Critical Mass

Transportation Nation

As Critical Mass Turns 20, Founders Reflect on Sprawling Bike Protests (AUDIO)

Friday, September 28, 2012

(San Francisco, Calif. --Ben Trefny, KALW) Political movements don't have to be shaped by politicians. In fact, one of the most dynamic movements to shape the way we see our streets started with a group of bicycle riders in San Francisco who simply wanted to be seen.

It's a gathering that's come to be known as "Critical Mass." Tonight, hundreds, if not thousands, of cyclists from around the world will come together to take over their city's streets and celebrate the event's 20th anniversary.

The Mass has taken place on the last Friday of every month since September of 1992. It's a leaderless bike ride, without a preplanned route, lasting several hours. The concept is to have enough people riding on bikes -- a critical mass -- to force cars to stop and wait for them. The message: The road belongs to bikes too, not just cars.

Critical Mass rides are controversial, somewhat chaotic, and sometimes confrontational. But it's also effective. And it's grown. Today, Critical Mass rides take place in more than 300 countries around the world. Urban bike riding has changed significantly in that time -- some would say Critical Mass helped the world spin a little differently.

Chris Carlsson is the co-founder of Critical Mass. He and Lisa-Ruth Elliot co-edited the new book, Shift Happens: Critical Mass at 20. KALW's Ben Trefny spoke with the two editors to reflect on how the Mass got its start.

CARLSSON: We felt really mistreated, as second-class citizens on the roads... people would treat you derisively, they'd yell at you, they'd think you were, like, immature, you're a kid.  "Grow up and get a car!"  As though that were somehow an act of maturity.  So we thought, let's just meet at the foot of Market Street and ride home together.  Simple act.  Get everybody together we can, fill the streets with bikes, and by doing so, displace the cars.

Listen to the complete interview:

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Transportation Nation

KALW Bike Week: Here's the Origin History of Critical Mass from Three Founders

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Since 1992, thousands of cyclists have gathered on the last Friday of every month to show off their bike pride by getting in the way of auto traffic on city streets in the Critical Mass demonstration rides.

As part of KALW's special bike coverage, we bring you the history of the most prominent bike protest institution, as remembered, in a lovely audio montage of reminiscences from the movement's three founders.

As they explain, biking in San Francisco was rough and tumble in the early 1990s: "Drivers used to throw things at you and tell you to ride on the sidewalk." Anger was daily and universal, they tell KALW, "a lot of obscenities ... people would pound on their horn."

So a mass ride to reclaim the streets for cyclists one night a month was planned. "The beginning of it was essentially a bunch of people who had been talking about the idea of riding together as a political statement as an act of reclaiming the city," explained the third founder.

About 50 people came from the first one, and within a year 1,000 riders were showing up for the monthly ride, originally called "the commute clot".

That's not such a catchy name for spreading a movement, so the founders tell KALW how the term critical mass came to be. They adopted it from a documentary by Ted White, Return of the Scortcher, where cyclists at a Chinese intersection documented in the film have to wait until there is a critical mass of bikes in order to break into the intersection and stop oncoming car traffic to cross as group, in safety.

Today, the gatherings take place in hundreds of cities, drawing thousands of riders in the biggest cities and follow no set route, blocking car traffic completely on avenues as the bike horde meanders through urban centers. Often times, the un-permitted rides provoke police responses that lead to arrests.

Listen to the full story of the start of critical mass, and how the unplanned routes came to be the norm.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: ARC Supporters Fan Out Across NJ; Critical Mass Bicyclists Win Suit; and You Say You Want a Rail-Volution?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

ARC tunnel supporters fanned out across the state yesterday to rally, get signatures, pass out fliers. Can the tunnel be saved? Governor Christie's response: "I don't know. I’ll wait to see what they tell me on Friday about the money. It’s all about the money." (Star Ledger)

"Critical Mass" bicyclists win suit against city. (WNYC)

NYC's MTA adds buses to the M15 Select Bus Service line. How's the new line doing? "Things are incrementally getting better," says spokesperson. (New York Daily News)

Now, even BlackBerry users in Boston will know when their train or bus is coming. (Herald)

The New York Times debates the question: "The number of drivers over 70 will triple in the next 20 years. How will they stay safe and mobile?"

16th annual Rail-Volution conference held this week in Portland, Oregon--a model city for transit oriented development...but one participant notes: "The extensions into the suburbs are the real test." (Portland Tribune)

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Critical Mass Riders Win Lawsuit Against the City

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bicyclists who were wrongfully detained and arrested while participating in "Critical Mass" rides won a $965,000 lawsuit against the city. The 83 cyclists will receive $500 each for getting a minor citation and one plaintiff who was arrested multiple times and injured in the process could receive up to $35,000.

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