Saturday, July 28, 2007

Critical Mass Has Become a Pain in SF's A--!

The monthly Critical Mass bike ride will take place today beginning at 6 p.m., according to San Francisco police.
Critical Mass is a bunch of idiots who feel like they’re making a difference by riding their bikes recklessly, clogging up traffic, antagonizing drivers and pedestrians and basically acting like obnoxious a-holes. For some reason, they think they’re making some type of statement about freedom and independence and the supposed rights of cyclists. But, in the end, all they’re doing is pissing people off.
I have witnessed at least half a dozen Critical Mass rides and I’ve seen how the event has changed. I love to ride my bike as much as the next person. And I agree that drivers in this city treat cyclists like second class citizens. But, when you block traffic and threaten people, you’re not making a statement. You’re just giving drivers more excuses to treat you poorly. Critical Mass participants truly believe that they’re helping their cause, and I don’t doubt that many of them have admirable intentions. But, in the end, Critical Mass is looked upon by the general public as a critical pain in the ass.
What started as a noble experiment has deteriorated into an excuse for people to do stupid things under the guise of a protest. It’s become a dangerous spectacle and has achieved absolutely nothing.
The loosely coordinated ride, generally a monthly event for the past 15 years, will begin at Justin Herman Plaza at the end of Market Street. Motorists should expect some delays, police said, particularly in the downtown area.
The route is not announced ahead of time and is chosen at the start of the ride by consensus.
Police are now sending out alerts about the ride because of a situation that turned violent in March. As the bike ride came to a close around 9 p.m. on March 30, cyclists got into an argument with the driver of a minivan. The vehicle's back window ended up smashed; cyclists said the driver was driving recklessly and hit one of the bikers.
Critical Mass is an event typically held on the last Friday of every month in cities around the world where bicyclists and, less frequently, skateboarders, inline skaters, roller skaters and other self-propelled commuters take to the streets en masse. While the ride was originally founded with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to bicyclists, the leaderless structure of Critical Mass makes it impossible to assign it any one specific goal. In fact, the purpose of Critical Mass is not formalized beyond the direct action of meeting at a set location and time and traveling as a group through city streets.
Because Critical Mass takes place without an official route or sanction, participants practice a tactic known as "corking" in order to maintain the cohesion of the group. This tactic consists of a few riders blocking traffic from side roads so that the mass can freely proceed through red lights without motor vehicles becoming embedded in the body of riders, allowing the mass to act as a single large (or very large) vehicle. Corking allows the mass to engage in a variety of activities, such as circling in an intersection, or lifting their bikes in a tradition known as a Chicago hold-up. The 'Corks' sometimes take advantage of their time corking to distribute flyers.
Critics argue that the practice of corking roads in order to pass through red lights as a group is contrary to Critical Mass' claim that "we are traffic", since ordinary traffic (including bicycle traffic) does not usually have the right to go through intersections once the traffic signal has changed to red, unless issued with a specific permit or residing in jurisdictions where bicyclists have this right. Corking has sometimes translated into hostility between motorists and riders, even erupting into violence and arrests during Critical Mass rides.
Critical Mass has been the subject of criticism from authorities and motorists in the various cities in which it takes place.
Critics have claimed that Critical Mass is a deliberate attempt to obstruct automotive traffic and cause a disruption of normal city functions, asserting that individuals taking part in Critical Mass refuse to obey the vehicular traffic laws that apply to cyclists the same as they do to drivers of other vehicles.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, there have been several incidents of violence during Critical Mass events.
On the evening of March 30, 2007 in San Francisco, toward the end of Critical Mass, Susan Ferrando of Redwood City, CA claimed to have found herself in the middle of a group of bicyclists and tried to drive through them resulting in hundreds of bicyclists surrounding her minivan while her 11 and 13 year old daughters watched from inside. Ferrando denies striking a cyclist but claims they banged on the sides of her car, "keyed" the paint, and threw a bicycle through the rear window of the vehicle, causing $5,300 in damage.
On May 11, 2007, a similar incident occurred in Berkeley, Calfornia. According to a Bicycle Civil Liberites Union press release, a "motorist with his wife deliberately ran into the side of the monthly Berkeley Critical Mass bicycle demonstration" and caused approximately $3,000 worth of damage to bicycles. However, the driver and two third-party witnesses told police that the bikers threw their bicycles under the vehicle. Subsequently, Critical Mass participants pounded on the hood and windows of the car and the windshield of the vehicle was shattered.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, in April 2007, requested that Critical Mass riders "police themselves." "It does the bicycle-advocacy community no good to have people that are aggressive and dispirit the entire movement,” Newsom said. “I would encourage the bicycle coalition to say, ‘Look, we don’t put up with this, enough is enough.’”
Police in Oregon and New York have cited concerns that Critical Mass may delay emergency vehicles, such as ambulances, due to the traffic disruption. An expert retained by bicyclists suing New York City gave the opinion that such claims are without merit.
Some bicycling advocacy groups have expressed concern that the controversial nature of Critical Mass and altercations with motorists could weaken public support for bicyclists. Though it does not condone incidents of violence and rudeness, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition credits Critical Mass with spotlighting bicycle issues and aiding their efforts in advocating for cyclists.
In San Francisco, a splinter event known as "Critical Manners," was created as a response to Critical Mass. Critical Manners also rides through the city on the last Friday of the month, but in contrast with Critical Mass, the riders obey all traffic laws, such as stopping at red lights and signaling.
(Portions of this article were taken from Wikipedia.)


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