Time to ride

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By Steven T. Jones
Despite the article's deeply flawed premise, it was nice to see the Chron's Matier and Ross promote this Friday's Critical Mass ride.
wheel.gifAfter the duo whipped drivers into an ill-informed frenzy earlier this month and caused the SFPD to double the promised police presence, we bicyclists will need big numbers on our side to keep the mass moving and show that we won't be shamed or threatened into abandoning this important social protest event. And from what I'm hearing, people are more committed than ever to Critical Mass, creating the possibility that this Friday's event will be huge and fun. Personally, I can't wait.

Yet it's too bad the M&R keep getting things so wrong, such as when they say Mayor Gavin Newsom "has a lot riding on this event...the basic question being whether he can control the city's streets come Friday night.." That's bullshit. On this issue, Newsom has been wise enough to avoid taking the Chron's bait and calling for a Critical Mass crackdown. He never promised to "control" Critical Mass and therefore has nothing riding on this Friday's outcome, unless the police get aggressive and cause problems. The only test we'll see this Friday is of M&R's mass-gone-mad fable, which are like to be shown for the one-sided, self-serving sensationalism that it was.

I liked the SFist take on the M&R paradigm: if Critical Mass chaos really hurts Newsom, then let's go nuts! Frankly, there are some that might follow that playbook if anybody actually believed the M&R premise. But we're smarter than that. The reality is that what happens at Critical Mass reflects on Critical Mass and whoever else is directly involved, period. Not Newsom, not the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, not bike-riding or car-driving members of the Board of Supervisors, not the Chron, and not me.

If attacks on motorists -- deserving or not -- become a regular feature of Critical Mass, it will hurt the event and few participants want that. If any of the motorists make good on their online threats to run down any bicyclists who get in their way, I sincerely hope they'll be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law (and I hope we then see a public apology from M&R for whipping up that kind of anti-bike anger). But I think the most plausible fear is that a few cowboy cops will take it upon themselves to cause trouble, despite their assurance in the Chron that they'll simply keep the peace between motorists and bicyclists.

The police mostly do an admirable and restrained job at facilitating the ride. But there are often a few Type A cops that recklessly and pointlessly drive their motorcycles through the mass or up on sidewalks, or who wear their disdain for the bicyclists on their sleeves and act rude or threaten arrests for minor infractions. My advice for everyone this Friday is the same as it was after last month's controversy: everyone just chill. It's going to be OK. Breathe.

Critical Mass has become an important tradition, one of the features of urban life that makes San Francisco a more fun and vibrant place to live. Please don't resent us for it or turn this event into some kind of outrageous criminal posse that it just isn't. The fact that we run red lights and break other traffic laws isn't some kind of trump card that makes us evil, as some drivers pretend. Absolutes are for the Taliban and George W. Bush, not dynamic San Francisco. Besides, running red lights is how the mass stays together and keeps moving, thus minimizing delays for the drivers that get stuck (which usually only lasts about 10 minutes -- or longer for drivers that cause big conflicts -- which is usually less than what auto traffic will delay the average driver with somewhere to be).

So, if you have a bike or can borrow one, come on out to Justin Herman Plaza at 6 p.m. this Friday to experience Critical Mass for yourself. And if you're a driver who gets stuck, please just try to be patient, keep your head, and remember that this event only lasts for a few hours once a month. If I see you, I'll even apologize for the delay, smile, and wish you a fantastic weekend. Peace.