing more than a list of justifications shows that you not only agree with what I wrote, but you don't care. There is also a thread of anger and belligerence running through your blogs. In your last post you stated "the point isn't just to piss people off"; which basically states that one of your specific goals is just that: to piss people off. Now that's the way to win friends and influence people. Your post "Bikers Gone Wild" justifies cyclists illegally trapping motorists (deliberately pissing them off) and then meting out their own justice (smashing their car) when they bump a cyclist. Aren't you supposed to report it to the police? Then you ended the paragraph by writing "Might does not make right" when a later post is partially titled "Might Makes Right For A Night"! Apparently, it depends on which side you're on. Does all this describe the "positive attitude" that most CM riders are supposed to have? I'm sorry but that's true, it's not 1% of the CM riders that are the problem; it's 100%.

Your other ride reports are light-hearted, fun to read, and portray someone who enjoys cycling and telling others about it. Your Critical Mass reports reveal a darker side: an Us-versus-Them mentality with lots of pent-up anger and aggression. When you ride with CM to keep it in check, to keep it safe and fun, will you please help to keep it legal?