Critical Mass -- More Harm Than Good?
Hundreds of cyclists take over Legerova, a main artery through the heart of Prague. Meanwhile, hundreds of motorists in the oncoming lane sit and seethe.
I participated in the Critical Mass bike rally last night in Prague. It was the first time I'd ever participated in such a social protest action.
I did it because I believe the city of Prague needs to do more in support of cyclists. I also wanted to make a statement, to let Czech drivers know that they need to pay more attention to the rights of cyclists on the road.
Like many cyclists in the city, I've had my share of nasty run-ins with drivers. As the Critical Mass slogan says, "We Are Traffic." And I truly believe that.
In hindsight, however, I count myself among that group of cyclists (a minority, perhaps) who believe these Critical Mass rides, which are held all over the world, probably do more harm than good. That they may be counterproductive to our cause.
The Critical Mass ride paused briefly in Wenceslaus Square.
I know this isn't going to make me many new friends, but I feel like I have to say it.
My friends and I estimated there were about 500 to 800 of us riding last night. We rode through the streets of Vinohrady, and then onto Wilsonova and Legerova, right through the heart of the city. It felt great to be riding my bike, unfettered, on these normally crowded highways. Traffic was backed up for many, many kilometers in both directions to give us the room to ride.
But that's part of the problem, in my view. Cyclists already have enough problems with Czech motorists. In my opinion, we don't need to piss off thousands more of them, give them another reason to target us.
Yes, cars normally have control of the road, and it felt kinda cool to "take over" the streets and highways for a change, but I don't see the point.
Why stage a protest that only angers those you are trying to sway to your side?
As we rode by, motorists yelled at us, honked their horns, raised their fists. Many drivers used their cars to intimidate the cyclists, or simply tried to swerve around us, threatening our safety. It's hard to understand the mind-set of a Czech driver who, even in the midst of a bike rally, resorts to such crazy behavior. If it's this bad while the cops are around, imagine what it's like for cyclists out on the country roads.
It's truly unconscionable behavior.
I personally saw three very unpleasant altercations at Critical Mass between drivers and cyclists (one of which is pictured above). Two of these cases I thought were going to devolve into violence. I know that in each of these instances, it was the drivers who were at fault.
But then there was the behavior of the cyclists themselves.
The overwhelming majority were there for the same reasons I was. To make a stand for cyclists' rights.
There were lots of families with kids (including my friend Stewart Moore and his two boys, Jules and Ronan, pictured here). Young people. Old people. Skateboarders and unicyclists. Tandem and recumbent bikers. James Gogarty from provakator.org. My friend Mark Baker. David Murphy, regional coordinator of Environmental Partnership for Sustainable Development, whom I met through Stewart and Mark.
We all rode peacefully and safely.
But I saw many cyclists during the event acting recklessly, cycling against traffic or riding fast on crowded sidewalks. They also taunted the motorists.
Earlier this month, at a Critical Mass rally in San Francisco, a family of seven, including small children, were driving in their minivan when they apparently found themselves trapped amidst a swarm of cyclists. As the stories goes, the driver, not knowing what was happening, tried to move out of the way, angering the cyclists, one of whom she may have bumped with her van. The cyclists began pounding on the vehicle. One of the cyclists threw his bike at the rear window of the van, shattering the glass and terrifying the kids inside. More than $5,000 in damage was done to the minivan.
I can now understand how something like this could happen.
Wouldn't it make more sense, instead of these rides, to get Prague's tens of thousands of cyclists to sign a petition that could be presented to national or local authorities for more bike lanes and education programs? To hold mass rallies where our numbers can be seen, but without inconveniencing a good chunk of the city?
It was supposed to be a "green" protest, but to be honest, it made me see red.
I'd like to know what you think.
Distance: 16.5 kilometers
Average speed: 10.1 kph
Maximum speed: 30.8 kph
Length of ride: 1.37.56
Total distance in 2007: 360 kilometers