SF Critical Mass under review

Critical Mass photo by Tim Daw

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón said Friday that he has ordered a review of policies related to Critical Mass, offering veiled threats of an impending crackdown to the unpermitted monthly mass bike ride. As SFPD learned from a 1997 crackdown, that won’t work, and will more likely make the event even more popular and provocative.

But if he’s serious about improving police procedures surrounding Critical Mass, that would be a welcome change. Ever since the March 2007 ride, in which the local media fed hysteria over the ride after an altercation between a driver and cyclist, there’s been a big but confused and confusing police presence on the rides, the result of wanting to “do something” but having no discernible policy or strategy for what to do.

Meanwhile, within the community of longtime Critical Mass riders, there was already a discussion brewing about how to self-regulate and prevent conflicts with drivers. Some of that discussion has been occurring on a new website devoted to the event, and much of it centers on communicating to riders that the event is about celebrating bikes, not purposely pissing off drivers.

There are no official leaders, procedures, or route to the 18-year-old event, making overt negotiations and policies difficult. But if Gascón is serious about the value he said he places on community outreach, there have got to be ways to lower police costs, lessen community conflicts, and preserve what thousands of San Franciscans still see as an important San Francisco tradition.