KGO Radio on Critical Mass

March 6th, 2010 by hughillustration

bike_mic

Photo by Lara Schneider

KGO Radio did an hour on the subject of Critical Mass, and the reports that the SFPD is reviewing its policy concerning the ride (whatever that means). Host Gil Gross let me talk for 10 minutes or so, then opened the phone lines. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the comments from listeners. While several callers disliked Critical Mass, they were all pretty even-handed and they made some good points. And about half the calls were pro-Critical Mass, including great calls from friends Adam & Joel. So that was nice.

Here’s a recording in case you’re curious:

I should say that I’m really ambivalent about doing this type of media work. For one thing, I don’t feel I have the authority to speak for the ride, which is an unorganized, leaderless phenomenon. And I also find that most media don’t have much time to spend on important social questions — gotta get to that commercial break! — so you can’t say much interesting. And then there’s the fact that I often freeze up under pressure.

But in this case, I was inclined to talk to the media for a few reasons. One was that the KGO folks agreed to describe me as simply “a participant,” not an organizer or spokesperson. Another was that they were offering a full 10 minutes to lay out my case, rather than a 2 second soundbite. But the real reason I wanted to do this was to counter the narrative that presents Critical Mass as a conflict between ordinary folks in their cars being attacked by angry anarchists on bikes. With the police reconsidering their polices (whatever that means) and the media trying to whip up a storm against us, it’s more important than ever that we do so.

As I said in the interview, the truth is that Critical Mass is NOT universally hated. What we see when we’re out on the roads is a lot of positive energy and enjoyment of our ride, coming from pedestrians, motorists, tourists, children, bus passengers — all sorts of people cheer us on, honk in support, and even get out of their cars to dance with the music we bring into the streets. I don’t mean to sugar coat things, and it’s true that people are annoyed and delayed by our ride. But we also bring some joy to what is for most people a dull and dreary commute.

I’d be curious to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the pros and cons of speaking to the media! Leave a comment!

14 Responses to “KGO Radio on Critical Mass”

  1. Bike Soup says:

    Is Dildo Man still around?

  2. LS says:

    I was discouraged to encounter so many negative comments on SFGate and the Twitter. Maybe people are less willing to be vitriolic haters over the phone. I didn’t hear this interview but sounds good.

    I think we pro-CM people should all emphasize that CM is a celebration, not a confrontation, and talk about how it’s fun and friendly. People out there seem honestly fearful about it and they think all CMers are out there to break windshields u-lock people.

  3. Funny, on the last Critical Mass I saw Dildo Man in his civilian clothes watching from the sidelines.

  4. Dennis Adams says:

    All day, every day, people are blocking intersections and running light. It’s normal! Let some bikes do it though and suddenly it’s as if no one has ever seen the phenom before?

  5. Jym says:

    =v= That wasn’t Dildo Man. That was his Buttler.

  6. It’d be cool to hear what people thought who listened to the show, and not just about whether to talk to the media.

    My call-in got cut just as he posed the challenge of licenses for bicyclists. Silly topic at first, but, heck, I think licensing topics could make a good debate, in some ways. Though it’s a distraction from some of the real issues (such as the importance of a right to express dissent against the official structures of society), it’s easy to show what a bad idea licensing bicyclists is.

    Licensing is only one component of the concept, charging a fee another, and a third is using that as a funding source for bike infrastructure. And then there’s enforcement. To my thinking, there are a thousand things wrong with the idea. Okay, I haven’t thought of them all yet. But I’ve got these few to offer and would like to hear yours.

    Charging would discourage bicycle use, which is the opposite of what’s needed for improved health, less obesity, better air, reduced greenhouse emissions, etc.

    Licensing to make us pay (too) like drivers would imply that motorists are paying their share. They don’t. The costs to society of cars are far greater than they pay. Cars are highly subsidized yet destroy the planet. Shouldn’t bikes be subsidized to help get people out of cars? “Piddly” licensing fees wouldn’t even pay for the bureaucracy needed to maintain them, let alone enforce them. Forget about their paying for bike paths, as host Gil suggests.

    Enforcement would be a lot of effort when there are more important things to do. Therefore it wouldn’t be fair or evenly enforced and it would be wielded as a weapon by police for arbitrary purposes.

    The radio host made it seem like one of the great benefits would be keeping people responsible for their transgressions. This is hilarious, since police don’t even bother with the extreme things car drivers do. (I haven’t heard of ONE ticket for driving while on the phone, after a year of the California law.)

    It’s an example of criminalizing the underclass, since many poor people who can’t afford cars use a bike. This is a typical problem with strict law-and-order thinking. The people who get forced into court and jail are the ones at the poorest ranks of society or the people trying to express dissent.

    For most of American History, legal scholars and judges considered “open access to dissent” to trump the benefits of “strict law-and-order.” That was true in almost all times other than during the Gilded Age and NOW–both periods when giant monied interests controlled the reigns of power.

    Enough.
    Joel

  7. Hugh, thank you for accurately describing the current size of NYC Critical Mass rides as “small.” Anyone interested in the current situation on the streets of NYC with regards to police enforcement should check out my blog http://criticalmasspanic.blogspot.com/ However, keep in mind though that prior to mass arrests in NYC during the RNC 2004 and subsequent harassment campaign, Critical Mass here did indeed draw several thousand riders.

    In NYC we see how a focused effort by the police to shut the ride down can successfully deter people from coming out and enjoy their space on the streets, but at a steep cost: many thousands of dollars to field dozens of police vehicles and officers a few times a month, to process (often dismissing) minor infractions in traffic court, and criminalize people who are not especially dangerous and simply enjoying their chosen form of transport, and perhaps violating their 1st amendment rights. NYPD could spend the money on consistent enforcement of laws all month long that actually deter all street users from dangerous/reckless behavior.

    A wise approach of any police department to this leader-less movement would be to put many, many officers on BICYCLES to help facilitate the safe and peaceful movement of the group. Attempts to shut it down will fail.

    Ride safe!

  8. Ya know says:

    Maybe if the riders followed the legal rules of the road there wouldn’t be a problem and no one would spew the hate towards you that you get. Also, getting the riders who do “attack” cars and damage them out of the group then you wouldn’t have as many problems.

    But really, the first thing you need to do is start obeying the law, until you do that you aren’t really going to be liked by many people and you aren’t really doing anything positive for the relationship between bikes, pedestrians, and automobiles, if anything you continue towards creating a negative relationship between the groups.

  9. Motorists break the law every day. It’s called speeding. It causes the deaths of thousands of people every year. The first thing you need to do as a motorist is start obeying the law, and until you do that you aren’t really going to be liked by many people and you aren’t really doing anything positive for the relationship between bikes, pedestrians, and automobiles.

    Your suggestion that we eject bicyclists who attack and damage cars won’t work, because there are no bicyclists on Critical Mass who attack or damage cars. There is the occasional rider who will harass or yell at motorists, and every time I or one of my friends sees this behavior (which isn’t often) we confront it. Do you do the same for your motorist friends who use their cars to harass and intimidate cyclists and pedestrians? I see that every day on the roads, and I’ll tell you I am sick and tired of these scofflaws in their 2-ton monstrosities running legitimate human-powered traffic off the road. Why, I have half a mind to call the mayor and demand a crackdown!

    As for Critical Mass riding according to every traffic law, we tried it and it didn’t work. After the police crackdown in July of 97, we rode to rule, stopping for every red light and taking only one lane of traffic. The result was a vastly more disruptive ride to the city’s traffic, believe it or not. Motorists were delayed more than ever, and after that the police backed off.

    Thanks for your comments!

    H.

  10. Ya know says:

    Right, of course.

    “Someone else is breaking the law, so it’s ok for me to break the law.”

    Terrible logic on your part.

    I have seen it dozens of times in Critical Mass rides in several different cities. Cars kicked and dented, windows broken, pedestrians run over and dozens of other things. One extremely nice one was the one in Chicago where a whole bunch of riders at different points in the procession had paint filled water balloons they would lob at cars they passed along the way. Yes, real nice of you guys.

    If a Pedestrian or Cyclist is following the law, then they can’t be harassed of intimidated by a motorist, yes it really is that simple.

    As far as pedestrians go, stop jaywalking, stop walking into traffic without checking to make sure it is safe, stop walking against don’t walk signs, and plenty of other things.

    What I really wish is that Critical Mass riders would just admit what their real purpose is, it’s to disrupt traffic and be a pain in the ass to everyone else due to their own selfish “me first” attitudes. Stop attempting to convince people that your goal is to try to get bikes and motorists to live together in harmony on the roads. It’s not, you just want to piss people off with your antics.

    Roads are built for cars and trucks first, whether you want to accept it or not, bicycles and pedestrians are second class citizens on the roads, which is why there are specific laws on how you are supposed to ride. Learn to respect the other if you want to get any respect.

    Stop going down one way streets the wrong way, stop riding 3, 4, 5, 10 wide to prevent motorists from traveling at legal speeds in their lanes, stop at red lights, and stop trying to ride on roads where is is expressly noted that bicycles are not allowed. Stop being the self absorbed jerks that the majority of your group appear to be, both in SF, and every other city where the ride takes place. Most of all, stop with the whole “we aren’t an organization” BS, whether formalized or not, you’re an organization.

    Police yourselves better, and stop deluding yourselves into believing that your “goal” is some sort of altruistic purpose, because based on all the evidence at hand, there is nothing altruistic about it.

    Learn to lead by example, until all of you do, you can and never will be taken seriously with your message and you will continue to be viewed as nothing more than a mob.

    a disorderly or riotous crowd of people.

    a crowd bent on or engaged in lawlessness

    a group of persons stimulating one another to excitement and losing ordinary rational control over their activity.

  11. “Terrible logic on your part.”

    That wasn’t logic. That was a thinly veiled accusation of hypocrisy. I’m saying that the fact that you hold bicyclists to a higher standard than you hold motorists (or yourself) is hypocritical and ignores the real threat to safety.

    “I have seen it dozens of times in Critical Mass rides in several different cities.”

    Don’t blame us for what happens in Chicago. Have you seen this here in SF? I haven’t, and I have been riding on Critical Mass since 1992.

    “If a Pedestrian or Cyclist is following the law, then they can’t be harassed of intimidated by a motorist, yes it really is that simple.”

    That is a false statement, to put it politely.

    “What I really wish is that Critical Mass riders would just admit what their real purpose is, it’s to disrupt traffic and be a pain in the ass to everyone else due to their own selfish “me first” attitudes.”

    You don’t know us, so I don’t know how you are able to infer our motives. There are thousands of people who ride in Critical Mass. Do you know all of them? For an idea of what some of us hard-core riders think, you could read what we have written online.

    We’re selfish? That’s funny, I defer to motorized traffic every other day of the month. I allow cars to take right turns in front of me, I wait to allow traffic to pass before taking a legal left turn (often choosing to WALK my bike in the crosswalk rather than risk cutting over).

    “Roads are built for cars and trucks first, whether you want to accept it or not, bicycles and pedestrians are second class citizens on the roads, which is why there are specific laws on how you are supposed to ride. Learn to respect the other if you want to get any respect.”

    I’m not a second class citizen, I’m not second class traffic, and I won’t be treated like one. I also will not try to curry favor with the dominant form of traffic by pretending to be a good minority. That doesn’t work. Do you know what has worked? Critical Mass. By taking to the streets each month, we have dramatically changed the attitude of motorists, who now give bicyclists far more respect than we ever got in the early 90s when the ride began.

    “Stop going down one way streets the wrong way, stop riding 3, 4, 5, 10 wide to prevent motorists from traveling at legal speeds in their lanes, stop at red lights, and stop trying to ride on roads where is is expressly noted that bicycles are not allowed.”

    The answer to your request is “no.” But what roads do you believe expressly forbid bicycle traffic? There are none, beyond the freeway (which we never take), so far as I know.

    “Stop being the self absorbed jerks that the majority of your group appear to be,”

    I say the same thing to motorists. Stop being self absorbed jerks! Then I might respect you more. You guys are all speed-limit-breaking scofflaws that spew pollution and dump carbon in the atmosphere and who don’t care about anyone but yourselves! Get a bike!

    “a group of persons stimulating one another to excitement and losing ordinary rational control over their activity.”

    Are you aware that this last sentence is hilarious? Thanks for the laugh, and have a nice day.

  12. Michelle says:

    This thing sure does stir up a lot of emotions on each side. I haven’t been in the game long enough to have much to share other than my own point of view. I am a respectful driver who is a bit scared to death to drive around cyclists. Yes, I am aware of how ridiculously out-gunned a cyclist is against a car. I am aware that I can easily kill a person with my car. I give cyclists a wide berth when passing, and will frequently just drive slow and stay behind if I don’t feel I can give them adequate space. The thing that scares me the most about driving around bikes though is that they are just so darn agile. I mean, bikers can turn on a dime, and dart out in front of me, and yes, they have. Not everyone rides with good lights. My commute almost always brings me home after dark, even in the summer, and bikes can be hard to see and keep track of in the dark. They also tend to not stop at the bottom of a hill that I do have to stop at before turning left. I’m always afraid of a cyclist coming down the hill in the dark, hidden by the parked cars, until I’ve already started pulling out into the intersection to make my turn. It’s happened more than once, but I was out of the way in time, or able to stop again in time.

    Today, I went on my first solo bike ride downtown to meet my husband for lunch. (He commutes daily by bike and sent me on a route that kept me out of the busiest streets and away from big hills.) It was fantastic. Sure, I was almost hit in the roundabout both times through by motorists who didn’t seem to understand how roundabouts worked, but the same thing would have happened had I been in a car. Luckily, being on a bike made it very easy to avoid any real problems. I was almost backed into by some one not looking, but they would have hit me if I were in a car. On a bike, it was easy enough to avoid them. I also encountered a nice man who was about to open his door, but saw me and smiled as he waited for me to pass.

    “I say the same thing to motorists. Stop being self absorbed jerks! Then I might respect you more. You guys are all speed-limit-breaking scofflaws that spew pollution and dump carbon in the atmosphere and who don’t care about anyone but yourselves! Get a bike!”

    I would hope that I’m not being one of the self-absorbed jerks you think all motorists are. I do have a bike and as much as I would love to ride it all the time, I can’t get myself 35 miles down 101 to work every day on a bike. I can’t carry the things I need to take to work on my back to bike to Caltrain. Sorry. I have to drive. Oh, and if I lived close enough to work to bike, my husband would be stuck with the same 35 miles on 101 commute that I’m currently doing.

    But just because some motorists are jerks that gives you the right to also be a jerk to me while I’m trying to get somewhere that I can’t physically get to any way other than in my car? I mean, just flat out saying “no” to a request that you respect stop signs and lights? I don’t want to kill you, but it’s not easy to get out of your way if you don’t stop when it’s your turn to stop. I don’t have quite the same turning radius or stopping distance as you. Please be aware of your ability to “come out of nowhere.” Or “no” you won’t stop taking up the whole street. Isn’t this supposed to be about motorists and cyclists sharing the road?

    I wonder what would happen if we all just stopped being jerks and tried to be aware of what the other side is dealing with.

    Or at least realizing that you can’t control whether or not someone else is a jerk, but you can control whether or not you are.

  13. I certainly don’t think all motorists are jerks, I was just trying to make a point by turning the anti-bike, anti-critical mass rhetoric around.

    About stopping for red lights & stops: I just said “no” out of irritation with previous commenter. I think people should be careful and polite on the road. But I do think that most cyclists will continue to break those laws when they feel it is safe, the same way motorists choose to ignore the speed limit more or less safely.

    Thanks for your comment, this sort of dialogue is the reason this blog is here!

  14. Rogerio says:

    The problem is the bireks think the road is theirs and there isn’t even a shoulder for them to ride on so they ride in the road. I hate seeing misconceptions like this, actually, yes they do have as much right to the road as a motorist. Check out for a summary of traffic law specific to bicycles. Paraphrasing: The motorist must always remember that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of a motor vehicle. You should bicycle as far to the right as is practicable. If there is a safe shoulder, use it instead of the traffic lane. Smart cyclists plot a line straight down the roadway three to four feet from the curb or parked car. So, if there is no shoulder, or no safe shoulder a bicycles should and can legally ride 3 to 4 into the roadway and motorists are legally obliged to exercise due care to avoid colliding with them.A nice wide shoulder would make everyone happier and safer too. Everyone following speed limits would reduce near misses as well.Here are two sections from that web site:Q1. Where on the road may a bicyclist travel? A1. If there is a usable bicycle lane, the bicyclists must use it. If there is no bicycle lane or it is unusable due to parked cars or other hazards, the bicyclists may drive either on the right shoulder or near the right edge or curb of the roadway. Bicyclists may move further left to avoid hazards such as parked cars or debris, but the bicyclists must avoid undue interference with other traffic (Sec. 1234(a))You should bicycle as far to the right as is practicable. If there is a safe shoulder, use it instead of the traffic lane. Smart cyclists plot a line straight down the roadway three to four feet from the curb or parked car. This allows them space to avoid road hazards and to be more visible to motorists and pedestrians.Q2. Is a motorist required to treat bicyclists any differently from a motorist? A2. The motorist must always remember that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of a motor vehicle and motorists are required to exercise due care to avoid colliding with bicyclists (Sec. 1146). As a safety measure, motorists should make scanning for cyclists second nature, giving cyclists plenty of clearance when passing them and the right-of-way when appropriate.

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