Uncivility Sucks

August 22nd, 2010 by hughillustration

I recently discovered an anti-Critical Mass website called criticalmasssucks.com. It’s a slick site with some angry tirades about all the usual things that people hate about Critical Mass: we don’t stop for lights, we’re supposedly attacking motorists, etc. The slickness of the design and writing tell me it was probably created by some sort of sophisticated marketing professional.

But beyond the slickness, what is notable about this site are two things: 1) the nasty, mean spirited tone, rude language and insults he throws around, and 2) the fact that he does not allow comments. (And he has gone to the trouble of registering his site anonymously to prevent any public contact.) Also notable is the absence of serious, well-reasoned arguments — this is a person who prefers scoring cheap points to changing minds.

Our blog is not perfect. But we have never, in any of our posts and arguments, called anyone a “bitch” or a “douchebag” or used any insulting language whatsoever. We have never resorted to sarcasm, taunts or insults to make our points. And we allow comments.

Now, the comments are a real sore point for me, since I have mostly been the one receiving them and answering them one by one. They are mostly negative, but I publish them anyway, so long as the tone is civil. (We also allow comments on our Facebook page.) On more than one occasion, rather than deleting threatening comments I have written back to request a re-written, more civil comment — and gotten it. I or my co-bloggers have responded to every comment with fair and respectful replies.

We have also made ourselves easy to contact and identify. Chris and Joel both post under their own names. I use a pen name for Google search reasons, but I’m easy enough to find: click on my pen name and you’ll be taken to my site.

This seems to me a basic requirement of any site that seeks to influence the public: facing your critics and taking responsibility for your opinions. Sure, it’s a pain. Actually, it’s a lot of work. But to do otherwise would be hypocritical, it seems to me.

So, in response to all the taunting name calling, I’m calling Mr. Criticalmasssucks.com out with a challenge. Open up your site to civil, respectful comments and let the public agree or disagree with your point of view. See if you can live up to the challenge of defending your opinions. It’s the right thing to do.

21 Responses to “Uncivility Sucks”

  1. Troll feeding is a dangerous sport but linking to their websites only benefits them…. Mr Criticalmasssucks is more famous after your good work.

  2. bigperm says:

    Yes, I agree, the web is about discussion and transparency; so their attack without discussion makes the site self-aggrandising and impotent, for the most part. That being said, I was actually hoping to read your response to some of their questions, like does CM have a mission or specific goals? I’ve participated a ton in CM events and for me it’s a form of pro-active protest – if you don’t like something, change it. My hope is that CM creates awareness, but more importantly, is the impetus for change – like encouraging a significantly more bike friendly city. I would like to see goals or a deeper involvement from the CM initiative so that we can all see change come out of our protest efforts. I think CM has the potential to spearhead change and look at this CMSucks website as a call to action; an opportunity for CM to impact the way urban transportation develops.

  3. Mallory Johnston says:

    I participated in my first Critical Mass about five years ago when I moved to SF. I thought the idea behind it was crucial in a city like SF with its narrow roads and few bike lanes (though they have increased over the years). I have since vowed to never participate in, or support, Critical Mass, and here’s why:

    I remember my last CM clearly. It was about three years ago. We were somewhere around Church and Market going in a circle around the intersection for about 10 or 15 minutes. There was an elderly woman in a van with two dogs. After waiting for about five minutes, she got out of the van and began pleading with us to move on. She calmly explained that one of her dogs was very sick and she was on her way to an emergency vet visit. And then something happened that was completely sickening. A cyclist rode up, grabbed her keys, and chucked them into the crowd. “Appalled” doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings at that moment. I was both empathetic for this poor woman and her sick dog, as well as utterly ashamed to be a part of that group.

    I was a bike messenger in SF for four years. I saw first-hand the ill effects of CM. I had to deal with those irate drivers all day, every day. I still support the idea behind CM (unification of cyclists and drivers, right?), but I feel it has been lost and completely overshadowed by the cyclist vs. car mentality. I think a vast majority of CM participants only do so because it’s the one day per month when they can exercise power over vehicles. This I do not support whatsoever. I had never been more ashamed to be a cyclist as I was on the evening of my last CM ride.

    In my opinion, CM is a wonderful idea with poor execution. It does absolutely nothing to unify cyclists and drivers. In fact, it only perpetuates the problems. We as cyclists yearn to be acknowledged and respected by the drivers with whom we’re forced to share the road. How on earth will we ever gain their respect by acting in such a DISrespectful manner? Critical Mass has failed miserably in accomplishing the goal that it once stood for.

  4. That’s a terrible story. From time to time I have heard stories like this. However, in 18 years I have never seen anything like this myself. If I witnessed this, I would have confronted and restrained the thug who behaved like this.

    I wrote a blog post answering this type of criticism about Critical Mass: http://www.sfcriticalmass.org/2010/04/29/argument-2/

    So, you really think drivers were irate with you as a messenger because of Critical Mass? I highly doubt that. I think they are irate with you because you have the temerity to ride a bike instead of a car. If you read my other blog posts, you may come across a point I have made several times: There is no hard evidence on either side to indicate whether Critical Mass has helped or hurt the bicyclists cause in San Francisco. None. If you have some evidence other than anecdotes, I would love to see it.

  5. Marc says:

    I do not allow responses on my site because of this very reason. After having numerous negative experiences with Critical Mass I decided to do something about it.
    I am not a marketing professional and I have never made a website before this one in my life. I do not even know how to make a website. I used macs iWeb to put it together.
    The reason I do not allow feedback is for one simple reason. I do not have the time.
    I work 10 hours a day and then I go home to take care of my infant child, so responding to every joker is not something I have the time, nor inclination to do.
    Was the tone of my website “negative?” Hell yes. I put this website together over a year ago when i had much more time on my hands. I did two months of research before putting it together, including phone discussion with several members of the San Diego Police Department, including the Captain in charge of the are near Balboa Park where the SD CM takes place.
    Originally I had no idea it would get so many hits. I do not know how to “web-optimize” so it sat there for two months with no hits at all. Now it appears at the top of the list much to my delight when one searches for Critical Mass Sucks.
    It represents the frustration that I, and everyone else I researched about the situation who is like-minded feel about the situtation.
    I see you posted some comments on my facebook page and I will (when time allows) take a look at yours and make comments addressing your concerns. I do know, however, what this can turn into. Two very different views that see things their own way and will never reach common ground. I do not have time for that.
    However, I will (within a week or so when I have time) take a look and let you know what I think.

    I have had countless discussion on message boards and websites and I know that I will regret this, as it will lead to nothing but the same tired old camp. Like extreme left liberals and hard-core right-wingers trying to discuss Obama or something – not really worth the effort. But I will try (sigh).

  6. Thanks for the reply, and I would love to hear your thoughts on the arguments I sent you. I still don’t like the tone of your site, but I am pleased to hear that this your first site and that you are not some advertising professional. You did a good job with your site, however misguided I feel it is.


  7. Rob Anderson says:

    Your pleas on behalf of civility are grotesque, since incivility is the essence of Critical Mass, which deliberately disrupts the commute for working people trying to get home after working all week.

  8. Hi Rob, I’m glad to learn that you read our blog, and happy to hear that your recent courthouse defeat has not dampened your enthusiasm for public policy!

    Is Critical Mass inherently uncivil because of the laws and social norms that it breaks? Only if you believe that all civil disobedience is uncivil. In fact, the history of civil disobedience shows that it is possible to be disruptive and to break laws without attacking others, engaging in name-calling, or being rude or uncivil.

    Thanks for your comment!

  9. adama says:

    Rob- I’m wondering whether you actually have any direct knowledge of Critical Mass. You’re welcome to join us! I even have comfortable space on the back of my cargo bike. Snacks provided.

  10. Marc says:

    Good afternoon Hugh,
    I will use part of my lunchbreak today to get this started so that I can actually respond to one of your Arguments this weekend.

    As I stated on the FB blog End Critcal Mass In San Diego. I will post my replies to the links you sent me via FB, but first I will provide some background about myself just so we know each other a little better. After all, its the “civil” thing to do. Much of this will be a big yawner to your regulars, but I feel it’s an appropriate start.

    First, let me say “Thank You” for appropriating my artwork and changing it for your own purpose. After all, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” right?
    I actually took a lot of time to draw the D-bag meter, and you just copy-paste and make some changes. It just don’t seem fair! LOL. But hey, in this age of musicians appropriating lyrics, rifs and everything else they can from those who come before them, then making minor changes and calling it their new rap album, I guess I can understand.

    So, why make CriticalMassSucks.com? Well, to give you some background I am the type that wants to do something about wrongs that I see. When the city planted trees on all the neighboring streets and somehow missed mine – then would not take my countless calls about it – I bought shovel, pick and several trees and planted them myself. Then watered them by lugging buckets out because the rental neighbors could care less. When police helicopters were using the area right above my neighborhood as a staging area five times a night threw the early hours of the morning, I wrote letters to the editor of the Union Tribune which was published leading to discussions with the captain of the police helicopter division and letting them know what the problem is (they fixed it). From writing to my congressman to joining hard-core rightwing blogs so I can let them know how flawed (in my opinion) their logic is, I am one to actually DO something when I see or hear something that irks me, even if it costs my personal time and money (both limited). I put CriticalMassSucks.com together before my son was born, so I actually had time then. I could not do it now, but luckily I had it finished before he came along. I don’t bring this up to pat myself on the back for things that any conscientious member of society does, I bring it up to illustrate a point. A responsible member of society CAN create change if you take the time to do it properly. It is hard work and boring. Not the same at all as riding your bike once a month (in ways you can’t legally in any other day) then telling yourself you did a good thing. You are starting off from a point of being in the wrong. Not a good place to start.

    I must also point out for the record that I am politically an independent, however I am certainly more liberal than not and actually registered Democrat so I could vote Democrat in the primaries. I point this out because in the many blog posts I have made in my research the first response seems to be to call me some right-wing shill and that I must be a representative of car companies and oil companies. As my website states, I am not FOR cars, i’m just AGAINST Critical Mass. For many CM participants they cannot get past the idea that someone can be all for cycling, but opposed to THEM.

    My problems with Critical Mass are profound and I wont rehash them all here. If you have been to my site, you know already. But why this sort of sarcastic, “in-your face” website? Because humor works. Pretty simple, thats all there is to it. Humor gets attention and it helps to alleviate stress – especially when someone agrees with you – then they can say ‘Hell yeah! I know how you feel man!” Quite frankly, those who disagree can go somewhere else. There are plenty of sites that support Critical Mass. See in America we get to call people out when we don’t like what they do. Surely being involved in something that admittedly incites people such as CM should tell you that you will have those who oppose you? This is simple logic.

    In my months long research in putting together the site one thing came through loud and clear. People are frustrated, upset and angry over this behavior. But where can one go to see that others feel the same way? It took me months to find various sources and go to various blogs, etc., discussion with police officers including the police captain in charge of the balboa park area where San Diego’s CM takes place. I was surprised that there was not one place where one could go that had a LOT of info. The words that came up over and over were ‘critical mass sucks” and of course, the now famous “D-bag” comments. I am fully aware that anyone going to my site is probably (hopefully) going to find it after doing an internet search “critical mass sucks”, and that the majority already share my view. It is not meant to be unbiased (the title should tell you that). My site provides some basic background info, plus links to actual valuable sites regarding bike safety and routes, and how to help limit pollution, etc – and of course, at the end it provides HUMOR. Now, you may not think its very funny because you have an opposing view, but my hope is that anyone who feels angry or frustrated and finds my site will know that there are MANY MANY others like them that share their view… and maybe get a chuckle out of it as we jointly point the finger and make fun of CM. And OH BOY, CM is so easy to make fun of isn’t it? Breaking the law, disrupting society, having a morally superior view of those you are affecting. I mean c’mon, this stuff writes itself.

    Sorry about my stream of consciousness post – guess I read too much Kerouac in college, but I will try to keep things together here. I don’t have the time to go back and edit so if something has the wrong tense or there aren’t enough paragraph breaks, you’ll just have to cut me some slack.

    Where was I. Oh, yeah – See the thing about CriticalMassSucks.com is – if you don’t like it, all it takes is the effort of moving one finger down and clicking it away. For someone who attends an “event” where they intentionally mess with the community, actually TRAPPING some of them, complaining that my website is “uncivil” is quite laughable.

    It should also be noted that civil disobedience in almost all cases involved the participants demonstrating against GOVERNMENT, not their fellow man. There is no big evil “They” that your are confronting on the streets. There are no (how did one of your followers put it that you thought was the best comment ever), oh yeah, no ‘Establishmentati” that you are going up against. Just PEOPLE. Regular people who are doing their best to live in society, and doing a far better job of it than CM participants.

    Let me make one thing clear, If the joker who made the “Establishmentati” comment were participating in an event that went up against – oh, say an oil company, or surrounded a government building and went in circles around it – I would be 100% for it! Truly. This would be true “civil disobedience” and I would applaud him and his attitude. However, as it stands now he is just messing with someone’s grandma and sister and mom, so I find him nothing less than disgusting.

    Are some of the arguments on CriticalMassSucks.com maybe a little thin? Perhaps a little, but no matter how thin any of them are (and I’m willing to defend ANY of them), they are going up against motivations that – no matter how noble – use tactics that do not belong in civilized society. Remember now, as stated before I am FOR cycling, just not for Critical Mass.

    Now, lets begin. I shall take a look at your first link this weekend, see what you have to say. And respond to the first one. I will probably only have time to get through one, but we shall see.

    Stay safe on the road. I hope you have a pleasant day.

  11. sdills says:

    As we discuss here at my place of work, the one major complaint that I think defines the gap between bicyclist and car has come up (and is also pointed out on CMSucks). It regards the call to “share the road” that we all see in various major metropolitan areas in the US. This, of course, seems completely justified and reasonable. However, while car drivers do share the road as best we can by obeying traffic laws (you don’t hear about bikes getting run over every day), bicyclists seem to have the idea that they do not need to heed simple rules of law like stop-signs, red lights or traffic lines. I venture to say that it is this disregard for what everyone in a motor vehicle has to put up with (or face possible legal repercussions) that sours the extremist bike community in the eyes of drivers. In the end, sharing is a two way street, and we need to work together to make it happen.

  12. Thanks for your comment, sdills. I would like to challenge your view that motorists are all law-abiding, road-sharing model citizens, while bicyclists are all scofflaws who ignore traffic laws. As a motorist, this may be your experience. However, as a cyclist, my experience is the opposite. I see motorists every day who drive recklessly everywhere I look. And I am much more concerned about motorists who ignore traffic laws than I am about cyclists, for one simple reason: cars kill.

    Here is one law that I see motorists routinely ignoring: the requirement that they slow down and look for pedestrian traffic when taking a right turn on green, and that they stop completely before proceeding to take a legal right turn on red. Quite often — every day, in fact — I see motorists take right turns at incredibly dangerous speed, speeds that make checking for pedestrian traffic impossible, and would make stopping for pedestrians difficult and dangerous. Cars just whip around right hand turns, and everyone just has to get out of their way. As a pedestrian, I look over my shoulder when crossing with the light to ensure that a car does not run me over.

    Bicyclists do make a habit of making a rolling through stop signs when there is no traffic, and often riding through reds after checking for through traffic. This is illegal, and in some situations is rude. But how many deaths and serious injuries are caused by bicycle scofflaws? Not many. And how many are caused by motorists driving recklessly and illegally? On a yearly basis, thousands upon thousands of people are killed this way.

    I suggest changing your focus to address the real danger on our streets.

    Thanks for reading and writing!


  13. Ryan says:

    I’ve chimed in before on this blog to offer up San Jose Bike Party as an interesting take on the mass ride, and while I hate to be one of those annoying people who can’t stop talking about themselves, I’m doing it again.

    The aims of San Jose Bike Party (www.sjbikeparty.org) are not all too different than Critical Mass, but the methods to achieve those ends vary. I’m not going to argue which version is better, I just want to point out that there’s different methods and in three short years, San Jose’s has grown very popular, not just with the bicyclist community, but with a larger populace, including many city officials.

    Marc from CriticalMassSucks and anyone else reading this, you should check out San Jose’s ride. There’s also a lot of good media on the ride as well, wiki.sjbikeparty.org/inthemedia.

    Okay, sorry to jump on someone else’s blog, but the conversation unfolding here made me really want to add this in. I’m not opposed to CM and am in fact am grateful that it set a world-wide movement in place. I do think that San Jose has taken CM as a working model and made some significant changes that make it work rather well within our own city and community and can possibly serve as a model to new and current rides.

  14. […] site, it seems that San Francisco Critical Mass is not without its sharer of violent incidents.  This one really makes me sick to my […]

  15. bill stender says:

    sdillis says: ” bicyclists seem to have the idea that they do not need to heed simple rules of law like stop-signs, red lights or traffic lines.”

    Yours is a common assumption, seemingly fair and rational, but consider that these traffic controls/ laws you cite were created once motor vehicles started sharing the roads. It is fair and rational to the motorists, but not so much for everyone else. Obviously bicycles need to be safe and conscientious to their fellow travelers, but safety controls for bikes are very different than for cars.

    Much like laws have slowly changed state by state over the years to allow cars a ‘right turn on red’, it makes sense to recognize legally (if not humanistically) that a cyclist can treat a stop sign as a Yield, and a Red light as a Stop sign, safely and routinely.

  16. I'm a biker too says:

    Most biker use their rights really wrong. They block the road way and that is so annoying. I don’t want to mean it’s all of your group doing that, but please give way to the normal traffic. You guys are lucky this is US. If you ride a bike like this any place else in the world, you will know how car drivers hate you.

  17. Steve says:

    Where are all the Critical Mass riders during national bike-to-work month, or the two national Bike-to-Work days? Nowhere! I’ve never seen anything approaching a hundred riders in a group for these events, yet CM riders will gather like flies on dung once a month to spread “the celebration.”

    CM is a celebration alright… a celebration of thugs!

    I have seen first hand in SF CMs ride the viscous pleasure “the enforcers” take in terrorizing pedestrians and motorists alike. Something none of them would try if they didn’t have thousands of riders blasting through the red traffic lights behind them.

    CM makes it tough for bike commuters every other day of the month. And CM makes it tougher for positive national bicycle organizations like the League of American Bicyclists and local organizations like the Seattle Biking Coalition to push through changes that lead to true sharing of the road safely.

    Until Critical Mass riders acknowledge they have a problem and police themselves, the more appropriate moniker is Critical Ass riders. At present, rather than respect or the right-of-way, they need a well placed pump to the spokes.

  18. Steve says:

    @Bill Stender, the first rules of the road predate motor vehicles. The world’s first traffic light came into being before the automobile was in use, and traffic consisted only of pedestrians, buggies, and wagons.

  19. Adrienne says:

    @Steve- I am a bicycle commuter. I am also a CM rider. Why are there not 100 rider groups on Bike to Work Day? My guess is because it is hard enough to get out the door on regular days that getting out even earlier to do the same thing we do everyday is just too much. You may like to know that many of the people who man the BTWD events around SF are CM riders.

    I also do not buy that CM makes anything more difficult for any national or major local bicycle group to do anything. Were that the case, you would not see the Board of Directors or members of these groups riding CM (and I assure you they do as I have ridden with many of them).

    As to a celebration of thugs… I doubt that you could categorize either myself, my husband or my children this way. We are all CM riders. We are not 20 years old, we are not “hipsters” (whatever that means to you), we are not fixie riders, we have jobs and college educations. We are SF natives and we want a better City.

    Oh, and roads were first paved because bicyclists rode together, en mass, and demanded it happen.

  20. Jack says:

    I don’t own a car and I am on my bike everyday (commuting to work, going out at night, and everything else). I rarely go anywhere in this city without being on my bike and, yes, spending all those hours riding around definitely leads to some dangerous encounters with the handful of motorists and pedestrians who either are unaware or don’t respect that I have the right of way. In fact, not too long ago I was sandwiched between two cars on Folsom St when a car driving next to me decided to pull over to park in the bike lane without looking first. I was lucky I wasn’t hurt badly and she was sorry. It happens. And, yep, other times a close call will occur because it’s ME who does something wrong.

    So, to summarize: I love to bike around this city and, yes, a number of pedestrians and drivers need to be more aware of bikes. (But I will say that this city is MUCH better than NY in regards to being bike aware.)

    That said, critical mass drives me mad.

    A lot of folks say that CM is fun and that the people criticizing it should try riding in it because if they did they’d see how great it is. Well, I don’t doubt that riding through the streets with a group of people blasting music is fun. The thing is, it was also fun when I went to house parties in high school and cranked the music until 2 in the morning regardless of the impact it had on the neighbors. It is also fun to have loud sex in your apartment even if it has thin walls. Sure, I KNOW it’s fun to ride a bike down the middle of the street and ride through lights, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t being amazingly inconsiderate and self absorbed.

    I’m frustrated when I routinely watch cyclists during CM refuse to let PEDESTRIANS cross the street during. The irony of pro-bicycle folks not letting pedestrians who have a walk signal cross the street…. sigh. It’s also frustrating to watch a bus with late evening commuters have to idle for 20 mins because CM riders think they are more important and than anyone else.

    CMers: If you want to ride in a group and take up several lanes then go right ahead, but everyone should stop for lights. I know the CM folks say that stopping for lights would cause the group to break up into smaller groups and they’d be less safe, but c’mon. I ride next to cars every day and have an incident with a car once every two or three years at the most. Just stay in your lane and ride normally. Or if you want to ride without stopping for lights then work it out with the city – there’s simply no other way to do a non-stop ride without it being selfish.

    In fact, the silliest thing about the safety concern of having to intermingle with cars during CM is that the cars along my daily commute are, on a whole, much better drivers than the cyclists. They generally yield to cyclists and otherwise work around them. In fact, I’m not sure what CM is protesting – there are bikes everywhere in this city and they mix well with the cars.

    However, without fail, every day I do see the following happen during my commute:

    1) A cyclist who thinks that the way to pass someone riding slowly in the bike lane is to signal
    with their hand and immediately pull out into the traffic lane without looking. I’ve seen a number of cars (and sometimes other cyclists who were in that lane already) barely avoid the oblivious bikers who do this. You are a vehicle, so LOOK before you change lanes.

    2) A cyclist who comes to a red light and moves to the front of waiting cyclists and then turns out to be slower than all of them once the light turns green (which leads to everyone having to now find room to pass this person again). Unless you KNOW you are fast then wait in line instead of making me have to pass you. You may be riding as hard as you can, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are fast.

    3) A cyclist ride through a red light when no cars are coming (which I do) but then cut off the pedestrians who have the right of way. Again, sigh…

    4) A cyclist turn right on red into the bike lane even when cyclists with the right of way are flying towards them in that lane.

    5) And every day I see cyclists ignore the order at a 4 way stop as well as forget to move out of the way to let a car take a right on red.

    Perhaps CM should focus on teaching good riding instead of a “me me me” approach. A ride through the city with a large group of all non-aggressive, good riders would be fun. I just have a feeling that a respectful ride wouldn’t be of any interest to a portion of the current CM folks…

    I don’t think the debate should be around whether CM is bad because it may make people more anti-bike the rest of the month. That’s irrelevant. And I definitely don’t think that CM can hang its hat on saying that this is beneficial civil-disobedience that will bring more respect and recognition of cyclists. The debate should just be whether CM in its current incarnation is something that is neighborly and not narcissistic. I just don’t see how the answer could be yes.

  21. Marc says:

    FYI: within the next month I will be allowing feedback on my site http://www.CriticalMassSucks.com.
    As soon as I can figure out how to do it and get it up and running.
    Im sure you will want to come add your two-cents.

    I welcome any and all feedback. There will be some “Rules of the Road” but it will be pretty loose.

    Hope to see some of you that think CM is the Cat’s Meow on there to post why you think riding in CM is okay.