Happy Monday morning to you all!
For a while I’ve said that I wasn’t sure Critical Mass was a good idea. The way I saw it, cyclist were picking one Friday each month during rush hour to take to the streets en mass and hold up traffic; I didn’t see how this would exactly endear cyclists in the hearts of motorists. So, last Friday I took part in Edmonton’s Critical Mass to see for myself what it was about. I didn’t know what to expect: peaceful celebration of a growing bicycle and commuter culture, or blatant bone-head protest toward motorists. Were we out there to just slow Friday afternoon traffic and frustrate them? Were motorists going to be hostile as we rode through downtown? I was a little nervous about it, but I figured it would probably be somewhere in between.
I’d been told the ride was set for 5:30pm at City Hall, so I showed up a bit early. When I first rolled up, there might have been 6 riders there, me included. I was expecting big numbers for some reason. I guess the photos I’d seen of CMs in other cities had me thinking this would be a some kind of massive gathering – it sure didn’t look like that was going to be the case here. By 5:30 though, the group had swelled and I’d hazard a guess that 50 riders were there. We didn’t leave right on time. People kind of just stood around and chatted for while and more and more riders kept showing up. By 6 o’clock there were probably around 120 riders from all rides of life: roadies, mountain bikers, cruisers, fixies, you name it. It was interesting to see the types and the age of riders vary so much – it really was a random smattering, so there was no way that someone couldn’t fit in.
Before we rolled out some basic instructions/rules were given about how the group needed to act and behave – nothing punitive at all, just things like, for safety we wanted to ride in two lanes whenever possible, and once the group starts to cross an intersection we wanted to continue through until the last rider, even if the lights have turned red. The goal was to move as one unit.
We circled City Hall and headed west down Jasper Ave at about 10km/h, then swung east on 109st across the High Level bridge and then east down Whyte Ave to 99st where we turned north and headed to the gazebo by the bus barns. All in all, I’d say this was about 10-12 kms in total distance.
This is the part I was most curious about – what was the public and motorist response going to be? Well, on the whole, it was incredibly positive. Sure there were one or two less than pleasant things uttered in our direction, but the vast, vast majority of people we passed, pedestrian or motorist alike, smiled and waved and even cheered as we rode by. Now, I wasn’t riding right on the back end of the pack where the motorist might have been most inconvenienced so I can’t say what that scene was like back there, but from where I was and from what I saw, it was nothin’ but love, man. Nothin’ but love…
The verdict is, I’ll take part again, for sure. And, I’d recommend you do the same if you’ve never done so. This wasn’t an anarchist’s bicycle march on Capital Hill like some people think; this was a really well run, peaceful, well meaning and well received statement that bikes are not blocking traffic, they are traffic. Good times, indeed and hats off to the CM faithful. Hope to see you all again soon.