New and Improved! Critical Mass --
 Don't wait for the authorities to act,
 change it ourselves on our terms. --


Today is the day to FOLLOW ALL THE RULES. Bikes will rule the roads. Various groups of bikes can turn and ride on ANY STREET THEY CHOOSE in ANY SIZE GROUP. As we all meander around downtown, slowly heading westward, we’ll cross each other’s paths, and can switch groups and join and separate as the whim strikes us—JUST AS IF WE WERE JOYRIDING AROUND.

Just think of thousands of Good Soldiers Schwiek oozing through all the streets of downtown and midtown without breaking any laws, stopping at all yellow and red lights, only making legal turns, riding 2 or 3 abreast in as many lanes as can be filled, jamming the roads and having a rolling party during the ride. Hopefully there will be several or dozens of smaller rides heading off in whatever direction they choose, as if they were simply random traffic—which they are! As Massers explore the block by block details of downtown and neighboring areas, bicyclists will BE EVERYWHERE!

THE MAN IN THE LIMO: Agent of Creeping Monoculture?

Mayor Willie Brown is more concerned about the smooth flow of cash than the smooth flow of transit. A corporate lawyer, a deal-maker, and a talented self-promoter, he works incessantly to facilitate mega-projects and promote the intensive development of San Francisco. His tainted vision of what makes a city livable and desirable is visible in his ardent embrace of the iconography of consumerism, from fancy limousines to fancy suits. Brown enthusiastically promotes a shopping mall (which requires many thousands of car trips per year) instead of rising to the challenge of imagining a new future, kickstarting alternative transit industries, promoting green city businesses for all sorts of activities, from urban aquaculture to democratic media to waste treatment. He is a creature of American Empire, his world view is encircled by cars, concrete and fossil fuels.

Perhaps if he looked to the future instead of keeping his eyes firmly on the rear view mirror of his limo, he could see the dynamic economic and community development potential that the new Sustainable City plan offers. Brown is too busy wooing the wealthy and protecting his power to bring any creative vision to the hard urban questions of today. Mayor Brown shares the widely-held and worshiped assumption that all good things are made possible by private investment and profit. So who is our Mayor really serving when he pursues these policies? Is he a corporate lapdog or a naive, pro-development liberal?

• Brown unabashedly proclaims that he will build on every square inch of San Francisco except its open spaces.

• Brown comes out against Caltrain being extended into downtown SF, but supports Bechtel's overpriced, inefficient boondoggle BART going to the airport.

• His efforts to "fix" the MUNI have reproduced the long-term status quo.

• He appointed a buffoon to run the Dept. of Parking and Traffic, a man who still thinks building more parking garages will help reduce auto congestion in the city.

Perhaps by scapegoating Critical Mass Mayor Brown is trying to inspire a profreeway. pro-car constituency to support rebuilding the Central Freeway. Bicyclists are a stubborn and self-righteous lot, so Mayoral bluster is unlikely to dissuade many people from coming to Critical Mass, and if anything, may attract those who long for more overt social conflict. But additionally, Brown faces pedestrians and seniors and a strong "Transit-first" municipal priority. He is offending many more people than merely the regular bicyclists.


If the mayor pushes for a crackdown on Critical Mass, he may also have to deal with a reluctant police force. Most cops who ride along love the duty—it's a nice ride full of pleasant people! Nevertheless, it's the cops who have really enforced the model of one big parade, herded (protected?) by them. Keeping it moving is the most effective way to get the "problem" over with as soon as possible—facilitate the quickest exit possible from the center of the city, and send Critical Mass dispersing into the west side of town, preferably in deserted neighborhoods or parks.

Longtime Critical Mass riders have always supported safety, sticking together, preventing cars from getting caught amidst bikes by "corking" cross traffic, and by talking with pedestrians and motorists. During the last three and a half years the police insisted that it was their job to block cross traffic. Since they took over the perimeter of the ride, many conversations with bystanders have been rudely interrupted, and safety at intersections has been jeopardized repeatedly as the police abandon precisely the intersections with the greatest risk of confrontation and violence: the ones in the rear which have been waiting to proceed for 20-30 minutes. People easily melt down under the stress of a half hour road blockage. If Critical Mass makes its point in 10 minutes and passes by quickly enough not to become a major delay, bystanders are much more likely to be open-minded and supportive. Similarly, pedestrians deserve equal respect and treatment, yet are frequently stymied from crossing the street by unstopping riders. If Critical Mass devolves into many smaller groups, it can finish passing through intersections much more quickly, improving safety and morale of everyone on the road. It loses more solidarity and support than it gains by acting like a big parade, holding up traffic through dozens of light changes. Moreover, smaller groups of cordial cyclists can win support and cooperation from motorists through direct contact, friendly waving and conversation, and handing out various flyers explaining our activities.


The issue pulsing at the heart of Critical Mass is its role as a public space, a transient, temporary area in the city in which the rules of "normal life" are suspended in favor of the tangible conviviality of human community. The sharp taste of another way of life lives within the Critical Mass experience, if you are alert to its flavor. In this sense Critical Mass is an arena of deep conflict in America's ongoing culture wars. Who is threatened by Critical Mass? Why does it seem to get some people's goats so easily? It threatens the precarious edifice of "confidence" most people have constructed and work hard to maintain. It frightens them to see thousands of people jubilantly and publicly rejecting the rules and assumptions they see as the thin line separating civilization from chaos. Those who feel at home in this amnesiac, intimidated ay of life are right to see a threat in the eruption of a free space. If the spirit of Critical Mass begins to erupt in other areas of daily life, from workplaces to stores, who knows how thoroughly the normalcy of daily life shatter? Let's hope we find out.

Don't forget. We ARE traffic. (at least we should be!)

— The Psycle-Analysts, July 1997

Return to Index