Call Me A Critical Masshole

(warning: echo-chamber post forthcoming)

Erica Barnett nailed it: “Cyclists are angry for a reason.” As I wrote back when hugeasscity was still an innocent babe, I appreciate the frustration that feeds the Critical Mass gestalt. And this is an appreciation that you cannot gain until you’ve spent a lot of time biking around the city. I’ve been bike commuting downtown every day for many years, and rare is the day that I don’t see at least one car do something careless. Too many drivers are not taking responsibility for the deadly machines they are controlling, and my risk goes up because of it. Any normal person faced with this situation day after day would become angry.

Cycling advocates worry too much about Critical Mass straining the relationship between cars and cyclists. Does anyone actually believe that a backlash against Critical Mass could cause the City of Seattle’s leadership to reverse position on the need for policy changes that promote cycling? No, of course not, because the City’s leaders understand the importance of planning to create a more sustainable city, and from that perspective, Critical Mass is an insignificant blip.

But what Critical Mass does do that matters is build solidarity in the cycling community and empower people to demand better conditions for cycling. And I’m down with that. Maybe I’ll even go on a Critical Mass ride one of these years…

33 Responses to “Call Me A Critical Masshole”

  1. Ben

    I can understand the desire for bicyclists to want more recognition on the road (and I ride bicycles and motorcycles myself). But I think that the incident in Seattle undermined the credibility of the movement, personally.

    I think that with infrastructure the way it is (trying to make cars and bikes share the same roads in many places) we are doomed to failure. When I drive my car I see bikes riding way outside their lane or side by side, blocking my driving. And when I ride my bike I get idiot car drivers almost running me down when I am in my bike lane.

    We should have bike / pedestrian paths separate from roads. Might be an unpopular view, but I would enjoy my bicycling and driving more if this was the case.

  2. dan bertolet

    Ben, Critical Mass cannot undermine the credibility of the movement, because nothing Critical Mass does changes the reality that the sustainable city of the future will rely much more on travel by bike. I think lots of people already understand that, and as time passes more and more people will. People that react to Critical Mass by becoming anti-bike are essentially shooting themselves in the foot. And people that react to Critical Mass by driving in a way that endangers the life and limb of cyclists are sociopathic criminals and should be treated as such.

  3. joshuadf

    The solution is clearly weapons that could saw off the part of cars that pull into bike lanes or crosswalks. Or superheros.

  4. Dan Staley

    I visualize inventing a Gatling gun, capable of firing 6000 rounds per minute, and light enough for me to put in my Camelbak. I’d store ammo in my panniers.

    Oh! you say. He’d cut cars in half that turn right in front of him. Righty-o! I’d also have to reload often after I mow down idiot bikers who blow stop signs, weave in front of cars, don’t make themselves visible, and generally act like disrespectful bicycling-Americans.

  5. Joshua

    I happen to agree with Ben on this one. Speaking as a former bike commuter (I’m on the bus now due to pulled hamstring), I also understand the frustration bikers have with dumb ass drivers. I’m less worried about the repurcussions with the city, though, then I am with the relationship between bikers and drivers. Drivers now have a reason to like bikers even less. The statement about people shooting themselves in the foot by becoming anti-bike implies that people make rational decisions about their future. They don’t, as we all know, and it’s much easier to sink into mindless reactionary anger than it is to weigh the relative evils of some dick bikers and the absolute evil of dumb ass drivers. This was a bad situation all around, made worse by adolescent-era decision making skills.

  6. Lee Roberts

    I agree with Dan – not that I want a Gatling gun (although that would be cool) – but that we in the bicycling community would serve ourselves better by modeling the responsible behavior we expect from our larger- and smellier-vehicle-driving brethren. Acting as if stoplights and street signs don’t apply to us makes righteous indignation at bad car behavior a bit hard to justify.

    We can’t have it both ways. Bikes are either vehicles with rights to the road, or we’re not.

  7. Finishtag

    I don’t ride in Critical Mass very often, probably three or four times in my life, but the sense of empowerment and the lack of fear I feel as part of the ride ESPECIALLY DOWNTOWN, cannot be understated. The chance to ride downtown and not be hyper alert, not be trying to read drivers’ minds, not trying to guess if the truck can see me, is incredible.

    I worry about all the self-righteous bike folk blaming critical mass for “hurting the movement” because very few of them have ever participated in critical mass.

  8. youre better than us

    Since you critical “massholes” acted like upset tyrants, I’ve been zooming by you guys as close as possible; parents with kid hitches -it matters not. I detest self important bully’s.

  9. Winnie

    As someone who doesn’t ride a bicycle but who spends a lot of time as a pedestrian I have found that cyclists and motorists fall into much the same category – I’m bigger than you, I faster than you, so get £$%*& out of my way. What makes cyclists worse is that they actually think that they can ride on the sidewalks.

  10. Matt the Engineer

    Winnie,

    Bicycles are allowed to ride on sidewalks. (State Code: RCW 46.61.261) They have to yield to pedestrians of course, but they have every right to be there.

  11. Matt the Engineer

    Ah, even better. RCW 46.61.755(2): “Every person riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk or crosswalk must be granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to a pedestrian by this chapter.”

    Sometimes roads just aren’t safe for bikes, so we ride on sidewalks. This is fine and legal as long as we don’t ride at an unsafe speed (which is quite slow, since sidewalks usually have doorways) and if we yield to pedestrians. I understand if you get annoyed by bicycles riding fast or in an unsafe manner on sidewalks – that’s illegal. But please know that we have every right to be there.

  12. Brian

    Oh goodie. I love comments sections. They allow the inner sociopaths to come out in all their glory. I’m happy, “Better than you” (and yes, we ARE) that you are willing, even eager, to injure or kill children because some nasty boogie man cyclist annoyed you.

    Move to Montana away from the rest of us. I hear the Unabomber cabin is still for lease.

  13. Dan Staley

    I think the key to this thread is in Lee’s and Finishtag’s comments:

    we in the bicycling community would serve ourselves better by modeling the responsible behavior we expect from our larger- and smellier-vehicle-driving brethren. Acting as if stoplights and street signs don’t apply to us makes righteous indignation at bad car behavior a bit hard to justify.

    [And] the sense of empowerment and the lack of fear I feel as part of the [Critical Mass] ride ESPECIALLY DOWNTOWN, cannot be understated. The chance to ride downtown and not be hyper alert, not be trying to read drivers’ minds, not trying to guess if the truck can see me, is incredible.

    There are problems with both sides. All we can do is take care of our behavior and be the example. It’s unsafe out there and we want some safety. You don’t get it by blowing stop signs or other a-holey riding.

    I’ve ridden in Europe and Murrica, and in Downtown Seattle and out in rural King Co, and I prefer the rural 15 cars/hour. But I normally can’t get that, so I have to put up with phone-distracted SUVs and women zooming from one stop to another [cities being crappily laid-out for women is a good blog topic, BTW…female readers?] and work trucks.

    That’s how it is. That’s human nature – people not thinking. Even behind the wheel. No one is going to change it.

    Another human nature thing: you have to earn respect.

    You don’t earn respect by riding like an a-hole or weaving into traffic or making hate at the poor people trapped in metal boxes, going home to ticky-tack after an hour trapped in a box. Act like the road is a partnership, not a contest, and you’ll be much, much happier. Try it.

    Lastly, I don’t know what the complaining about Seattle drivers is about. Try riding in red-state Sacramento for 14 years – I’d have more incidents in a month* than I did in the almost 5 years in WA State or the ~2 years in Colo. I’d have more people wave me through in a day in Seattle than my 14 years in Sacto. Please. Perspective, folks.

    * True story: my neighbor in Davis did the Ironman in Hawaii one year and put in ~ 6000 road mi training for it. She went thru 3 frame pumps that year, banging them on cars that buzzed her. And she was an excellent rider.

  14. wes

    I wonder what the actual percentage of people riding bikes like a-holes is? Most of the time I see, and do, non-law abiding activities like stopping at a red-light then continuing upon a marry and rather cautious riding way when there is no conflicting traffic coming. I hope that all the pointed comments at bike riders doesn’t include folks such as myself because, honestly, I’m not an a-hole rider…most of the time. Just because I don’t follow rules made specifically for automobile traffic (for good reason, I am not an auto…just a mobile) doesn’t mean I am a jerk and do not deserve respect.

    Frankly, I think bicyclists turning on each other are cannibals. I love the glares I get from fellow cyclists because I don’t wear a helmet. Unfortunately, the cannibalism is due to very strategic and well thought out divisive arguments that people are too willing to keep repeating for whoever originated them. For example, calling a fellow cyclist an idiot because he does not make himself visible (not wearing bright yellow spandex), yelling at your brethren to put on a helmet, or envisioning a grappling gun to shoot at another because he rolled through a stop sign that didn’t have conflicting traffic approaching. By assisting in the spread of these arguments, you are distracting from the real argument at hand, that our infrastructure and laws are not setup to accommodate bicycle traffic, putting the blame on the person not abiding by the rules of the auto.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are a few morons out there that deserve their very own Darwin award (riding a bicycle with no breaks, weaving in and out of traffic, and blowing through a red light with conflicting traffic…helmet not needed with behavior like this).

    As for the critical massholes, that was not a bike associated issue. They responded poorly to stupid behavior on the driver’s part because they were in a big group and the masses are asses. I think there was a similar incident during a pro-immigrant rights rally not too long ago. Should we lump Latinos into the group of people ruining the bicycle movement too?

  15. JoshMahar

    “we in the bicycling community would serve ourselves better by modeling the responsible behavior we expect from our larger- and smellier-vehicle-driving brethren. Acting as if stoplights and street signs don’t apply to us makes righteous indignation at bad car behavior a bit hard to justify.”

    In a much grander scale stoplights and street signs DON’T apply to bikers. A bike moves slower, has a much smaller width, turns quicker, and stops faster. Not to mention its a lot harder to kill with a bike. If cars did not exist then these ridiculous mechanisms of control would not need to exist either.

  16. Futzbutton

    Josh – that goes without saying. But as it currently stands, the laws and design of the roadways are intended for combustion vehicles. Get mad at the governing bodies to make change, not at the people who use the system legally.

  17. Dan Staley

    In a much grander scale stoplights and street signs DON’T apply to bikers.

    Sure they do. Same rights, same rules, same roads.

    And as far as the a-holey bicyclists goes, one of our local papers just had a series of LTEs where the drivers enumerated a whole host of gripes: blowing stop signs, not riding single-file, and the typical “I can’t speed up to the stop light so I can get my latte fasterrrrrrr!!! Boo!!!”. And the bicyclists writing in said the same thing I said. You don’t eat your own when you ask a fraction of the cyclists out there to stop riding like they don’t have to obey the rules.

    Nonetheless, as a Planner (and Dan’l too), it is my job to provide multimodal transportation. I did it in WA and I do it in CO. In addition, I also helped write the traffic calming ordinance here and I’m presenting at our State APA conf in about a month on my multimodal, context-sensitive transportation plan. No one will want to accommodate cyclists, tho, if they’re a-holey. Everyone: stop being a-holey unless some a-hole in a driveable weapon risks your life.

    BTW, Fed and many state trans funding for capital projects require bike lanes & other multimodal access. The retrofitting is the issue.

  18. Oran

    Of course, Josh. If everybody were riding bikes we wouldn’t need all the expensive infrastructure required for cars. We could get more bang for the buck and serve more people.

    I really feel the same way Finishtag does when riding Critical Mass. It is liberating and gives a glimpse of the potential of the bicycle when cars are completely removed from the street.

  19. Yule Heibel

    Winnie (@ #9) wrote: “..I have found that cyclists and motorists fall into much the same category – I’m bigger than you, I faster than you, so get £$%*& out of my way.”

    Amen. That’s exactly what I’ve found.

    She (?) then added, “What makes cyclists worse is that they actually think that they can ride on the sidewalks.”

    To which Matt the Engineer (@ #10 and #11) responded: “Bicycles are allowed to ride on sidewalks. (State Code: RCW 46.61.261) They have to yield to pedestrians of course, but they have every right to be there.”

    And then he added, “Ah, even better. RCW 46.61.755(2): ‘Every person riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk or crosswalk must be granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to a pedestrian by this chapter.’”

    Well, all I can say is, holy crap. You mean that in WA / Seattle high-velocity / heavier / more dangerous *vehicles* are allowed on sidewalks, to terrorize pedestrians who might have children, dogs, etc. in tow? That’s just incredible.

    Does anyone really believe that cyclists are going to “respect” pedestrians and treat them kindly? You must be joking! C’mon: All of you agree that car drivers can’t be counted on to “respect” cyclists, so why in heaven’s name do you think cyclists will treat pedestrians any better?

    Oh, right, I forgot. Cyclists are superior.

    Pedestrians, however, are just grass.

    I guess Ben (@ #1) is right: “We should have bike / pedestrian paths separate from roads. Might be an unpopular view, but I would enjoy my bicycling and driving more if this was the case.”

  20. Matt the Engineer

    [Dan] //Everyone: stop being a-holey unless some a-hole in a driveable weapon risks your life. // Um, isn’t that what happened and started this discussion?

    [Yule] This isn’t a new law, so it’s funny that you have that reaction. Have you ever been terrorized as a pedestrian by a bicycle? I haven’t. The times I’ve ridden a bike on the sidewalk I’ve been very careful. I think this comes from human interaction and people act very differently when there is an insulating glass box around them.

    That being said I also agree with Ben. Car roads aren’t really built for bicycles, and neither are sidewalks. The best solution would be a seperate bike lane with seperate bike rules.

  21. Victory Heights

    As a pedestrian, I too find little difference between drivers and cyclists. But if forced to say which is worse, I’d have to have to cyclists. Drivers are often unaware of pedestrians, but nearly always look apologetic when they realize they almost hit you. A cyclist will almost slam into you, and then flip you off as they pedal away.

    That is my experience anyway.

  22. Ben

    dan bertolet,

    What I meant about credibility is that Critical Mass has a bad name as an organization and event now, not that bicycling has lost credibility. And I stand by that. I would not want to be seen with that same group of people after that event. But I am happy to continue cycling.

    I feel safer on a motorcycle than a bicycle in King County though. And considering that motorcycling has wicked dangers of its own, that is saying something. I have almost been run down by a truck on Avondale Rd in Redmond. After that it was footpaths for me.

  23. JenMoon

    *6 Bikes are either vehicles with rights to the road, or we’re not.

    You have rights to the roads if you obey those rights. I’m pretty sure the time I come up on charges for hitting a bicyclist will be the time they switched with NO warning from the road to a crosswalk, thereby making them a pedestrian (and then back to the road).

    *15 “In a much grander scale stoplights and street signs DON’T apply to bikers. A bike moves slower, has a much smaller width, turns quicker, and stops faster. Not to mention its a lot harder to kill with a bike.”

    Half the rules of the road have no bearing on whether a semi can kill my Honda or I can move faster than him. It has to do with respect and making sure that everyone gets where they are going among other things. Every time a biker runs a stoplight or a stop sign without looking or because they don’t feel like stopping, because they think they can stop quicker or faster, or because they think “it’s a lot harder for me to kill someone” is ridiculous. The rules are there to protect everyone, including those bicyclists.

    Every time one of them darts in front of me because they either haven’t stopped, haven’t obeyed a traffic law, is pretending they are a pedestrian (say, in a crosswalk) or some other arrogant pretension that half the other fabulous Seattle bicyclists that I’d like to think I’m part of don’t do, they don’t put just put themselves in jeopardy, they mess with the driving skills and the minds of good drivers in Seattle and it’s really irritating (I can’t alway see your “quick, darting self”.

    And we ARE looking out for bicyclists but could you *please* bother to pay attention to the road rules and not cross in front of me in the cross walk on your bike without signalling?

    (I’d also love it if you’d wear a helmet so that my former 8 years of health care and the first aid kit in my trunk won’t EVER have to be utilized. Okay, thanks. :-) )

  24. Dan Staley

    Aaaaa-men, Jen.

    And I’d like to add one brief bit that IMHO distills it down for me: the fraction that blows stop signs and does what they want make ME look bad and makes it harder for me to get where I’m going. I have to do extra work to look worthy to share the road.

    That’s human nature. We can wishwishwish it didn’t exist, or we can sack up, admit it does, and act appropriately. Then we would have fewer reasons to need Critical Mass.

  25. Spencer

    Wes,
    “our infrastructure and laws are not setup to accommodate bicycle traffic”

    Even as a daily bicycle commuter, I’m not sure I agree with you. How do you see our traffic regulations inhibiting bicycle movement? Why is standing at a light for a few extra seconds a burden to you? I can understand wanting to get away from car exhaust if that’s your reason.

    Also, I’m probably beating a dead horse here, but why no helmet? What’s the point? Is it uncomfortable? Is it not fashionable? Do you get pimples from it? It seems to me, and I’m sure someone has said this to you, it’s such a small investment for arguably your most important organ. Why take the added risk? I understand it won’t help you in a serious collision with a car but, in my experience, most accidents with bikes have to do with objects in the road and not cars. In my 8 years of riding in Seattle I’ve never been hit by a car (with only a handful of close calls)but have been toppled over by objects either in the road or next to the road (potholes, fence covering, grates,etc.) Even the smallest accident can have the the most serious results when you hit your head wrong on the ground.

  26. wes

    Good call Spencer on the horse beating. I could say its because there have been studies that show drivers give more space to cyclists without helmets…but that would be downright lying, and we all know it ;)
    It might stem down to stubbornness. Perhaps as I hear more and more arguments for and receive ever and ever more glares for not wearing a helmet, I continue to want to not wear a helmet. Maybe a wish for the day when cycling is normal and safe enough that helmets and spandex aren’t needed. I don’t know…but it is really my choice, and my lack of helmet does not make Dan or anyone else look bad or harder to get where he is going…so why the constant flack for it? Just don’t get it. It seems people are focusing on solving a problem after the problem becomes one, rather than before.
    As for the infrastructure and laws. You have to agree that the infrastructure isn’t setup well for a cyclist, no? Moving on to the laws, its not a question of whether sitting at a light for a few extra seconds is a burden to me (I totally agree, if there is a point of safety to behaving in a certain way, like cars not speeding on local streets, then the few extra seconds is worth it). It is that the laws have been made with the idea of increasing the rate at which cars can move along our streets, not keeping people safe. The jaywalking law is there to keep objects out of the street so that the speed rating of the street can be increased. Stop lights are controls to keep conflicting traffic (car, bike, and ped) out of the way. Maybe that is a pretty negative view, but you have to agree that me stopping at a red light, looking both ways, then continuing once all cross traffic has ceased causes no harm. In fact, I am able to get going on to the next light before I have all the cars behind me breathing down my neck. They get to speed to the next light as they wish, and I can stay out of the way.
    Does my rationale make any sense? Note: I am not trying to encourage you to follow in my behavior, just trying to divert your attention away from minor infractions to rules and towards more productive places like actual improvements for cyclists and, yes, correcting the behavior of those very very few cyclists that dart in front of cars and run red lights without even slowing or looking.

  27. Winnie

    To Matt the Engineer – don’t live in Seattle; it’s illegal here.

  28. Winnie

    Sorry – interupted. The reason it is illegal is because out founding fathers either had no foresight or were too cheap and one person on a bike = the width of sidewalk. I hope Seattle is blessed with wide wide sidewalks to accomodate everyone.

  29. Matt the Engineer

    Where are you Winnie? That was the Washington state code (though yes, it’s also legal in Seattle). I suppose individual towns are probably able to outlaw sidewalk riding, and it sounds like a good idea to have it outlawed in your town.

  30. JenMoon

    Wes,

    While I can understand your rationale, I don’t necessarily think you are right. Wearing a helmet like wearing a seat belt isn’t only to cut down on healthcare costs not only to you but to the state but also to keep you safe. I for one don’t want to either watch someone slam their head into either the road (bicyclist) or a windshield (motorist…or bicyclist, for that matter). You choosing to not be safe is only part of the equation although I understand it; wanting to ride your bike like when you were a kid with your hair flying behind you down a hill…well, I get that. ;-)

    As for laws being built so cars can go faster, I think that’s perception. A four way stop is for safety. If you go hurtling through it as a bicyclist while all the cars stop because you think it’s safe enough and one of them hits you, or is distracted and hits someone else because you were careless, that wouldn’t be too great.

    If what you are proposing is one set of laws for cars using the streets and a second set for bikes, I’d vote against it even as a bicyclist. Seattle motorists can barely remember the laws as they stand now (yes, you can make a u-turn provided it’s safe; stop honking at me, you moron) so adding a second more complicated layer doesn’t seem prudent. Hell, they can’t remember that you are supposed to stop at a crosswalk so how would they function if bicyclists didn’t have to stop at 4 way stops? (I personally don’t care if they stop at a signal, look both ways and proceed if no one is coming but don’t quote me on that one…)

    It’s not a matter of logistics or what would be easier for bikes; it’s reality and consistency, sadly.

  31. Spencer

    wes,

    I’ve gone through a few lights in my time so I’m not going to say your logic is wrong. I only know I do it when I’m in a god-awful hurry because I left late. SO I’m wrong on two points (and human).
    I just don’t advocate doing it if you don’t absolutely have to and if the intersection is absolutely clear. By absolutely clear there are no (not a singe car) in the intersection. When I ride I make absolutely no assumptions about any car with a person inside it. I just say yesterday someone make a right turn from the left turn lane across two lanes of traffic just before the light turned. Had I ventured out even two feet I would have been under or over this guys car.
    As for the helmet. I don’t see any excuse. but it’s your life. I hope you have no dependents.

  32. Spencer

    I’d like to ask the group what tangible good things has Critical Mass brought to Seattle? i have no idea because I 1) have never participated and 2) am too lazy to search the internet.

  33. wes

    Haha Jen! Excellent point! I’ve been wanting a different set of rules for cyclists for a long time (stop sign = yield, stop light = stop sign, etc.), but never thought about the compounding effect upon the seeming idiocy of drivers. I think I will still follow my own human set of rules: good judgment. I think somewhere I’ve heard that jaywalkers are the least likely to get hit by a car…cause they are actually paying attention and using good judgment.

    “If you go hurtling through it as a bicyclist while all the cars stop because you think it’s safe enough and one of them hits you, or is distracted and hits someone else because you were careless, that wouldn’t be too great.” Really, I do agree with you. Again, good judgment. I wish when people discuss with me cyclists obeying traffic laws, they wouldn’t bring up this very very minor percentage of the population that, like I’ve said before, deserve their own Darwin Award. When I talk about rolling through a stop sign, that doesn’t include when a pedestrian is crossing the street or cars approaching in the cross direction (nor stopping in front of me). Same occurs with treating a stop light as a stop sign. In fact, there are plenty of lights I just sit and wait for: too big to scurry across safely(I’m not a scurrier, pretty slow rider actually); overly complex; can’t see oncoming traffic; etc.

    Laws get in the way of people using good judgment.

    Spencer, no dependents yet. Maybe I will start wearing one then because that would change the odds/repercussions equation that happens subconsciously. The odds just seem to stack up enough obviously. I mean, we could all wear bullet proof vests and have gas masks on us at all times…just in case, but the odds just don’t warrant such behavior, eh?

    Critical Mass, to me, serves no purpose in terms of getting cyclists any rights. I think it serves the purpose of getting a bunch of people together that choose a marginalized mode of transportation so that they can meet others, talk, and have some fun. The whole idea of corking came from San Fran where the monthly rides are 5,000 deep and the streets are just filled with traffic. I think there are only a couple hundred riders here in Seattle, which means that those leading the pack could choose to create a situation where corking is not needed, maybe just for the last dozen to get through the intersection. Instead, the leaders might be running yellows, creating the situation where the entire pack has to run the red.

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