How about a "Positive" Mass Bike Ride?
Well, the headline had me worried, but it's actually a really thoughtful article, and a nice public part of the ongoing open CM discussion. [~rusl]
By Devon Batesfrom The Republic No. 196Changes are going to come to the mass bike ride tradition either from the inside or the outside with security on the way with the Police and Fire games in 2009
I cycle past Union Market in Strathcona and the creeping growth of condos to downtown five days a week. I keep my eyes peeled for the bleary eyed, the aggressive, the late, or those who are all of the above. I signal my intentions with my left arm, though many drivers of cars neglect to return the courtesy. On the Adanac/Union bike route alone, I've seen many drivers looking over only one shoulder as they barely slow down for the stop signs. It’s frustrating, it’s frightening, it’s maddening and I can fully understand where the anger and righteousness of some cyclists comes from.
And some car drivers are getting pretty angry and righteousness too. People are dividing themselves along lines where no lines need to be. Kevin Potvin wrote an article in The Republic, issue 192, where he compared riders in Critical Mass with the hosts of CKNW and the many pro-car callers to its shows. He noted that both groups seemed to demonize "the other" in similar ways particularly when it comes to the Critical Mass Bike Ride that starts at the Art Gallery the last Friday of each month at 5 PM. Although I believe that most who attend are there for socializing as opposed to confrontation, I see what Potvin was getting at: both pro-Critical Mass and pro-car people “encourage the further withering of empathy increasingly rampant throughout an alarming range of policy debates."
I've been thinking about the rides and what the next step should be. It's obvious that there are problems associated with Critical Mass and to ignore these problems is foolish. It's like continuously putting off a serious discussion with a spouse as things deteriorate but the situation has not yet led to shouting matches. These feelings can be left to fester—until there is nothing but fighting and then no happy resolution. Or things can be proactively discussed before they deteriorate.
Critical Massers could try to live in denial about this problem and continue on as before because the Critical Mass Bike Ride cannot simply be "called off" for any one month as there is no one group or individual directing the movement. The rides will continue as they have, at least for a little while, because Critical Mass cannot simply be stopped. Critical Mass has become a tradition. As I witnessed with last month's "renegade" Illuminares, a community's popular traditions need no central organization for gatherings to continue to take place.
Critical Massers may believe rides can continue as they have, but given that the 2010 Olympics is on its way, as well as the rapidly approaching 2009 World Police & Fire Games that will likely have Vancouver witness the real beginning of increased security measures, I consider it very unlikely that the ride will be allowed to continue as it has. There are powerful people who have a lot to lose if this area doesn't look like "The Best Place on Earth" when the time comes, and they will stop at nothing to make it appear so. We the cyclists on the inside who get it can try to transform the vibe and direction of the ride, or outsiders will change it for us, or even shut it down. That’s the real choice.
Increasing restriction of social freedoms receives less disapproval from the general public if "valid reasons" can be provided (like public safety), and a little bit of half-truth and omission goes farther than outright lies. If images of drunken jerks starting fights with motorists, or frustrated drivers "just trying to get home" get stuck in a street full of cyclists, are played up by those opposed to the ride, it won't matter that most of the cyclists were well behaved, smiling, and considerate. Jerky behaviour and the general inconvenience of others plays into the hands of those who wish to discredit the ride who could point to those examples as an excuse to shut down the ride for the sake of "public order." Critical Mass has been fun and it has brought people together, but if things stay as they are the future is not bright. But by conducting the ride in a more respectful way, the likelihood of its continuation is increased.
Simple tit for tat solves nothing. Although there are white people who are racist towards non-white people, all non-white people do not have the right to be racist to all white people. I believe that although there are motorists who are disrespectful towards cyclists, all cyclists do not have the right to be disrespectful to all motorists.
I have seen cliquey behaviour from some people during the rides (like openly making fun of American Appareled teens who thought the ride was "cool" and tried jogging along), which made we wonder: Is Critical Mass to become an exclusive club, two wheels good, four wheels bad? Or do we want the "sheeple" to actually consider commuting by bicycle as a viable option? The end result of the bicycle movement should be a reduction in personal fossil fuel usage whenever and wherever possible, not a feeling of moral superiority because we "get it" while others don't.
It's important that we maintain the monthly tradition of a big group of strangers coming together to show a mass bike ride is a lot of fun. The monthly Critical Mass ride offers very important elements for building and maintaining a healthy community. It is potentially a message to younger generations that exercise can be enjoyable instead of a chore, and it is an experience not limited by age group or economic status. It is important to preserve these aspects of the ride, but how?
As a sociodynamic term, "critical mass" refers to sufficient momentum for a social system to become self-sustaining. It is a tipping point. But if there is no thoughtful pro-activity, I worry Critical Mass may become a tipping point for new restrictive by-laws and enforcement crackdowns (like the rush-hour bike helmet crackdown this June, for example), instead of a paradigm shifting event.
A major part of the problem may be our criticism. Can’t we be less critical, and more positive? Why not start something like the Positive Mass Bike Ride?
As a scientific term, "positive mass" is mass that attracts more mass, i.e. the opposite of negative mass or anti-matter. Why not try to attract the masses to the mass instead of alienating them?
I don't know how Positive Mass would manifest but it would need a strong educational component. Too often inquisitive drivers receive only answers like "It's Critical Maaassssss!" as a cyclist passes. It will also be difficult (but vital) to maintain a general inclusiveness while avoiding the head-trips of jerks who'll use any group setting as a place to be jerks. I'm not sure how to combine the messages of avoiding motor vehicle dependence, sticking together as a group, and maintaining the joyous feeling of spontaneity, while not blocking others just doing their thing (albeit doing so with a petroleum-fuelled motor). But I think it's worth trying.