Making Traffic Happen – A response to individuals annoyed by Critical Mass
Critical Mass is a community bicycle ride and the reasons people join that ride increase as the group grows in number. In Miami, most riders attend Critical Mass because of its entertainment value. As you’ve described, this is spectacle, but it is also a form of cultural expression, urban exploration, group physical activity, a chance to network socially and, after all of that, some riders are still motivated to attend Critical Mass to address public policy. Think of Critical Mass as a brief, monthly, two-wheeled, King Mango Strut that is entertaining and affordable to our taxpayers, while conveying a pertinent message. At best, Critical Mass approaches demonstration-lite.
Just as the majority of riders prefer to have fun rather than make advocacy statements, the majority of drivers we encounter each month wait patiently, some even consider joining. There is a distinct difference between those drivers who honk their horns in support, and those that do so out of anger. Every month, we encounter more supportive gestures than discouraging ones. But even in this revelry, serious public policy issues are addressed: our city streets are overrun and rendered hazardously inhospitableby cars. Our city createsmore traffic annually than can be mitigated with additional lanes for traffic. Several alternatives for commuters address this issue, such as occasionally taking public transit, carpooling, walking, riding a bike or even moving closer to work.
You are right, in that most of us work, own cars, drive cars, pay taxes, raise kids, worry for our parents and grandparents, occasionally vote- and we still take the time to attend Critical Mass. We are Miami’s neighbors, relatives, coworkers and sometimes you even see us at worship. During Critical Mass there are only minor differences between those traveling slowly in cars and those traveling slowly on bikes; some of us don’t believe roads are only forcars- and this belief has been expressed among those city officials who have advocated for better bicycle facilities, and even the bike-mounted police who place themselves at a risk we are familiar with by working in traffic. The difficult balance between automotive traffic and self-propelled traffic is an issue that ought to be talked about more often, not just because of snarled traffic on a Friday night monthly.
While there are some riders whose rage matches motorists at opposing ends of the right-of-way conflict, we tend to observe that their numbers are few. The humor and frivolity you’ve pointed out in relation to Critical Mass, John, is also a tactic to circumvent and discourage anger. This ridiculousness is not required of any driver or rider, but it’s more fun than throwing up hands, blaring your horn, speeding, tailgating, road rage… All of these behaviors play out more often on the daily commute to work than during the once-a-month Critical Mass.
We’d like to point out that, although our website promotes bicycling events and provides information, we are not organizers for Friday’s rides. We encourage participation in the spirit of community and bicycle advocacy, but take it upon ourselves to suggest proper roadway conduct and accommodation. Some of the unfortunate behavior that stigmatizes Critical Mass is unavoidable in a leaderless gathering- as in traffic, the more people placed in a group situation, the more individual personalities come out to demonstrate aggravating tendencies.
Should you be interested in learning about the background and justifications for Critical Mass, see ‘We Are Traffic‘:
Thank you for addressing your concerns- we have heard them from many outlets, and take them seriously, as they are a reflection of the dialogue that needs to be established by all populations on our roadways.