Vancouver Critical Mass

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January Critical Mass Vancouver

I just had to reprint this really pithy little summary of yesterday's Critical Mass. Please see Flick Harrison's original post for full article and many more pictures.

This week there’s been a debate on the Velolove email list in Vancouver about Critical Mass: should it be abandoned or radically altered now that we have a few bike lanes and a pro-bike council? The debate got me so riled I decided to go to Critical Mass for the first time in years, partly to re-assess my ideas about the event. I also wanted to show support for bike culture in general at a time when the haters are hating and they’ve taken over Toronto.

A basic medical ethic says: First, do no harm. In other words, don’t make things worse or it will be harder to make them better. A few folks think that Critical Mass does more harm than good, especially now that bike culture has invaded city hall.

I don’t think CM needs to stop just because we got a couple of bike lanes built in Vancouver. How many Vancouverites really understand how important CM, and other bike-advocacy clusters, really were in that process? The visibility of any interest group contributes to their political success, and cyclists are no exception. So if CM faded away, what would happen to everything cyclists have gained in this city? Do the powers behind the automotive industry and consumer culture in general just fold up their tents and admit defeat?

Would those same people argue that the car culture in Toronto will now sit back and enjoy their victory, stop agitating their base, etc, now that Rob Ford has declared the war on the car is over? Should the cyclists in TO just give up? No to both, of course; cars will keep trying to consume everything put into their gas tanks and cyclists will keep struggling for saner alternatives.

Is there any other activist camp that has a big public party once a month? CM is a vital and unique node, and it should continue.

I can assure you that after a super-fun, polite, and exciting tiny little ride (one person counted 28 riders at peak), I came away certain that Critical Mass can do no harm. We got one unfriendly honk versus dozens of friendly toot toots, lots of hollers, the group stayed very tight (it was small, after all) and corking was barely necessary.

~from Zero for Conduct blog

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  • At 11:42 am, January 29, 2011, Blogger Rusl Bicycle said…

    Pretty tiny ride these short winter days. Reminds me of rides when I wasn't yet 20 years old. Fun. I must admit I haven't been too many rides in a long time what with living further away and starting a business and starting a family.

    I think the size does partly reflect some positive things in that people don't need an outsider space to organise bicycle activism so much right now. People are more focused on initiatives with the city.

    Now is a good time to re-imagine our goals and re-imagine the potential of this city. Bike lanes are happening. Proto-carfree idealists have come out of the closet. How can we take it to the next level so that protecting existing bike lanes doesn't suck out our momentum? How could we directly transform people's perceptions of what our public space could be used for? Of course, Critical Mass is never meant to be nor will be a coherent platform for policy or anything else. However, it does serve as a radical transformative space where we can change dreams of what the city could be into actions that will change our world.

  • At 1:35 pm, February 14, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    28 people is not a problem, but in the summer it's a lot more. I have seen them disrupt traffic up to the point where I am thinking to myself, "what if an ambulance needs to drive?" I mean, dude, life is life, and the road rules ARE THERE FOR A REASON. I sure hope you are never one of these people stuck in a car waiting for 3,000 bikers to pass when seeking medical attention/having a heart attack/ready to give birth/ etc etc. Life doesn't revolve around biking.

    The way I see it, you guys have to abide the rules of the road 365 days of the year 24 hours a day. If someone ends up being hurt because they couldn't get medical help because of your MASS, you will rightfully be sued. It can happen. Life is unpredictable, so think outside of your "I am a biker, and my culture/rights are important" mindset.

  • At 5:19 pm, February 14, 2011, Blogger Rusl Bicycle said…

    Dear Anonymous Re: Ambulances.

    I don't usually publish your type of criticism because its the same argument 1000 times (ultimately bikes are in the way) which is wrong and ignorant.

    However, I'd like to publish just for the sake of enlightening you on something that CM is always proud of.

    Think about your Ambulance scenario. Think harder. Is an ambulance likely to be blocked by a bunch of tiny bicycles that take only as much room and the road as needed and are extremely flexible/quick in an urban environment? No. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles are blocked by large metal/plastic boxes that weigh a tonne per person and are only able to manuvuer in an extremely limited fashion (hence our road system of lanes). Though there is no such thing as an official policy for Critical Mass (it is an informal, anarchic event) we have a longstanding tradition of getting out of the way quickly for emergency vehicles. These are NEVER blocked by Critical Mass. We always can clear the road much FASTER and more safely than a clot of car "traffic" (jam) ever can or will. The emergency vehicle argument is often waged by people who live in the "cars are normal" mindset but the facts on the street speak much louder and more clearly.

    Thats enough for now. Sorry to be so snide about this but I really do read the same complaint again and again and one gets impatient. It's not your fault. We really should have a FAQ about Critical Mass that answers questions like that. Take care and take the lane.

  • At 1:59 pm, February 17, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    No worries about being snide. However, sure, you will move for an actual ambulance. What if someone is taking a cab/being driven in car to the hospital to give birth? You think people don't do that? Will you move then? I mean, sure, you post in the news to stay out of downtown, but with all due respect, you are not the center of the universe, and things happen. I recently read a blog where a guy's wife who was pregnant, was stuck because of Critical Mass and couldn't go to the bathroom. Why should she wait for you in this case? And by the way NO ONE moved for them. So yeah, you guys don't give people basic respect by disregarding the rules of the road. The rules of the road are there for a reason, sure, they are not 100% the saviour, traffic jams can happen any time; but CM is making it worse. So again, I ask, would you move for a private vehicle if one of the passengers needs medical help? if so, how would that be achieved? I know you are an anarchist event, and that's why I am asking these questions. Do you have policies to deal with these (very real) life situations? waiting for your answer patiently.
    By the way, I take buses daily and don't own a car(just in case, so that you don't call me a motorist, since I am not)

  • At 10:55 pm, February 17, 2011, Blogger Rusl Bicycle said…

    Yeah, people say that one a lot too. Strange road rage people in cars faking it. So then I don't trust people who actually would be in that situation. People are flexible when they can be but traffic is traffic and when you are stuck in a car you are stuck. I've seen cars let through when it was possible (ie there are not a lot of people in the way)

    But you're asking an impossible/unfair/absurd/showing your bias question. Can you move 500 people so one car can go through because they need to go to the bathroom? Not really. If it's an ambulance then sometimes yes because that's such standardised well understood situation. Can you move 500 cars (with 501 people in them) to get a pregnant lady through? For an ambulance? Not that either. Does it matter if the "law" is followed or not? How? There is just that much stuff in your way and if they are signalling or in the proper lane isn't too rellevent.

    If you really want people not to be stuck in cars then get them out of the cars. It's that simple. People not stuck in cars aren't stuck. Critical Mass included.

    The Motor Vehicle Act doesn't actually criminalise Critical Mass though that is assumed. The MVA can't handle that many pedestrians. It's not meant to. It isn't called the pedestrian safety public city space act. It's there to make sure car traffic flows so that there won't be that many pedestrians (I'm using that term broadly here to include cyclists.)


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