If you live in an American metropolis, you've probably heard of (or maybe participated in) Critical Mass, a semi-organized group bike ride...
If you live in an American metropolis, you've probably heard of (or maybe participated in) Critical Mass, a semi-organized group bike ride that usually takes place on the last Friday of every month. Critical Mass was started in San Francisco in 1992 with the aim of raising awareness of cyclists' rights on city roads. Now it has expanded to more than 300 cities worldwide.In a city with few hundred participants, a Critical Mass ride can really disrupt traffic. Indeed, in some ways that's the point: Letting drivers experience, for one day a month, what it feels like when the streets are inhospitable to your mode of transportation.Now the city that gave birth to Critical Mass is thinking about shutting it down. Or at least the police chief is:
It is a mass of people that causes massive problems and San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon is questioning its existence. "We definitely are looking at the process, evaluating it, looking at where we can improve," said Police spokesperson Lyn Tomioka. The idea that this could be one of the last Critical Masses in San Francisco, delights some of the officers who have to protect it. "I think that if we have our chief behind it and he wants to do it, I'm sure there's going to be an end in sight," said Sgt. Neil Swendsen.In New York, a judge recently ruled that a group of more than 50 cyclists would have to request a parade permit to ride, effectively making a normal Critical Mass ride illegal. It's not clear whether San Francisco would try a similar tack.From a practical perspective, shutting down Critical Mass in San Francisco would be really hard though. It's a leaderless event with hundreds of participants. How could you possibly ticket them all? And they're on bikes. How could you shut down their routes?But Critical Mass also isn't just an act of protest. It has social value. For the people who participate, it's a chance to get some exercise, get to know the city, and meet other cyclists. It strengthens community ties and encourages cycling. Shouldn't that more than make up for traffic delays on a Friday night?Photo (cc) from Flickr user lucayepa.