Bad Press for Everyone!

March 30th, 2010 by hughillustration

Commenter Peter Smith posted a link to an item on Cyclelicious concerning the awesome San Jose Bike Party. It seems that even if you stop for red lights, eject anyone who acts like a jerk, don’t drink in public, and in all respects carry on like a model minority, you will still be blamed for the traffic woes of your city. From the San Jose Merc:

The bike ride through town snarled traffic, so police rerouted drivers away from N. Santa Cruz Avenue.

“It was terrible,” former Los Gatos resident Emerald Hathaway said. “I couldn’t even get onto N. Santa Cruz. They were riding around all the cars. It was quite a sight.”

Los Gatos Weekly-Times columnist Mary Ann Cook also got stuck in the melee, saying it took a long time to get out of downtown.

Notice that the sight of bicyclists riding easily through motorized gridlock is described as “terrible.” Really? I wonder what word they use to describe traffic the other 30 days of the week?

And then there’s that unpleasant word “snarl.” Journalists always use that one, as if they imagine traffic to be smiling until a nasty gang of cyclists rides by, causing traffic’s upper lip to curl defensively. Well, everyone knows traffic is predictably “snarled” every day as a result of poor city planning that has favored the private automobile for decades now. And we see the results.

Of course, the San Francisco Critical Mass gets this sort of press every month. I’m not bringing it up to disparage the excellent efforts of the San Jose ride. But the point is that you can’t change the rules of the road — even momentarily, even one day a month, even while stopping for red lights — without people blaming you for the very problem you are trying to solve.

Might as well accept the fact that we’re going to be unpopular, and get on with the task of building a genuine public culture, public discussion, public space for everyone!

12 Responses to “Bad Press for Everyone!”

  1. Jym says:

    =v= The ever-reliable Merc. I have clippings going back to 1990, when frothing anti-bicyclist attacks were published as news. All that “wheeled locusts” and “snarling traffic” stuff goes way back, and when Critical Mass started up, they didn’t miss a beat. That was about two publishers ago and they’re still at it.

  2. Steve says:

    I was driving home from a dinner in downtown Los Gatos at at about 9:00 or 9:30 p.m. as the San Jose Bike Party was still taking place.

    If you notice on their site, most of the cyclist are dressed in dark “hoodies” and dark pants. As I was driving down N. Santa Cruz to Blossom Hill and then Los Gatos Blvd, there were dozen’s of these bike riders who were not present earlier in the evening.

    N. Santa Cruz Ave. is a narrow 2 lane road that is often subject to congestion with cars, pedestrians and cyclist moving about. I could not believe some of the insane risk these people were taking. Darting in and out of traffic, shooting suddenly without reason from near the curb to near collision with moving cars. I (and others I noticed) were surprised and had to cut the wheel even to the point of crossing into the other lane of traffic to avoid hitting these pest.

    They continued, often 3 abreast into the lane racing then slamming on brakes suddenly.

    All of these folks were wearing dark colors and hoods. One could barely see them (although you could hear there loud foul mouthed yelling) They appeared focused and deliberate in there intimidating tactics and were unrelenting.

    Are these the same upstanding law abiding “stop at every red light” citizens you refer to in your article?

    Perhaps the Merc is less biased than you realize you have been smoking to much weed. Maybe now would be a good time to get a job and start contributing.

  3. So, it sounds like you were delayed by bicyclists who were riding erratically. Guess what — every day I am delayed by motorists who drive erratically. I’m not excusing anything that may or may not have happened — I wasn’t there, so I can’t say. But I am saying you, and the Merc, may have a double standard when it comes to bicyclists and motorized traffic, condemning bad behavior from one group while accepting it as normal from another.

    It also sounds like you are making an assumption about people’s motives by the way they dress and the fact that they curse. Lots of people where black hoodies and curse (myself included). Big deal! However, if they were yelling at motorists in order to harass them, that’s wrong and I don’t think anyone would condone that.

    You also described me as an unemployed pot smoker that doesn’t contribute to society — again, making an assumption that doesn’t speak well of your observational skills.

    I have only ridden on the San Jose ride once, but when I did I was impressed by how celebratory the mood was, and how careful people were to stop for red lights in order not to anger motorists such as yourself. If you visit their site, you’ll see that they promote an ethic of celebration, respect, and safety. Better yet, why don’t you join them next week on your bike, and see how it works for yourself?

  4. tuneinto says:

    I speed up and swerze for bicyclists thanks to Critical Mass. I know longer ride my bike thanks to Critical Mass. You are full of shit when you say your group is obeying the laws – not only in the mass rides, but every day. I had a friend who was jogging get plowed over by a bicyclist who blew a stop sign at about 20 miles per hour. She spent a week in the hospital with head trauma and took months to fully recover. I’ve spent countless hours in traffic where biclyclists surrounded my car and dared me to move just because I honked my horn. You delay hard working and tired parents who only want to make it home and spend a little time with their kids before their bedtime. You keep mothers with children in their cars as they scream of hunger and dirty diapers.

    Critical Mass is doing more harm than good for your own cause. I simply do not make way for bicyclists any more and won’t until these illegal rides end.

    You and your like are worthless simply because you think you are worth more than those who would otherwise give a shit about your cause. But thanks – now we don’t give a shit.

  5. Are you aware that you are making a moral argument while making threats against other people’s lives? This is a sign that you have lost your moral bearings. You need to see a Rabbi right away!

    But I’ll respond to your comments, despite your threats and insults. First to the question of whether I am “full of shit”: I never said we did not break any laws, or that Critical Mass is 100% legal. I don’t know where you got that impression. Perhaps you were not reading carefully?

    For the rest of your comments, I would like to rephrase them for you:

    I had a friend who was riding his bike get plowed over by a motorist who blew a stop sign at about 80 miles per hour. He died. I’ve spent countless hours in traffic where cars surrounded my bike and dared me to move just because I was on the road. You motorists delay hard working and tired parents on bikes who only want to make it home and spend a little time with their kids before their bedtime. You keep bicycling mothers from riding safely with their children.

    Motorized traffic is doing more harm than good for our city. I simply do not make way for cars any more and won’t until this city is transformed into a bike utopia along the lines of Asterdam or Copenhagen.

    I’ll refrain from rephrasing the last sentence, because as much as I dislike your tone, I don’t think you are worthless just because we disagree. I continue to give a shit, even if you don’t.

    Have a nice day!

  6. Bob Laden says:

    I am a cyclist and I am embarrassed by everything Critical Mass supposedly does in the name of cyclists… I’ve been there and have witnessed all the bee-ess myself, the threats and harassments put out by these folks on their joy ride… it’s not right

  7. I call out bad behavior every time I see it. Which isn’t often.

  8. brett says:

    If critical mass had a thought in it’s passive aggressive brain, it would ride on Saturday or Sunday morning, a logical time to safely conduct a recreational outing that rapidly drains finite surface traffic corridors, especially during peak consumption. Remember, you are conducting civil disobedience in support of rights you clearly already have.

  9. So we should ride when we have the least visibility? Because it would be more convenient for you? Because cars are somehow more entitled to the road at peak hours than we are? I’m sorry, Brett. I don’t want to be passive aggressive so I will just come out and say it: that’s stupid.

    We have as much right to the road as you do. But every other day of the month we defer to you. We voluntarily choose to ride in the “door zone,” though we are entitled to take the whole lane. We avoid merging with traffic to take a legal left turn, often waiting for two lights in order to do so. I could go on. These are the “rights we already have.” The right to be marginalized, to wait, to defer, to breathe the toxic air your technologically backwards transportation choice spews in our faces.

    On the last Friday of the month, bicyclists do not defer to you as if motorized traffic were somehow more legitimate. We ride together to see what San Francisco would be like if cars had to wait for bikes. And we like the city this way. If you don’t like it, I suggest you stick to the suburbs, where the car will always be king.

  10. Old Lady Pedestrian says:

    Are the bicyclists careful of pedestrians? Could I walk across the street, during one of these Critical Mass days? (Our bikes here are worse than the cars.) These days, I ask someone, preferably a daring skate-boarder with pants perched perilously on his buttocks, to “Cross me, please.” They usually (a) are astonished to be asked and (b) rise to the most flamboyant courtesy.

  11. Marc says:

    Hugh, you are free to ride in the middle of the lane as long as you maintain the posted speed limit. There are laws against going OVER the speed limit, and their are laws for going too far UNDER it as well. I for one have no problem with cyclists in the middle of the road as long as they are going the speed limit.

    People ride down the middle of the road all the time down Adams Ave in SD. Hell, I do it myself when necessary.There is one area of my route where it is absolutely necessary (where El Cajon blvd turns into Washington and the 163 offramp splits off). Pretty hairy with multiple areas of cross traffic, some speeding up to enter the on-ramp, but the only way to get across it and over the bridge is to ride right down the middle of the road just like a car. I stop behind the car in front of me, there are cars behind me. All works out fine. Are some drivers jerks? Yeah, but you will find them everywhere not just in cars, and the vast, overwhelming majority of the time, drivers are courteous and respectful.

    Now if I were to NOT be able to maintain the speed limit, then I (like a car) should either speed up, or – since I am physically incapable of maintaining 35 mph with my crossover bike laden with sidesaddles filled with change of clothes, laptop and days lunch – I move aside.

    I dont really understand why you have to wait for cars. I never have to wait for cars. In fact, I can move around them right to the front of the line at red lights. Oh, I get it. When you say you have to wait for cars, what you really mean is you have to wait for STOPLIGHTS… like everyone else. And riding in Critical Mass allows you to just disregard them.

    I dont run stoplights, but they sure are easy to avoid, arent they?. Just shoot up to the front of the line, make a right on the red, go about 20 feet, cross the road, come back and make another right on the original road I was heading – while all the cars are stuck at the light. Whats the problem?

    Everyone in cars has to wait for the other cars and the stoplights too. Cyclist have less concerns with traffic delays… not more.

    I think this all comes down to something I touch on on my website ( You ride in CM because of FEAR. You are afraid to ride your bike so you feel it is your right to behave in this manner. You direct your fear upon ALL motorists and feel just in your actions. I agree it is intimidating to ride alongside metal behemoths that can make my soft squishy parts paint the pavement – I personally have lost a friend who was an avid bike commuter to an accident. He was not a close personal friend – he turned into more of an acquaintance since college, but my point is that I know the risks and resulting funeral that can occur. For the record – it turns out his death was caused by him own doing by not stopping at an intersection – not that it matters. Years ago when i lived at the beach I too have found myself over the top of the hood of a volvo of all things – arent they supposed to be “safe” 🙂 It was minor with no damage except to my bike – Anyway, my point is that I do know first hand the consequences of either myself or a driver not paying attention – however this does not give me the right to participate in closing down parts of my city. It really doesn’t.

  12. moo says:

    Marc, are you being serious or facetious when you talk about bypassing red lights by doing the right/cross/right maneuver? Wouldn’t that require an illegal u-turn?