You want to fix Critical Mass?

Stop acting like anarchists and start acting like a protest movement.

For example:

  1. Get official buy-in. Get permits if you have to.
  2. Announce the time — and the route — in advance. Perhaps last Friday’s fiasco wouldn’t have happened if the driver had known the ride was going to happen on his street.
  3. Bring in the community more. And that not only means possibly getting some bike cops mixed in, but also get the community itself to buy in to what you’re doing.
  4. Get a real purpose. Corking isn’t the solution, it’s uncivil disobedience. Critical Mass, despite its size, cannot point to one single positive thing it’s done to improve conditions for bikers in Seattle.
  5. Can the “silence” and the smug, self-serving Seattle passive-aggression. If people ask you why you’re riding, tell them. If there are angry drivers, talk to them respectfully.
  6. Identify the problem riders and self-police. If someone’s being an ass, do something about it.

Civil disobedience movements have always been about respecting others while disrespecting injustice. And being respectful of others and respectful of community mores is possible even while standing against injustice. Look at the Civil Rights marches of the early 1960s — African American men and women and children wearing their Sunday clothes, walking home from work, sitting at lunch counters, marching in Birmingham and Selma and DC. What turned the course of this country was watching white cops turn firehoses and truncheons on well-dressed, respectful African Americans seeing a little equality. It appalled white America. And they were willing to listen to a suit-wearing preacher from Atlanta via Montgomery, because they were increasingly afraid of what would happen if they didn’t listen to the ones who were respectful.

By comparison, the WTO protests couldn’t find their dignity. They turned to pageant, then to farce, then to violence. And in the end, the anti-WTO movement became marginalized as the globalization movement just got better security and marched on. A lack of respect for this city, and the people of this city, may have stopped the WTO meetings, but they lost the war on globalization.

So, Critical Mass, ball’s in your court. Do you choose the way of the bike lane, seeking to protest peacefully while working towards a transit system that respects all forms of transportation — bike, car, pedestrian, bus, or train? Or do you choose the way of the sharrow, the way of chaos, anger, and the marginalization of everything you believe in?

7 Comments so far

  1. tonyb on July 28th, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

    Great couple of Dylan!

    What can I as a driver do to help promote safe cycling? I don’t bike at all (and probably never will), but I realize that I need to share the road with them. The problem that I always have is that they are so damn unpredictable in what rules they do and don’t follow which makes it tough for a driver to figure out what to do and ultimately just creates animosity. What can Seattle drivers do for their part to help fix the whole cyclists vs. motorist debate that seems to be raging through Seattle right now? I’m tired of cyclists getting hurt and I’m tired of motorists being intimidated by gangs of cyclists. I am at a loss as to what to even suggest.

  2. outdoorenthusiast on July 28th, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

    @ TonyB; in a nutshell, bicyclists should follow the same traffic laws as automobiles and automobile drivers should yield to bicyclists as if they were automobiles. It’s as simple as that, but not all bicyclists choose to follow all traffic laws, which is where some drivers get confused.

    Great post, I couldn’t have said it better myself! I happened to be walking around downtown with a friend of mine when the Critical Mass riders were gathering that Friday night. I wasn’t sure why the bikers were gathering so I asked one of them about the event and he responded conceitedly with "it’s Critical Mass," as if everybody in the world should know why hundreds of bikers are gathering in the street. His smug attitude was a complete turn-off to me and my out-of-town friend.

    What I noticed about the crowd was the utter chaos and anarchistic behavior present throughout it. The same bikers that expect cars to yield to them were unyielding to the pedestrians on the sidewalk as they weaved in and out of the crowds. They hypocritical philisophies some of these bikers have is not representative of the biking community as a whole and I would ask that all bikers not be judged by the actions of a few vigilantes. Critical Mass of Seattle looks and acts like a bunch of immature adults seeking attention because they ride bicycles.

    I’m an avid mountain and road biker and the one thing I dislike about the biking community is the sometimes over-confident attitudes they display to those that aren’t "in the know" about parts of biking culture.

    This is NOT the way to increase the popularity of biking or to win the hearts and minds of automobile drivers. Vandalizing and assaulting drivers that are in fear of their life with their pregnant wife in the car is also not advisable.

    My friend and I WERE both interested in joining Critical Mass, but this incident has clearly changed our minds and we’ve decided to hang back until Critical Mass of Seattle gets their act together. I don’t want to be represented by bunch of lawless hooligans.

  3. stinkbug on July 28th, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

    Dylan, your post contains some mis-information and some mis-understanding about Critical Mass.

    – The time is always announced in advanced. 5:30pm on the last Friday of the month. The ride typical leaves around 6pm. (The ride a few days ago didn’t depart until about 6:30pm though.)

    – The route isn’t announced in advanced because there’s generally no set route from the get go. There have been a few times in which a route has been used. But even if there was a set route for last Friday’s ride and even if it was widely publicized, I doubt that driver would have known about it. There are still many motorists who are shocked (and frustrated) when they stumble upon the Torchlight Parade or the Seattle Marathon.

    – Bike cops have been involved with past rides. At what level does the community need to buy into the ride?

    – Your assertion that CM "cannot point to one single positive thing it’s done to improve conditions for bikers in Seattle" is a bit confusing. CM isn’t a community group that meets every week to improve the conditions for bikers. As others will tell you, it’s more of a community-building exercise. And that can have an impact. Everything from empowering newer cyclists who are typically afraid of being on busy streets to allowing bike-related networking, something that spawns projects/groups like .83, , and . And those projects have had an impact (for example, the expanded Stone Way bike path). There are also smaller positive things like zines, bike repair (and riding) tips, even music, etc. that stem from a group of people coming together.

    – I don’t get your "silence" statement. There is no vow of silence in CM rides. *Very often* riders are asked by pedestrians (and motorists) what the ride is about and riders will tell them about CM. Flyers are often handed out, either general ones about CM or sometimes corking-specific ones letting people know why they are being delayed 90 seconds. Most riders love spreading the word about CM. There is no "silence" to can. Where did you come up with this?

    – Problem riders are typically kept in check by others. Be it a "hey, that’s not cool" or something else. Jerks aren’t ignored and given free reign to do whatever.

    It’s nice that you want to help "fix" Critical Mass, but I encourage you to learn more about it before listing specific problems, some of which don’t even exist.

  4. outdoorenthusiast on July 28th, 2008 @ 10:23 pm

    Stinkbug, it sounds like Critical Mass needs to do more to inform its riders of its mission. It definitely sounds like you have a clear understanding of CM’s mission, however, it’s highly probably that many riders are not on the same page.

    The next ride should definitely involve some sort of pre-ride expectation announcement to all its riders. I know many riders may view this as demeaning or too formal, but that only highlights the anarchistic nature of the group. Leadership is definitely needed within CM, this is true with any large organization that wishes to build a relationship with the community. The current lack of structure has only lead to relationships within the community being damaged due to the most recent incident.

    It’s unfortunate that the image of Seattle’s CM riders has been tarnished (as I see it, you or others may not); but violence is never the answer, even if provoked by irresponsible behavior of a driver.

    The retaliation of the CM riders was the only reason this incident was highlighted in such a manner. Vigilante justice is plain stupid, go to Texas with that type of behavior and you’ll be welcomed by many.

  5. stinkbug on July 29th, 2008 @ 8:16 am

    It’s kinda funny that in my response above I mention motorists who stumble upon the Torchlight Parade. This is from a newer news article:

    "Mark, who asked that his last name not be published because he is afraid for his safety, said Monday he found himself and a friend in an unfamiliar part of Seattle about 7 p.m. Friday as they headed to pick up another friend to go out to dinner. Mark said Monday that he saw the mass of bicyclists and thought he’d accidentally driven into the Seafair Torchlight Parade route, so he pulled into a parking spot along Aloha Street to allow them to pass."

  6. Blameless victims? Or two-wheeled vigilantes? « Bikinginla’s Weblog (pingback) on July 29th, 2008 @ 9:39 am

    […] — ignoring any questions about the propriety and effectiveness of Critical Mass and corking tactics — the cyclists were wrong for retaliating against the driver, however justified they may have […]

  7. Stop the presses! And blame the bikers! « Bikinginla’s Weblog (pingback) on July 30th, 2008 @ 12:03 pm

    […] incident, so I’ll let other writers address the questions of whether CM is right or wrong, and how — or whether — it can be […]

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