It’s time to drop some control rods into Critical Mass

Boy with bicycle watching toy sailboat races, 1924
Boy with bicycle watching toy sailboat races, 1924, dropped in the Seattle Metblogs Flickr pool by frequent contributors Seattle Municipal Archives

Yesterday’s road-rage-turned-vigilante-violence incident involving Seattle Critical Mass riders and a hotheaded driver is a black eye to all bicyclists in this city.

Yeah, sure, some media accounts were incredibly biased and were heavily contracted by eyewitness accounts. But the fact remains that despite the violent nature of the driver’s action, the violent reaction by bikers should not have happened. Now Critical Mass has moved from a protest movement into a vigilante movement.

And yet, what are the gains that Critical Mass has won bikers, exactly? Have they really made the streets safer for bikes? Have they effectively educated drivers on etiquette? Did they bring us dedicated bike lanes? Are we more or less likely to see these sorts of road rage incidents in the future?

Can anyone point me to anything of substance they’ve been able to accomplish that’s made this bike-car mess we’re in any better?

I can’t think of any. But I’m sure I’ll have to come up with one, else they’ll start flashing their knives. Or maybe they’ll slash DL Byron’s tires for suggesting they’re counter-productive.

Despite foolish lionization by partisans in some quarters, I don’t see how Critical Mass can continue. Their awareness campaign has now turned into a childish, passive-aggressive gang that, like some overwrought quasi-Marxist insurgency, ultimately hurts the ones they originally said they were helping.

This is a bad time for biker-driver relations. We desperately need common sense and education on the roads. We need some sense in City Hall to figure out how we can share the road. We need to name and shame bad drivers and bad bikers.

Most of all, though, we need mutual respect between drivers, bikers, and pedestrians.

And Critical Mass has damaged our hopes of fostering that mutual respect. They’ve become the monsters they claim to fight on the roads.

It’s time to drop some control rods into Critical Mass, before we see more meltdowns.

9 Comments so far

  1. andrewgd on July 27th, 2008 @ 3:00 am

    Maybe meltdowns are what’s necessary for things to actually change. Passive bicyclists are getting run over and killed by aggressive drivers. Maybe it will take a few meltdowns for our government to get off it’s ass and do something for bicyclists instead of for cars.

  2. John Eddy (jaydeflix) on July 27th, 2008 @ 8:00 am

    As someone who gives bikes plenty of space on the roads and generally respects bikers, this doesn’t help the ‘Biker’s Rights’ cause with me.

    Actually, the whole ‘corking’ thing pisses me off enough that I’m tempted to not go on the hour and a half bike ride I’m about to go on. But then, I get pissed when a bus decides to block an intersection rather than wait to be able to fit on the other side too, so maybe I’m not the best judge.

    And no, it isn’t about me being ‘inconvenienced’ for a few minutes. For me, it’s about the law. And convincing me to follow the law by giving you adequate room on the roads by *breaking* the law isn’t the way to go with this citizen, and I don’t care who was in the right or in the wrong in this situation.

  3. arman on July 27th, 2008 @ 8:54 am

    Interesting Post Dylan!!!

    While on paper I have tended to think Critical Mass is an interesting concept, seeing them in real life out on the streets and in the various web coverage, I have always felt that the group has a big chip on its shoulder and purposely goes out of its way to have an "in your face" agenda. I think you nailed it, their actions are very much passive-aggressive and realistically I feel not very helpful to their causes.

  4. Ryan (ryanhealy) on July 27th, 2008 @ 9:04 am

    Couldn’t agree more, Dylan. I’d really like for someone involved in Critical Mass to tell me what exactly they’ve done to help the car/bike situation. I can’t think of a damned thing.

  5. efiftythree on July 27th, 2008 @ 10:50 am

    I recently moved to Seattle from a town in the Midwest were to be quite frank no one rode a bike outside recreational purposes and that was usually on a designated trail.

    Learning my way around this city has been interesting and I’m beginning to catch my bearings but the one thing that I have noticed are bicyclists. It appears to me, based on what I have seen during my short time here so far, that the vast majority of the bike riders in this city demand all the respect from the road while giving none to the very heavy and fast moving vehicles.

    What really gets me is when people on bikes fail to follow basic traffic laws. Lets take a 4-way stop for instance. Just because you are on a bike does NOT mean that you do not have to stop… especially when there are vehicles present. I now have to look several times around an EMPTY 4-way stop because I’m not sure when some out of control bike rider is going to come zooming through the intersection. Unfortunatly this hasnt been just a one time thing either. It has happened in several places throughout the city.

    All I know is that when I was a kid I was taught that I had to share the road with the cars and trucks and that it was my responsibility to look out for them. I was taught to follow traffic laws exactly like cars and trucks. I was taught this for my protection not because they are better than I am. I think Seattle bike riders need to do a little learning but that doesn’t excuse bad drivers either.

  6. Beth (sea_beth2) on July 27th, 2008 @ 2:46 pm

    Nice post Dylan :) I have to say that while I certainly applaud Critical Mass’s principles (well, not that they really have any stated), I really don’t see the benefit of a massive bike ride that cuts off driver and pedestrian traffic. I commute by walking frequently, and am generally very appreciative of (though sometimes confused by) the courteousness of drivers- I’m not used to people stopping for me at crosswalks (or non-crosswalks) as a pedestrian. The bicyclists, though… particularly on the Burke-Gilman trail and the intersections around it (I’m thinking of Stone Way and 34th Street) have not been quite as kind to me. I do bike occasionally, and I find myself getting similarly frustrated by slower-moving pedestrians, so I understand their huffiness to some degree. But I really don’t see what biking en masse accomplishes, other than irritating people. I get irritated in the same way when a whole horde of people decide to cross the street all at once at a non-crosswalk, or race out in front of me and expect me to stop on a dime for them. I guess I just want everyone to pay attention to traffic laws, and not be so aggressive, or passive-aggressive… but that’s rather pie-in-the-sky of me, and I have no real solutions either other than taking more personal responsibility for myself. After all, I can’t do much about anyone else, I guess, no matter how much I might want to ;)

  7. alejo699 on July 27th, 2008 @ 5:30 pm

    I never thought much about CM before this, except that they seemed like a rowdy, haughty bunch I probably wouldn’t want to ride with. This incident certainly hasn’t changed my view of them, but after reading all the anti-biking comments on the Slog and the PI, where people are saying they want to kill bikers for even being on the road with cars, I’m wondering is CM has a point. They’re going about it all wrong, but really — how can we get people to respect cyclists? Posting the laws concerning biking doesn’t help, trying to be considerate and careful as a cyclist doesn’t help (trust me), and definitely pissing people off and making them run you over doesn’t help. So what can we do?

  8. News from back home: Protecting the public from two-abreast cyclists « Bikinginla’s Weblog (pingback) on July 28th, 2008 @ 10:32 am

    […] this past weekend,  and a local blogger from the eternally overcast city suggests it’s time to do something before the Mass really does go critical. And here’s what can happen to downtown bikes when Big Brown backs […]

  9. 1michael on July 28th, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

    The whole "let’s mess people up to get them to be nicer to us" thing is backwards logic in the first place.

    To the first reply: yes, maybe a meltdown IS needed – for the group to think about what they’re really trying to achieve and maybe a better way of doing it.

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