In a letter to the Vancouver Sun, Tessa Humphries wrote that she could not support Critical Mass cyclists because they inconvenience drivers by blocking traffic during rush hour. Although her letter was reasonable, Tessa missed a crucial point – while Critical Mass cyclists inconvenience drivers once a month, motorists inconvenience cyclists every single minute, hour, and day of the month.
Although I am a regular and relatively fearless bicycle commuter, I plan all of my bike rides based on avoiding cars as much as possible. I leave for work at 6.30 a.m. because there are fewer cars around that early. I travel two miles out of my way to avoid busy streets. This is not convenient – however, it is necessary to increase my chances of staying alive by not getting hit by cars.
There are far too few bike lanes in almost every major city in the world – and those few that do exist are commonly blocked by cars or trucks … this is incredibly inconvenient! Imagine if cyclists left bikes lying around on major roads, or parked their bikes in the middle of the highway!
It’s hard for me to care that Tessa Humphries was once late to meet her friends, when I spend every day dodging cars and trucks so that they don’t kill me. As a worker and a home-owning tax payer, I help to pay for the upkeep of the roads. But as long as my taxes continue to be spent primarily for the benefit of road users who are not cyclists, I am going to continue to be inconvenienced. Critical Mass is an attempt to change that.
I know that the vast majority of motorists are decent people and don’t intend to kill cyclists (hell, I am also a motorist sometimes, and the last thing I want to do is kill anyone). However, many motorists have difficulty noticing cyclists, or remembering that we exist. Hence, they tend to accidentally maim or kill us. The constant effort required to avoid being maimed or killed by absent-minded or inconsiderate motorists is extremely inconvenient for cyclists, all the time.
Critical Mass is an attempt to remind motorists that cyclists exist, and that we are a legitimate part of traffic. As their slogan puts it, “We aren’t blocking traffic, we are traffic!”
What is Critical Mass?
Critical Mass are bike rides that usually take place on the last Friday of the month. Cyclists gather together at a designated meeting place and then cycle in a group through city streets. Often, ride leaders practice “corking” – essentially, they block intersections with their bikes, allowing the group to cross intersections, even if the traffic lights are red. Of course, opposing traffic is forced to stop. This event started in 1992 in San Francisco; it is now global. It can be seen as a political protest ride, in which cyclists reclaim the streets. However, many participants see the rides as celebrations, rather than protests. As celebrations, they can occur without notifying local police in advance. A key slogan of Critical Mass is ““We aren’t blocking traffic, we are traffic!”
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