Last week, while riding my bike around Lake Bemidji, I was handed a leaflet from another bicyclist regarding a Bemidji “Critical Mass” Ride to be held the last Friday of each month starting at Paul and Babe.
The leaflet explains:
“Critical Mass bike rides are spontaneous, leaderless rides that begin at specific times and locations in various cities around the world. Since no one organizes the rides, the rides have no agenda or demands. They aren’t a protest! Instead we’re living in the world we would like to see—filling the streets with bikes, laughter, human interaction, clean air, engagement and life! At Critical Mass, we can bike down the street safe from speeding cars – together – empowered by our numbers.”
They go on to say:
“Critical Mass rides sometimes enrage car drivers because bike traffic competes with car traffic for space on the road. Cars have their Critical Mass 29 days of the month when bikes get crowded out –it’s called rush hour. Critical Mass is a single day when bike traffic briefly outnumbers car traffic. We don’t need permission because nobody is in charge! Bikes have a right to ride together if they want and we don’t need permits to do so. Do cars need permits for rush hour?”
Further investigation on the internet furthers the explanation. Critical Mass was founded in San Francisco in 1992 and is now held in over 300 cities around the world on the last Friday of every month. Critical Mass rides have been perceived by many media outlets as a protest activity. Minneapolis has had them for several years. On August 31st, 2007 a melee occurred between police and hundreds of bikers with 19 being arrested. Mace, Pepper Spray, and Tasers were used and a lot of bad publicity was leveled with both the police and the cyclist. A month after the incident, another but much more uneventful Critical Mass ride took place in Minneapolis. Here is a YOU TUBE VIDEO of the 9/28/07 ride which gives you a flavor of what this is all about.
While this at face value seems like an interesting and worthwhile concept (I as a bicyclist want Bemidji to be very user friendly to bikes) I am concerned also that this could get out of hand just because of the way it is loosely organized. Anyone with any cause and a few numbers of people could ruin it for the rest. Also if the intent is to drive down highway 197/Paul Bunyan Drive at 4:30 pm on a busy summer Friday during tourist season that too concerns me, not only for safety sake, but the message it would be sending. I’d rather see a group of 100 or so cyclist driving down Lake Blvd., around Birchmont Drive, over 15th to Beltrami Avenue and back through the downtown. It will be very important just how well these first few rides go as to their acceptance in our city.