A Lost Decade for San Francisco’s Critical Mass?

xJuly07_Lombard_0032.jpgCritical Mass rolls down Lombard Street, July 2007. Photo by Chris Carlsson

Well, no. We’ve had a great run in the 2000s. Averaging between 750 and 3000 riders on any given month, the birthplace of Critical Mass keeps going strong, in spite of the total lack of promotion or organizing during this past decade. But many of us long-time riders have been dismayed to see the persistence of silly, aggressive, and counter-productive behavior that makes the Critical Mass experience worse for our natural allies on buses, on foot, and even folks in cars who might join us in the future. Not to mention that it makes it worse for us cyclists too, to the point that many former regulars have stopped riding. Part of the frustration for us long-time riders is that we went through all these issues quite intensively back in the early-to-mid 1990s, and to see them cropping up again is a harsh reminder that we’ve done a piss-poor job of transmitting the culture, the lessons learned, from one generation to the next. Plenty of current Critical Massers were under 5 years old when we started it, and the ride’s culture has been more loudly and consistently transmitted by distorted representations in the mass media than it has by those of us who put our hearts and souls into it for years.

To address this, a few of us launched a new blog dedicated to San Francisco Critical Mass.

Online for only a couple of months, it has already reprinted a well-digested list of “do’s and don’t’s”, and a rumination from a long-time former Masser on the hard work it takes to keep a space like Critical Mass open and inviting and pleasurable, as well as a look at the Budapest, Hungary Critical Mass and an always provocative look at bike helmets. It’s a moderated blog with a limited number of contributors, but it’s open to a wide range of comments including some markedly negative ones, while it also seeks to keep the discussion constructive and insightful.

xbudapest_21.jpgCritical Mass, Budapest, Hungary. (Photographer unknown)

When Critical Mass began in late 1992, over two dozen individuals spent a lot of time thinking and talking about this new experience, and the culture that was emerging with it. Part of those discussions involved how to spread the idea to other cyclists, and eventually to other cities. That led to a publication in those pre-World Wide Web days that was called “How to Make a Critical Mass", which went far and wide and probably had a bigger effect than we ever dreamed.

june_1996_howard_street_west.jpgJune 1996, Critical Mass heads west on Howard Street at 4th. (photo: Chris C.)

During a bit longer than the first two years, some of us published a monthly newsletter called “Critical Mass Missives,” but after April 1995 we ceased and more or less stopped being a “secret cabal” behind the tone and etiquette of the ride in San Francisco. Critical Mass was growing very large by then, reaching well over 1,000 riders, and by mid-summer 1996 the ride was drawing several thousand riders. Already in 1995 several of us early instigators had grown bored with the ride, feeling that it had lost some of its early vibrancy. The political space we had so jealously fought for and guarded seemed to wither away all by itself as hundreds and thousands of new riders joined in.

During late 1995-early 1996 one guy tried pretty hard to “take over” Critical Mass, doggedly printing hundreds of posters, promoting long rides that stretched out to the far western edges of the city, even inaugurating what became for a few years an “annual ride to Sausalito.” His preference for elaborate routes that went to hills and ridges all over the city, and required endurance and sometimes speed to keep up, seemed to many of us regulars to be an unwelcome departure from the convivial purposes of Critical Mass. It wasn’t meant to be a road race, an endurance test, or a contest to see who could ride the furthest or climb the most hills. It was supposed to be a place where we met once a month on bikes and “road home together,” enjoying a leisurely pace through town conducive to conversation, political and philosophical discussion, and meeting new people, usually ending in a park or a bar.

Happily, a newer group of riders coalesced with the purpose of overthrowing this lone nut’s temporary reign over Critical Mass route planning. Alternative routes began to appear. A concerted effort was made to steer the ride back to a friendlier and more celebratory experience, and redirect the emphasis towards the social and away from the athletic. This effort was largely successful and a series of rides with a rediscovered joie de vivre took place over the 1996-97 months, leading to the infamous confrontation engineered by then-Mayor Willie Brown in July 1997. (See Ted White’s documentary “We Are Traffic!" for a good account of it.) The following month saw thousands returning to ride in the “Good Soldier Schweik” ride, where we “rode to rule,” following as many traffic rules as we could, which predictably made downtown traffic MUCH worse. 

After that, the police mostly backed off, realizing that leaving us to conduct ourselves through the streets was a better crowd control strategy than confronting us and harassing us. Tickets were occasionally written, but in general, over the years that followed, a tacit truce has prevailed. In the decade since, the ride has percolated along, often quite euphoric and fun, but in the past two years or so, taking on a distinctively repetitive quality.

june_1999_potrero_hill.jpgAugust 1999, Critical Mass huffs and puffs up Potrero Hill. (Photo: Chris C.)

Most months the ride leaves straight up Market Street, unnecessarily blocking and delaying most of the city’s primary public transit lines. Every month the ride seems to be drawn inexorably towards the Broadway and Stockton Tunnels, and at least two or three times it turns back towards downtown in a regressive loop. By the time we get to midtown, someone usually has the bright idea to “circle up” in the Market/Van Ness intersection, or an equivalently central locale. Along the way, the drunken guy is cursing at passersby and bellowing like a stuck pig. Young riders prove themselves as “really radical” by cutting across into oncoming traffic and stopping cars for no particular reason other than that they can. Failure to stick together in a tight mass (always a problem, even in the early days) leads to cars finding themselves trapped among throngs of cyclists. The calm driver usually inches over and stops until we’ve passed, but some are confused and frightened. Taunting and name-calling from self-righteous cyclists is all too common, and when a motorist is provoked they are blamed for causing the problem. (This is not to say that all confrontations are caused by cyclists… historically, and in the present, many more problems are caused by motorists trying to force their way through the cyclists.)

xaug_07_stockton7116.jpgAugust 2007, Stockton Street. (Photo: Chris C.)

Most of these dynamics can be altered by simple courtesy and smart behavior. Treat motorists with respect, thank them for waiting! They are people like us, and they might want to join us in the future if they are invited. Cars that get stuck in the Mass should be helped out to the right if possible. If Mass is fragmented and dispersed, organize a stop at a red light and regroup. People in the front are hugely responsible for stopping regularly, far more than feels comfortable, but it’s the only way to keep the Mass together. Don’t “cork” intersections where the Mass is broken and only a few bikes are trickling through. Better to stop the bikes on the red light and regroup. These are simple lessons we learned years ago to make for a better Critical Mass experience for everyone.

xhalloween_08_CM_broadway_party_Eduardo_2992935075_4365f429c6_o.jpgHalloween 2008, Broadway in North Beach, a party pause! (Photo: Eduardo Green)

You may not care if you’re winning hearts and minds, but overall, the point of Critical Mass is not a fraudulent “class war” between cars and bikes. We started Critical Mass to be a new kind of public space, and to help promote a different way of being together in city streets. Rolling along on bikes, tinkling bells, chatting and discussing, smelling an exhaust-free atmosphere, listening to humans instead of motors, and feeling the city’s geography in a wholly new way, is exhilarating and liberating—not just for us riding, but for the thousands of people we pass by. Our pleasure is infinitely more inspiring AND subversive than any amount of angry posturing, self-righteous taunting, or childish tantrums. Critical Mass is for adults of all ages, and encourages the brave young radicals who want to FSU to take it to the other side of town during Critical Mass, and don’t use us to hide behind as you work out your unresolved anger with your parents!

xadam_a_aug08_marinadist_2813241088_0dcb7f7f01_o_d.jpgAugust 2008 in the Marina District. (Photo: Adam Aufdencamp)

Meanwhile, Critical Mass rides on. It’s still a magical experience that will surprise and endear you. Countless San Franciscans have ridden in Critical Mass only to realize that daily cycling is within their reach, and obviously a preferable alternative to being stuck in a car, or waiting for MUNI… Join us next month, and in the coming year… it’s been going for over 17 years and ain’t stopping any time soon… Last Friday of every month, 5:30 in Justin "Pee Wee" Herman Plaza, foot of Market Street. Bring your best selves!

  • Dave Snyder

    Fantastic piece, Chris. I completely agree, and hope the new website is successful at restoring the best of Critical Mass.

  • ZA

    The thing I always try to remember and to convey is that the ultimate ‘enemy’ is the “windshield perspective.” That goes for drivers, transit riders, AND cyclists. Anything anyone can do to connect with that complete stranger, to break down the barrier of metal and glass, and glass-eyed metal mindset, the better off we’ll all be.

    I’d like to appeal to other CMers here to make the effort of bringing along candies and other treats to hand out to the most distressed people you meet along the way.

    Fewer things better to silence an angry yell than a sweet lollipop!

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Nice piece. From my perspective the two most important changes to CM would be 1) nobody should ever exceed 6MPH, and 2) leave from the other side of JHP. Just those two things would be tremendous improvements.

  • troymccluresf

    “historically, and in the present, many more problems are caused by motorists trying to force their way through the cyclists”

    You mean “motorists trying to take their legal right-of-way”?

    exhilarating and liberating … for the thousands of people we pass by.

    The people who get stuck on J-Church trains attempting to cross Market sure don’t look exhilarated or liberated.

  • Nick

    People would enjoy Critical Mass more if it had a destination point for the mid-part of the rides during the off months. Some of the rides already are themed:

    June or July- Ocean Beach
    Sept- Anniversary ride
    October-Halloween ride
    November-Black Friday ride
    December-Christmas ride

  • Nick

    And to make the issue of Critical Mass even more controversial, how about we propose the idea to the Board of Supervisors to build a Critical Mass dedication statue at Justin Hermann Plaza to commemorate it’s 20th anniversary?

    Whether you agree with it or not, it was an event of historical significance that began in this city. Imagine Market Street freshly repaved in 2012 with the iconic image of a 15 foot tall cyclist on a road bike at the foot of it.

    The plaque could read:

    “At this location in September of 1992, two dozen cyclists rode down Market Street in defiance of….
    Since that first ride, Critical Mass has spread to over 400 cities worldwide sparking a movement for….
    Dedicated September 2012, Mayor…..”

  • Sean

    “…daily cycling is within their reach, and obviously a preferable alternative to being stuck in a car, or waiting for MUNI..”

    Like waiting for Muni because your train/bus is stopped because of CM?

  • mcas

    @Troy & Sean: The majority of transit delays are caused by private autos- not Critical Mass- 365 days a year. Why not direct your anger at the actual impediment to efficient public transit, car drivers?

  • Troy – this shit happens to my 48 bus every school day. Twice.


    1 block away the 35 is similarly effected. Every school day. Twice.

  • Sean

    @mcas: Typical response! I do not deny the fact that automobiles delay transit. If CM wants to be taken seriously then it ought to file and pay for the permits, police escort, etc.. that any other massive street closure event would have to do. In the current form it is nothing but an excuse for a bunch of over-privileged cyclists to give everyone else the collective finger.

    Yes, it would be wonderful if the city had better infrastructure, but I don’t see how inconveniencing a bunch of pedestrians/transit riders furthers that aim. If there was at least an acknowledgment that CM does negatively impact non-motorists rather than always claiming that cars are worse (which is somehow a justification of CM) you might find a slight increase in understanding from people like myself.

  • mcas

    @Sean: ‘Typical Response’ back… I’m not justifying CM at all, I’m saying stop complaining about the 3-4 hours of only 12 days out of the year and start organizing to help transit the other 353 days. You are buying into the idea that cyclists blocking transit is ‘unacceptable’ while cars blocking transit is ‘unavoidable.’

    Do the math- Critical Mass operates for about 40 hours a year, while cars block transit the remaining 8,720 hours. Are you sure you are putting your anger in the right place?

  • Sean

    @mcas: With all due respect, let me know the next time 4,000 — organized — cars will be using the few bike lanes that SF has, running red lights and stop signs, all with a free police escort. It isn’t that cars don’t less harm but more that CM gets a free pass to do it with such organization.

    For the record, I would be ecstatic if SFPD / DPT did more to cite traffic law violators – ranging from double parkers, cars blocking Muni stops, cars using bike lanes, and yes, to cyclists running through crosswalks with no regard for the safety of others.

  • Sean, you are missing the point. Every day cars are organized, just as loosely mind you, as the CM riders are once a month. Every day people wake up and take their single occupancy vehicle down the same roads as other people in single occupancy vehicles. Sounds pretty organized to me. Then after work is over, they all get back into their single occupancy vehicles and ride down the same roads blocking transit and pedestrians (lest we forget the pollution they are adding to their little charade).

  • Critical mass is predictable, supported by the taxpayers and the police, and as such is no longer a revolutionary act. It ‘s a monthly scream for a lost cookie by the entitled ones, who get their fun supported, while those who try to do other assertions of public space have the PD and the City crack down on them hard.

    The holier than thou attitude is what gets people the most – this “Fuck you I’m better than you because me and 3000 people are on our little bikes” is a bit much.

    I’d be way more impressed if you all tried this act somewhere else, where you don’t have the benefit of a liberal city government to back your asses up. And I’d be more impressed if they kept on doing it but hey, why try to export the revolution when you can sit on your ass in safe liberal SF and know nothing will happen except tacit approval for your allegedly revolutionary acts against people in cars?

  • It’s clear that CM needs to transition into a more strategic organization, but that would hardly be in keeping with its anarchical DNA. But if the leadership of CM doesn’t find the way to make that transition, then the more unruly elements will continue to define not just that otherwise worthy group of citizens, but all the rest of us who just want to ride our bikes “regular,” in our regular clothes, on our regular schedules, without any extraordinary accommodation required on the part of other transit modes.

    I sincerely wish the CM reformers luck. If they can, bicyclists (and all transit, and citizens, and the environment) will benefit.

  • @Greg you’re just jealous you can’t figure out a Public Transit Rider analogy for Critical Mass. When 5,000 people try to ride the N-Judah at the same time, instead of the seas parting for the N, the N failwhales into said sea.


    @Greg – yawn.

    Someone wake me up when he’s done copying and pasting.

  • mcas

    @Sean: As you say, the key is ‘organized.’ The BATA, MTC, MTA, DPT, garage companies, car companies, DOT, and Cash for Clunkers all seem *pretty well organized* in their ability to facilitate and enable thousands of people to drive to and from work in their private autos each and every day- and they just conspired to raise *your* bus fare (again) while keeping parking meters free after 6PM and on Sundays.

    But, hey– keep up the good fight complaining about a few thousand cyclists riding home 12 times a year, really…

  • david K

    Chris i disagree about corking for the few-it needs to be done for all riders safety, until all have caught up-WHILE the people at the front wait for the rest to catch up! can’t wait to see you out riding soon…

  • Sean

    Just the words “critical mass” make me want to punch someone as hard as I can. And I commute to work by bike.

    Reading this post, however, and particularly those sections where you openly acknowledge the crowd who are hiding behind CM while working out childhood anger, forces me to consider that there may be sentient humans behind the scenes somewhere after all.

  • Jake

    I’ve never understood the “I hate critical mass and I commute to work with my bike” crowd.

    Makes me wonder if we are riding on the same streets out there. The degree of anger is not proportional to the supposed detriment, if any.

    I mean, do you get angry when cars buzz you at 50mph on residential streets? That should be what provokes your rage.

  • Sean

    Surprisingly, Jake, I am able to be angry at more than one source of provocation. I do get pissed when a car buzzes my shoulder, and I do get pissed when a collection of asshats use CM as an excuse to be complete dicks.

    I also get pissed when kittens get cancer or when orphanages catch on fire. See how it works?

    In the interesting world you inhabit, people apparently are only permitted one thing at which to be angry. Presumably you’re only allowed one thing to be happy about too. Weird.

    The fact is, I ride my bike to work every day and while I have been known to send a few curse words after a passing, ignorant motorist now and then, I deeply despise jackasses who use the legitimate issue of bike access as an opportunity to vent their unresolved adolescent anger.

  • Eric

    As someone who helped bring Critical Mass to a major American city I am eternally grateful to the SF folks who got his, ahem, rolling. I know there is debate about whether or not SFCM has been good for bike advocacy and culture in SF and I’m not from here so I won’t speak to that. In Chicago, the results of CM are undeniable. Chicago now has a couple generations of young urban planners and traffic engineers who grew up in the CM-inspired bike culture of Chicago and the City is radically different and better as a result. Ultimately that merely is a happy side effect. The real value of CM is in the enjoyment and experience of riding a bicycle on your city’s streets without feeling your life is constantly in jeapordy, for however brief a period of time, once a month. To the naysayers, I am sorry but that is an experience that transit riders, motorists and most of the time pedestrians are granted on a daily basis. Bicycles are the only users of the public right of way who frequently use streets not designed for them. But perhaps more importantly Critical Mass has a message for people that goes beyond civil rights or transportation advocacy. It’s a message of surprise, intrigue, uncertainty, negotiation of public space and unexpected celebration. I am deeply grateful for the monthly reminder Critical Mass provides: that public space is not for the profiteering of oil and car companies but rather for public use and ENJOYMENT. I’m glad that message doesn’t fit in someone’s narrow definition of “appropriate”! Isn’t life dull enough already without turning the joyful movement from place to place into yet another rote exercise in rule obeying?

  • Cadence

    Let’s face it, most Californians are absent minded on the road, whether it’s on bicycle, or automobile. Getting angry doesn’t seem to do much other than, wear me out, so rather I deal with this issue by learning, and anticipating the movement, and dodge, and maneuver around accordingly. Traffic is much like a game of chess. I think Critical Mass is much easier, and hence ought to be less serious, and more fun!

    Personal confrontation should be done one on one, with the appropriate person, not everyone. And keep in mind, of what out come you wish to achieve… an understanding is better, than a fight… that ultimately will bring you back to learning to understand thing anyway… with likely injuries and a legal repercussion against yourself. State what you want, and talk it out, be kind!

  • peternatural

    I always heard how horrible CM was, blocking intersections, tying up traffic for long periods of time. Then a couple months ago I actually ran into CM (on my bike but going the opposite direction). They filled the streets and rode the wrong way in the bike lane. It was over in a minute. I almost had to wait a bit. What a terrible experience!! Boo hoo hoo!!!

  • A few years ago, before I started bicycling in the city, I was blocked by a Critical Mass making its way down Valencia Street. Once I realized what it was and that I was not likely to cross Valencia for a while, I sat there watching the parade pass by. It was somewhat annoying to be delayed five minutes, but it was also mildly entertaining. No one was rude to me or cast any aspersions on my car.

    A decade ago, I also had my way blocked for ten minutes by a biker (motorcycle, this time) funeral proceeding down Dolores Street. Again, once I realized I really wasn’t going to get across Dolores, no way, no how, I sat back and watched more ZZ Top beards pass me by than I knew existed on the planet. I chalked it up to an “only in San Francisco” experience, just like I chalk up a posse of roller bladers wearing full body purple speeding skating suits and wings on their backs making their way down the middle of Castro Street.

    This is San Francisco. From time to time I am inconvenienced by parades, peace marches, demonstrations, marathons and other road runs, by neighborhood block parties, by monster rock concerts in the GG Park, and by every ethnic/cultural festival anyone can think to put on. (Once I got delayed twenty minutes by stupidly going near Japantown during Cherry Blossom festival.) I am massively inconvenienced twice a year by the street fairs in the Castro because these fairs totally screw up traffic flow and bottle up my neighborhood. But I don’t get upset because I also get a lot of benefits by living near the Castro. It’s part of the deal. (Halloween in the Castro was especially a nightmare for my neighborhood and has thankfully calmed down.) Bay to Breakers is an event so massive and disruptive, everyone in the entire city either participates or goes out of their way to steer clear. Even though I haven’t participated in Bay to Breakers in twenty years, I still find value in it and don’t begrudge the runners their use of the city.

    All these events are disruptive, annoying if they delay you, but to me are part of what makes this place a creative, interesting place to live. In addition, San Francisco’s development of a bicycle culture is part of what will enable the continued economic viability of the city in the decade to come. If/when bicycles become so ordinary and mainstream that people use them like they use their vacuum cleaner (to use the Copenhagenize comparison) there will be no more Critical Masses. (Though there may still be a few bicycle parades. . .)

    I concur with the suggestions for Critical Mass to take more coherent routes through the city and to sometimes take routes that aren’t so disruptive to car traffic. I also can’t deny that it would be helpful if Critical Mass participants went out of their way to be civil and courteous, because really, that is the way people should behave in general. (People also shouldn’t litter! They shouldn’t drive while talking on their cell phones! And they should pick up after their dogs!!!) But I don’t expect young people in their twenties to be entirely without impromptu, anarchistic impulses. I am very conscious that San Francisco gets a lot of benefit out of that energy.

  • i agree completely.

    i would like to dedicate the upcoming critical mass to all those nasty, brutish teens who circle intersections. without the destruction they inflict on this city, it would hardly be possible to put into context the running over of the pedestrian near the civic center yesterday. it’s obvious that she got what she deserved. and what about the little old lady who, while attempting to make it across Geary, in the crosswalk of all places, had the audacity to get hit by a van? twice. if she only knew how much she was going to tie up traffic, i’m sure she would have thought twice about crossing Geary so slowly. maybe the huge blood stain she left on the road will serve as a reminder to all pedestrians and cyclists that we need to be more accommodating to cars in this city.

    here’s to hoping…

  • But I don’t expect young people in their twenties to be entirely without impromptu, anarchistic impulses.

    +1 – awesome

    I did a lot of stupid shit when I was younger. I try hard everyday to appreciate that there are people today who are young and that they are every bit as entitled to do some stupid shit today as I was back then. Without the experiences then, I’d be a pretty boring old shit now.

  • That picture reminds me of riding down Lombard in some random “Steep Hills Ride”. At the bottom, a tourist ran up to me, turned me around, and put his arm around me and said some variant of the word “SMILE” and pointed at his camera wielding wife.

    I guarantee no such tourist is running up to someone driving their BMW down the Embarcadero.

  • @Eric, sorry, but your contention that cyclists are the only users of the public right-of-way who use streets not designed for them is wrong. Many streets in eastern San Francisco were not designed for cars. Pedestrians, sure. Horses, carts and streetcars, sure. But not cars, which did not exist yet.

  • Then on that note, the Stockton street tunnel was designed for transit. So every day (pretty much all day) cars are holding a CM in the tunnel – blocking all traffic, making it difficult for those who walk the tunnel to breath, and holding up the 8x/30/45 lines. Sean and Greg, where are you?? MUNI needs you to unclog Stockton street!

    Actually, I just got a really good idea. I’m going to make a sign and hang out at the bottom of the Stockton Street tunnel next time I see a parking lot forming (shouldn’t be too hard to find). The sign will read “Car induced Critical Mass.” I’m sure those drivers are going to love being compared to the most evil thing ever invented.

  • Critical Mass is a revolutionary act in the same way that throwing rocks through your high-school window is a revolutionary act.

    You know what’s really revolutionary? Riding a bicycle, walking, or taking public transit to work.

  • Joe

    Once I was delayed by CM at Castro and Market by a bunch of crazies riding around in a large circle … hooting and hollering non sense … from then now, I solved this problem by not driving into the City for Friday night dinners and shopping and have urged all my friends, relatives, and network not to do so as well.

    I wonder how much revenue the City has lost due to these crazies?

  • Nick

    I think encouraging people to not drink and drive in the City on a Friday night is pretty noble of you. Thanks.

  • patrick

    Thank you Joe, we appreciate you staying out of San Francisco. Your absence is quite welcome.

  • This article from BikePortland sums it up well: “Some folks say that Portland’s bike community has just moved beyond the need for such a ride, and that it ignites more anti-bike sentiments than its worth (both from car drivers and bikers).”

    Niche rides – Kidical Mass, Tweed Rides, etc. – are the future.

  • @Joe – Frankly, I don’t believe a word you’re saying. It’s illogical nonsense. And if a 10 minute traffic slowdown actually freaks you out enough to keep you away from the city, then you’re probably not the sort of person who belongs in urban space.

    The only thing that bothers me more than critical mass riders* are people who bitch and complain about critical mass as if its some sort of serious problem. If getting stuck in traffic for a few minutes once a month is really so bothersome that you’d give up driving why the hell do you drive anywhere? I get delayed by accidents and traffic jams for worse than CM almost every time I drive.

    *There are actually a lot of things that bother me more than critical mass. A whole lot. But that doesn’t mean I care much for the “movement.”

  • zsolt

    I stopped riding CM years ago, right when it started to get a little too crazy and aggro on both sides (riders and police). Nevertheless CM was an important aspect in my “emancipation” as a biker. Every cyclist should experience of CM a few times. The elation, the festive atmosphere, the feeling of being part of a strong movement. One particular Black Friday CM was very memorable as it so clearly showed the contrast to consumerism as we turned Union Square into one big party. The look on the faces of many shoppers, akin to “does not compute”, was priceless.

    These days I’m much more mellow: a helmet/mirror/lights wearing, backpack toting, geared biking, slow riding, stoically cool commuter who rides home on Friday evenings to be with his wife. I still do not feel the least bit bad that CM ties up car traffic or transit once a month. I *hate* car traffic and the entitlement and ignorance of drivers and how much I subsidize this insane enterprise, and how much the city accommodates cars. So as far as I’m concerned, this is just a tiny way to show the middle finger and to empower bikers.

    So I don’t ride CM anymore. However, I will say this: the moment the city or any other entity tries to crack down on it, you will know where to find me at six o’clock on the last Friday of the month. With helmet and lights and gears and all.

  • Clarity1

    When the dominant paradigm notices anything it breaks the narcissism for a moment. I have experienced all of these things in my 10 or so CM ridings. It seems that the prevalent issues are space and time sharing. The armored aspect of a car vs bike creates an urge to team up against a larger object we project our fear anger and “childhood unresolved issues”. This is exactly why I ride a bike. It is a safer more human mode of carrying oneself. Bicycling is also a way of reminding all of us we don’t have to be in a hurry and it also gives an opportunity to be patient. I am so glad there is one place in north america where liberal social democracy rules and where we can entertain another way of being besides the one sold to us by the corporatist fascists. When cars are so expensive that war is quit for good I will stop riding in CM. I cherish this immature side of me that refuses to get over what is to me IMHO a lie.

  • Nathanael

    “Bicycles are the only users of the public right of way who frequently use streets not designed for them. ”

    Nonsense. Pedestrians in the suburbs and rural areas do it *constantly*, walking down 55mph all-for-cars roads with no sidewalks. You’re just an urbanite so you’ve never noticed.

  • zsolt

    “Pedestrians in the suburbs”

    Is there such a thing, though. Walking is simply pointless in most suburbs so few ever do it apart from “exercise”. That’s different from thousands of bikers trying to use streets not built for them, for the actualy purpose of transportation.

  • Bob in SF

    Sorry but no. Critical Mass has and always has been belligerent and confrontational. Nobody can act all surprised now that it has bred an extremism that perhaps has gotten away from the founders now claim they wanted. From its very first day, Critical Mass has been a huge pain not only to motorists, but also to pedestrians and mass transit users.

  • Bob in SF

    “Bicycling is also a way of reminding all of us we don’t have to be in a hurry and it also gives an opportunity to be patient. I am so glad there is one place in north america where liberal social democracy rules and where we can entertain another way of being besides the one sold to us by the corporatist fascists.”
    You ignore that many people simply do not have the luxury of slowing down and being patient. You have chosen (or, more likely, led by life’s circumstances to) a life that accommodates the luxury of not hurrying. That’s fine; that’s your choice.

    But when you engage in CM, you force your lifestyle on other people, much to their detriment. And you do it driven by ideology, by your smug certainty that you know what’s best not just for yourself but for everyone else too. That kind of thinking has led to great tragedies and millions of deaths when combined with power.

    Live your life without inflicting it on other people. Your impact on this world is more than just your carbon footprint, you know.

  • “You have chosen (or, more likely, led by life’s circumstances to) a life that accommodates the luxury of not hurrying. That’s fine; that’s your choice.”

    “Live your life without inflicting it on other people. Your impact on this world is more than just your carbon footprint, you know.”

    This is perhaps even more hypocritical than anything I’ve even seen on SFGate. If I am riding my bike because I have crafted a life where I can, and someone who cannot stomach being 2 minutes late to work (and cannot get their ass out of bed early enough to do so without endandgering me) buzzes me because he believes I am inflicting an inconvenice on him – then I’ve lost all sympathy for him.

  • Poundwater

    I’m not sure where you CM sympathizers get off thinking that you know what’s best for people and telling us when you think we should leave our houses to get to work.

    The Massholes on Halloween made me a good 45 minutes late for work (at a bar, after working all day at the 9-5). 45 minutes is not 2 minutes. I was doing the socially responsible thing (riding Muni) but the bus was stuck in a logjam at Franklin and Post because this collection of idiot advocates decided to make some self-righteous point.

    I’ll add that I work in the bar so I can afford to live in SF while working at a CBO in the Tenderloin that pays pennies on the dollar. Don’t tell me about “corporate fascism.” Don’t tell me about “patience.” You smug first year college student prick.

    If you’re not going to care about those of us trying to get to work and trying to make a living, I’m not going to care about your assumed “biker rights.” Congratulations. You lot have alienated another voter in San Francisco.

  • @Poundwater – meanwhile, 40,000 of us were delayed by an SUV driver who ignored the train tracks in front of her, drove onto the tracks before they were cleared, the gate came down, she jumped in the ditch, kaboom. So we sit. and sit. and sit. and sit.

    FYI – you can ride a bike from anywhere to anywhere in SF in 45 minutes no matter what the traffic or what MUNI has decided to do to itself on that given day. This is something that has become abundantly clear to those of us who want to “do the socially responsible thing” without worrying if we are going to be late. We’d like to do so without having a target on our back – the 353 days a year that are NOT critical mass.

    What’a my point? Instead of bitching about Critical Mass feel free to help address the cause. At the point where cycling is accepted, CM will probably just fade away. Until then, there will be plenty of cyclists who don’t give a shit if they go out and make some noise.

  • Poundwater

    “…meanwhile, 40,000 of us were delayed by an SUV driver who ignored the train tracks in front of her, drove onto the tracks before they were cleared, the gate came down, she jumped in the ditch, kaboom. So we sit. and sit. and sit. and sit.”

    Accidents happen. Traffic happens to. They just happen. What doesn’t need to happen is a Friday night in a busy city when an organized minority group decides what they think is best and shove it down the throats of the majority of the City’s citizens at the expense of traffic and City services. To compare an organized (and it is, whether you feel like admitting it or not) “demonstration” to an unfortunate train crash is frankly ridiculous.

    “FYI – you can ride a bike from anywhere to anywhere in SF in 45 minutes no matter what the traffic or what MUNI has decided to do to itself on that given day.”

    There you go again with the CM mantra: saying what you think we should do with our time. What if I don’t feel like riding a god damn bike?! If I think it’s best for me to ride Muni to work and ride the Muni unimpeded to work I think I should be able to. I don’t think that’s out of line at all. I don’t ever remember standing in front of some biker on his/her fixie stopping them from doing what they do. Who the eff do you think you are to do that to me? Once again, it’s this attitude which will impede you lot from accomplishing anything as the more you vocalize it through words and action the more you’re going to alienate. But you all can’t help yourselves, can you?

    “We’d like to do so without having a target on our back – the 353 days a year that are NOT critical mass.

    If you can’t see that CM has creating a larger target on your bike/back I’m not sure what to say. I try to never excuse violence, but one of these days some guy with a right to the road, trying to get home to see his sick kid, is going to snap. It can’t be excused nor justified, but it can certainly be explained.

    “What’a my point? Instead of bitching about Critical Mass feel free to help address the cause…Until then, there will be plenty of cyclists who don’t give a shit if they go out and make some noise.”

    I don’t even know what the cause is! It just seems like some silly party! Biker rights? Environmentalism? Personally I think if these are you causes you are doing far more damage than advocacy. Even if I knew the cause, it’s not my cause. I picked my cause and that’s why I work where I work (as mentioned in my prior post). I don’t take that cause and shove it down people’s throats like you lot. I don’t prevent people from being able to engage in their cause by holding up their ability to get to their cause like you lot. You don’t give a shit about causing problems? Yeah? Really? Well, I guess I shouldn’t care about yours either. It seems like you want it both ways – the fuck you with the sympathy.

    Funnily enough, I don’t even know how to drive. 29 years old and never been behind the wheel. If my girl was in labor, I’d have to call an ambulance or something (hopefully it won’t be on a CM night as I’d like her to get to the hospital). I never thought about “bicyclist rights” until you made those assumed rights, through CM, adversarial and obnoxious. Once again, congrats.

  • zsolt

    Poundwater, we never alienated people like you. You never were on our side. And we’re not interested in having you on our side. CM is not about you or for you. CM is about growing our movement, not watering it down so that people who never ride a bike can feel comfortable supporting it.

    To me the whole idea of CM is exactly that we don’t try to court people. It is not a political let’s all get along BS fiesta. It is a celebration and parade of bikers, a time when we take back the streets and let others get a taste what it feels when one mode of transport dominates and suffocates everything else.

    For indeed, every statement you or everyone say about bikes during CM, can be said about cars during 99.999% of the time. Except, for people like you, that “just happens”.

  • @poundwater – This veers a bit away from CM, but I’m not sure that accidents and traffic “just happen.” Accidents and traffic are actively created through bad transportation infrastructure combined with bad urban planning. Probably 80% of the delays that slow down my muni or caltrain rides would be prevented if our streets were designed to prioritize mass-transit. Traffic wouldn’t be much of a problem if our cities and highways were designed to facilitate comprehensive multimodal transportation.

    I think one of the things that makes people especially pissed-off about CM is that it’s not programmed into our daily routines. We transit riders and pedestrians should start getting as angry about everyday our everyday delays as some are about CM delays – the systemic delays are the ones that really take away our time, harm the environment, and make our commutes difficult.

    @zsolt – Your comments illustrate exactly why, despite being very passionate about transportation justice and working towards car-free cities, I don’t care much for the CM “movement.” I also strongly suspect that CM does very little to “grow your movement” unless the aims of your “movement” are strictly confined to the last Friday of every month.

  • Poundwater

    “Poundwater, we never alienated people like you.”

    Um, yeah. You actually did. I would’ve been pretty gung-ho about more bicycles on the road but it’s attitudes like yours that have put me off to the degree of being stubbornly anti-bicycle. Even before I had the pleasure of experiencing this pain-in-the-Mass I can honestly say I’ve had more problems with bicyclists in this City than I have with cars. Cars, for the most part, stop at stop signs and adhere to established rules. Not everyone, sure, but most. Being someone who walks almost everywhere (don’t know how to drive) I find many of you lot to be quite dangerous. And not just dangerous, but indignant in your dangerousness.

    “You never were on our side. And we’re not interested in having you on our side.”

    That point has been made obvious on the last Friday of every month for I don’t know how long. It’s always about YOU and what YOU WANT. YOU don’t care about what anyone else is trying to do. This is why I don’t care about what YOU want.

    “CM is about growing our movement, not watering it down so that people who never ride a bike can feel comfortable supporting it.”

    CM is not about growing a movement. It’s about you. It’s about you being smug and self-righteous and you thinking you know what’s best for everyone. And I thought CM was not “organized.” How are you planning on fixing all the problems of the road without having organization?

    “…I’m not sure that accidents and traffic “just happen.” Accidents and traffic are actively created through bad transportation infrastructure combined with bad urban planning.”

    My point is that those things exist and have existed for some time. Is it annoying? Sure. But I don’t see how creating more trouble is the solution. I can build accidents and Muni lags into my day. I’ve learned to live with that. What I take issue with is dealing with more lags because of a monthly party that seems to contradict itself with every public posting. One person says I can get anywhere in the City in 45 minutes on my bike. Another says they can’t get anywhere on their bike because of traffic. Which one is it? You pushing bike rights while alienating countless numbers of people. You push for environmental changes while creating environmentally damaging traffic jams. You say it’s not organized yet it’s called “our movement” with “sides.”

    “Probably 80% of the delays that slow down my muni or caltrain rides would be prevented if our streets were designed to prioritize mass-transit. Traffic wouldn’t be much of a problem if our cities and highways were designed to facilitate comprehensive multimodal transportation.”

    Totally. But, once again, what does a traffic causing bike party do about this? Fuck. All.


A Rose By Another Name: San Jose’s Bike Party

A crowd assembles at the beginning of San Jose Bike Party, April 16, 2010. Let’s just say right away that Critical Mass is a bike party, and the San Jose Bike Party has a lot more similarities to Critical Mass than differences. A half-dozen San Francisco and Berkeley Critical Mass veterans took a field trip […]

Reviewing the Policing of Critical Mass

Now that the new police chief has announced he is going to "review" department procedures with respect to Critical Mass, I think it might be a good time to "review" the history of the relationship between Critical Mass and the police. I have to emphasize that this relationship has evolved in the context of a […]

CBS 5’s Joe Vazquez Has a Critical Math Problem

Critical Mass, March 2009. Photo by Bryan Goebel. I got a call a week ago from the SF Bike Coalition‘s media person. She was looking for someone to talk to Joe Vazquez of CBS 5, a reporter who was going to do a piece on Critical Mass. I declined, having been interviewed far too often […]

Ruminations of an Accidental Diplomat: Critical Mass at 20

Editor’s note: Next Friday is the 20th Anniversary of Critical Mass. The following is an excerpted version of an introductory essay from Chris Carlsson, one of the founders of Critical Mass, who co-edited the new book Shift Happens! Critical Mass at 20, a compilation of essays on the movement from authors around the world. Critical […]

Critical Mass

From SF Critical Mass: Critical Mass is a mass bicycle ride that takes place on the last Friday of each month in cities around the world. Everyone is invited! No one is in charge! Bring your bike! Critical Mass Do’s & Don’ts! October 27th, 2009 by hughillustration DO • talk to stranger, bystanders, bus riders, […]