On Friday, Tay & I rode in our first Critical Mass. On the last Friday of every month, cyclists in cities across the world meet in their cities’ core and ride en masse around city streets. There is no leader, no set route, and no agenda, although the ride obviously attracts cycling advocates.
It also has a tendency to attract war-on-cars types, which I’m not cool with. Also, since riders move as a group, blocking traffic & ignoring most traffic control laws (red lights, stop signs, etc) I’ve always avoided participating. To me, cyclists who run red lights and ride on sidewalks and what not are our biggest roadblock to better cycling infrastructure, because those people who would take away our right to ride and be treated with respect on the road use those people as examples. So I’ve never really considered going to Critical Mass.
This weekend was the G20 Summit in Toronto. On Friday I had nothing in particular I wanted to protest (I do now – read coming post) I saw that Critical Mass was happening despite the summit. Tay & I had dinner plans with our friend Shannon, but I e-mailed to say I was going to go check it out after work. Somewhat to my surprise, Tay wrote back saying she’d meet me there.
My plan was to observe, and if things got crazy, leave. I was on my bike after all.We met at Bloor & Spadina, the starting point, shortly before the planned departure time. Many bicycles were already there and many more came. A large number of police also arrived shortly after, some on bicycles and some more heavily suited, not quite riot police but well equipped. They warned the group not to go south (towards the summit). It had the feeling of something bad happening, but in the distance. After a brief rally and some announcements, the group departed north. The police in the unmarked vans left, and many of the police on bikes accompanied the group. We rode around the Annex and south as far as College, before heading back towards the University of Toronto and back to Bloor Street. The police stopped traffic along our route and let us ride where we wanted. Riders who happened to be in the area would join the group for a few blocks and then carry on their way. Some grumpy-looking drivers, undoubtedly already frustrated by G20 traffic restrictions, were treated to calls of “Happy Friday!” from passing Massers. As we passed along the messy construction zone on Bloor Street in Yorkville, one rider called out “hooray for smiles!” As we rode along Wellesley through the the Village at Church, Tay pointed out we needed to start heading for Shannon’s. We agreed to break off when the group got to Parliament, but ended up following the group back to Bloor again, and across the Prince Edward Viaduct onto the Danforth, which happened to be on our way anyway. Along the Danforth we were cheered on by soccer fans on patios, and got some bewildered looks from others. I took the opportunity to say hi to HiMY SYeD (again, his spelling), who was riding with the group and had been discussing cycling issues with other riders along the way. He thanked me for my earlier blog post from the Bike Breakfast earlier this month, and said he is hearing a lot of support from people wherever he goes. Tay & I broke off from the group at Carlaw, we went south while the ride continued east. I have to say my opinion of Critical Mass was much changed having been in it. I understand now why roads are blocked along the route as the group passes. For one, it’s better for the group if it stays together. More importantly though, as one SUV driver proved on the Prince Edward Viaduct, is having the odd car trying to break the line and manoeuvre through hordes of slow moving cyclists causes undue conflict and is bound to end in someone getting hurt. I also heard that a rider in the group was hit by a motorcyclist who tried to ride around the group on a sidewalk. That’s just ridiculous.
So in summary, it was a fun ride around the city with a large group of overwhelmingly peaceful folks who love their bikes. And I’ll be back next month. Happy Friday!