Vancouver Critical Mass

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Strange CM Province Rag

Mark, just read your article on Critical Mass, sure sounds like you have a big hate on for cyclists, or just the drug using, violent fringe, lunatics, you spoke of. I have been going to critical mass rides for 15 years and your observations are bs. Fist fights? Deliberate scratching of cars? Drug use? Riding naked? Give me a break, if these are your insightful views maybe you should pop on a bike one day and join the ride. Pretty low blow to cyclist. Back in 1996 I had a meeting with Peter Rothberg in response to a number of police issues arising when the police showed up at critical mass rides and as you put it "pampered cyclists with a full motorcade escort", the police were creating a whole load of problems, that is why you and your attitude are no longer sent out to these rides.

In general I think the rides typically work well, unlike the bridge closure issue the police were involved with on 2nd Narrows bridge. Funny how you use an example of police making a mess of traffic (apparently the police never bothered to let motorists know what was happening for 4 hours) and then use this example to justify more police intervention, the logic is comical if it was not for the the animosity you are stirring up between cyclists and drivers.

Mark, I know in my conversations with many police (spent 2 days with the bike patrol a number of years back) that many don't share your views. What bothered me so much about the article is that your comments/attitude is the problem and only further endangers the lives of cyclists. In my own experience cycling in Vancouver, I have had a beer bottle thrown at me, three drunks pull up next to me while I was cycling and attempt to pull me down by tugging on my jacket, a drunk driver with no licence hit me, a driver take a run at me with my child in tow all the time swearing f#@K cyclists get off the road and countless drivers buzzing by me at high speeds leaving absolutely no room. They all had one thing in common and that is an overall disrespect for me and my family because we were on a bike. Your article condones this attitude and I don't appreciate the consequences that it places on my family, especially be a paid city staff entrusted to protect my rights.

How will your article help improve our safety? Seems like you could care less about my families safety and as a tax payer and citizen that is unacceptable.
~Rob Wynen

Celebrate Critical Mass or crack down?

Some participants mean well, but many want to wage war with drivers

The Province Published: Sunday, July 27, 2008

By the time you read this, Vancouver will have experienced another Critical Mass bicycle rally.

How many of you will have been in dustups with these characters is hard to say. Most of the cyclists showing up for Critical Mass rides are legitimate enthusiasts -- two-wheeled, earth-loving anti-carbonaros. They hit the streets on the last Friday of each month, ostensibly to promote biking as a realistic form of transport. Cycling crowds as large as 3,000 gather at the downtown art gallery, then roll through downtown traffic en masse.

Intersections are blocked illegally, as a mile-long pack traverses city centre at peak inopportune moments. Typically, their leaders stop to ponder the meaning of it all atop the Lions Gate Bridge, holding riders still all the way back to the Park Drive overpass, while cars are made to idle in place behind.

That said, the group has no formal leadership, or none they'll admit to. No one to hold accountable for lack of permits or willful obstruction of traffic. No one to discuss the bizarre and confrontational behaviour seen on Critical Mass fringes.

Any number of these people drink or smoke dope as they roll along. Some ride naked. Others taunt frustrated motorists, swarming drivers stuck at crossings.

There are fistfights. Cars are damaged as bicycles scrape by on purpose, teaching "lessons" to those who dare voice an opinion about being forced to a stop.

Police escorts for such a debacle are seen by some as a bad idea. Lending legitimacy to confrontational groups is inadvisable, and assisting people in blocking bridge traffic is difficult to justify these days. Think back to the recent freezing of the Ironworkers Memorial bridge, and how poorly that was received. How calmly would commuters accept another shut-down bridge, with no lives in danger -- just a crowd of cyclists with
strong feelings?

Other options are just as vexing. Moving in for enforcement could cause a major stir. Some readers would applaud police action; others would curse us for failure to support the greening of the West Coast. A general summer bicycle campaign is being considered, to deal with an epidemic reluctance to wear helmets. Bicyclists almost never stop for stop signs, and they blow downtown traffic lights as often as not.

I'll assume they know they're accountable to traffic law. Many don't have driver's licences, and perceive themselves to be immune to traffic fines, though the feeling is false. Unpaid fines are kept on record, to be discussed whenever a DL is applied for.

I don't want to be preachy.[ed: sure?] Even if I did, I'd admit to a certain flexibility when it comes to bicycles on the road. Nevertheless, having two wheelers turn on motorists sweeps notions of leniency off the table. I'm in search of readership thought. Should these people be subjected to an intense enforcement campaign, with special attention to the violent fringe? Should they be pampered with a full motorcade escort?

It's not my decision to make, which may be a blessing. Drop me a line at the address below.

Sgt. Mark Tonner is a Vancouver police officer, whose column appears biweekly in Unwind. His opinions aren't necessarily those of the city's police department or board.

Mark may be contacted at

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  • At 11:32 am, July 29, 2008, Blogger 8treysingletary said…

    well thought response to what we so often hear when anyone picks"the very worst" examples to push prejudice.
    any fair statistical assessment would find similar numbers of drivers gathered would show greater "badbehv."per division.
    i think there are some who want cm outz and will georgyb it as they can!

  • At 1:14 pm, July 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    There are MANY who want to eliminate CM altogether.
    Unfourtunately we help the bad press with our antics (whether we are willing to admit it or not).
    Drinking, smoking, and lack of helmets was brought into the forefront this last (July) Mass.
    With four people sent to Hospital due to accidents; one of which was a serious head injury on the Prospect Point hill.
    If we have any hope of keeping the VPD on-side; as well as our Allies in other pro-cycling bodies: We had better smarten up.
    We will contribute to our own demise if we are not careful.
    To many negatives are being fed into the "Anti Mass" camp.
    What are we going to do about it?

  • At 12:58 pm, July 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    dogsbody has a good point. while i support the increasing number of people choosing to go green and ditch their cars at home, every morning, i see cyclists disregarding traffic rules, stop signs, and lights. and since i'm new to CM, i need to know... it is constantly stated that bikes are "traffic"... so if that's the case... then why not follow the same rules that others must abide to?

  • At 6:41 pm, July 30, 2008, Blogger VanCM Blogger said…

    The whole "legal" issue of biking is quite the red herring. Bikes are not dangerous to other road users. Period. The exception would be pedestrians but that is a smaller issue and that is NEVER what is being complained about (except as rhetorical farce - I would love it if people paid attention to pedestrian rights instead of the... just-saying-it-to-put-down-the-bikers thing that is usually said by the guy drivinng a cell phone with his SUV)

    It is unjust for the Motor Vehicles Act to be applied Carte Blanche to Pedestrian and Cyclist Road users. The MVA is justified by the extreme danger and extreme social welfare that enabes driving - not the case for the pedestrians or cyclists who were here first. The danger and social dischord is a direct result of enforcement of MVA and enabling unsustainable car road usage (not this time in an environmental sense but it a transport system sense - cars don't move without these crutches)

    Obviously there are real factors of human mobility, politeness, traffic flow (people traffic, not steel box traffic)... that we need to follow and respect each other using. But any MVA laws in the name of such harmony can only be considered a cruel dark joke when we have pedestrians fearing for their very lives, drivers passing cyclists on cell phones and on the bike route, speed limits only for the suckers (police don't even apply them)... Basically as long as we allow cars to mix in our city on ALL the streets. Maybe if we devoted half the roads to cars and half to the whole darn rest of the real world then we could be talking about civil orderliness - but when the most basic safety take a backseat to sheer greed and ignorance there is no real merit to argue that red lights are applicable to cyclists equally.

    Unfortunately we share a collective blindness that the number one killer in our midst violence is A-OK - but making someone slow down or drive with deference to a bicyclist is out of the question....

    It's a really hard issue to compromise about because the base position we start with right now is so wrong. Fortunately most people even if they can't articulate these fundamental reasonings have an inate sense of right and wrong on the road that includes the proviso that weaker (exposed cyclists and pedestrian) is to be protected. Most people know this and drive accordingly but you can't keep up your guard forever (that is why cars kill).

  • At 11:40 pm, July 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sgt Mark Tonner,

    WHERE WERE YOU when yahoos pitched not one but two half-full glass bottles at me from a passing car on a lonely street late at night? WHERE WERE YOU when other yahoos aimed their car at me, threatening to run me down on a sunny Sunday afternoon? WHERE WERE YOU on numerous occasions when cars sped REALLY CLOSE to me in heavy traffic? WHERE WERE YOU when cars and trucks pulled away from the curb beside me, expecting ME to avoid THEM?

    ALL THESE THINGS happened to me since last Sunday morning. Today is Wednesday.

    MY CRIME is I have the audacity to rely on the bicycle for personal transportation in the city. Which makes me an outlaw and fair game for you and your cronies in cars to use for target practice. That is not how civilized society should behave.

    IF YOU IMAGINE most car drivers obey the stop signs, you speak with very little authority on driving customs in BC. The common idea of "complete stop" at a stop sign is "as fast as I can go without causing a collision". And when a collision does occur, will it be the car, or the bicycle causing damage to property, life and limb ? Open your eyes Mark. See who is putting blood on our roads and filling hospital emergency rooms. What reason would a responsible adult have for supporting it?

    You say bicyclists "make cars idle". How absurd. Don't you know it's against city by-laws to idle your engine longer than 3 minutes? Most CM'ers I know encourage drivers to TURN OFF the motor while parked. We uphold the law.

    A simple question: who is doing most damage to the health of this and future generations? Would it be the pedal-pushers, or the gas-guzzlers?

    You posed some very provocative questions about bicyclists. Here are the answers. Maybe not the ones you're looking for:

    YES - have a general summer CAR DRIVER campaign... "to deal with an epidemic reluctance to stop for stop signs, and they blow downtown traffic lights as often as not."

    YES - subject CAR DRIVERS... "to an intense enforcement campaign, with special attention to the violent fringe."

    BUT ALAS, YOU ARE RIGHT... "Moving in for enforcement could cause a major stir. Some readers would applaud police action; others would curse us for failure to support the destruction of the West Coast."

    Drive safely Mark. And watch out for those dangerous terrorists on bicycles!!!


    P.S. I have many years safe driving experience under my belt, but a few weeks cycling on city streets opened my eyes to the insane behaviour of the average car driver. You should try it some time.

  • At 12:04 am, July 31, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I totally agree. We need a major crack down on aggressive driving habits in this province. It's time to make streets safe for bicyclists and pedestrians !!!

  • At 8:47 am, July 31, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It is the funniest thing: We here about crackdowns on dangerous driving habits on a near-monthly basis; and what effect do we see these having?

    Betty points are well met; and as the Cycling Community grows the concern that incidences of Cars vs. Cycles, and Pedestrians will become an increasing problem.

    UNLESS the Motorheads in power begin to take real action in expanding infrastructure for those of us who realise the negative impact of the Car in an Urban environment.

    My primary concern with commentaries such as Mark Tonner's revolves around the role of the Police (or Military for that matter) in influencing OR EVEN COMMENTING on what can be viewed as a Political, or Public Policy issue: To comment with such bias goes against what should be viewed as a non-partisan Public Service.
    Especially when it defends a thing that is infinitely more dangerous to the Public than that which it attacks.

    I also (of course) have a serious problem with the Venue that gives such an opinion voice: The Province is nothing more than a propaganda rag that utilises little in the way of good journalistic practices in putting it's biased message out.

    Journalism geared to the lowest common denominator has become a blight; and our fair city has little left for the general populace to gain from the local print-media.

    There is more to the issue than simply "CM vs. Drivers"; and we are seeing so many progressive movements being attacked with tactics identical to what we see here (Thanks to the Campbell/Harper/Bush years it has become even more rabid, and underhanded).

    CM is a positive force for change. It brings together a diverse Community of People who share a vision of a cleaner, and more socially aware (this term covers a BIG area)future.

    I could go on; but my rant would take-up volumes...

  • At 2:35 pm, August 21, 2008, Blogger Jason said…

    Mark's column fills me with a cherub-like glee!

    Should these people be subjected to an intense enforcement campaign. with special attention to the violent fringe?

    Oh most certainly Mark!

    I suppose you came to this decision when your got a brief reprieve from your Sergent position with VPD to attend a smash-up (must have been difficult getting away from all of those emails); you found that the bodies of the occupants in vehicle A had been subjected to such considerable force, on impact with vehicle B, that their bones and organs had left their bodies and scattered amongst the painted road lines and cracked car metal of aforementioned incident scene.

    People driving their cars so fast (not necessary over the speed limit -too fast for conditions, locations, situations) that they KILL people in some of the most violent ways imaginable?

    K I L L


    K I L L


    Fisticuffs and car scrapes?

    Wait a second! Hyperbole? Nope.

    KILL, mark.


    It says kill.

    That means dead.

    I know! How about an enforcement campaign against fisticuffs and car scrapes!?

    Perhaps "unwinding" (where Mark's column appears bi-weekly) doesn't lend itself to insightful commentary.

    How about this? You are caught speeding (the primary cause of death in all vehicle-based incidents in North America) in your car once -just once. And your car is impounded and your licence revoked. Then you serve several months in community service for being such an asshole.

  • At 4:55 pm, August 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "The whole "legal" issue of biking is quite the red herring. Bikes are not dangerous to other road users. Period."

    You're creating a red herring of your own. It's *not* biking that's the problem (CM'ers like to say that people that are against CM are attacking bike riding in general, it's not the case).
    *No one said biking was illegal.*
    What's illegal is blocking traffic (both pedestrian and cars), illegal assembly, and running red lights and stop signs. Don't try and trick people with your language.

    "I would love it if people paid attention to pedestrian rights instead of the..."

    Me too. So how about not blocking crosswalks with your bike rallies?

  • At 5:14 pm, August 29, 2008, Blogger 8treysingletary said…

    interestingly enough,the genesis of cm was rooted in a certain confrontive orientation that is in some symbiotic relationship with the culture the o.g.'s were biggest beef with cm right along has been the overpowering of pedestrian traffic.

    it would indeed be an interesting development if cm as a mass DID adhere to the letter of the law:if the huge vmass simply piled behind a red light even if the pile is longer than the block,a bike gridlock arising FROM obeying the light.WITH all due courtesy gaps for foot traffik!jah!


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