Wednesday, January 03, 2007

ann arbor critical mass

While not widely publicized, a group of cyclists meet up at the corner of State and North U at 5:15 on the last Friday of every month for Ann Arbor's Critical Mass ride. These organized coincidences began in San Francisco and now occur in cities all over the world. While the general themes are advocating for cyclist rights and raising awareness of cycling as an environmentally friendly alternative to driving, the tone can vary drastically by location, from friendly, pedaling sing-along to aggressive traffic confrontation. Not surprisingly, the A2 rides tend toward the free love end of that spectrum.

We don't hear much about the A2 CM rides. The intentional unorganization inherent in Critical Mass is partly to blame. They don't have a website. The Ann Arbor link on is dead. A google search turns up a few expired announcements, but not much more. Local cycling and "alternative" transportation groups haven't done much (in some cases intentionally) to promote the rides either. getDowntown, WBWC, and AABTA all overlook CM rides in their events announcements. The lack of support may be because of the negative, confrontational image of CM, the difficulties in communicating with CM's leaderless structure, or concerns of inadvertently becoming responsible for the rides. Likely it is some combination of the three. The result is under-rated rides in an over-rated town.

Given the non-issue status of A2 CM rides, we were surprised to find a reprint of a NYT editorial in the AANews that labels the recent CM conflicts in New York a "losing proposition" for both sides. Cycling and public space advocates are quite aware of the stormy relationship and constant political and legal maneuvering that plagues the New York rides. But why does the AANews feel obligated to inform the average Ann Arborite of this issue, and why are they choosing this particular perspective?

On one hand, we are happy to see the local press reflecting the interests of the large cycling and carfree communities in town by initiating discussion of national events like the New York Critical Mass fiasco. The issue highlights how cooperation might accomplish more than conflict in advocating for biker's right on the road.

On the other hand, the inclusion of this editorial suggests that the New York issue informs our local context in some way. Certainly Critical Mass in Ann Arbor is not worthy of such attention. The majority doesn't even know the ride exists. Is the News suggesting that other bike-car conflicts require that "everyone gear down a notch" as the NYT editorial suggests?

Consider these closing recommendations from the borrowed editorial:

The police should pay more attention to the real problems - everyday cyclists who ignore red lights and one-way street signs, and motorists who crowd and cut off bikers.
Law-abiding bicyclists could win a lot of hearts if they focused more on bad behavior by fellow bikers.

Now replace the words "cyclists" and "bicyclists" with "motorists" and "drivers". Does it make any more sense to hold cyclists in general accountable for the law-breakers who share their mode of transportation than to hold all drivers accountable to those who speed? Similarly, would cracking down on motorists' rolling stops and lack of lane-change signals be considered an effective solution to dangerous driving?

Our biggest gripe with the above quotes are the implied similarity between coasting through stop signs on a bike and using your vehicle to bully cyclists. The editorial seems to overlook the disparate levels of danger between the two.

Noticeably lacking in the proposed solutions are better education & outreach on sharing the road, as well as structural improvements that recognize and accommodate cyclists' and pedestrians' use public space, including our city streets.

As many commenters on Arborupdate and AnnArborIsOverrated have pointed out, Ann Arbor is hardly comparable to the Big Apple, and we should stop pretending it is.


Anonymous said...

I rode in several of the CM rides in Ann Arbor last fall, and I can vouch for their "non-issue" status.

Imagine: a long row of bikes rolls through an intersection, blocking a line of expensive cars full of aging bobos who smile and point you out to their kids. The smile on their faces says they are thinking "How cute! I live in a city that has a bike ride!".

Anonymous said...

"How cute" really hits the mark. Ann Arbor CM rides - what are they for? Advocacy for bicycles on the rode, sticking it to the man in the steel box, a chance to ride with your friends? I can't figure them out enough to remember when they are. I can make more of a statement on one ride down 5th street during a commute than can a CM ride AND not piss any drivers off.

There are far better ways of bring up these issues than a out dated critial mass that never really happened in this town. Big Apple 3000 riders, that is different. That is bringing it to ones attention. Our town needs different tactics that are Ann Arbor in style I agree. stay tuned...

RB 1

Jeff said...

for what it is worth: i am inviting 1 or 200 friends out to (hopefully) re-invigorate the ride next friday. Hope you all can make it and give your input as to what is an appropriate, valid bike statement in tree town.


JB said...

I hope there'll be s ride at the End of May..becuase I'll show up for one/