Critical Mass: A Step Too Far?
You might note that while Vancruisers is all for cycling (obviously!) we typically don't become involved in Critical Mass rides. Ever wonder why?
I came across this blog which sums things up quite nicely:
First, the flash-mob nature of the movement diminishes the degree to which participants are accountable. Without clear leadership, nobody is accountable for the impact Critical Mass can have on people’s lives (for however short period of time). What will happen if somebody is in an ambulance heading towards St. Paul’s Hospital and Critical Mass disrupts traffic and the patient dies? Who should be held accountable and who would be responsible? Nobody, since Critical Mass has “no leader”
Second, the degree to which disruption occurs has diminished its effectiveness as an awareness-raising event. It has become unruly social disorder. Disruptive mobilizations have a place in social movements, but when Critical Mass’ mandate has been overshadowed by the general perception that it alienates people, making drivers furious and leading to confrontations, then it’s time to change the strategy.
Third, the non-cooperative approach of the movement creates confrontations. These face-offs between drivers and bikers preclude finding any solid, sustainable approaches to increase awareness. A sustainable transportation policy by nature requires stakeholders to negotiate points of agreement and common ground. But given that there is no apparent leadership and no accountability, there is no way to create common ground amongst actors.
I couldn't agree more! When Critical Mass started in Vancouver much of their focus was on tackling specific areas that needed help like the Burrard Bridge. Today it's become the monthly "let's block off Lion's Gate" ride which seems somewhat counterproductive to me. Lion's Gate Bridge actually provides a pretty darn good cycling experience (with the exception of the climb!) - it's got a very wide, completely traffic separated bike/pedestrian path on both sides, you really can't ask for much more than that.
One thing that's important to realize with all of this is Vancouver DOES have a lot of great cycling infrastructure. It definitely isn't perfect, there's lots of places that need more/better street crossings, or bike routes that dump you in the middle of nowhere. If we want to identify and correct the shortcomings though, blocking off Lion's Gate doesn't help much! What would be way, way, way more effective is taking a ride that follows actual cycling routes as much as possible, and causes traffic problems where those routes fail. I include the "1m wide lane next to 80km/h traffic with nothing more than a painted white line" in the "failures" by the way. To me the most effective form of "protest" or activism would be to BIKE PLACES WE'D ACTUALLY WANT TO RIDE!!
For instance, if you really want to play with traffic, let's think where some glaring holes are in our cycling infrastructure. For me one would be Kingsway. Kingsway is flat out the best possible route from a cycling perspective from Downtown to Burnaby - because it was originally chosen for the old interurban railway, it has as gentle a grade as you could possibly find. Take out the on-street parking on either side and give a lane to cyclists and you'll have one of the best inter-city bike routes around. Yet I've never seen Critical Mass ever go anywhere NEAR that direction!
Another thing I always remember was being out in Stanley Park one night riding the SeaWall. We'd gotten separated from our group, and I saw a pile of cyclists up on the upper roadway I figured was us. Powered up the path only to discover it was a Critical Mass group riding the road through Stanley Park in the dark. "Hey, why don't you guys come down here to the SeaWall - moon is full and just rose, it's a beautiful night!" - sold. Here comes about a hundred cyclists down to the actual bike path. The number of people expressing how they'd never been down there or what a unique thing it was to be riding there was astounding. So you chose to ride around on the road "fighting" for bike infrastructure but you'd never ridden one of the most prominent recreational cycling routes in the city?
The problem is right now Critical Mass is a ship adrift in the middle of a very crowded waterway. The actions and behaviour of that group has begun to illicit a substantial response from the police, which doesn't help any of us. I don't want to end up getting hassled when we're out for a cruise because the cops think we're Critical Mass!
What it all comes down to though is the lack of leadership or direction. In reality that statement is pretty false. Somehow the group ends up at the top of Lion's Gate every month at about the same time - well, someone said "Let's go this way!" and managed to get enough followers to steer the group. Before everyone started riding the wrong way down one way streets someone had to decide to turn there. There ARE leaders, maybe not official ones you can look up on a web site somewhere but the group would just stand around and never ride anywhere if there wasn't. Those who lead need to realize that they have a great deal of power - the ability to steer an entire city full of cyclists in to essentially any direction. Choose wisely.