Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Critical Mass in Chicago: "We shouldn't be stopping buses..."

Citywide bike ride may end in autumn
July 13, 2007, Chicago Sun-Times
by Celeste Busk

A victim of its own success, come this autumn, Chicago Critical Mass' 10th anniversary bike ride on Sept. 28 might be the last time the cycling group officially pedals en masse, some participants say.

Longtime critical mass participant Michael Burton said that "as the rides have grown [to as many as 2,000 bikers], some feel that it has strayed from its original altruistic roots and has become just another big bike-a-thon. Others have been offended by public drunkenness, nudity, noisy sound systems and ill manners that now are all too common on many mass rides." Still others have complained the large group rides create traffic jams.

Even so, Burton said that in the past decade, the rides have fostered friendships, brought communities closer together, and have spawned programs to help the city such as the Campaign for Free and Clear, which put basic bike facilities on the lakefront.

"This [September] should be the last ride---a grand finale to commemorate the original values on which the rides were based: civility, self-reliance, fresh air and fellowship," said Burton, who has been biking with Critical Mass for 10 years.

For the uninitiated, Chicago Critical Mass is not an organization, but a group ride that has been leaving at 5:30 p.m. on the last Friday of the month from the Daley Center Plaza in the Loop for the past 10 years. It has no leaders, but is autonomous. Before each ride, participants submit maps of proposed routes and the group takes a vote (via bullhorn). Most of the routes have a destination neighborhood.

Part of a national movement, Chicago Critical Mass began in 1997 with about 200 cyclists and has grown to include as many as 2,000 riders, as in June's ride. The group's Web site---www.chicagocriticalmass.org---says Critical Mass bike riders believe strongly that the city and country are too car-dependent, that cars devour too many resources, occupy too much space, and do too much damage to the environment. Bikes, they say, are a partial solution to car-glut.

Although some longtime participants predict a September swan song, Burton is quick to point out that the citywide ride has spawned smaller, more manageable, group bike rides in neighborhoods throughout the city and suburbs.

"There are rides now in Pilsen, Evanston and Oak Park, and I've been hearing that there is talk of having rides in Humboldt Park and Hyde Park," Burton said.

"Having a bunch of rides throughout the Chicago area is easier to deal with than having one central ride," Burton said. "Personally, when our huge group rides stop traffic and CTA buses, it misses the point. Public transportation is sustainable, and we shouldn't be stopping buses."