Critical Mass - September 2008

Reflections on the Nature of Chicago Critical Mass; good, bad, and perspective.
Chicago Critical Mass is a phenomenon. A monthly (last Fri) gathering of cyclists at Daley Plaza which leaves after 6pm on a long (12-18mi) unplanned cruise through Chicago. CCM is among the most successful anarchic events in existence. Collectively its effect is to reminds drivers of cyclists' shared right to the roads.

The September ride in particular I thought was awesome. The mass TOOK OVER North Avenue bridge (and blocks E/W) in protest of the completed multi-million dollar project's failure to include bike lanes, then wound through many streets including rallying too long at Wicker Park's six corners, eventually spectacularly taking right lanes of LSD all the way from Belmont to downtown, and wrapped with night beach gatherings near the peer. I skated in darkness home to Foster for a total of some 20 aerobic miles.

Others however saw this mass as troubled. Specifically the strong hostility to drivers including one or more altercations. I however have come to accept some battles as norm, and saw instead a higher than usual number (maybe six or more) different events where drivers tried to pass through the mass, disregarding kind escort cyclists giving calm waiting instructions. The volume of concerned postings on CCM 's group, and my contrasting view, lead me to post the piece below. Since the point of this blog is for wordier content I herein cross-post. All photos iPhone, testing low light quality.

"Happy cyclist, raging cars."
Andrew Bedno's Reflections on the Nature of Chicago Critical Mass, in response to cyclists' concerns about how we are perceived, following the September 26th 2008 ride.

I went head to foot in the mass repeatedly, the entire trek from Daley Plaza to stragglers end at Navy Pier, and what I saw was a mass with spirit, and an unusually high number of egotistic self-centered entitled Neanderthals raging from cars.

Don't give too much weight to the same kind of scattered opposition flak reflecting mostly on the giver that any such event would get. Most problem cagers I've seen are probably predictably inconsiderate or assholes, whether they were in a car or not. Closed minded, inflexible, with anger issues or socially challenged in some other ways which cannot be addressed on the sane plane.

Whatever blah blah blah caveman crap the rager cagers spew, all I hear is fading echos of a dead culture's ghost's impotent chain rattling. Sorry mister wheezing dinosaur, you'll have to wait fifteen minutes while the future passes you by.
If one needs to start beating their chest about how much more important they are than a thousand cyclists, then they've actively demanded a lesson in cause and effect.

The mass IS the collective of a thousand influences, and its character cannot be summarized. But frankly, if you want a Sunday tea ride, that is not CCM.
Franker still, we manifest an inevitable future that status quo will inherently resist. However well meaning, the mass is an unintentional front line, and there will be casualties. Accept it, mitigate it, but give no comfort nor coddling nor patience to crazies. Personally, I thank the few who take the fight further than I.

For me, no more apologies, nor compromise, nor second guessing nor self doubt. Any leeway we give, angry cagers have proven they will take and abuse and demand more. I feel the mass displays a fine balance of peace and defense, and I don't see that we're reaching for anything more than the cars already have. Blame the traffic reports for not getting a clue after eleven years. Blame driver stress. Blame oil addiction. But don't blame yourself nor the mass.

Keep perspective:
  1. Driver anger is their problem. They should be grateful we're not more radical.
  2. Car culture is Mr. Burns, CCM is Lisa.
  3. We create a magical event taking only a few hours a month, add color to the city, and give hours of wonderment to thousands. A few pissing contests and scrapes is a fair price.
  4. I'd venture that our monthly inconvenience and injuries caused is vastly less than any single pro sports team home game.