Is the SFPD Planning a Crackdown on Critical Mass?

January 30th, 2010 by hughillustration

The January Critical Mass was an intimate affair, with only 100-150 riders.

Tail end turns on Powell from Geary as the traditional loop around Union Square commences. San Francisco, Critical Mass, January 29, 2010.

Tail end turns on Powell from Geary as the traditional loop around Union Square commences. San Francisco, Critical Mass, January 29, 2010.

That’s pretty tiny, but luckily a crew from KPIX was there to make us feel important.

Turns out, KPIX joined us to report on the news (brought to you by Honda!) (they repeat their absurd claims first reported last summer) that SFPD Chief George Gascon is reviewing department policy on Critical Mass, as part of his commitment to cut crime by 20%. Here’s the video:

Of course the police view our monthly ride as a nuisance and an expense — that comes as no surprise. But this report raises the question: if Chief Gascon were somehow able to stop the ride, what percentage would he claim he had reduced crime? I can hear him now… “Red light running by cyclists is down by exactly 4%!”

If the cops think they have better things to do with their time, we agree! (Let’s not begin to discuss their spending priorities, and how using phalanxes of cops on overtime to stop a 2-3 hour, once-a-month bike ride is a remarkably dumb use of public resources!) We’d love to see the police escort disappear (though we acknowledge that they have been helpful in calming dangerous motorists). But the idea that our monthly ride should be anywhere near the top of the list of law enforcement priorities for a city with real violent crime issues is laughable!

As Justin points out in the video clip, the police tried and failed to stop Critical Mass once before. In 1997, Mayor Willie Brown sent the cops out to ticket, harass and arrest dozens of cyclists each month, with absolutely no effect. In fact, the rides just got larger and larger, ballooning into rides of 5000 or more each month. In the end, the mayor backpedaled, the cops backed off, and we’ve had a sort of truce ever since.

If the police try again to prevent our popular movement, the same thing is guaranteed to happen. More people will show up, and we’ll just invent new tactics — a welcome opportunity, since our ride has been entirely predictable for years now. Hey, maybe we could try skipping Pee Wee Herman Plaza in favor of meeting in 4 or 5 separate locations. With ubiquitous cellphones and twitter messaging, organizing that sort of decentralized response ought to be even easier than it was 13 years ago!

We’ll stop short of asking Gascon to “bring it on,” but only because we’re not macho idiots, and we know he has more important work to do. Gotta get a jump on that 20%!

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11 Responses to “Is the SFPD Planning a Crackdown on Critical Mass?”

  1. […] SF Chief’s review is supposedly part of his plan to reduce crime in San Francisco by 20%. Cutting down on the number of red light cyclists just might do […]

  2. […] Chief Gascón Orders Review of Critical Mass (SF Critical Mass, SF […]

  3. winagain winnegan says:

    did it ever occur to you that the cops are more worried about the resources they’re wasting trying to babysit you while you complain about the fact that they’re keeping the good people of sna francisco from cracking your skull open?

  4. If the police are concerned about resources, the easiest solution is to stop escorting the ride. If they would like to waste more resources, they can try to shut it down.

    You’re right, though, that there are many drivers who would like to crack my skull open. Perhaps you are one of them. Did you know that using your car to swipe at a person on a bike is a crime? It is called “assault with a deadly weapon,” and it applies to everyone, even irate motorists. I am still waiting to see the police uphold this law during Critical Mass — though they often intervene to stop actual bloodshed, to their credit.

  5. winagain winnegan says:

    it’s hard to spin it into assault if someone hits you when you run a red light. it’ll suck when it happens, but chances are the judge won’t stick them with attempted vehicular manslaughter because you’re too cool for traffic signals

    and besides that i can say with pretty good authority that there are a lot of people who don’t really care whether or not the law says they can’t run down someone who’s pissing them off, but do care about doing it in front of the police

    same goes for seeing if you can get a hipster in the head with a glass bottle

  6. Same holds true for motorists who consistently break the speed limit, right? I mean, it sucks when it happens, but if you are driving 80 in a 65 zone, and somebody drops a brick on your car from an overpass, chances are the judge won’t stick the attacker with attempted manslaughter because you’re too cool for speed limits.

    Hitting a hipster in the head with a glass bottle! That’s a good one, Winagain! Thanks for leaving comments on our blog, you’ve really contributed to the democratic culture of our city.

  7. winagain winnegan says:

    actually that probably wouldn’t be attempted manslaughter. it would also be a pretty far cry from getting in an accident with someone who was ignoring traffic signals. and the driver would probably get stuck with a citation for speeding

    there’s also a lot of people who actually would chuck bottles at your bike rides. there’s even some people out there who might start shooting if you’re obnoxious enough

    and since when has san francisco been your city?

  8. Winagain, you sound like a person with no sense of morality or respect for human life. I’ve published your unpleasant comment just so people can see the type of person we’re dealing with here.

  9. winagain winnegan says:

    my lack of morality and respect from human life should have been obvious when i said someone getting hit by a car would suck

    and you aren’t the only people in the city. if you want to embrace diversity then you can’t just try to blot out everyone that doesn’t agree with you and write them off as closed minded assholes

    the real world isn’t terrible, but it’s not all that friendly either, and if you make a point of disrupting motor and pedestrian traffic then you need to be prepared to take a few punches if nobody tags along to protect you

  10. a says:

    If the point of your massively disruptive ride is to raise public awareness of bikers rights with the hopeful result being more bike lanes and more cooperation between cars and bikes then why would you do so much to anger anyone who’s not involved, including pedestrians? By blatantly breaking traffic laws and threatening motorist your only creating more animosity towards bikers. Why not try doing a critical mass ride where everyone follows the traffic laws and rides in bike lanes to show people that bikes and cars can “share the road?” By making it a bikes against cars protest your only widening the divide. If the general public are forced to choose bikes or cars, cars will win every time. How about bikes and cars.
    I am an avid rider who logs as many miles on my bike per year as in my car, but I have never participated in a critical mass outside of watching to see what it was all about. That will not change so long as it continues to violate the rights of anyone who isn’t currently riding with it. I have organized and/or rode in community rides in many of the places i’ve lived. I have also had part in many miles of bike lanes being added to these areas. None of this was achieved by pissing off anyone not openly agreeing. By riding with traffic in a cooperative manner and being polite while doing it we were able to gain the public ‘s respect and support, in turn gaining their votes when it came time to decide whether their tax money would be spent on bike friendly changes the the roads. If you think those people who have been forced to sit in traffic while “mass-holes” block their way are going to vote for their tax money to benefit such bikers in any way your delusional.
    And last but far from least is the fact that when all those cars are sitting in traffic they are burning uncountable gallons of gas. Your ride actually has the direct opposite effect on the things your supposedly trying to achieve.

  11. You’ve made some assumptions. One is that we’re a protest intending to anger and “threaten” motorists. Another is that traffic policy is affected by how cyclists conduct themselves on the road.

    Your first assumption is just outright false, and if you had read any of the material on this blog, ridden in Critical Mass, or had any knowledge of the ride from a source other than the news media you would know that.

    The second assumption I think is understandable, and a very common one. However, I believe it too is a flawed assumption. Here’s my case: during the 18 years that Critical Mass has existed, bicycling in San Francisco has gone from a dangerous fringe activity to a mainstream means of transport, with percentages of riders increasing yearly. We have more bike lanes, more bike parking, more funding for bike issues, and bike advocacy organizations have booming memberships.

    Back in 1992, when Critical Mass began, none of that was true. The SFBC was a tiny organization with something like 5-10 active members, and it met in the back of a Chinese restaurant. After two years of Critical Mass, their membership exploded, and continued to expand to the present day. So did their political clout, and so did funding for bicycle transport in the city and in California.

    During that entire time, Critical Mass was bringing cyclists into the streets, month after month. Some motorists were angered, others simply annoyed, while many others viewed us as simply another in a long line of odd public celebrations that periodically disrupt — and enhance — life in San Francisco.

    So, at the very least, we can say that Critical Mass had no negative effect during the last 18 years on the bicycle cause. More likely, it had a positive effect, in that the many thousands of people who have taken part in our ride have been inspired to go out and join the Bike Coalition, write their representatives, show up at hearings, start newsletters and blogs, form organizations, and generally get on the with important task of changing the way life is organized in our city and beyond.

    I think that positive feedback loop will continue into the future.