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Monday
Nov022009

Miami Critical Mass

I received an email a few weeks back from Andres Viglucci, a reporter with the Miami Herald; later we talked on the phone.

Andres was preparing to write an article on the Miami Critical Mass ride and wanted my views because he had noticed I had opposed CM in the past here on my blog.

Whenever I have written an anti-Critical Mass piece, I get comments from pro-CMers saying stuff like, “It is not a protest, it is a celebration of cycling,” and “It is so much fun.”

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.

For example, a group of people cannot dress up in costumes, get a marching band and parade down the street without a permit, especially during Friday evening rush hour.

However, you can legally ride a bicycle on a public road at any time, and this is technically what Critical Mass riders are doing

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.

In the video at the top of the Miami Herald article, I see an unruly mob of cyclists taking as many as four lanes, when they could quite easily ride in one lane. I see cyclists riding though red lights, while fixie riders get to display their track stand skills while corking the intersection.

Blocking or corking an intersection is illegal and the perps justify this by saying it makes it safer for the group by keeping them together, and it cuts down on the delay.

So here you have one group of road users delaying another, and justifying it by saying it keeps the delay to a minimum. What’s wrong with that statement? And I can’t think of any thing that gets a motorist's blood boiling more than having a green light and can’t go.

Andres Viglucci actually wrote a pro-cycling article, he got on a bike and rode with Critical Mass. Kudos to Andres and the Miami Herald for having the balls to write such a piece; many big city newspapers will not risk doing so in an auto centric society.

From the article, I gather that Miami has a pro-cycling Mayor and Chief of Police. The article mentions there are plans to put in more bike lanes in the city. So why does the Critical Mass movement feel it is necessary to bring attention to the plight of cyclists? It would seem Miami city officials want to encourage cycling.

Critical Mass needs to decide if it has a real purpose, if the purpose is to celebrate cycling then do so at 6am. on a Sunday morning. (Probably the best time of the day temperature -wise in Miami.)

Riding at this time would cause the least disruption for other road users. Of course, if the object and most of the fun is in causing disruption then it just proves my point.

In which case Critical Mass needs to be honest and admit its purpose is for the selfish enjoyment of its participants, and it is not cycling advocacy.

Responsible cyclists in Miami might consider contacting the Mayor and the Chief of Police and let it be known that they distance themselves from CM, speak out and encourage people not to participate.

Why should I, an avid cyclist, want to spoil the fun for other people on bikes? Because Critical Mass is handing the general motoring public a stick to beat the rest of us with, whenever they see us commuting to work, or out riding alone

 

Footnote: In the top picture I don't see too many helmets. What conclusion, if any, do you draw from this? Am I being over critical of Critical Mass, what is your take?

Reader Comments (28)

+1 to everything you just said. CM gives me the royal shits. It's just a bunch of plonkers who make life miserable for other road users under the banner of "improving visibility". Yeh, right. Be careful what kind of visibility you're creating!

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Good post, not a critical mass fan. It simply maintains the myth that cyclists are minority hippies out to save the world.

I cycle because I like cycling and it's a great way to get around the city.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGavin

I live in Miami and participate in the CM ride (including the one on the picture). The rides here have very little 'statement' behind them - they are more like a monthly bike parade. Generally speaking, the city has been very supportive and cyclists have fun. When the ride passes shops or restaurants, the patrons and the waiters step outside and cheer us on. I can't say that all cars are thrilled at being delayed by 1 light cycle, but the majority are either bemused or honk and show support.

It is a much different feel than ones I used to attend in Boston, and likely most other cities, where the attitude was confrontational - both from cyclists and drivers.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterroomservicetaco

I agree with almost everything you say, except that you state that cycling is a privilege. It isn't. It is a right. Otherwise, I must agree with everything else you say. Critical Mass exists, ostensibly as a means of activism, but does cycling no favours.

In many regards, it does far more harm than good to the plight of cyclists. If we want to get accepted as legitimate road users, we need to show that we can act that way. As group trying to assert our rights, we face fairly stiff opposition from both the press and policy makers. Both groups latch onto the slightest infringements and use them as a reason not to legislate.

Critical Mass need to think things through more carefully, and if they are serious about this as a tool for change, then, as you said, they need to re-evaluate how they go about things.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Andrew,
We have to be careful not to split hairs. The dictionary defines priviledge as meaning a right, and that is certainly the context I intended the word to be used.

Whenever CM has been taken to court it has been thrown out because people have a right to ride a bicycle on the road, and the fact there happens to be hundreds there at the same time is legally no different than there being hundreds of automobiles in one place at one time. It is the reason why in most cities police stand by and don't try to stop it, which pisses off the general public even more.

Having said that, it serves no useful purpose for cyclists to abuse this right, or privaledge.
Dave

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moulton

Thanks for this post. It summed up very well the reasons why I don't like Critical Mass either. I sometimes think that I'm the only one around that doesn't.

I'll be writing a response to the Herald article as well. I'll link it here when it's done.

I took part in a London Critical Mass last year without thinking much about it beforehand. At the level of individual experience it was powerful stuff. Taking over the roads in a mob; provoking rage from gridlocked motorists and going wherever the crowd mentality dictated. I won't deny it; it was a buzz.

On the plus side, the experience gives you an idea of how wonderful it might feel to travel in a landscape free of cars. And maybe one day soon, we'll have to, whether we like it or not. But on the down side, it was clear that what we were doing was entirely provocative, inconsiderate and - as your post outlines - outside the law.

On balance, I think Critical Mass as it now stands does the future of human-powered urban transport more harm than good.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSam Deeks

My work at Safe Cycling, LLC is focused on making cycling safer for everyone. One of my initiatives, www.3feetplease.com, is founded on a simple, bold and polite request for motorists to give cyclists at least three feet clearance when passing from the rear. In 14 states at least 3 feet clearance is required by law...in other states and elsewhere around the world it's a request for courtesy. One critial mass adventure can easily turn hundreds of motorists against cyclists by souring them and erasing any hope of them being courteous and respectful...setting efforts like mine and many others back and making cycling less safe. Why don't they get this? How can they be so blind to the negative consequnces of their actions? How can these CMers possibly think they are making any positve difference? How is it that they are so disconnected from reality?

Look, if you are a CMer, you must come to understand that what you are doing does not make cycling safer. I implore you to stop and find more effective ways to celebrate cycling...ways that truly celebrate the joys, the uses and the value of cycling. Ways that help make cycling more enjoyable and safer for everyone. Please.

Joe Mizereck
joe@3feetplease.com

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Mizereck

I have to agree with this 100%. As an avid cycllist (I'm the rare combo of a fixie afficionado and triathlete) in Madison, WI, nothing pisses me off more than CM. I have seen traffic backed up on East Washington Ave. over 3 miles because of CM! 3 miles is a lot of cars that are pissed off at bikers. When I'm riding my tri bike out in the less populated areas of WI, 99% of drivers are courteous and give me the space I need to ride. However, there is that small minority (usually driving large, black SUV's might I add) that likes to get as close as possible while going at 50mph. It freaks me out every time and all I can think of when I see a CM crowd is that they are going to make that 1% a much larger number and are therefore directly affecting my life.

I truly believe that there needs to be a permit of sorts to ride your bicycle. Make everyone pay $5 and take a stupid online test that makes sure that they realize what cycling laws are. Stopping at red lights, signaling when executing a turn or lane shift, not riding bikes on the sidewalk, etc...these are truly the things that will bring about the change that CM allegedly advocates for.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Critical Mass needs to take place whether you like it or not. Yes it pisses people off in cars. I think you need to move past the pissing off drivers and the party aspect of what critical mass is. I rode in the SF critical mass consistently and the attitude of motorists has changed somewhat, but it has to do with them paying attention to time of month and the driver asking a very important question. Do I want to be stuck in traffic and just be frustrated? Didn't you say that riding a bike helps clear your thoughts or just allows you to forget everything but cycling? Sitting in traffic allows you to drift off and not pay attention. Start texting, talking on cell phone, bend down to grab something boom hit a cyclist. I do not like it when a driver feels they are in a Mario Andretti or whomever and pass me within inches of destroying me. Critical Mass needs to take place wherever there are cyclists whether you like it or not. IT brings awareness to drivers and others who witness. If anything some join, others accept it and others simply voice their anger, but the most important thing is being recognized...There are cyclists on the road and drivers and politicians need to recognize it. If anything those angry drivers now think twice of driving anywhere near critical mass again. Isn't that an accomplishment in itself. These same angry drivers possibly did not cut in front or do something dangerous to cyclists for one day. Congrats Critical Mass so far.
Apparently still a long way to go. Ask the politician who ran over a cyclist and the other politicians who are creating anti-bike legislation. Dave you may not like the method, but it is the most effective, and brings attention to an otherwise unorganized organized protest. It takes a person with some good common sense to recognize that critical mass is just not a party. That is what brings people in and the ride allows the person to think about what if there was better bike lanes or wow I do not have to worry about getting hit by a car. Get passed the "party" that people describe, those are the newbies, soon they will realize the bigger picture.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteralex

I'm really in agreement with Dave. Critical Mass might have been necessary early on, but it is not now.

Alex's unsupported opinion-as-fact assertion ("...but it is the most effective...") aside, CM generates a ton of negative publicity. People who couldn't care less one way or the other in regard to bicycle advocacy will turn against any movement that puts itself above others, period.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdb

What's wearing a helmet got to do with critical mass? They're probably breaking the law many times over during the course of the ride - running lights and stop signs, corking intersections, riding too many abreast, not having the reflectors, bells, whatever FL requires, you name it. Not wearing a helmet doesn't block traffic, cause accidents or, heaven help us, raise the ire of the average motorist. Are helmets required by law in Miami to ride on the roadway? Does not wearing one put others at risk?

I was with you right up until the ridiculous helmet jab.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScott Loveless

Dave,

I could not have possibly said it any better. When I lived in San Francisco I always felt that I had a target on my back the Monday morning after Critical Mass. Poorly behaved cyclists just give drivers an excuse to dislike all riders.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMatt M

Critical Mass is the future of the world.
Ignorance reigns supreme…I will get my way because I am right (or “have a right”).
Take a look at the exponential growth of government: regulating rather than trust, spending without accountability, action without consideration (doing something is better than doing nothing).
Hope rather than Responsibility.
CM supports that kind of governance by its very existence.
Ever heard of the Law of Unintended Consequences? The future of free people will.
How long before there is no longer any need for freedom (as determined by your government)?
CM shows why it will happen...

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

It would be a big stretch to call these wankers cyclists. Just because they are on a two wheeled vehicle doesn't make them one of my "brothers".
As you said, a 6:00AM, or even a 10:00PM Sunday start time would make sense, but would probably be less "fun".

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGrump

I have to disagree with your generalizations of Critical Mass as applied to the city of Miami. I live in Miami, so I can give you some context so as to hold better judgement before applying bland generalizations.

In Miami, the downtown and business areas becomes quite deserted shortly after 5 in the afternoon. The main bulk of automobile traffic takes to the extensive highways for the next hour and a half, and the surface streets are noticeably quiet after 6:30 in the evening. The planners of events take full advantage of this, and start off the rides about an hour or two after downtown closes for the day.

Second, the routes typically taken by Miami's Critical mass are aimed at avoiding heavy automobile traffic, passing through prominently pedestrian areas or if a major road makes sense as a route, then a route is chosen that parallels it on a much calmer road.

Another factor was that in the Summer hiatus of the city's Sunday morning Ciclovia events, the city organized rides around the city that modeled good behavior among any would be critical mass organizers.

November 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIvan

Ivan, I'm also from Miami, so I'm responding from a local's perspective:

If the CM rides stuck to the 10 or so blocks of Downtown as Bike Miami Days does, fantastic. They don't. They go out into the neighboring areas and sometimes into other cities like Miami Beach. Each month's route is different, so you cannot rationalize it like that.

As for the Bike Miami Rides held during the summer (and now into the fall as well), these are held on a Sunday morning and are actually held in accordance with traffic laws, have a leader and more often than not have a police escort that can legally manipulate traffic. The only thing they have in common with Critical Mass is that they are both bike rides through the city and a number of riders participate in both.

Funny how they can behave according to the law in one but go with the mob-flow in the other.

I'd have to disagree and agree with you. I've ridden the CM in central Los Angeles, which is possibly the most dangerous place to ride a bike, and we've just convicted an ER doc who purposely targeted cyclists with his vehicle. I love the unity of riding in a large group at a time when other vehicles can see us. For the sake of cycling, I love taking over the streets and ignoring the red lights; however, I also recognize that this is one of the biggest issues motorists like to claim with cyclists. I'd love to see us ride in our group of 150-200 cyclists and obey all traffic laws. That would show that cyclists DO obey the law. Either that, or we take out a permit for the last Friday of every month and block the streets off.

I also agree that my experience was generally positive with motorists who had to wait on us. If we responded positively to them and said "Thank you" and gave them the thumbs up with a smile, they usually responded with "Right on!" It's the few cyclists who like to propogate the us vs. them theme and flip honking horns the bird instead of responding with a positive statement that make CM a negative experience for motorists. But that's just my experience in Los Angeles.

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdanceralamode

I'm mixed on CM - I think there are upsides and downsides. I think one interesting thing in this particular situation is to wonder: would the Herald have written a piece about urban cycling if it wasn't for CM? Did CM accomplish a goal of getting more publicity for urban cycling and stoke the conversation?

Sure - it's not necessarily the image we all as urban cyclists (daily commuter in Chicago myself would want) would want to project, but it does open a public dialog about how our shared motorways are used.

-Dan

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan

I have read the article based on the Miami Critical Mass.I found this post very attractive and useful in nature.also agree that my experience was generally positive with motorists who had to wait on us.I want to know more about Miami critical mass riding and its functions.

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentervitamin b

Dave, really like your blog.

CM is just anarchy, similar to the WTO protests. Little to no intellectual credence or content, though there are real issues in both cases. My favorite WTO Seattle incident was a protester scaling the Nike store to tear down the sign while wearing a pair of Nikes.

In Portland, OR, CM has become a very small social ride with very polite police supervision. Cycling has made much progress in Portland and real activists with a purpose shifted their focus to commuting, get more people on bikes, and getting families on bikes. Families don't do CM.

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLewis

Thanks Dave again for speaking so truthfully. Why make motorists angry? Surely we should be portraying ourselves as responsible road users and dare I say it take the moral high ground rather than antagonising other road users which have as much right to be there as us. I stop for red lights and even allow cars out at junctions if appropriate and get treated well by those users, Cycling and driving are both rights we are very fortunate to own and so should treat them with respect,

November 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertobyklatter

"They are abusing the privilege of riding a bike on the road"
Riding your bike on the road isn't a privilege its a right, and though the dictionary defines them the same the connotation of privilege is that it can be taken away easier.
You seem to thinks that you are talking to some entity, critical mass is a splinter group with small cells, not a cohesive group. But I do agree that critical mass should have some overall meaning besides a celebration, that the legal reasoning not the actual reasoning; which is one point where I think you are confused is that this definition of CM being a celebratory event is only for legal reasons.

I feel mostly confident and safe on the roads but I know many other cyclists don't and this is the time they can and can make others respect bikes. I am not respected when I am bicycling on the road, and Critical Mass is something that must get respect and should happen until bikers get full respect when bicycling should be considered an equal vehicle on the road, rather than someone on the side of the road.

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris Stevens

Couldn't agree with you more, Dave. In fact, if you wanted to dream up an event specifically designed to make pedestrians and motorists hate cyclists, it would be hard to top CM. I refuse to have anything to do with it here in NYC (even though I enjoy other 'Times Up!' rides).

(And saying it's somehow about "bike safety" is every bit as the emotional 8-year olds riding Hogs — usually without real motorcycle helmets — claiming "loud pipes save lives," as they set off car alarms and anger innocent bystanders minding their own business. Gimme a break.)

November 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Kaufman

it seems that we should leaning more towards biking or at least eco friendly modes of transportation to get around. the more we use cars, the worse out cities look.

November 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterescort service miami

"What conclusion, if any, do you draw from this?" - that the people are sensible and realise that cycling is safe and a helmet should always be personal choice, especially as evidence for their effectiveness is so contradictory.

December 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNo

Dave, quite clearly the lack of helmets in CM shows that the participants are EVIL! EVIL! I say.

It quite clearly shows that they are WRONG!

They are probably SOCIALISTS!

Thank you for your very clever and thoughtful posts.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIgnorant Zealot

Well, I am going through the archives, so I don't expect many people will read this post, but it seems to me you are right and wrong. They should have to get a permit just like any other event like this would have to do. It is a street parade, no reason to pretend to be anarchists or whatever, just get a permit and let them block off the roads as needed. That being said, I'm absolutely for this type of event if planned responsibly.

July 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNick
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