Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Critical Mass: "To what end?"

The author of the letter below asks a good question: Why is Critical Mass still going on? Why did it happen in the first place? Some answers to those questions can be found here, where the drawing says it all: Get Out of Our Way!

Bacchanal of Rage (SF Chronicle, June 20, 2006)


I think it is time for a discussion about the Bacchanal of Rage known as Critical Mass. How long has this been going on? Is there still a point to it? It's now as much a part of the Bay Area commute as the Bay Bridge metering lights. To what end?

Based on my experience, the Critical Mass riders are there as an excuse to run wild in the streets. During the most recent "ride," I saw a driver honk at the people blocking the intersection. The response from the crowd was a collective howl that included spitting, shouting, and hopping up and down.

The real problem with Critical Mass is this behavior is not limited to the last Friday of every month. It's the rare driver who hasn't been confronted with a frothing, bird-flipping display by bicyclists. The other day, I was at O'Farrell and Polk streets, when a bicyclist got into the middle of the traffic lane and ostentatiously slowed the cars behind him to 10 mph. His response when I honked? He chased me for three blocks, hitting my car with his bike lock. He finally shattered my rear-view mirror and sped off into the distance.

My basic question is: Why do we have to keep indulging these apes? I know that the faux-virtuous answer is "One more bike is one less car." I'm sure this is true for some riders. Judging by the appearance and career choices of the vast majority of bicyclists, however, it's more likely that the last car they purchased was more Matchbox than Ford.

If bicycle riders want to be a part of the commute, I think it's time that they finally joined the rest of Western civilization and follow some basic rules: Stay in the bike lines and can the screaming fits.

Howard Olsen
San Francisco

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At 5:13 PM, Anonymous walter said...

I'm not sure what YOUR feelings, dear blogger, are on this letter you've reprinted, but its pretty pathetic as far as I'm concerned. This guy is upset because bikers were shouting and "hopping up and down"??? He really needs to either get out more or stay out of the city and keep to the pleasant suburbs where confrontation and public interactions are less frequent. One of his concluding comments attempts to leverage his argument by asserting that bicyclists make poor career choices (its astounding that he would have access to this type of information. I know many cyclists personally but would not claim-as he does-to know what "the career choices of the vast majority of bicyclists" have been. Anyway, what's his point? That poorer people who don't by cars don't count? The fact is that bicyclists are rightly angry about how their lives are daily put in danger by speeding auto drivers. True, some merely honk when a cyclist slows down traffic (and I'd argue, by the way, that motorists make traffic dangerously fast)but many speed past and cut off cyclists. It is this sort of behavior, engaged in by some motorists, that is ape-ish and uncivilized. Such motorists kill (that's right, KILL) cyclists each year in San Francisco. I've never heard of a cyclist (spitting of hopping up and down or not) killing anyone because of the way they commute. And I don't doubt that at least a few cyclists will be injured this year as a result of this temporary obstacle to the city's bike plan. Cyclists are pissed about it. Expect larger and more rowdy masses. If NIMBY assholes can't deal with life in SF, please, do us all a favor and move to Mountainview or Orinda.

At 8:12 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

As we all know, cyclists do more than "hop up and down" during Critical Mass. They disrupt rush hour traffic and make it harder for working people to get home. Cyclists as oppressed class? What crap! The whole bike trip in SF is elitist and obnoxious. And riding a bike in the city---any American city---is inherently dangerous and foolish. Take your anger and your self-pity and discuss it with your therapist.

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

all right, let's take your love of statistics and build as ludrigous an argument as you do. first, a lot of pedestrians are killed every year. more pedestrians than cyclists. so we should ban all walking! yes walking is inherently dangerous with all those cars around. This is admittadly old data But it just shows you that the oldest human mode of transportation should be outlawed, particularly in SF, where the car traffic is so dangerous.
In fact, by just comparing deaths, cars should be outlawed before bikes.
The facts are that cars are more dangerous than firearms (both in terms of deaths, and just the amount of physical force that the automobile has).
I'm glad for your successful injunction, it will serve to galvinize cyclists and bicycle advocates further.
As far as I understand (from the guardian article), you and I are alike in not owning a car. That does not make us unique in the city, but certainly does in the US.

At 4:01 PM, Anonymous walter said...

"cyclists[...]disrupt rush hour traffic and make it harder for working people to get home"

Cars disrupt working people on their commutes. We wouldn't need stop lights, one way streets, merging lanes, and multi-hour commutes to the suburbs were it not for automobiles. Like many things people envisioned as "modern conveniences" long ago, automobiles have not made life easier. Much of the time their speed was expected to save has been more than cancelled out by the absurd commutes people are now expected to make from the suburbs. Their loudness, pollution, and ever-looming presence has degraded the quality of life, esp. in cities. I would argue that most commuters that express anger at Critcal Mass are actually more angry with the fact that they must daily sit in traffic each day after work. Critcal Mass is a more tangible target for the anger that is created by a commuting-system that--Critical Mass or not--wastes countless hours of their lives.

While you are right that cyclists are a minority in the city, this is in large part because many potential cyclists feel threatened by auto traffic.

What exactly do you mean by elitist? Without explanation, its pretty much a stock term for insulting progressives; a dead cliche. I was born in Newark, NJ to a 16-year old mother. I hardly qualify as an elitist, yet am a strong cycling advocate. I suppose the handful of interests that transformed the downtown skyline (and the flow of traffic)a few decades ago against the wishes of most San Franciscans are NOT, by your definition, elitists.

I'd love to read your rebuttal to anonymous's argument about pedestrians.

At 4:10 PM, Anonymous walter said...

"Take your anger and self-pity and discuss it with your therapist."

Thanks for the advice but I think I'll use it as motivation to get more involved than I already am in pro-cycling activism. As a cyclist that has until now only been marginally involved with transit politics in the city, I'd like to thank you and the injunction for inspiring me to get more involved. I'm sure I'm not alone.

At 5:16 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

That's right. If you are a bike nut in SF, you need never dine alone. Just for the record, answer this question: Don't you think that the 400-page Bicycle Plan should have a thorough environmental review before it's implemented? Is that an unreasonable idea?

At 7:02 PM, Anonymous walter said...

Unreasonable? Look, the city went ahead and O.K.ed the plan without adhering to all of the formalities because no one sincerely believes the plan could possibly have a negative impact on the environment. To argue that the plan should be halted and studied for potential negative effects is like arguing that the state of California ought to have studied possible negative environmental impacts of its indoor smoking ban. Who seriously believes that this ban has been environmentally harmful (no doubt certain restaurants and bars believed it would be ECONOMICALLY harmful to them...but that’s an altogether different issue, isn‘t it)?

At 7:32 PM, Anonymous Ratso~~ said...

As a ten-year-plus San Francisco cab driver (with a bike--what an "elitist"), I have seen many enraged drivers terrorize bicyclists to the point of life-threatening danger.

Road rage is wrong, period, but for every enraged bicyclist waving a bike lock I've witnessed a few hundred vehicles honking and speeding within inches of a legal rider who is simply going the speed limit.

In a city that has surrendered as many as eight lanes of asphault to the automobile on a single street, where every hot day brings a visible brown smog, where gridlock is caused by too many single-occupant vehicles (and not bike lanes, silly), it's time to welcome sane alternatives.

As for Critical Mass, the streets are gridlocked every Friday afternoon whether the protest takes place or not.

I admit that I'd never heard of your blog until I read the Bay Guardian piece, but if it's true that you have secret funders, then the "elitist" tag must be thrown back at you. You certainly don't represent me and my neighbors here in District 5, which is why we sent a Green to City Hall and not you.

San Francisco

At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A thorough environmental review is impossible under CEQA, with its current tilt toward automobile "level of service" standards that prioritize drivers' convenience over everything else, so I'd have to say no.

Under CEQA, pedestrian level of service is based on how crowded a sidewalk is, not on the safety or visibility of street crossings. By the current standard, an empty sidewalk with dangerous wide crossings would score LOS A. City agencies have not even attempted to create a standard for bicycle facilities!

So, no. I think it was a good decision to bypass a review for a project the will give city dwellers a chance to have a choice of transportation. More people on bikes and busses and on the sidewalks means greater safety and a better environmment for everyone.

Until LOS standard are reformed to include all users of the roads we'll never get a thorough review.

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Your description of the LOS (level of service) standard for studying traffic is deceptively vague. In fact what LOS requires is that the city do an EIR on any project that makes traffic in the city worse, that is, delays traffic through intersections thus creating traffic jams. Of course the bike nuts don't like LOS, because taking away traffic lanes on busy streets does indeed degrade the level of service. That's why they want to "reform" LOS. The bike nuts actually like traffic jams, aka, "traffic calming," because it slows everything down so that they can do their goofy trip of weaving in and out of traffic lanes. That's why they opposed the garage in Golden Gate Park: they liked the traffic jams in the park, with people circling endlessly looking for a parking space near the Concourse. And, of course, they hate anything that makes it convenient to drive in the city.

At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, If readers think that was vague, they can read about LOS reform in great detail at

At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a bicycle commuter. I currently ride 8.5 miles each way into Denver, past downtown to get to work.

About half my trip is on a multi-use path, which, while avoiding motorists, has plenty of perils, including couples out for a stroll taking up the path, animals darting across, and people walking their dogs on those wonderful extending leashes (Which happen to be illegal).

For the on-road portion of my trip, I've managed to find some fairly low-traffic roads, one of which is extremely wide, with plenty of room for cyclists and cars. This is the road that I recently saw a cyclist nearly killed right in front of me when a motorist made a right turn and ran into her.

I would have to say that 99% of the motorists I see each day are great, curteous, respectful, and attentive. It's the other 1% that give me problems.

At least twice a week I have someone honking, screaming, or swerving at and buzzing past me, usually yelling something along the lines of "Get on the sidewalk" (despite the fact that it's against the law to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk)

What do I do to irritate these motorists? The mere fact of my presence, tooling along, not using any gasoline what-so-ever is enough to inflame them. I stay to the right whenever possible, maintain my line, follow traffic laws. There are only two places where I have to get over and take a lane, both for less than 30 seconds even at bike speeds.... but slowing these drivers to 20 mph on a neighborhood road where the speed limit is 25 is just too much for them to bear. They can't STAND to be behind a cyclist for 20-30 seconds!

Oh.. and as far as career choices, I'm the IT Manager at the company I work with, and yes, I do own a vehicle. A nice big truck that is great for what it is used for, namely recreational uses, and hauling things. My bike is my main transportation, for numerous reasons.

As far as a cyclist taking a lane in front of someone, I can't speak to the situation that happened to you, as I wasn't there to see the road conditions, but there are many reasons that a cyclist should take the lane, if it's too narrow for the car and cycle to pass safely, if there are potholes, glass, or other road hazards, and immediately before intersections are all good reasons (and LEGAL reasons) to take a lane.

I think a little respect and understanding of the other's position would go a long way in these situations, and that respect goes both ways. The motorist should respect the cyclist, and the cyclist should respect the laws and situation as well.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you didn't read the page at: http://www.scorcher.org/cmhistory/wesorry.html

"please recognize that we bicyclists are ignored, obstructed and physically threatened ALL THE TIME, EVERY DAY." Including Rob Anderson, evidently...

It's time the bicycles took back the roads we successfully lobbied for back in the 1800s...

I'm tired of bicyclists being threatened, injured and killed for America's right to drive badly. (And Rob Anderson's right to obstruct bicycle-freindly planning and actions.)

Personally, I think Rob Anderson should be roasted alive, very slowly, and in the presence of a crowd of Critical Mass riders... *Evil Grin*

BTW, I was in the very first Critical Mass, and yes, it was started by San Francisco Bicycle Messengers who got really tired of all the anti-bicycle attitudes in The City. In other words, we got tired of it and didn't want to take it any more...

So, Rob, stuff that in your self-important pipe and smoke it, and I hope it gives you a lingering cancer that you die of several years from now...

At 5:23 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Oh, bullshit. "It's time the bicycles took back the roads we successfully lobbied for back in the 1800s." Can you provide a single reference to prove this historical fantasy? The streets of this city were not originally designed for bicycles. First there were horses and horse-drawn wagons, and then there were cars. Bike riders as an oppressed class! What a crock of crybaby nonsense.

At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Stacey Kim said...

"Don't you think that the 400-page Bicycle Plan should have a thorough environmental review before it's implemented? Is that an unreasonable idea?"

hmm... yes. I DO think that's an unreasonable idea. I also think YOU should pay for it. Every last cent of taxpayer money you blow should be repaid by YOU.

At 4:41 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Thanks for sharing your opinion, Stacey, but it's of little interest if you can't give me a reason/argument as to why you think that. The city currently pays for the environmental review of all large projects, and the cost is passed on to the developer. In this case, the "developer" is the city itself, since DPT initiated the Bicycle Plan. I haven't spent a dime of the city's money, but the city could have saved everyone a lot of time and money if they had just done the damn EIR like the law requires.


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