Critical Mass in Philly

I participated in my first Critical Mass in Philadelphia this past Friday. I happened to get out of work early and saw the ride while hanging in Rittenhouse Square. I rushed to join the ride, which began peacefully but ended so negatively that it caused me to question the purpose (or better yet, effectiveness) of the ride.

critmass.jpgI have participated in a handful of rides in NYC, including the infamous RNC ride that led to the criminalization of Critical Mass in New York. New York had similar problems, but the good folks generally outweighed the bad. There seemed to be so many trouble makers on this ride, and considering it’s relatively small size — about 125 bicyclists, slimming to about 50 as the ride progressed — the trouble making really put bicyclists and pedestrians at great risk.

I realize without good organization, these rides tend to be run by the loudest subgroup. I had heard of problems with the Philly ride before, but now I can say the ride is quite problematic for urban-cycling culture. Some observations:

  • The ride is fiercely anti pedestrian – watching babies in strollers, dogs and old folks almost thrown to the ground because they’re crossing on a pedestrian green signal is pathetic.
  • Antagonizing cars goes nowhere – drivers who are stuck in the middle of a ride should be corked/stopped and peacefully spoken with if they become agitated.  Cursing, screaming, hitting the car, hanging onto it, etc. is dangerous and stupid.  It inspires the driver to develop a negative impression of Philly cyclists.
  • Corking is important – New York rides were well corked and organized.  Only a handful riders seemed interested in corking streets.  For the unfamiliar, corking refers to blocking traffic so the ride can go through on a red light.  Riding around Franklin Circle without the appropriate entrances corked is extremely dangerous.
  • Know when to quit – Clogging children’s hospital, not letting police through (who are not the least bit concerned with the ride) and scraping cars with your pedals on purpose will criminalize the ride.

Of course, there were plenty of positives.  Props to those who had boom boxes and art-bikes, they add to the positive nature of the ride.  I made every attempt to thank pedestrians and drivers who were blocked, it’s important to maintain this type of peaceful approach so folks don’t get heated, cyclists stay safe and the ride is respected by all.

There is a divide among bicycle advocates: those who say this type of action is creative and beneficial to the movement, and those who consider the antagonistic nature of the ride harmful to safer streets and a better world for cyclists.  I’m leading towards the latter now.