Critical Thinking

David Hembrow writes today about Critical Mass and points to two interesting videos about promoting cycling. His advice is sage: If you want to know how to grow a bicycle culture, then you must study one that works.

The first film is “We Are Traffic,” which is about the Critical Mass movement:

The second is an older video called “Return of the Scorcher”:

Like Hembrow, I’m not a fan of Critical Mass. The whole affair is too in-your-face for my tastes. If cyclists want to be a part of traffic, then start riding in traffic. And follow the rules. And act responsibly. And encourage the same in others. Respect (and tax dollars) follows these actions.

By “in-your-face” I do not mean the kind of testosterone-driven protest criticized in “We Are Traffic.” I mean the blatant disregard for traffic laws, e.g. “corking.” There’s no reason not to follow the rules. Following the rules would make the entire “celebration” all the more powerful. To claim to be traffic while failing to be traffic is an unproductive contradiction.

The example of the Netherlands and other parts of Europe bring up another issue for me. One that Critical Mass, under different circumstances, might actually be able to address in the future. In creating a bicycle culture in the United States I think we should be laying the foundation for that culture to eventually be understood as superior to automobile culture. We have such a long way to go just to create a sense of subjective safety that thoughts of cultural superiority seem, well, premature. But that’s where my head is right now.

UPDATE: Jett, author of Atlanta Intown Cycling, called my attention Courteous Mass (see comments). I like the sound of this much better.

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Comments 4

  1. Jett wrote:

    What I like about Critical Mass in Atlanta is it does get a fair number of new cyclists riding on roads they wouldn’t ride on otherwise. On one hand, many of those cyclists may only ride in a large group where they don’t have to worry about traffic (much). On the other hand, they are introduced to other riders and other opportunities to ride.

    I’ve ridden both Critical Mass and its sibling Courteous Mass. Courteous Mass obeys the laws, is still a good introduction to street riding, and conveys the same positive messages. However, the civil disobedience side is lacking and this makes for a much more tame ride.

    The civil disobedience part tends to remind motorists of perhaps the biggest bone of contention: cyclists running red lights. For this reason, I now only ride Courteous Mass.

    Posted 31 Oct 2008 at 6:17 pm
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Jett… I have not heard of Courteous Mass. I like the sound of it much better than CM. I appreciate what CM is trying to do. I simply think they are going about it in the wrong way.

    Posted 31 Oct 2008 at 6:20 pm
  3. Bob wrote:

    Cyclist and automobiles seem to have an inherent contentious relationship and both parties are at fault to some sort of degree. Cyclist not stopping for lights or stops signs seem to be the biggest complaint I hear from my non-cycling friends, while my cycling friends complain about cars making turns directly in front of or along side of them.

    I try to subscribe to the smile and you first rule. If I am at an intersection while there is a car waiting in the same intersection which is going to make a movement which will cross my path, I simply smile and wave them through giving them the right of way. Most of the time the motorist waves or nods a thank you and is on their way. I hope by doing this it will help spread some much needed goodwill.

    In general I think the world would be a better place if we considered the other person first.

    Posted 31 Oct 2008 at 7:05 pm
  4. Andy Cline wrote:

    Bob… re: the world would be a better place if we considered the other person first.

    Agreed. But all too often people treat each other merely as objects to get around.

    Posted 31 Oct 2008 at 7:17 pm