Thursday, September 27, 2012

Critical Mass: Bullying San Francisco for 20 years

Illustration by Jim Swanson

As everyone knows, Critical Mass in San Francisco has never had a parade permit, which means that no organization is responsible for the orgy of monthly, lawless self-indulgence by the city's bike people. The participants revel in their outlaw image---the event has no leaders, it's spontaneous, it's creative, its participants are social visionaries! They are so special they don't need no stinking permit like ordinary mortals and groups!

They seem to think they are adorable and beloved by the people of San Francisco, but I suspect the reality is otherwise. When Mayor Brown tried to clamp down on the demonstration back in 1997, the mob of cyclists caused a riot. Since then City Hall has surrendered to the threat of mob violence and has been bullied into submission for 20 years by the city's bike people. 

The city now even provides a police escort for Critical Mass---at a cost of $10,000 a month to city taxpayers---to limit the traffic conflicts and prevent violence, which was becoming a problem during Mayor Newsom's administration.

If Critical Mass ever got on the city's ballot, it would lose badly, as would the Bicycle Plan, the other part of the city's Good Cop, Bad Cop bike movement. Though they seem to think they are adorable, the bike people are the city's most unpopular special interest group.

The rest of us are still waiting for a convincing justification for making it more difficult for working people to get home on the last Friday of the month.

The Bicycle Coalition actually approves of Critical Mass, albeit with a wink and a nod---the coalition's director, Leah Shahum, had her life-changing bike epiphany during Critical Mass---while insisting over the years that her organization has nothing to do with it. Up until a few years ago, Critical Mass was on the coalition's online calendar with this cutesy listing:

Critical Mass! Fri., 6pm Justin "Pee-Wee" Herman Plaza, Foot of Market St. Join hundreds or thousands of other cyclists---remember, we are not blocking traffic, we ARE traffic!

This disingenuous disclaimer was appended:

Events not officially sponsored or organized by the SFBC are marked with an asterisk. We post events that might be of interest to our SF area members; we do not necessarily endorse any particular group or perspective you may find represented here.

Even though the coalition is supposedly the Good Cop, it collaborated with City Hall in its attempt to rush the 500-page Bicycle Plan through the process without doing any environmental review, a clear violation of the most important environmental law in California, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 

Shahum and the bike people bitterly denounced our successful litigation that forced the city to obey the law and do an environmental impact report on the ambitious Plan to redesign city streets on behalf of their small minority. After years of pro-bike and anti-car propaganda, cycling is still only 3.5% of trips made every day in the city.

Like developers the bicycle people don't want to do environmental review of their projects, even though the Bicycle Plan---removing traffic lanes and parking on busy city streets to make bike lanes---will obviously have an impact on the city's environment, since it will make traffic worse for everyone but cyclists.

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