Tomorrow, hundreds of “cyclists” will take part in the Chicago Critical Mass, an event that is quite possibly the worst thing to ever happen for cycling. And yes, I put “cyclists” in quotes because if the people that take part in this event knew how terrible it was for cycling in the city of Chicago, they would never do it.
I’m not even sure where to begin with this topic because I have so many things that I want to mention, but not sure I will get them all into this post. Let’s first start with the basics…
What is Critical Mass?
I decided to go directly to the Critical Mass website and I’m taking this paragraph right from their “About” section:
“Critical Mass is a bike ride plain and simple. The ride takes place on the Last Friday Of Every Month (in Chicago anyway). A Critical Mass is created when the group of riders comes together for those few hours to take back the streets of our city. The right of the people to assemble is guaranteed in the Constitution, and Critical Mass helps people remember that right. The Mass itself has no political agenda, though, no more than the people of any other community do. Critical Mass is open to all, and it welcomes all riders to join in a celebration of riding bicycles. Why? Because bikes are fun!”
I wish that this is what this event actually was… “a bike ride plain and simple.” Unfortunately, it turns into the following:
- A severe traffic jam on some of Chicago’s busiest streets during the evening rush hour
- An excuse for people (pretending to be cyclists) to act inappropriately, break traffic laws, and sometimes cause damage to motor vehicles and property
- A reason for everyone that didn’t already hate cyclists in Chicago, to REALLY hate cyclists.
The Critical Mass website also mentions that the rides are “free and fun.” Free? Yes. Fun? Well, maybe for those involved, but definitely not for anyone else.
I’ve never actually participated in this event, but I didn’t have to. Seeing it from the sidewalk was enough to let me know that I did not want to be any part of it. I happened to be walking down North Avenue towards Wells street in the late afternoon when I heard a lot of yelling and then cars honking. The honking seemed to stop as people in their cars realized what was going on, but as the honking faded I started to hear pounding. The pounding happened to be cyclists riding by and slamming their fists on the outside of a CTA bus stopped in the intersection of North Avenue and Wells Street. Cars that were trying to make it through the green light were also blocked as hundreds of bicycles clogged a large stretch of North Avenue. Cars that were stuck partially in the intersection also got their hoods and roofs pounded on as cyclists rode by. I stood there for twenty minutes watching bicycles ride through the intersection, ignoring traffic lights and causing a traffic jam that probably took another twenty minutes just to clear once all the bicycles were gone.
Why This Bothers Me
I’m a cyclist, and I ride a lot in the city of Chicago. I ride to and from work every day and on the weekends I will do longer rides along the lake and north along the many bicycle paths around Chicago. I love to ride and one of the things that bothers me most is when I hear people talking about how terrible cyclists are on the city streets. Pedestrians hate cars and cars hate pedestrians, but ask both what they hate most and I guarantee you that the majority will say they hate cyclists the most.
The reason for this is because so many cyclists are careless and they don’t follow traffic laws. I’ll admit, that it’s annoying to make a full stop at a stop sign when on a bike, but I always slow down and if there are people crossing or cars at a stop sign, I will ALWAYS stop. I’ve seen cyclists ride right through stop signs, almost hitting pedestrians and cutting off cars that have the right away.
Critical Mass just makes this situation worse. Every idiot on a bicycle that participates in Critical Mass and breaks traffic laws while being loud and causing damage to buses and cars is just making my life as a city cyclist even harder.
As cyclists, we share the road with cars and with pedestrians as well. We need to stop thinking we own the road and follow the laws that everyone else has to follow. There should be no reason to “take back the streets” in the city of Chicago. Every year they are improving roads and adding bicycle lanes so that cars and cyclists can share the streets.
Some More Fun Reading
While writing this blog post I came across a site that posted an article about Critical Mass in Pittsburgh. The author of the article actually wrote about how they enjoyed participating in Critical Mass. One of the readers added their own comment to the discussion. I enjoyed it so much that I included the link in my post. The comment starts out with, “Critical Mass is a bunch of misguided fools.” The last paragraph is my favorite. Enjoy.