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Riding in a Critical Mass [May. 26th, 2012|07:40 pm]
‎Last night I attended my first Cleveland Critical Mass bike ride. Don’t feel badly that you don’t know what that means; I didn’t know about it until a few weeks ago. Critical Mass rides happen on the last Friday of the month in about 300 different cities all over the states and in some other countries. Here in Cleveland we had about 400 riders. In other places they have over 1,000.

400 riders strung out along a roadway was an incredibly impressive sight. We must have stretched out close to half a mile. I can’t even imagine 1,000.

The point of Critical Mass is not speed or getting to a destination first. The point is to raise local awareness of bicyclists and our right–nay, requirement–to share the roads. Did you know that in many states, including Ohio, it’s a misdemeanor for adult cyclists to ride on the sidewalk? This is because sidewalks are for walking, and people walking are generally traveling at 2-5 miles per hour. Whereas cyclists are generally traveling at least 8 miles an hour, and easily can be traveling 18, 20, or more. Cyclists are a hazard to walkers. They are operating vehicles, and belong on the street.

And the fact is that cyclists are safer on the street. I have been clipped by a car once on the street, it’s true. But I’ve had many near-collisions when riding on the sidewalk, because people are not looking for a bike on the sidewalk moving at 12 mph when they back out of a driveway or pull up to an intersection. They see me when I’m on the street.

Still, there are people who don’t understand the law who still honk at cyclists, yell at them to get on the sidewalk, and even assault them. A recent instance I read about was someone whose kid was pelted with a milkshake that was thrown from a car window. I’ve had people swerve at me, and someone open a passenger-side door in my face just to frighten me.

I’m not sure where this level of anger comes from. Yes, you might have to slow down and pull over to the left to get around a cyclist. But you’d have to do the same if a UPS truck was stopped there, and I don’t see anyone honking at the UPS guy. I sometimes have a sneaking suspicion that some of the resentment comes from thinking that the cyclist feels superior to people driving the car, or a guilt that the driver feels for driving along, drinking a milkshake while these cyclists are exercising.

I know that I’ve been cursed at with “fatso, get off the road!” As if my wide hips are taking up more space. My very presence offends some people.

I’ve learned to be more assertive in my biking, and also more cautious. I try to stick to roads with four lanes, and to bike toward the middle of the right lane so people don’t try the slip past me when there really isn’t enough room. I also bike at off hours or against the rush hour traffic so that I’m not frustrating tired people who just want to get home from work as soon as possible. I take my share of the road, but try to do so with respect for drivers.

And I obey traffic laws. I stop for red lights. I yield at stop signs–a full stop is incredibly wearing on the knees, so I cheat a bit, but I give up the right-of-way when it’s not mine to take. I signal my turns. I try to be a good citizen.

Still, it’s hard to be a cyclist at times. And cycling alone always seems more subject to verbal abuse than cycling with a group, or even just two.

So last night, cycling with 400 people, was a kind of empowerment. We rode through neighborhoods where kids ran to the fences, waving wildly at us, adults smiled and called out encouragement, and drivers waiting at intersections honked their horns not with impatience but in celebration. We were a novelty, this enormous group of cyclists.

We were a parade.

Maybe the people who smiled at our dinging bells and honking horns and smiling waves will remember us. Maybe when they come along a solitary cyclist pedaling down a narrow street, they will recall the crazy, happy atmosphere of last night’s ride.

And maybe they will be just a little more patient, give just a little more room, and we can all be better citizens on the road together.

Crossposting from Dreamwidth now. Sigh. If LJ won't let you comment, you can comment here: http://zoethe.dreamwidth.org/795282.html?mode=reply:

[User Picture]From: roniliquidity
2012-05-27 12:24 am (UTC)
I think people get angry with cyclists because so many of them have no idea that they're supposed to act like a vehicle, or just disregard the law and do what is most convenient for them. Running reds, turning from the wrong lane, slipping between two cars who are already in lanes, and going on and off the sidewalk are all very common in my experience. I've seen several bicyclists riding against the flow of traffic, one at night no less (With no shoulder!!!), and about half the people I've talked to think that's the legal requirement. Hence drivers get angry because it's an immediate "Great. What's this one going to do?" The are plenty of good bicyclists, but so many bad ones that trying to anticipate what kind of conveyance they think they are is frustrating. I really think there should be some kind of biking license to ride in an urban environment.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2012-05-27 12:41 am (UTC)
I think biking education should be much more prevalent, and I'd love to see cops start ticketing cyclists for breaking the traffic laws.
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From: anonymousalex
2012-05-27 12:48 am (UTC)
Wow, I must live in more of a bubble than I thought. IME, bikes get in accidents, sure, but nobody's pissed off just because they exist and are on the road. That's where they're 'sposed to be.

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[User Picture]From: kid_lit_fan
2012-05-27 05:46 am (UTC)
Not only are motorists annoyed at bicyclists they randomly encounter, but there are people at Critical Mass SF who purposefully bring and throw water balloons to hit the bicyclists.

I've accidentally done some assholish things, but this kind of premeditated assholery makes me cringe.
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[User Picture]From: goaskalice71
2012-05-27 01:21 am (UTC)
And I obey traffic laws. I stop for red lights. I yield at stop signs–a full stop is incredibly wearing on the knees, so I cheat a bit, but I give up the right-of-way when it’s not mine to take. I signal my turns. I try to be a good citizen.

My issue come with this statement in conjunction with a Mass ride. What happens in Los Angeles when there is a Mass ride is that NO TRAFFIC LAWS ARE OBEYED. There is no warning to motorists that this is happening and suddenly you come to an intersection where you should have the right of way with a bright green light but you're not moving for several minutes while hundreds of bikes cruise by. The ones I've been caught in, and it's been a few, are often at the end of rush hour so there are still plenty of motorists trying to get to their destination who are unable to do so safely. I have sat through multiple cycles of green lights at a single intersection waiting for the mass to finish with all of its stragglers before I am able to proceed. I have no issue with bicyclists, I share the road with them just as I do with motorcyclists, but events like this try my patience due to the lack of a courtesy notification alerting motorists to take an alternate route to ease the gridlock created from a Mass ride.

I also think it's complete bullshit that bicyclists even have to fight so hard for their fair share of the road. It's not an inconvenience for a car to move over a lane to pass them and then move back.
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[User Picture]From: meyerweb.com
2012-05-27 01:59 am (UTC)
My one Critical Mass experience, as a pedestrian in suburban Chicago, was basically the same. For about 15 minutes an uninterrupted stream of bicycles streamed ceaselessly through a traffic-lighted intersection, causing an ever-increasing backup on the cross street. It was mid-evening, so not rush hour; and not downtown; but still, all I could think was that it seemed the perfect way to raise car drivers’ contempt for bicyclists, not awareness and appreciation.
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[User Picture]From: blessed_oak
2012-05-27 03:44 am (UTC)
Around here, it is difficult to pass a bicycle, because of the very short sight distance on the windy, hilly roads. It's often not safe for quite some distance to pull into the oncoming lane to pass a bike.

But you know, as long as they observe the rules of the road, I can have patience. Because really, the delay never amounts to more than, what, a minute or so?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2012-05-27 04:47 pm (UTC)
Exactly. Thank you for sharing.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2012-05-27 04:49 pm (UTC)
The individual city ordinances about bicycles vary, but the state law is that they are vehicles. Lakewood used to have a law that bikes had to be walked through all intersections--that was obviously unenforceable!

Cleveland Critical Mass has a Facebook page, and the rides are the last Friday of every month. You should look into it!
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[User Picture]From: trianakvetch
2012-05-27 05:22 am (UTC)
Living in Chicago, critical mass was more of a way for cyclists to bully drivers imo. While there are many good respectful cyclists in Chicago, too many times I experienced cyclists breaking laws left and right and then whining when someone tried to crack down on them. Now that I live in the San Francisco bay area I'm curious as to what the bike culture is like here.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2012-05-27 04:52 pm (UTC)
I am all for cracking down on cyclists, provided that it's for violations of acting like traffic that are reasonable. Stopping for all red lights, yes. But I think they should be allowed to treat stop signs as yield signs because the stop-and-start in some neighborhoods would KILL the knees!
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[User Picture]From: annan_dum
2012-05-27 06:00 am (UTC)
I wish more CYCLISTS would read your post! My husband used to bike to work all the time, which raised my awareness of bicycles on the road tremendously. I work really hard as a driver to be conscientious and courteous to cyclists. What drives me nuts is that they do NOT all follow the same rules! Or - for that matter - laws!
Some use the roads, some use the sidewalks. Some use hand signals, others don't signal at all. Some use the in-street bike lanes we have in Seattle, others insist on riding in the car lanes even when there are bike-only lanes. Some wear helmets, some don't. Some obey stop signs and lights, others just weave around and run through intersections when it suits them. It makes it hugely difficult for me as a driver to be safe around them, because I don't know what to expect! I wish more cyclists were like you: smart, safe, and obeying the same laws as cars so that those of us who really, REALLY want to be safe on the road know to respond to your presence exactly the same as any other on-road vehicle.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2012-05-27 04:57 pm (UTC)
This is why I am all for law enforcement cracking down on cyclists.

The bike lane thing is an interesting debate, though, and one where I can see both sides. Sometimes the bike lanes are unsafe because road cleaning just shoves all the dirt and broken glass into the bike lanes. Sometimes they're unsafe because they are poorly placed for visibility. And some people think that they just make people think that bikes should *only* be on the streets with bike lanes and cause drivers to be less friendly on other roads. I personally use them when they are available, but I can see why some people don't.
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[User Picture]From: creativecstasy
2012-05-27 06:49 am (UTC)
Here in San Francisco I always thought Critical Mass was just an excuse to interrupt Friday rush hour traffic and make a public spectacle. Often nude. I didn't know there was all sorts of meaning behind it!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2012-05-27 04:58 pm (UTC)
I can't speak for San Fransisco. ;-)
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From: phillipalden
2012-05-27 07:05 pm (UTC)
Congratulations and Good Luck!

Here in San Francisco there is a lot of animosity towards CM from drivers, mainly because bikes are an "inconvenience" to these selfish pricks driving (alone) in their planet-killing SUVs.
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[User Picture]From: merle_
2012-05-28 04:04 pm (UTC)
Did you know that in many states, including Ohio, it’s a misdemeanor for adult cyclists to ride on the sidewalk?

Ayup. Unless you're a young kid, but we let them get away with anything. A bike is a vehicle and in theory you get the whole lane. In practice, as you note, car drivers are quite unhappy when you obey the law.

The "get out of the lane fatso" comment is new to me, and since most SUVs are a wee tad wider than I am it would be a silly thing to say. Whatever. Having been a pedestrian, a cyclist, and a driver, I can easily say that all three classes have jerks who will either ignore the law or just be plain rude.

And yeah, Critical Mass is fun. I don't do it in SF because it goes way beyond political into things like keying cars that try to pass by, but it is important.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2012-05-29 01:38 am (UTC)
I have heard that SF is kind of radical. It's certainly not like that out here.

But yes, taking a whole lane during rush hour would probably be dangerous to my health.
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[User Picture]From: ronin_kakuhito
2012-06-01 05:00 am (UTC)
"And I obey traffic laws. I stop for red lights. I yield at stop signs–a full stop is incredibly wearing on the knees, so I cheat a bit, but I give up the right-of-way when it’s not mine to take. I signal my turns. I try to be a good citizen." Thank you. <3 As a cyclist I get so pissed at other cyclists in my town (I do disagree with the stop sign thing, but then I've got a multiple gear bike in part because my town has hills and stop signs.)
I attended one Critical Mass event because the folks there irritated me so much. I kept hearing things like "the police don't license us so we shouldn't have to follow the laws"
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2012-06-01 04:15 pm (UTC)
So, if you are in a quiet neighborhood with 4-way stops every block, you actually come to a complete stop at every intersection?
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