Many of you who are long time members of the cycling culture may be aware of a movement called Critical Mass. If you're not, you can read the wikipedia definition of the movement/phenomenon (linked to the left), but basically it's a bike ride, held on the last Friday of each month, that uses its size to take over the road from other forms of transportation, namely cars.
As you can imagine, this ride is very controversial, but it's hard to stop because there is no set organization or membership involved. Everyone who wants to participate simply shows up at the prescribed place and time, and they go and ride. That's it.
The motto of this ride is simple: "We aren't blocking traffic; we are traffic." But to a nation that is still under the impression that automobiles rule the streets, this is a problem. So Critical Mass tends to get a hard time in the mainstream press. But it also brings a lot of issues about the use of streets to the forefront: are streets simply places for cars to drive, and everyone else can use them at their own risk? Or are they commons, places for all to use no matter what mode of transportation you use?
Being of the latter mindset, I tend to be a fan of Critical Mass and the forced realization that traffic is about more than just cars.
Well, Critical Mass is getting a hard look in San Francisco, where it originated, after an incident at the end-of-March ride. Apparently, a family from out of town was driving into town to celebrate a birthday when they ran into the end, more or less, of the monthly ride. Apparently the driver, Susan Ferrando, revved her engine in annoyance at the riders not letting her pass, and then swerved out and hit a cyclist. She then attempted to drive off, but other cyclists surrounded her car to foil her escape while 911 was called. One of the riders apparently broke the rear window of her car.
Ferrando then told the press and anyone who would listen that she only bumped someone and that's why she was trying to drive off. She made the whole thing sound like the cyclists' fault.
There are two people at fault in this particular case, without looking at the bigger picture of the Critical Mass ride itself: Ferrando, for attempting a hit and run, and the cyclist who smashed her window. Both should be in jail.
Some may argue that Critical Mass is at fault for this incident - that the mob mentality that arises from such an event led to the incident getting out of control. I see it differently.
Modern automobile traffic IS the mob mentality. It's a perpetuated cycle of "strongest rules" and the idea that if everyone does something wrong, then that makes it right. That's why police don't stop people for speeding, failure to use turn signals, etc. EVERYONE does it. In fact, you can get ticketed for NOT speeding, because you're not "following the flow of traffic."
Critical Mass, on the other hand, is simply a case of the cyclists showing the motorists how it feels.
My point: traffic, and the insatiable need that people have to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, is the problem. The officials of this and every city that has traffic issues like ours (and that seems to be most of them) should be doing everything they can to slow traffic down, and to discourage the use of private automobiles.
Cars are the problem here, not the victim. When people die in car-related accidents, it's looked at as a necessary evil to keep people moving. But sit back and think about that: your son, daughter, mother, father, cousin, etc. dies in a car accident. But instead of taking action to fix the problem so that it doesn't happen any more, city officials shrug it off and find the blame with your relative - they did something wrong that got them killed.
I say the system got them killed, because the system is flawed both in practice and in intention.