Argument #5 Against Critical Mass: You’ll Spark a Backlash!

April 26th, 2010 by hughillustration

Photo by Tyrell Voit Kampf

This week I am taking what I consider the 6 best and most common arguments against Critical Mass, and giving them each a fair answer — one per day.

Today’s argument: “You’ll spark a backlash!” Thanks for reading and commenting!

2. Critical Mass is counterproductive. It angers motorists and the general public, who will then be less likely to support bicyclists and bike issues. There will be a backlash.

I first heard this argument from the head of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition — in 1993. He told me that if we continued, the public and city planners would turn against cyclists, and the bicyclist cause would be set back by a generation. Critical Mass will create a backlash!

That is not what happened.

What did happen is that, in the years since Critical Mass began, bicycling has moved from the margins of society to the center. Each year has brought an increase in cyclists in San Francisco, each year has brought more investment in bike lanes and infrastructure generally. The SF Bike Coalition, which in 1992 had only a handful of members and met in the back of a Chinese restaurant, now has over 10,000 members and enjoys real clout with politicians and the city bureaucracy.

More importantly, motorists now largely respect bicyclists as legitimate traffic, which was far from the case when we began our ride in 1992. Back then, the prevailing attitude was that the streets were the province of motorized traffic, and that everyone else was simply borrowing access. And if you were on a bike, you felt this attitude quite clearly. Motorists would honk, yell at you to get off the road or get a car, and they often failed to even acknowledge your presence or your right to the road. (You may experience some of this now, but if you weren’t cycling in the early ’90s, take my word for it: it was much worse.)

So the predicted backlash against cycling issues has never materialized. It appears that, despite Critical Mass, more people are biking, more people support bike-friendly initiatives, more city and state money is being spent on bike infrastructure, and more motorists accept bicyclists as legitimate traffic. So far, there is no evidence — zero — that our monthly ride has had a negative or dampening effect on the rise of bicycling as a mainstream traffic choice.

What is more likely is that our ride made a meaningful contribution to this ongoing shift in our culture and our traffic priorities. But I’ll try to address that in an upcoming post.

Next up: You are causing people to be delayed. This is rude and uncalled for.

Previously: Argument 6: Critical Mass does not stop for red lights.


One Response to “Argument #5 Against Critical Mass: You’ll Spark a Backlash!”

  1. nio says:

    Yes, Critical Mass is somewhat disruptive and some do resent it, like all large events in SF. It’s also a celebration, lots of FUN, generating pro-cycling enthusiasm among riders, then benefiting the entire cycling community and the SFBAY as a whole.

    CM directly represents cyclists right to the road. It enthuses riders, who then secondarily spark cycling conversations, offers to fix bikes, visit bike kitchen, take rides in the park, etc. Tertiarily, these new cyclists are then more likely to support the Bike Coalition, support the parks, support more bike lanes, etc. Which then benefits everyone as cycling is inherently good for the city. Motorists should always remember every cyclist represents a freed parking spot and less highway congestion for them.

    CM is like all other large events in the city. Inevitably somebody’s inconvenienced, loathes it passionately, and wishes it shut down. Just like conventions, sports events, parades, fleet week, Blue Angels, church goers on Sunday, motorcyclist group rides, cultural events, street fairs, and hundreds of others.

    Can’t we all just get along?

    It’s impossible to avoid inconvenience while maintaining SF’s great vibrancy and diversity. That ultimately makes SF a great place to live and work, with so many entertainments to choose from, and a center for innovation creating jobs. You can’t take the city out of the city, pick and choose just what one likes, and discard the rest. It’s the whole package, or move to the suburbs.