How (and how not) to create cyclist awareness

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 10/31/2008 - 17:46

Michael blogs about Critical Mass.
What is Critical Mass in case you are too lazy to go to Michael's or to the Wikipedia? A cyclist-awareness movement, showing how bikers are safer (i.e. more visible) when there are more of them. The (dis)organizational nature of this movement (at least according to Wikipedia's information) seems quite fun and interesting.
However, I have to oppose what Michael says is a strong point of CM in Austria - At least, given my country's culture.
People who don't bike often say we have the least bike-aware culture, and that this city must be like hell to cyclists. It is not - Mexicans tend to believe this is the worst place possible on many accounts, and I'm happy to prove the contrary. I do feel that bringing people out to the streets, as our local government's Muévete en bici program pushes, is completely right: It shows people how fast they can move in real streets in the city, taking away the fear of being run over by a bus, and people will gradually understand we can all excercise the right to use the streets without polluting, and gives us a better idea on how to behave with traffic (even if the traffic is made of fellow bikers) around us. I know this program works - At least, because it worked on me. Whenever possible, I go everywhere in this (not small or friendly by any measure) city by bike.
Anyway - What criticism do I have for Michael's post? That he states they:

Bicycling ludicrously slowly for a good hour, we managed to claim some fairly busy streets while many people tried to get home by car.

IMHO, what we should be doing is to demand the drivers to respect us, not to make them want to run us over. They should not be driven into hating bikers because of the chaos they generate - It is terrible to sit in a car for two hours when you usually take 30 minutes. There is simply no justification for that.
When I took part of the World Naked Bike Ride, some people wanted to take all four lanes of Reforma. Fortunately, reason prevailed, and we took only the lane we were assigned. And we should keep that in mind! Whenever possible, we should protest and make ourselves heard, but without interfering, without damaging, other people's lives!
Oh, by the way: If anybody in Mexico wants to have some nice hours of healthy fun: I am still pondering whether to join, as it is a huge effort, but I am very inclined to do so. Next week, November 9, we will go by bike from Mexico City's Zócalo to Pachuca. We face 95Km and close to four hours. The road to Pachuca is basically flat, and going in a large group is a great experience. Hope to see you there!

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Michael Schutte's picture

Gunnar, That’s an

Gunnar,

That’s an excellent point, and I know that you are by no means the only one who feels like that. The “You are freezing traffic” — “No, we are traffic” debate has been argued more than once. There is one thing I absolutely have to clarify: Not a single time was our ride dangerous to anyone. http://criticalmass.at/ reports from other Austrian cities also give a pretty peaceful impression, so it seems to be a form of protest that goes fairly well with Austrian culture.

I have to admit that what I wrote sounds absolutely horrible for car drivers, but I probably gave a you a wrong impression; we slowed down traffic for long enough to be seen, but we certainly didn’t hold up anybody for more than five minutes. You can argue that upsetting motorists is a bad idea altogether, but a delay of a few minutes on one evening per month should not be a huge problem if it helps to raise awareness.

By the way, WNBR in Vienna is treated as a Critical Mass event, so it is subject to the same issues you mentioned here.

Sergio Mendoza's picture

Some thoughts about cycling...

Hi Gunnar,

I hate writing on blogs and all this... However, as a long-time cyclist (gosh, all my life???) and checking out this I must say that...

(a) Cycling is good fun. One moves fast no matter where you are (check the race that my brother Adrian won from Satelite to Zocalo in Mexico, about 20km -he was on a bike, another on a motorbike, one more in public transport and the last one on a car... guess who won? guess who lost?): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8jyisGR4vY

(b) Naturally the world will change to bikes. There's no other way to do it in the future! So if you want to put it in words, the future method of transport is the bike!!!

(c) One can make a lot of demonstrations (note that I support the naked bike thing and the critical mass -with moderation of course!)... However, the best way is to do it daily, no matter what. That's indeed the best demonstration we can all do in our local environment!

(d) We must only make ourselves visible so that drivers have more idea who we are (and sure, CM and naked demonstrations are for that, but only once a year), so... cyclists, we make ourselves visible by pedaling as often as we can -e.g. daily!

(e) I have always said that people who want cars, must have them, people who want motor bikes must have them and certainly, they do have the right to hit the roads! Also, people walking have a right to use the pavement. And of course, cyclist have a complete right to use a lane (specially designed for bikes or not).

(f) Remember that the most enjoyable journeys on a bike (even the daily ones) are far away from heavy traffic roads. Small streets and perhaps a bit longer drives are much better, in such a way that way we can enjoy our cycling even more (check a map from A to B and choose small streets always)!

(g) Just remember that the British voted for the bike as the best invention of all times:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4513929.stm
Sure it is!!!

Cycling as always,

Sergio.

toxickore's picture

Certainly if we ask for

Certainly if we ask for respect, we should do the same with other kind of vehicles. Even if those are fairly contrary to the bicycle mass movements against polluting and clogging motorized vehicles.

By the way, in average how many bicycles are gathered on the Critical Mass movements on Mexico city?

gwolf's picture

Participants per gathering?

Hmm, hard to tell - We do not have Critical Mass in Mexico City, AFAICT. However, in the WNBR we were 200 or 300 participants (can't recall right now). I know there are several groups which have weekly city-rides (Biciperros, Biciellas/Chamacletas, Bicitekas, and surely many others). But I often ride by myself, I don't know how those groups' numbers go.