Critical Mass: Biking for No Reason
A number of times in the last year or two I've seen this phenomenon where the street is taken over by a couple hundred bikers. I had noticed it a couple times, but it seemed like maybe it was a one-time or seldom-practiced demonstration. After seeing it a couple more times and hearing that they did it in San Francisco as well, I realized it was a much bigger event.
Although the event, which is called Critical Mass and happens throughout the world in many major cities, is very unorganized by design, it obviously is a program that promotes cycling in one way or another. Here in Minneapolis, as in most places, people gather on their bikes and ride through the streets of the city together on the last Friday of the month. In Minneapolis they bike north on Hennepin Ave. through downtown and then down University through the U of M area.
The first Critical Mass event took place in September 1992 in San Francisco as a protest of how unfriendly to bikes the city strets were. Since then, it seems that Critical Mass has become worlwide and less goal-focused. One constant, though, is that the large mass of a couple hundred bikers have decided to bike through the streets of cities disregarding any sort of traffic rules, stoplights, or cross traffic. Because it is so big and so purpsefully unorganized, it also seems that members seem to relish the incidents with police or citizens.
I think that, in general, Critical Mass gives the wrong impression to society. Those who are trying to get home from work through downtown are just annoyed by a couple minutes of cyclists blocking their way. I enjoy biking around town, but I respect all rules and signals while biking, of course. I just think that, if anything, the general populace (and maybe the city) will just consider Critical Mass to be a bunch of annoying hippies trying to piss us off and not some sort of protest. Plus, I thnk the Twin Cities, at least, has plenty of support for cyclists with plenty of bike lanes throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul and a pretty extensive network of trails. It seems that it's pretty unneccesary to me.