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On Critical Mass

Miami Critical MassThe Miami Herald published in both online and print form an article on Miami’s Critical Mass this past weekend. The writer, Andres Viglucci, rode with the group on at least one ride, probably a couple more, and used his first-hand experience to give us an article that describes the group. It is a good article, well written, and fairly unbiased; Viglucci calls out the good and the bad, though the bad tends to get excused and hand-waved a little too easily.

I’ve toyed with the idea of writing about Critical Mass here on and off for months, but I always put it off. I’ll take Andres’ article as a good excuse to finally tackle the CM monster once and for all, get it out of my system, onto the blog, and move on.

I don’t like Critical Mass. I find it hinders, rather than help, the cause of urban bicycling as a day-to-day activity and needlessly pits cyclists, all cyclists, into an us-vs-them conflict with motorists. It also creates false expectations about urban bicycling and does nothing to encourage a shift into a bicycling lifestyle, not to mention it encourages illegal riding as a norm.

This is a good place to make something very clear: I am interested in having a conversation, not an argument. This isn’t personal; I don’t dislike nor have anything against those that ride in Critical Mass. I dislike the entity of Critical Mass, and I hope that by explaining why, those that participate will at least think about what it means for them to associate with this entity, and to truly reflect on why they are doing it and what they are really accomplishing.

A disclaimer: Both of Miami’s Critical Mass events happen on Shabbat (last Friday night of each month, second Saturday of each month) and thus I have never attended one of them. My observations are based on blog posts, ride reports from the groups themselves (including questions asked by me directly to the members of the CM Meetup group), videos taken of the rides, and news stories.

The main reason I dislike Critical Mass is because, in essence, it is a mob, one on two (more) wheels that decides to take rules and regulations into their own hands. Critical Mass’ famous slogan, “We are traffic,” sounds fantastic except the CM mob does not behave as such except for the part of riding on the road. Occupying all lanes to the exclusion of motorists (“we occupy nearly the full width of the street”, “We have taken to the road — actually, we have taken the road” [Viglucci]), corking intersections and red lights, these are not things done by traffic; they are, quite the contrary, flagrant violations of the rules of the road (“There is rule-bending aplenty on the ride, even rule-breaking. The group does stop at red lights. But at green lights and unsignaled intersections, some riders pause to block cars until the group has gone through, even if the light turns red.” [Viglucci]). If cars, motorcycles, or 18-wheel trucks pulled the same stunts there would be outrage and legal action, but when it’s bikes it’s a “celebration of cycling.” I don’t think so.

Critical Mass purports to bring to attention bicyclists’ rights to the road. Awesome. Except the way it is done ends up alienating the people in the multi-ton vehicles with whom we have to share that same road (and remember, just become some hoot and holler doesn’t mean everyone’s agreeing with what you’re doing). What you just accomplished is that next time one of those drivers sees a cyclist on the road they may decide to lump us all together, or worse yet, take it out on the cyclist. And next time a bicycling ordinance comes up for voting? Yeah, I’m sure they’ll remember fondly the time all those bikers locked down the intersection and the road ahead.

It doesn’t work like that, folks. The rules apply to all of us, not to everyone *except* for *you* (perhaps Miami’s greatest malady, a general attitude that *I* am not bound by the rules and laws). Want to be traffic? Behave like traffic. Want to exercise your right to the road? Follow the laws that dictate how we have to ride on the road. They’re not hard to find; here’s a link. Want to hold a massive bike ride that can go through red lights/intersections? Awesome; contact the City and arrange it as an event and get the Police dept to provide an escort that can legally manipulate traffic to the ride’s favor.

Of course, this *is* Miami, so we get this from the City of Miami Chief of Police:

In Miami, police Chief John Timoney, an avid cyclist who is often seen astride his official bike, said he takes no issue with the local Critical Mass.
“We’re not going to take them on,” Timoney said. “We are all pro-bikes here. We should all just get along, right?”
But he advises the cyclists to behave. “If they piss off some motorist, they can ruin it for all of us, because that guy might try to run over the next cyclist he sees.”

And mind you, the last thing I want is for the police to start a targeted cyclist crack-down, but if you feel so strongly about the rides, why not help them achieve the same results with police escort?

Critical Mass 10/31/09 from Michael Diaz on Vimeo. Bicyclists take over the streets of Downtown Miami.

From what I can tell, and I hear this from pretty much everyone I’ve asked, Miami Critical Mass rides are a hoot, “a celebration” I’ve heard them called. Even Viglucci calls them “totally exhilarating.” I’m totally sure they are. I’ve been on organized bike rides with Bike Miami and it was a lot of fun as well. But, to quote David Moulton (who was also quoted in Viglucci’s article):

I am sure it is fun, it is an unofficial “Mardi Gras” on bicycles, and this is my entire problem with these events. It is a group of people having fun at the expense of a larger group of people, namely other road users. […] They are abusing the privilege of riding a bike on the road. Doing so in the pretence that they are bringing awareness to cycling, when if the participants were honest they are doing it because it is fun and because they can. They are simply having a huge party on bicycles, taking over the streets and technically, they are not breaking rules; however, if they were a mob on foot, they would be arrested.

The other thing I get to hear/read a lot is how Critical Mass has done so much to spotlight the cycling cause in Miami. There really is no way of knowing that for sure, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt as to it being true in years past (though I can only find confirmation of Critical Mass starting in January of 2008). I hear that members of Critical Mass have been at the forefront of bike advocacy and activism, getting the City to hear them and create official documents to better the bicycling situation for all.

Ok, so since then, we’ve had a Mayor who has pushed hardcore for pro-bicycling projects and plans, who started a whole program dedicated to celebrating and promoting bicycling with a monthly ciclovia, who’s shepherded a brand new Bicycle Master Plan for the city even as he leaves office. It worked, you’re being paid attention, so why continue? If it is activism, your goal was reached; change tactics and support the government that is supporting you now, instead of antagonizing it with mob antics. And to nitpick, if Critical Mass can’t have a leader, then it can’t have members; there are riders who participate in Critical Mass (including some in positions inside City Hall) and who have been advocates. You can’t claim anonymity for one thing, then membership for another.

Names have power and baggage, and Critical Mass is no exception. When you participate in a Critical Mass ride you are associating with a legacy of almost-anarchic activism that tends to attract some disruptive elements that revel in the mob mentality and freedom alongside those just in for the fun. Do it if that’s what you want, but do it knowingly. If that’s not what you want to be associated with, change the name/don’t attend; force a change for the better.

We already have a celebration of bicycling in Miami called Bike Miami Days. Want to celebrate the bicycling lifestyle? Put all that activism energy into getting this program to continue on a monthly basis so it can continue to grow and educate more people, both bicyclists and motorists. Better yet, get all those hundreds of people showing up for the rides to bike on a daily basis as much as possible, not just once a month. That’s what I intend to keep on doing.

Want to have a conversation about this? Leave a comment.

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  1. Marco
    November 3, 2009 at 5:38 PM

    Daniel — I found your article to be well composed and to raise
    a number of worthwhile points. Last week’s CM ride was my first here
    in Miami, and I did very much enjoy the event. That said, having now read your piece, I have also come to feel that it might be best to try and manage the rides so that they honor traffic regulations more strictly.

    • November 3, 2009 at 7:38 PM

      Thanks for your comment, Marco.
      I’d like people to realize what they are supporting when they engage in a CM ride, and why they are doing it. Some will do it anyway, but at least fully in the knowledge of what they are doing, others may reconsider. Who knows, maybe there will be a change and a piece like this will be a moot point. I’d love that.

  2. Eddie
    November 3, 2009 at 6:57 PM

    Wow. You must be running out of things to write about! Attacking cyclist!? Really? Ok. So I’ll humor you.

    I will assume that you are aware of the countless health benefits of bicycle riding and or any other form of physical activity. Now I’m not a doctor, nor a physical therapist. But my body tells me when it is achieving general positive mental outlook and when I’m experiencing increased energy levels. Not to mention that regular exercise has been proven to fight off heart disease, strokes, obesity, and other chronic illnesses.

    But your article is about breaking the law. And “mob” gatherings in search of laws that can be broken. So lets concentrate on your point, and the law.

    “We The People” of the United States, live in a “majority rules” community. Therefore if 51% of “We The People” approve, then it is so.

    While on our “Critical Mass” rides, the “majority” of “We The People” approve of our presence. They even go as far as whistling, waving, and cheering us on. These are the same “We The People” that vote on and pass our laws!

    Now I’m not saying that all of “We The People” approve of our rides. Few do yell and complain. Very few. Less then 1% few. (including yourself). So as we stand… and UNITED WE STAND, “We The People” will continue. “We The People” will grow. And “We The People” will ride!

    So while you wait for your “disapproval” numbers to grow… go buy a bicycle and join us! As a simple “member” of Critical Mass, I invite you, and I will welcome you. Join us in an activity that will improve your quality of life. Or simply, just join us because it’s fun! 🙂

    • November 3, 2009 at 7:34 PM

      Hi, Eddie and thanks for dropping by.
      Before anything, I already own a bike, a very nice one actually, and for a period of almost two weeks I owned two before I gave my previous one away. I ride every day doing regular stuff, have attended five of the Bike Miami Days and one of the Rides (I was out of town most of the summer so I missed the other ones). My point being: I am a rider, a regular one, a daily one, so I’m not talking out of my butt here, but rather as one of the “tribe” (so to speak).

      While we may live in a majority rules environment, it isn’t one where that majority gets to enforce their dictums by their own volition. We have a democratic process in place and laws to regulate those “majority rules” pronunciations. Does the majority of people who witness a CM ride really approve of it? There’s no way of knowing, honestly; hooting, whistling, waving and cheering are only expressions of elation, not approval. What about those that you cannot see yet are aware and/or affected by the ride? They count in the group that is determining the majority but their approval/disapproval cannot be heard so easily. They also get to vote on those laws that benefit us on two wheels, remember that.

      By your logic, annoying “a few” is ok. After all, you’re just having fun, right? Sorry, no. People getting annoyed because you are following the law and rules is one thing; it happens and they gotta deal with it. But people getting annoyed because you are breaking the laws, because you have decided that the rules do not apply to you, is not right. And that’s precisely my point with CM: they are a riot, I don’t doubt that for a second (I mean, check out these photos from the Halloween CM last week – fun stuff!), but they engage in behavior that is contrary to the rules and laws of the road which they are claiming they belong to.

      By your logic, as well, if it’s fun, then what’s the harm, right? Can I engage in the same tactics used by CM while in a scooter? A motorcycle? My Toyota Camry? An SUV? An 18-wheeler? Where’s the cutoff point? Why does it apply to us on bikes but not to others? If what CM is claiming acceptance of bikes as full and legal members of the brotherhood of asphalt users, then it can’t claim special privileges.

      I am not attacking cyclists, and if you got that from my post then you misunderstood or I wasn’t clear enough in what I wrote. I AM a cyclist, and I know personally some of the folks that organize and ride in CM month after month. I’ve no interest in insulting or attacking them or anyone. I’d like people to think about what they are supporting when they go on a CM ride.

      Personally, I’m far more interested in approval numbers to grow when it comes to the general population embracing the bicycling lifestyle and making it a day-to-day part of our culture. I ride and advocate to increase that number, because that’s the number that eventually will truly make all the difference.

      Again, thanks for dropping by. Catch you riding around.

    • November 3, 2009 at 11:00 PM

      Eddie:

      I also strongly disagree with what Daniel says.

      But you’re being unfair. As he says:

      “This is a good place to make something very clear: I am interested in having a conversation, not an argument. This isn’t personal; I don’t dislike nor have anything against those that ride in Critical Mass. I dislike the entity of Critical Mass…”

      We owe him the benefit of the doubt, so I will take him at his word and assume good intent on his part, as I address his issues in turn…

      —The Bikemessenger

      • November 4, 2009 at 12:21 AM

        Thanks, Robert.

        Folks (in general), remember I could have just said “CM-ers are all poopyheads” or worse yet, not said anything at all. I’m not interested in insulting, nor in ignoring. I don’t mind disagreements either and I respect everyone’s point of view. Conversations are what gets us ahead.

  3. allison
    November 3, 2009 at 11:31 PM

    why didn’t you actually join us for a critical mass ride before you launched into a lengthy criticism of the event? you appear to have a pre-existing bias against critical mass which makes your opinionated rant weak. without having experienced all the “law-breaking” and “flagrant violations” this “mob” creates firsthand, you are simply assuming that critical mass riders are aggravating and antagonizing motorists.

    I have attended a handful of the critical mass rides and couldn’t disagree with you more. as a small, female rider in miami, I never feel more comfortable than with the critical mass group. the great majority of motorists express encouragement, excitement, interest, and yes, some confusion (until a friendly “corker” explains our purpose to them) when they first encounter a mass ride. but there absolutely is not an onslaught of angry or vengeful drivers as we ride through miami – especially as these rides take place after 7pm on friday evenings – well outside the time frame that could further hinder rush hour traffic.

    I believe that critical mass is raising awareness about cycling in miami – the group gets larger and more diverse with each month (but you would have no knowledge of this other than what you read articles and blogs). these cyclists are not breaking the law when they “take the road” as legally we are allowed to take up the entire lane for safety. also, you have no basis, logical or evidential, for making the ridiculous claim that a motorist will be angered by the critical mass group and then later take their revenge on the next unsuspecting biker they see. cyclists are injured and killed most often by drivers who are impaired, distracted, and/or unaware.

    watch (and think about) what you say. no one appreciates a naysayer, especially one who so clearly has little idea what they’re talking about. we are all entitled to our opinions, but as the cliche goes, “don’t knock it ’til you try it.”

    please see the sites I listed below to further elucidate my points here – as I am basing my opinion of critical mass on my personal experience, local and national evidence and statistics, and miami laws.

    http://miamibikescene.blogspot.com/2009/11/17-yo-bicyclist-killed-by-speeding-car.html
    http://www.wsvn.com/news/articles/local/MI95124/
    http://www.transitmiami.com/2008/05/29/taking-the-lane-with-florida-bicycle-laws/
    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/28/who-causes-cyclists-deaths/

    • November 4, 2009 at 12:34 AM

      Thanks for your comment, Allison.
      As I clearly state right at the start, I can’t attend any of the Miami CMs because they happen on Shabbat (I am Orthodox Jew, so Shabbats are out of the question). I didn’t hide that I haven’t been on any CM ride, or where I was taking my information.

      Again I must state that I’m sure that the CM rides are awesome, and there’s no doubt that there is safety in numbers. That’s not what’s in question here. Just because as bicyclists we are allowed to take the lane doesn’t mean that we can take the entire roadway, not even when there’s a whole bunch of us.

      CM is raising awareness of bicycling in Miami simply by default; it’s hard to miss 100, 200 or 300 bike riders flying by. Whether it is actually helping propel better biking legislation or converting people to support bike projects and legislation, that is up for debate.

      • K
        November 15, 2009 at 12:34 AM

        there are sunday critical mass rides too. they alternate between saturday and sunday.

        the cm group only corks when the light turns red and the whole group hasnt finished crossing. it would be more dangerous to have half the group stop (potentially causing accidetns) and splitting up the group. the cars that have to wait rarely have to wait more than 20 seconds for the cyclists to finish crossing the intersection.

  4. NSK
    November 3, 2009 at 11:53 PM

    It’s hard to leave a negative comment to your piece here, Daniel, because you pretty loudly advocate “style over speed” and “slow” bicycling. These two points are fundamentally opposed to those which most CMers – and most young Miami bicyclists, from what I’ve seen – espouse; you’re the exception, not the rule.

    And from what I can tell, you’re fundamentally opposed to CM for the MEANS (corking, running red lights, “mardi gras”) through which it supports its goal (public support and recognition for bicycles). So, you like the goal, but you don’t like the means.

    Tell me if I’m wrong, so far.

    Here’s my point, and the point I think most thoughtful CMers would make: CM’s means are the ONLY way for it to support its ends. When we run stop lights, cork streets, wear ridiculous costumes, and hoot and holler, we’re demanding notice of ourselves as cyclists. There’s no other viable way for us to be noticed in this city.

    Bike Miami days separate bicycles from cars in cordoned-off areas. This doesn’t help us in our day-to-day traffic-filled commutes, since we commute among cars.

    Town hall meetings with Manny Diaz seem to result mostly in feel-good photo sessions, but I wonder how much substantive change we’ll see, beyond a few bicycle racks around town.

    Here’s my background: I’m a daily bicycle commuter, I’m a white-collar worker, and I’m a proud Critical Mass rider. There are lots like me. Anarchy, in this context, isn’t a dirty word.

    • November 4, 2009 at 1:28 AM

      Thanks for the comment, NSK.
      You pretty much got it there, yes. Bike Miami Rides, for example, achieve the same result–public visibility of large groups of bicyclists–while following the rules of the road. So it can be done, and frankly, that’s all I would like to see.

      I understand that when you’re dealing with over 100 riders things get tricky; I’m not blind to that reality, but I also think that there are solutions to the tactics that break the rules of the road that are not explored in lieu of “sticking it to the (car) Man” so to speak.

      I agree with you that Bike Miami Days doesn’t serve the same goal, but then again, what goal are we talking about? Because all I read/hear over and over is that CM is a celebration, etc, and I believe that Bike Miami Days has the celebration angle better covered. By the same token, CM isn’t really teaching people about bikes and cars sharing the road, not the riders, who are getting the wrong idea/lesson on how to ride on the road, nor the drivers, who are not being exposed to the correct way to expect riders to ride.

      Lastly, I’ll have to disagree with you on the last statement: there is no context in which Anarchy isn’t a dirty word (except for the song ‘Anarchy in the UK’). I realize that one of the ways in which Anarchy can be defined is in the context of an Utopian society where general consensus replaces government, but that’s as much sci-fi as starships. The problem with Anarchy is that everyone has their own definition, and none really stand above the other. And if Anarchy is okay in the context of bikers riding in Critical Mass, then it can also be okay in the context of an irate driver who decides to not put up with it, G-d forbid. This goes to the heart of my entire post: we have rules, and they apply to all of us.

      Thanks again for dropping by, I appreciate your time and thoughts.

    • November 5, 2009 at 12:32 PM

      Something that slipped by me the first readthrough just caught my attention and I wanted to ask you about it.

      You said,

      It’s hard to leave a negative comment to your piece here, Daniel, because you pretty loudly advocate “style over speed” and “slow” bicycling. These two points are fundamentally opposed to those which most CMers – and most young Miami bicyclists, from what I’ve seen – espouse; you’re the exception, not the rule.

      What exactly are the points that “CMers – and most young Miami bicyclists, from what [you]’ve seen – espouse” that I am fundamentally opposed to by advocating slow bicycling?

      Is it speed and/or racing? Because this is what I mean when I say “slow bicycling” and it actually matches fairly close to what Critical Mass supposedly espouses.

      Could you perhaps explain this a bit more?

      • NSK
        November 5, 2009 at 1:56 PM

        Your views might be in line with “what Critical Mass supposedly espouses,” but your views aren’t in line with most CM’s PARTICIPANTS’ views. There’s a disconnect there; the idea v. the people.

        Maybe you haven’t seen the views of the vocal majority of Miami cyclists, Daniel, since you don’t participate in CM. I’ll also assume you haven’t shared beers at the end of a Loose Cannons, cheered at a Miami Lightning Sprints, carried 22mph up the Rickenbacker bridge 60-deep on a Johnny Rockets ride, attended a goldsprints at Keirin, or slurped down a mango milkshake at Robert Is Here during a Larios ride.

        Your “slow bicycle” ideal “is a celebration of the bicycle… not as a speed machine or a tool for tribal membership but merely as an enjoyable way to get around.”

        I’d contend that most of us who ride in Miami celebrate bicycles BECAUSE they’re speed machines and tools for tribal membership. We like going fast, and we like hanging out with other bicycle people. Your “slow bicycle” movement is contrary to the vocal majority. I’m not saying you’re wrong – obviously you’re entitled to your perspective. Rather, I’m saying it was difficult to leave a negative comment to your post here, since your perspective is so vastly different than the vocal majority here in Miami.

      • November 6, 2009 at 7:19 AM

        So you’re saying that Critical Mass is really a ride to ride fast/promote riding fast? At least in the minds of what you term the “vocal majority?”

        I can’t address each individual’s definition of what a CM ride is, so I have to address the concept itself. Which is fine, it’s precisely what I’m interested in: making the individual riders realize that, whatever their own understanding of what a CM ride is, there is a greater overarching idea that is intrinsically attached to the name/brand Critical Mass that they are also, knowingly or unknowingly, supporting.

        Have I been to any of those events? No; since I’m not into speed, they just don’t call my attention (and in the case of the Loose Cannons and Alley Cat races, we go back to the issue of breaking the rules of the road); I do live near Keirin now, so I’d like to check out the goldsprints at some point. I have hung out at the end of a Bike Miami Day or Ride, having a beer and chatting with other bicyclists, so while maybe not at those specific gatherings, I have indeed just been there as part of the general pedaling “tribe.”

        As for whether speed is the vocal majority in Miami, I’ll concede that speedsters do indeed seem to make up a good amount of the cyclists on the road, but I don’t know I’d call them a majority, not when you also factor in everyone who just rides their bike because that’s how they move around, that’s how they go to Publix, or take their children to school, or go to FIU, etc. Add in all those people riding their bikes in Hialeah, or Little Haiti, for example, all the commuters, all the folks with their Sunday beach cruisers, and what constitutes the majority is not that clear anymore.

  5. November 4, 2009 at 2:25 AM

    “The main reason I dislike Critical Mass is because, in essence, it is a mob, one on two (more) wheels that decides to take rules and regulations into their own hands. Critical Mass’ famous slogan, “We are traffic,” sounds fantastic except the CM mob does not behave as such…”

    “…corking intersections and red lights, these are not things done by traffic; they are, quite the contrary, flagrant violations of the rules of the road…”

    “If cars, motorcycles, or 18-wheel trucks pulled the same stunts there would be outrage and legal action, but when it’s bikes it’s a “celebration of cycling.” I don’t think so.”

    “to quote David Moulton”…’It is a group of people having fun at the expense of a larger group of people, namely other road users…’

    No, we are not a “mob”, that is both an unfair and inaccurate characterization.

    I don’t wear the “We Are Traffic” t-shirt.

    Why? I don’t disagree with the assertion. It’s an interesting quirk of the human mind that it formulates a valid, fact-based truth and proceeds to treat it as a comprehensive summation of all that is relevant.

    But perhaps I ask too much of a mere t-shirt. Yes, we ARE traffic. But we are that and more.

    We are community. We are diverse, but brought together by a common interest. And most importantly, we come together to engage in a very interactive group experience.

    One that requires that we maintain group cohesion.

    The motorist, by contrast is brought by shortage of material supply AND NOTHING ELSE.

    “Rush” hour traffic, gridlock. An over-abundance of users; a paucity of road space. That is typical automobile traffic.

    They too are traffic. But they are ONLY traffic. Their coming together is the source of their misery.

    Occasionally, one observes an isolated act of kindness by one motorist to another. These are rare, brief and simple encounters that poignantly offer no basis for social bonding. Pathos.

    As I ride past and through the group, from one corking to the next, I see and hear interactions of higher orders of complexity and nuance…

    Rather than railing against us for daring to challenge the motored aristocracy for our rightful space on the road, perhaps you should complement us for thoughtfully scheduling our activities to avoid the worst times of motorist density.

    Once they step out of their cars, it’s clear these entities are our peers, indeed, members of the same biological species.

    Yet, in these discussions, they are granted superior standing as the given.

    I mean to take that given back.

    We really need to put the “we can’t do that, the motorists won’t like it.” argument to rest.

    Let’s employ a little sense of proportion, shall we?

    Stand on the corner of any major intersection during peak hours; observe all the harm the motorists do to each other by their mere presence.

    Most of them go through this twice a day.

    TWICE A DAY.

    But this is throughly acceptable, as it is the norm. A bizarre world norm. But as it is the norm, it must be accepted and for the purpose of this discussion, discounted.

    Yet, you complain bitterly about the infinitesimally minor, by contrast, inconvenience suffered at our hands ONCE A MONTH.

    “I find it hinders…the cause of urban bicycling as a day-to-day activity and needlessly pits cyclists, all cyclists, into an us-vs-them conflict with motorists.”

    “Critical Mass purports to bring to attention bicyclists’ rights to the road. Awesome. Except the way it is done ends up alienating the people in the multi-ton vehicles with whom we have to share that same road…”

    There is throughout this and most anti-CM writings an implicit conflation of popularity with respect.

    If we wish to promote cycling, then we must endeavor to achieve respect.

    We don’t this by gaging our actions solely on the basis of being found agreeable by motorists.

    That end is best achieved by getting rid of our bikes and using cars.

    “What you just accomplished is that next time one of those drivers sees a cyclist on the road they may decide to lump us all together, or worse yet, take it out on the cyclist.”

    But it is you who attempt to “lump us all together”. A futile effort, as we will continue to be distinct individuals. There is no way to standardize and micro-manage our behavior so that it does not offend the motorists, as viewed from one individual’s perspective; your’s or anyone else’s.

    “It…creates false expectations about urban bicycling and does nothing to encourage a shift into a bicycling lifestyle, not to mention it encourages illegal riding as a norm.”

    That’s rather nebulous and unsubstantiated. What can be more encouraging of “a shift into a bicycling lifestyle” than for people to go out and have a good experience on their bikes?

    “Occupying all lanes to the exclusion of motorists…”

    Here I must agree with you to a point. There are many occasions when the group is spread out across the thruway more than necessary.

    We have a right to take the space we need, but we could do better at sharing the road. While we fight for our rights, we should not forget that even those who oppose us also have rights. They do not forfeit theirs, even as they deny ours. We must avoid moral relativism.

    “Want to exercise your right to the road? Follow the laws that dictate how we have to ride on the road. They’re not hard to find; here’s a link. Want to hold a massive bike ride that can go through red lights/intersections? Awesome; contact the City and arrange it as an event and get the Police dept to provide an escort that can legally manipulate traffic to the ride’s favor.”

    So, all of your objections to these heinous injustices we visit upon the poor, downtrodden motorist would be quite acceptable, were a few of our conspirators police officers?

    [Whew, can I do sarcasm, or what?]

    Which is it, Daniel? Are our actions inherently wrong, or is there no moral element involved?

    Personally, I can name a lot of injustices that operate under explicit legal mandate.

    ‘Miami, police Chief John Timoney…“We’re not going to take them on,” Timoney said. “We are all pro-bikes here. We should all just get along, right?”’

    That, and you want even more formality of mandate?

    “… why not help them achieve the same results with police escort?”

    What exactly is your problem? Do we over-step the boundaries of our rights and impinge on the rights of others, or are we merely not sufficiently bureaucratic?

    “The other thing I get to hear/read a lot is how Critical Mass has done so much to spotlight the cycling cause in Miami…It worked, you’re being paid attention…”

    If you stop to examine this remark, you’ll see a hypocritical contradiction. To wit, your objections to CM are of a nature that they argue against the activity under any circumstance; it, by nature cannot achieve worthy ends. Yet now you argue that we should stop, as our worthy ends have been achieved!

    “Critical Mass is no exception. When you participate in a Critical Mass ride you are associating with a legacy of almost-anarchic activism that tends to attract some disruptive elements that revel in the mob mentality and freedom alongside those just in for the fun…”

    Well, yes of course. But is that not inevitable in this sort of activity on the large a scale?

    The leaders and organizers of these events do an excellent job of restraining the wilder elements judiciously. And yes, that does upon occasion apply to me.

    We live in a time of social upheaval, wrought of runaway, unbridled expansion of authoritarianism.

    But stability and harmony require a natural balance of chaos and order.

    In human society, demand for strict, unquestioning adherence to rules is precisely the opposite of what is needed.

    “…Associating with a legacy of almost-anarchic activism…” is something to which I admit with pride.

    In these days, it is civic duty.

    Or so says the seminal founding document of the country, The Declaration of Independence.

    Worshipers of the Socialist/Imperialist criminal gang we laughingly call the federal government of the United States, and traffic law dogmatists alike should ponder the words in that documents first few paragraphs.

    Regards,
    —The Bikemessenger

    P.S.–I think you start off with a reasonably accurate understanding of CM, for someone who does not attend. Hopefully, this discussion will deepen your understanding. As an atheist, I must respect you adherence to your beliefs, and object to those who are dismissive. I know how difficult it is to hold minority veiws on these matters and you are clearly making the effort to compensate for lack of direct experience.
    .-= Robert Noval´s last blog… Robot Cyclists To The Rescue =-.

    • November 4, 2009 at 11:50 AM

      Hey, Robert. Thanks for taking the time to write a (very long) reply. Let me tackle this in parts.

      There is an essential difference of opinion between us that dominates my post and your reply and goes to the heart of most of your points, or my answer to them: Inherently, I trust rules and government while my impression is that you are inherently distrustful of both. I do not condone of anarchy, while you take it as a right and a source of pride; a civic duty. Right there we have our divide, so the most we can hope for is to meet near the fence.

      You are ascribing a higher purpose to the CM rides than even it ascribes itself. I believe when you say that to you they are a gathering of community, but I’d venture to say this would not be a view held by more than 10% of the riders in any given mass. Most do it for the fun of it, by their own admission. The very chaotic nature of CM precludes it having such an unified, altruistic mission.

      You are also, unfairly I believe, ascribing a purpose to drivers, falling into the us-vs-them dichotomy. There is no us-vs-them. Sometimes I am one of “them” as well, as are a significantly large amount of Miami bicyclists, most of which are weekend warriors not majority-of-the-time bike commuters like you. Us-vs-them is not a tactic I condone either; I’m not interested in that conflict because it doesn’t lead anywhere but to aggravation on all parts. By your definition, if a group of those motorists would gather for “community” then they’d be in the same right as CM to perform actions that break the rules and find justification in that, except with multi-ton vehicles instead.

      I’m not anti-car, but I am pro-bike. I drive when I need to, and even if I am in the process of getting rid of my car in favor of using my bike more, we are still keeping my wife’s car. My interest is not in an us-vs-them because to me, to us, to most bicyclists in this city, there is no us-vs-them division. I’m far more interested in behaving correctly when both on my bike and in my car and teaching others how to do the same, both by example and by education.

      Scheduling CM at 7 PM instead of 5 or 6 is somewhat thoughtful, yes, but in a city with a 4 to 5-hour “rush hour” traffic that is still up for debate. Being disruptive to a lesser group of people is still being disruptive.

      I also do not let motorists off the hook just like that. All drivers need to know and be aware that we have a legal right to the road, but that legal right is ruled by a set of laws that governs how each of us riding on the asphalt need to behave. If not what we have is chaos and anarchy, and as I already replied to a comment above, I can never condone anarchy. Anarchy’s all well and good until it is the other guy infringing on your space, and on the roads, if anarchy ruled, we stand to lose, period.

      Whether CM really did anything to bring attention to bicycling in the city is something I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to. *People who ride in CM* certainly did have influence, yes, but that’s not the same as the CM ride.

      Let me ask you, if the CM ride was held with police escort that legally granted you the ability to manipulate traffic in order to keep the group together but also enforced the other rules for bicyclists on the road, would that still be acceptable? Would that still be considered a Critical Mass, or can Critical Mass only be when it’s done in a state of pseudo-anarchy? If the former, then why not seek such legitimization? If the latter, then there’s really no redeeming quality to CM, in my opinion.

      I’d like to leave out issues of Socialism/Imperialism/etc because that’s just another can of worms that is not what this blog is about.

      Thanks for the time if took you to write this, Robert. I appreciate it.

      • November 5, 2009 at 1:41 AM

        Ok, it may not be the view of 10% or even .000010% of the riders in any given mass that it is a gathering of community. But that’s my perspective, from which it may not occur to them to look.

        That has no bearing on whether or not it IS a gathering of community.

        The dynamics of human interaction on any order of magnitude beyond a small, intimate handful are not so easily defined by the perspectives or opinions of the participants.

        There are cumulative effects which are not consequent to the conscious decision-making or views of individuals.

        What we observe here any or may not be “community”, however we may choose to define it.

        But either way, it may be so consistently or inconsistently with the views and opinions of the participants.

        As you put it,”*People who ride in CM* certainly did have influence, yes, but that’s not the same as the CM ride.”

        “There is no us-vs-them.”, you say. I don’t mean to suggest there is, in any broad sense.

        But that there is an element of hostility that manifests occasionally in the behavior of a motorist cannot be denied.

        I do not operate in an “us-verses-them” paradigm. I see how it may appear so, however, as I am focused on dealing with the material manifestations.

        To the contrary, I characterize myself as a peace advocate.

        I strive for peaceful co-existence between cyclist and motorist.

        An essential element of that is mutual respect.

        When one party to an encounter is so much more powerful than the other [i.e., the motorist], of course it’s sometimes necessary to show them that you [the cyclist] are the stronger.

        That’s a crucial distinction. Power can be bought at a gun shop or auto dealership; strength must be brought forth from within.

        In re.: “If the former, then why not seek such legitimization? If the latter, then there’s really no redeeming quality to CM, in my opinion.”

        This is really not as fundamental a question as you seem to think.

        Therefore, a correct answer will vary from situation to situation.

        In our current state, “such legitimization” would serve no purpose—we are already achieving the desired end.

        You’re allowing your bias to slant your observation here.

        Order has it’s place. So does chaos. Closer examination shows all the ills ascribed to chaos result from excesses of order.

        Unbounded, unchecked, unrevisable order leads to stagnation, uniformity and ultimately extinction.

        It is the power of the individual human mind that is the fountainhead of humanity’s success and advancement.

        It is the dominance of order that keeps social insects in their place over countless millennia.

        Clearly, man’s nature commands it to take chances, to imagine—to err on the side chaos.

        I apologize for these digressions. These are things on my mind; it’s hard not to associate them with the subject, but I concur with keeping the can of worms shut.

        And besides, I seem to have had my say.

        Regards,
        —Robert
        .-= Robert Noval´s last blog… Robot Cyclists To The Rescue =-.

      • November 5, 2009 at 12:26 PM

        Again, the differences in our inherent natures put us at opposite sides of the fence, even if we can talk through the holes in it. I am not a radical, even if I am an idealist. I trust rules, laws and government even if I know it is my duty to be vigilant of those who run these institutions. I believe that a peaceful, consistent example has more strength (using your definition above) than disruptive bursts of chaos, even if chaos is an essential force of nature.

        I think we’ve reached a length where further examinations are better had in person than in writing. Perhaps one day.

        Ultimately, I did not have the idea of changing anyone’s mind (nor was naive enough to think my piece would) nor the intention. Those who like it will like it despite/because of the illicitness of it, those who don’t like it do not need me to tell them why they don’t. My goal, if any, was to make people *think* what exactly they are supporting when they organize/join a Critical Mass ride; at least if you’re gonna do it, do it knowing full well what you are associating with and promoting. I don’t like drones nor willful ignorance. I respect those who do it knowing full well what they do and what they support, even if I don’t agree.

      • November 5, 2009 at 2:56 PM

        Agreed.

        —Robert
        .-= Robert Noval´s last blog… Robot Cyclists To The Rescue =-.

  6. Christine Velez
    November 5, 2009 at 1:34 PM

    Daniel – I couldn’t agree with you more. As much as I would like to support Critical Mass for its goals, its means are seriously antagonistic, and I don’t buy for one second that you HAVE to be antagonistic as a cyclist to be noticed. In fact, I think boldly breaking the traffic laws simply confirms the stereotype that we bicyclists don’t think rules apply to us.

    I am from Chicago and bike almost everywhere almost daily, including through the Chicago Loop during rush hour, and I can tell you that I seem to be noticed more when I am clearly obeying the rules. Truck drivers wave me through when I use hand signals; I got nods of courtesy when I pause at a stop sign to let the crossing driver take their turn.

    I do live in a neighborhood with cyclists abound, including myself, so I am used to also being a motorist and pedestrian amidst cyclists. But on more than one occasion, I have had travel plans hijacked by CM. Once I was unexpectedly stuck in a cab for 12 rounds of a stoplight (12!) because I got caught in the CM path on the way to a dinner reservation. I can tell you that I and my friends were NOT hootin’ and hollering in the cab out of approval as our cab fare creeped up while we were just sitting there because of CM and we were late for our Friday night plans.

    I’ve seen CM riders plowing through red lights, slamming their hands on the hoods of cars who even slowly try to cross their path (even if the car has the green light).

    And people honestly think these tactics advocate FOR urban cycling? I do see clear evidence that they infuriate motorists and pedestrians alike. And we should all be sharing the road.

    The Critical Mass rides do sound like a lot of fun, but the act of taking over the streets and brazenly disobeying the rules of the road we ride on do nothing to advocate for why cycling is a legitimate form of transportation.

    I do participate in sanctioned rides, especially Bike the Drive, which closes off Lake Shore Drive for bicyclists. Until CM finds a way to make their event legit, I’ll never participate.

    • November 6, 2009 at 2:02 AM

      Once cycling were to become normalized, such terms and phrases as “we bicyclists” would lose coherence.

      We never speak, for example, of “we shoe wearers” or “we in-door plumbing users”, do we?

      Before we use the term “we bicyclists”, we need ponder it’s validity in the light of our differences.

      The mere fact that cycling is NOT a this point in time the social norm, of necessity, leaves it’s advancement not to those ensconced in the status quo.

      Not to those predisposed to not “rock the boat” so to speak, or who’s inclinations and/or vested interests on the main are served by the status quo, but who expect the benefits of fundamental change without the essential strife and upheaval.

      No, it is to the disaffected, to those of us on the outside looking in, to which history delegates the initiation of meaningful change.

      So of course you’ll never participate; to accommodate you, or become “legit” as you say, would preempt it’s very purpose.

      Cycling per se is not “legit”, may we at least agree on that?

      CM is the essence of that illegitimacy on public display.

      Ultimately, if CM succeeds in it’s goals, the irony will be that as it fades away, having served it’s purpose, those of us who worked for that success will continue to be reviled.

      And the value of our efforts denied.

      Such is our existential position.

      —The Bikemessenger
      .-= Robert Noval´s last blog… Robot Cyclists To The Rescue =-.

      • November 6, 2009 at 12:57 PM

        Why is cycling per se not legit?

        We’re not in the 60s, it isn’t the same world. The same tactics that worked 50 years ago need to be heavily reexamined and rethought to see how they can/need to be modified, or if they even serve a purpose anymore.

        There’s a certain tone of martyrdom to your reply, Robert, that leaves me a bit baffled.

      • Christine Velez
        November 6, 2009 at 4:15 PM

        Robert, you and I represent two fundamentally different views on this issue:

        You seem to view bicycling as a “social” stance. I view it simply as an enjoyable, economical, convenient form of transportation. It represents nothing about my social views, simply that I like cycling.

        You also believe that cycling is illegitimate and not normalized. Or is it that you believe that’s what others think? Why is it not legitimate? (I did grow up in a town where a tractors or combines were legit transportation, but they still have to drive within the law, albeit very slow).

        I contend that if bikes are to be normalized, then we should MAKE them normalized. Ride them, daily and lawfully. Show motorists and pedestrians that we deserve to be on the streets as much as they do. Hold sanctioned rides the way that pedestrians hold sanctioned runs and walks. You call this viewpoint giving in to the status quo, but isn’t the point TO have cities better integrate cyclists in the traffic design? For motorists and pedestrians to have a better respect for cyclists?

        I also contend that fulfilling the stereotype of the renegade urban cyclist by having large masses illegally disrupt traffic and brag about it IS satisfying the interests of the status quo because that’s what most already believe — that cyclists think they’re above the law.

        When large groups of bicyclists bully their way into oncoming traffic, what positive awareness does that affect? Publicly calling it “spreading awareness and happiness” doesn’t change the act itself.

        We could probably agree that we think more people should ride bikes and that it should be easier for cyclists to do so. I hope we can at least agree on these beliefs.

        But I think that diminishing or dismissing the fact that many people simply want to live their lives within the law and not kill or be killed on their way from A to B is CM’s missed opportunity for building greater support from not only motorists but other cyclists like me.

        If you want to dismiss convention and always be “on the outside looking in,” that’s certainly up to you. But from my own experience, I can tell you that I was sold on bicycling (again, almost everywhere almost daily) by seeing my friends and others do it safely and intelligently.

      • November 9, 2009 at 3:23 AM

        “…you and I represent two fundamentally different views on this issue:

        You seem to view bicycling as a “social” stance…”

        That is quite accurate.

        It also implies a lack of historical perspective. This you may not be not be in a position to avoid, depending upon your experience of cycling in South Florida.

        Mine goes back many decades. Very late in life, I look back to a time when at a major intersection, while today you might see 10 to 15 cylists go by every few hours, you might see one or two all day. You might see none.

        Today, if something happens to make driving more burdensome, cycling is regarded as a viable option.

        Back in the 1970s, when there was a gasoline shortage, resulting in long and sometimes futile waits at gas stations, few considered switching to bicycles.

        When I told my downtown Miami employer I wanted to commute by bike from my home in North Miami…well, he already regarded me as a bit of a loon, but he agreed to accomodate me with in-shop parking.

        The current state of affairs is a result of the efforts of those of us who took to a vastly more hostile road than can be found today.

        While the laws may not have changed, the motorist’s attitude has. Then, virtually all motorists expected to behave on the road as bicyles did not exist.

        The standard assumption was that cycling was exclusively a young child’s recreation; that any adult who practiced it was seriously mentally defective and was not engaged in practical transportation.

        And therefore could reasonably be expected to stay out of the way, even when they legally had the right-of-way.

        It was then for me a matter of course to expect shock and surprise when I would take the mortal risk of excercising my legal right of way when crossing paths with motorists.

        This was not an occasional hazard, or even so little as a daily occurance. It was on-going, constant routine.

        That the situation is substantially improved is not a result of your approach to cycling.

        But rather, that of the efforts of that small number of us who’s pioneering blazed a trail, so to speak, that allows your approach to become feasable.

        You may find no peaceful coexistence with those who do not respect you.

        Are you really satisfied with the degree of respect you currently enjoy from motorists?

        I can recall when said respect was most literally non-existent.

        Having come from square one, I must concede that matters are improved. But there are still many motorists out there who expect to intimidate the cyclist.

        May we also hope that they encounter me before they encounter you?

        —The Bikemessenger
        .-= Robert Noval´s last blog… Robot Cyclists To The Rescue =-.

      • November 9, 2009 at 8:00 AM

        Robert, that kind of roadway climate during the 70s was the same everywhere in the US with very few exceptions. We are a culture that worships the car, something we can blame on the 50s to a large degree. So yeah, using anything but a car to move around in this country was just tantamount to spitting in the face of what made America great. Truth is this was the case in many other cities around the world, if not in the 70s then in the 60s or 50s. Amsterdam and Copenhagen, arguably the two most bike-friendly cities in the world, did not just get that way on the goodwill of their motorists, but rather thanks to visionary politicians that created a series of projects and plans for the future. Much like we’ve been doing in Miami over the past 2 years.

        Please understand, I respect greatly your years of experience biking in South Florida. I’ve just been here for 14 years, and seriously biking for about 2, so I know I stand in the shoulders of people who braved a roadway climate that makes our current one appear tame.

        But my point is that times have changed, and the heavy-handed approach that was necessary earlier on, when there was just no cognitive acceptance of a bike on the road and that had to be implanted, is not the same one needed now, when the overall majority of drivers are at the very least aware that bicyclists are out there and riding. Yes, there is still a lot of education to be disseminated so that drivers and bicyclists both know what is expected of each other when they are both on the road (the rules I keep harping on about), but even you acknowledge that things are much better today. It is just a simple principle of education that learning progress is encouraged with positive reinforcement, not by berating over what is yet to be achieved.

        So who we hope motorists meet first depends on that principle: Do we want motorists to learn by reinforcement of proper behavior by bicyclists following the rules ascribed to them by the law, or do we want them to learn from coming across chaotic bursts of revelry in our two-wheeled rights to the detriment and exclusion of theirs?

      • November 9, 2009 at 11:12 PM

        Daniel:

        The heavy-handed approach, unfortunately, still has it’s application.

        Let us not forget that there are still individuals out there driving cars that simply do not accept cycling as a legitimate activity on the road.

        Let us not forget who the initiator of these conflicts is.

        And let us not forget that each motorist is an individual and must be dealt with as such.

        Therefore, any given response is of necessity, applicable only in some cases.

        I would describe the matter in question as a strong response, rather than a heavy handed approach.

        As cyclists, we have no “heavy hand”. And as a response, by definition, it must be elicited by the aggressor.

        I never have a conflict with a motorist who respects our rights. To the contrary.

        I was thinking about this this afternoon as I approached the intersection of S.W. 2nd Ave. and 1st St., eastbound, riding on the left.

        This is a point of frequent left turns. Sure enough, as I reached the intersection, a car overtook me from my right and slowed to allow me to pass through the intersection before making their turn.

        My reaction was to speed up and cut across their path in a manner designed to get me out of their way as quickly as possible.

        I don’t just stand up to those who challenge our rights; I try to accommodate those who do.

        It is gratifying to me that what I describe above as an “…on-going, constant routine.” is now substantially less frequent.

        But does still occur. And while historical perspective is essential to understanding, one must still respond appropriately to one’s current circumstance.

        —The Bikemessenger
        .-= Robert Noval´s last blog… Robot Cyclists To The Rescue =-.

      • November 9, 2009 at 11:52 PM

        By now we’ve moved beyond the realm of the Mass to that of the individual, so that’s a whole ‘nother conversation. Let’s leave this here and pick it up whenever I address the issue of the rights and responsibilities of individuals riding a bike.

      • November 10, 2009 at 1:52 AM

        Agreed
        .-= Robert Noval´s last blog… Robot Cyclists To The Rescue =-.

  7. November 6, 2009 at 10:48 AM

    Great blog & great to see so much debate about the finer points of cycling (ie is CM a good thing or not) – remember this discussion could only happen if there were enough people who cared about cycling in the first place, so that’s encouraging, right?

    Daniel – I’ve added a link to my blogroll to your blog over at i b i k e l o n d o n

    Keep on peddlin’ people!
    .-= MarkA´s last blog… y o u b i k e l o n d o n; Richard from Elephant & Castle =-.

    • November 6, 2009 at 1:02 PM

      Thanks for the comment, Mark. I’ll be checking out your blog as well.

  8. dario
    November 7, 2009 at 6:52 PM

    Hi Daniel,
    As I read your piece, you believe Critical Mass does not help the 2-wheeled cause because it revels in group action which is often contrary to the rules of traffic.
    I prefer to understand CM as a celebration or light-hearted demonstration. It brings participants together, which strengthens cycling bonds, and shows drivers and pedestrians that, yes, we are present. Daniel, the fun is essential and as the group grows it is even more crucial. It is far better that an unstructured crowd comes together to have fun than to exact vengeance; CM is not a mob intending to hurt motorists, damage cars or even break the rules of traffic. The last of these happens mostly because of the size of the group. Bicyclist don’t have to unite to run lights, we can do this acting as less than perfectly responsible individuals. Fun is also essential because it keeps us motivated to work toward daunting tasks without embracing an attitude of conflict. Thanks for reminding me that I should always keep a costume nearby for those moments I need to do something serious. What is important is that we do something, these efforts are varied and I think that is fine. We are a diverse people with many strengths and there is lots to be done.

    • November 8, 2009 at 5:27 PM

      Hi, Dario. Thanks for dropping by and thanks for introducing yourself last night at Sleepless Night. It was very nice meeting you.

      I’m afraid that you misunderstood me and my post. I am not against groups at all. I love going for a group ride, and I know firsthand how much fun it is. I take issue with Critical Mass because it, here and elsewhere in the country, endemically features tactics that are against the rules of the road in order to ensure the success of the CM ride itself. It purports to promote the cause of bicycles on streets, of being recognized as traffic, of ensuring that bicyclists can rightfully be on the road where they belong, but they go about it by flouting all the rules that are there to prescribe how bicycles are to behave on the road so that both bicyclists and drivers know what to do and expect from each other.

      How each rider prefers to understand CM is, honestly, irrelevant. With an entity like CM, without any structured leadership or organization, it can be harder to pin down one overarching goal, but nevertheless, the name, the brand, Critical Mass stands for these goals which I mentioned above. If Miami’s (or any other city’s) CM rides are not going with the understood goal attached to the brand, then why use it? Why take on that hassle?

      We already have a very strong stereotype working against us, that of cyclists being above the laws of the road. CM does not do anything to dispel this; on the contrary, it reinforces it. That the rides are a lot of fun, as I don’t doubt they are, is besides the point.

  9. Leah
    November 9, 2009 at 11:13 PM

    Whew! Took me a little while to catch up with everything. But now that I have…

    I heard about this debate going on, and I was going to stay out of it until Daniel asked me to bring up a point I made briefly on his Facebook page. So, here I am, contributing my two cents to the conversation. I’d like to address a few things, and I will try to avoid being too long-winded or tangential.

    This was a very fair-minded and cogent critique of Critical Mass. There are points you address in which I am in absolute agreement. On the Friday night rides in particular, I do wish people would stay in one lane. There have been a number of unfortunate debacles in intersections–perhaps the poster above who sat through 12 light cycles got stuck in the midst of one. However, I don’t think that’s a flaw of Critical Mass as an event, but rather a lack of self-enforcement among cyclists. As with anything else in its nascence, there are growing pains. I’ve said on a number of occasions that participants on rides should reach consensus about staying in one lane, both for safety reasons and to respect motorists. Just because there is no hierarchical structure does NOT mean that there cannot be leadership or ground rules.

    Now, to step up on my little soapbox here: First of all, Daniel, you state in your post that the earliest evidence you see of Critical Mass in Miami is from January 2008. Perhaps you were unable to locate a record, but this is not accurate. The folks from Emerge Miami (predating my own foray into cycling and bicycle advocacy) recently celebrated the three year anniversary of the Saturday morning ride. As you can see from our Meetup page, this is an event that Emerge organizers have put their efforts into for awhile. In other words, our legitimacy in local government is a relatively new development in Miami’s cycling community–one, by the way, which was largely due to forces of serendipity.

    I would also like to take issue with the way you characterize the spirit of activism in this whole conversation. While I respect that you don’t agree with the “anarchic” spirit, I think you are denigrating the act of self-organization, which I believe is more powerful than any official bureaucracy can ever be. Maybe I am a little more radical than you are, and that’s okay. I also recognize that utopian-anarchist ideals sound nice, but require a high degree of moral principle among individuals which is unrealistic. Still, I don’t think it is fair to completely dismiss the principles of radical activism.

    That brings me to my final point, the one I alluded to on your Facebook page. Critical Mass is an important group demonstration to motorists, an act of non-violent civil disobedience. This has been an effective tactic for many different types of activism, from the Civil Rights era to this day. Again, this all seems to boil down to your disagreeing with radical tactics. I don’t understand why there can’t be room for both radical activism and more mainstream engagement in the democratic process. Sometimes symbolism is the most valuable tool when you are advocating a cause (and I’ve spent several years of my life advocating for numerous causes). All in all, I think that it is possible to be pluralistic with bicycle advocacy. I will leave it at that.

    Since walking is an acceptable activity on Shabbat, I encourage you to meet up with the Saturday Critical Mass ride at our break point the next time we’re on the beach. You’ll see the the community we’ve formed include a diverse array of people, from white collar workers to high schoolers on fixies, who all advocate for a better cycling environment in Miami just by showing up.

    • November 10, 2009 at 7:39 AM

      Hello, Leah, and thanks for adding your voice to the conversation. Let me address things by paragraphs.

      Just because there is no hierarchical structure does NOT mean that there cannot be leadership or ground rules.

      That’s what I’m saying. The “CM doesn’t have a structure” reason tossed about is just an excuse. Just like someone steps up to organize them, someone(s) can do the same to provide some order that better ensures the safety of the participants and lessens, if not removes, the chaos that can actually take away from what they are trying to accomplish. I just don’t see, however, many people interested in taking that extra step or looking for solutions to the big rule-breakers normally associated with CM.

      I stand corrected on the length of CM rides in Miami, then. They certainly seemed to have gained a larger amount of visibility once the Friday night rides began; at least that’s when they entered my radar. And to be honest, I think it’s a bit a shame that whatever Emerge has built up using that brand has now to share the stage with the rowdier cousin that is the Friday night one. I continue to believe that Emerge, at this point, is probably hurt more from the baggage that the CM brand brings with it than being helped, but that’s just my gut feeling, for whatever it’s worth.

      On activism… I don’t have an issue with activism per se. I think it has a place and there is always a need for it. I do it too, in my way, through this blog and by attending whatever meetings I can. Is self-organization more powerful than bureaucracy? That’s open for debate; they’re different and each serves a purpose. I don’t like bureaucracy one bit, but I am far too jaded to believe wholly in self-organization either. As for radical activism… in theory I’ve no problem with it, but in practice it more often than not ends up being an excuse to act out rather than to truly pursue a goal. Radical activism needs the very same kind of lofty and selfless mindset that we both agree is unrealistic. And so I remain skeptic of it. I guess in the end, I am at a point in my life where I believe more in the velvet glove than the closed fist.

      And finally to the reason why I invited you to join this conversation.
      You are the first to openly call Critical Mass an act of civil disobedience and for that I thank you. Ultimately I have an issue with calling something one thing but treating it as another; names mean something, and when these meanings are ignored it skews with perceptions and leads to misinformation. Yes, it is an issue of semantics; let’s blame it on an English degree. Reading through all the feedback I see about CM, aside from Robert (above, who doesn’t openly call it thus, but is the one that comes the closest), everyone seems to think of CM as a joyride, a fun gathering, a chance to cut loose. Call the spade a spade. Call it a protest, stand proud in that definition, and go forth. At least that way people will know precisely what they are getting into. Mind you, protest or not, I’d still expect rules to be followed, but at least when we’re all in the same page of this being an act of civil disobedience then there is a raison d’etre why the rules are being broken (and again, I think it’s ironic that the Emerge rides are far more mindful of the rules of the road). Frankly, if it was openly and proudly held as a protest for bicyclists’ rights then I’d respect it, even if I’d still wish that it be held according to the rules of the road. And I realize that Emerge’s rides, by virtue of Emerge Miami being an advocacy group, certainly have a claim to have been acts of self-organization all along, but (after a quick search to confirm) I can’t really find any place where they are outright named as such (I’d be happy to be corrected if I missed something). I’m down with pluralism in advocacy; I do want it to be made explicit what is going on. I realize most people don’t give a thought to what they are getting into (idealistically speaking) when they join a CM ride, but they should.

      If you ever break on the Beach, maybe yeah, I can try to drop by. I will continue to attend the Bike Miami Rides as I can as well; these fit my idea of how rides should happen better than CM while still serving the same purpose of encouraging people to bicycle, educating cyclists in the rules of the road, and demonstrating our presence to motorists. I’ve seen the people that gather at these, I’ve seen the people that gather at CMs, and I know a large group of them do indeed come together because they want a better bicycling environment in South Florida. That’s why I’ve always made clear that I have nothing at all against any of the organizers and/or participants of CM. We’re all in the same self-propelled boat, and I cherish that.

  10. November 13, 2009 at 10:45 PM

    I couldn’t read all of these responses since i’m strapped for time tonight and i’m somewhere in the middle of Daniel’s views, and the CM views.

    Bike Miami certainly helps the community learn more about cycling, it brings out people that may never have thought of riding a bike after getting a license at 16, and it does teach the community that cyclists belong on the road as well. Bike Miami doesn’t appeal to some of the current cyclist, or even a lot of non-cyclists that may be interested and just need that push. What BM does is very structured, and follows regulations and laws and in reality that may be boring to some but it is truly the best way to get things done.

    on the other hand Critical Mass is like Daniel says, a mob. That doesnt have to be thought of as something negative, it’s just that CM is experiencing near exponential growth in the last few months. This proves that CM is doing something right, they are getting more people on bikes and out there having fun and seeing that a bike is more than just a toy for kids. I can understand why they cork, you don’t want the light to change and have a large amount of cyclists in the middle of the intersection, you also don’t want to split the group up which can be dangerous as well as cause even more traffic. I don’t know which riders do the corking, but i really do hope its the one’s with amazing people skills that can get motorists to see, understand, and accept what you are doing. In some of the videos i see CM taking up the ENTIRE road, and this isn’t right in my opinion, taking the lane is one thing, and perfectly legal, taking the ROAD isn’t.

    Both groups are achieving similar good results, and both have negative aspects as well. Bike Miami (the events, not the rides) block of places that people might have wanted to go on the weekend, or cost the city extra money (not sure if its completely privately funded by donations so i may be wrong here.)which citizens may feel is better spent in different ways.
    CM annoys some drivers, I’m sure its more than just 1% as some have claimed, it might be the majority of drivers or it might be the minority, i don’t know and you have no way of certainly knowing either. Also even if it’s for there own safety, they are still breaking the law.

    With that said, I plan to one evening attend a CM to experience it for myself because I do think it would be fun. I also plan to do a bike miami ride, and probably one of the slow bike miami rides as well. My preferred style of riding is on the road, fast and with a lot of suffering but I can enjoy anything that has to do with two wheels and hope to be welcomed at all these events as a fellow Miami cyclist.

    Remember guys and gals, we’re all cyclists, we might all prefer a different niche of the 2 wheeled variety but in the end we all share a common passion. Lets all get along here.

    sorry about the length, i just wanted to make sure my opinion was clear.

    -Yaniel
    .-= Yaniel Cantelar´s last blog… Cyclist testifies that doctor deliberately caused Brentwood collision – =-.

  11. January 18, 2010 at 4:55 PM

    Hooray for your stand on CM. I host a weekly ride here in Denver that’s grown to epic proportions, 1350 on our last ride of the 2009 season, and guess what? No problems with the cops, or drivers.

    I’ve been hated on by CM people here because we agreed to follow some basic courtesies on the road when we take to the streets:

    Stop at red lights
    Ride to the right
    Share the road

    I personally reached out to the police department when the rides started getting BIG and because of this, we’ve managed to get them on our side, and it’s translated into a win-win relationship with the city and the ride. The exact opposite happened here a few years back when the CM leaders refused to cooperate… and because of their fuck you all attitude, the police quickly extinguished their 300+ person CM ride because of their refusal to obey even a few basic rules of the road.

    My question is Where did that get them? Nowhere… arrested and fined maybe, but their ride dwindled because of this jackass attitude. We on the other hand, have taken the social route, the how can we work together with riders, police and city officials to make the streets safer for all cyclists? we’re in this for recreational purposes, not to make a point, and it’s turned out amazing for the city of Denver and their attempt to make Denver a more bicycle friendly city, and we’ve done it without pissing people off… the city’s bike director met with us and said “this ride is too important for us not to support.”

    So critical mass, as much as they think that they are helping the cause, ask any Director of any bicycle organization around the country and they’ll tell you ‘off the record’ what they think of what CM has done for riders, and they’ll tell you point blank: CM has done nothing to improve cyclist safety or respect for cyclists on the streets by motorists.

    • January 18, 2010 at 11:01 PM

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your story. It simply proves in practice what is (to me) self-evident in theory and thought.

  1. November 4, 2009 at 1:26 PM

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