[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]
As a sustainable transportation devotee, sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone in this country is as fanatical about biking as I am. But “Pedal America,” a new travel series on PBS created and produced by Chicagoan Ira David Levy, aims to spread the gospel of cycling to the unconverted. “I think that with a lot of bike advocacy, we tend to talk to each other, people who are already enthused,” he says over drinks at a Gold Coast café. “But if you’re going to reach the masses you need to find a way that does not come across as overly political. So I work in a little bit of advocacy in each episode but I try not to be too preachy.” Continue reading Ira David Levy’s “Pedal America” show pushes pedaling to a broader audience
Updated September 29 and 30 to add my thoughts and to clarify that when I asked my friends on Facebook for their thoughts, only four people replied. Also included the fourth reply. Added information about the “Aftermass” documentary effort in Portland, Oregon. Added Critical Mass alternatives.
In the summer it’s nothing more than a frat party on wheels. They block other bikers who need to use the street in the opposite direction by riding across the entire street. Even when the opposite direction has its own bike lane. At that point it’s not bike-positive, it’s just a bunch of jerks. I had a driver who got stuck in Mass throw change at me, even though we were past and I was riding away from the group. They’re really winning hearts and minds!
I’ve never run into them in the winter (when I’m sure they’re much smaller; most of the riders don’t seem too serious).
Friend who wanted to remain anonymous
I think that if nothing else, Critical Mass should avoid riding by Union Station whenever possible (which is always). There’s a huge throng of pedestrian traffic headed toward onion station at the exact time of day as Critical Mass – and they’re consistently blocked from being able to cross Adams Street to get to the entrance.
For years, I’ve felt that Critical Mass is a mixed bag. Our main Chicago ride, fun as it may be, has gotten too big. It’s difficult to have something the size of a parade NOT alienate a fair number of people.
If riders are friendly to pedestrians and drivers, the response is usually friendly. If riders are confrontational or thuggish, it gives our bike community a collective black eye.
If we want to build greater acceptance for cycling and get more people out riding on the streets, alienating the general public will NOT help us make progress towards a more bike friendly city. It’s more likely to provoke a Tea Party-style backlash. I suspect that the negative responses we see in newspaper article comment sections and bike bashing on talk radio are just the tip of the iceberg. Road rage incidents reinforce this opinion.
I think the smaller neighborhood Critical Mass rides are more effective at promoting the idea of sharing the road and peacefully coexisting. I appreciate what Critical Mass has done to popularize the idea of bike riding in cities, but I think the big rides of recent years have become counterproductive. I also appreciate the efforts that some of our local CMers have made with the multi-mass idea – difficult as that is to pull off.
I’d rather be part of a mellow, friendly social ride than a drunken frat party on wheels. Just my $0.02… Your mileage may vary.
It’s true that it might not be the best tool to encourage people to ride, but I think its greatest value is the energy it gives to its participants, and that’s been a huge factor in the growth of the cycling movement, which has, admittedly slowly, but surely, led to improvements like protected bike lanes and events like Bike the Drive here in Chicago, and similar advances in other cities with large Critical Mass rides and communities. These kinds of changes wouldn’t have been possible, I submit, without the sense of community and vision that Critical Mass fosters. To me, that far outweighs any negatives. Although, if people are now talking about cycling, for almost any reason, that’s a good thing too.
I think that the people who enjoy doing Critical Mass should continue doing it. I will not ask them to stop, but I won’t ask them to continue. I don’t think it hurts the “cycling movement”. What hurts the cycling movement is the lack of political leadership to help move it. But that’s changing in Chicago. I rode in Critical Mass (the October ride is my favorite) because I enjoyed being around people who were having fun, and I liked the energy of the ride. I stopped riding in Critical Mass purely because it exacerbated my existing neck and back pain.
What does it mean that Portland, one of the best North American cities for cycling, has virtually no Critical Mass? Is it no longer relevant in the evolution of cyclists or has the police crackdown just been so successful? What are the new goals of cyclists? What is the new activism? How are objectives reached?
People riding in Critical Mass on Clybourn Avenue in summer 2011. Photo by Mike Travis.