Every city has a different story with critical mass. Some have 50 people, stop at lights, don’t block intersections. Some have numbers into the thousands. Each city has a different relationship with its motor vehicles and with the local police departments bringing up the challenges of road rules and road rage.
Here what is going on San Diego:
Once a month, county cyclists claim the streets.
By Pauline Repard
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
August 10, 2008
Hundreds of bicyclists pump doggedly up Fifth Avenue’s steady incline out of downtown, their taillights strobing in the dark.
It’s the last Friday of the month, when cycling enthusiasts from throughout the county join in a Critical Mass ride around San Diego.
Its popularity has grown from a handful of bicyclists about 11 years ago to more than 1,000 in July. They begin each ride in Balboa Park, but from there the route is spontaneous and fluid.
Definitions of Critical Mass also are fluid â€“ and not always complimentary.
Bike rider Tom Hepler of North Park called it â€œwacky, anachronistic.â€
Cyclist Esther Perkins of Poway said it sends a message to motorists that bicyclists have rights to the road. â€œSan Diego’s supposed to be a green city, but cycling is not encouraged,â€ she said. â€œIt’s so unsafe.â€
â€œCritical Mass is simple,â€ cyclist Mike Lashua of San Diego said. â€œOnce a month, bikes take over the road.â€
San Diego police Capt. Chris Ball of Central Division had his own take on the event.
â€œCritical Mass is an interesting and challenging phenomenon for law enforcement worldwide,â€ Ball said. â€œIs it some form of civil disobedience? Is it political speech? This isn’t just a bike ride.â€
A mass of riders
Critical Mass originated in San Francisco in 1992 to promote cycling. Now, in more than 300 cities from Anchorage, Alaska, to Mumbai, India, riders hit the road each month in numbers from a few dozen to several thousand. There are no leaders. Cyclists learn by word-of-mouth and Web sites when and where to turn up.
Joshua Sibelman, 37, of South Park, who pedals to work in Chula Vista, said Critical Mass draws â€œthose who are coming out for fun, for awareness, or to be more militant about it.â€
The political-environmental message can be lost on motorists suddenly surrounded by cyclists who run red lights, ride into oncoming traffic, or occasionally pound on a car that fails to yield.
â€œIt was arrogant, more like anarchy, to take over the streets like that,â€ said a 71-year-old visitor from Tucson who was frightened when cyclists surrounded his car July 25. He asked that his name not be published for fear of retribution.
The man said his 68-year-old wife was driving south on Kettner Boulevard about 10 p.m. when about 1,000 cyclists came north in their lane. He told his wife to pull over, fast.
â€œLots of them had no headlights on their bikes,â€ he said. â€œThere was no advance warning this event was to take place. Someone is going to get hurt. The city is looking the other way while this mob is on the road.â€
Riders say it is safer for them to stay together, even if it means running red lights.
Ball, the police captain, said the local rides have sparked nothing more than an occasional argument between drivers and bicyclists.
But in Seattle, police arrested two riders on their July 25 ride when a motorist was beaten after he ran over a cyclist. Officer Mark Jamieson said that for 10 years the department has kept a hands-off approach to Critical Mass, which draws 100 to 300 riders, but that may change in light of the Seattle incident.
At the park
In San Diego, the events take on the look of a carnival as riders start gathering about 6 p.m. around the fountain at the end of Balboa Park’s Prado.
Young women in summer dresses and young men in cutoffs and T-shirts show up in flip-flops, on beach cruisers. Serious cyclists sport Spandex and aerodynamic helmets. Antlers or stuffed animals adorn ballcaps. Some riders sneak swigs of alcohol tucked into packs. Bikes range from multispeed and fixed speed, to BMXs, mountain bikes, tandems and giant-wheeled homemade ones.
The July ride was dedicated to Atip Ouypron, who was fatally injured July 18 when he ran a red light on his bike in Hillcrest and a pickup hit him.
About 8 p.m., out of a swelling crowd, a handful of cyclists start pedaling slowly around the fountain. Riders whoop and ring their bicycle bells.
More and more cyclists circle the fountain. One rider tows a booming stereo on a lightweight trailer. No leader has been chosen, but soon a few riders break out and pedal down the Prado.
For the next several hours, bicyclists follow one another down San Diego streets, with Ball and another officer loosely trailing in cars.
The cyclists travel downtown, past the airport, then into Hillcrest. A police helicopter hovers. Ball and the other officer direct traffic at Park Boulevard and University Avenue as riders circle around mounds of flowers in Ouypron’s memory.
Many cyclists then regroup and turn north up Park Boulevard to continue the ride.
Where to meet for Critical Mass San Diego:
At the large fountain in Balboa Park.
7 p.m. on the last Friday of each month.
More info at: San Diego Criticalmass.org
Check out a video from the AP from the May ride.
Coming soon…new fixie shop.
Velo Cult Bike Shop
2220 Fern St.
San Diego, CA 92104