Why You Should Come to Critical Mass
Legend has it that the first Critical Mass took place in Sweden in the 1970s. The group bike rides, meant to raise awareness about the presence of cyclists and demand safer streets, made their way to the US via San Francisco in the early 1990s. As a young, naive Louisianan attending UC-Santa Cruz, not far from SF, in the early 2000s, I heard about the event. But, I never felt moved to join. Don’t get me wrong—I was fully on board with protests. I took to the streets of San Francisco and other Bay Area cities on the weekends to protest the war in Afghanistan and then Iraq, carting signs scrawled with things like “VEGANS FOR PEACE” with the best of the California leftists. But for some reason, I never made it to SF to demand safer streets.
That was when I lived in a sleepy college town and gleefully rode around in socks and sandals with a milk crate strapped to my hybrid to hold my organic groceries. Now I live in New York City, and 22 cyclists have died in our streets already this year. This, in spite of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. To cyclists and pedestrians alike, Vision Zero is turning out to be a massive failure and our mayor has time and again proved that he doesn’t take Vision Zero seriously. He has failed to direct the NYPD to meaningfully enforce traffic laws, he’s failed to direct his DOT to install protected bike lanes, and when asked about the recent spate of cyclist (and pedestrian) deaths, he deflects, is borderline insulting, and just tells everyone to be patient.
In light of all of the above, the NYC bike safety fairies brought Critical Mass back to NYC in August of this year. And, while I had the opportunity to attend before but never did, I finally felt the urgency. Last Friday I went to critical mass and dragged some friends along with me. And get this:
It was amazing.
If you’re tired of being patient, you’re tired of getting side-swiped, and you’re tired of hearing about our friends and colleagues dying in the streets, it’s time to join #CriticalMassNYC. And if that doesn’t move you enough to join, here are some other great reasons why you should come out to the next one:
1) It shows pols and fellow NYC residents that we exist.
We’ve already got some great politicians on our side like Corey Johnson and Brad Lander, but far too many politicians are wishy-washy on the topic of street safety. Even worse, many of our streets are held hostage by stodgy community boards. Getting together in one big group shows the city that WE EXIST! We are PEOPLE! And we deserve SAFE STREETS!
2) You will feel the safest you’ve ever felt on a NYC street.
No lie, I’ve never felt so comfortable on my bike anywhere in NYC as I did last Friday, rolling through the city streets, taking up the entire lane, blocking car traffic, and generally having fun. No one was buzzing too closely, no one was aggressively speeding past me (to inevitably get stuck at the next red light — eye roll), and no one was operating a several ton-gas guzzling planet and people killer anywhere close to me. Let me tell you, dear reader, it was pure bliss!!
3) All your friends will be there.
I planned to go with few friends and teammates of TBD, but I also saw so many friends and fellow street safety activists there. It felt like a reunion! Even one of my Twitter crushes was there, which made the evening even more exciting. But seriously, if you don’t have anyone to go with you, there’s a sure bet you’ll see someone there that you know. Critical mass brings out every kind of rider: the spandex people, the commuters, the wheelie people, the fixies, and the messengers. EVERYONE IS THERE!! So if you don’t know anyone when you show up, you will surely know some cool people by the end of the evening. Don’t you know that riding bikes with someone is the best way to get to know them?
4) IT’S A FREAKING BLAST.
The atmosphere is lively, fun, and hopeful. With traffic blocked all around you, the city is truly finally YOURS! You’ll get to roll through streets you wouldn’t dare try on a bike, including the elevated road between Grand Central and the MetLife building. You’ll whirl around Columbus Circle, keep going in circles, block traffic, talk about how a great crit course would obviously include that circle, and only leave once you get dizzy. You’ll spin down to Times Square, weave through already-gridlocked traffic, bask in the glow of illuminated billboards, and watch as bystanders snap photos and cheer your general awesomeness.
I hope to see you at the next #CriticalMassNYC: the last Friday of every month, 7pm at Union Square. Bring your lights, bells, lungs, and heart. I promise it will be awesome.
If you’re unable to attend critical mass but want to support the movement for safe streets, I recommend donating to StreetsPAC, a political action committee that works to elect candidates who are committed to safety, livability, and mobility on our city streets.