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Critical Mass and Red Lights

I posted photos from July’s Critical Mass earlier today, and got a couple thought-provoking comments regarding the ride and red lights.

Everything about Critical Mass is legal (as far as I can tell) except for the going through red lights thing. At “first blush”, it actually seems pretty sensible for two reasons:

1) it’s safer for the cyclists to stay in one group, as if cars got caught up in the middle of it, it would inevitably cause chaos and perhaps an accident.

2) it is less of an inconvenience to automobile traffic having all the cyclists stick together. One group of 300 cyclists, while large, moves through the streets in one “entity”, only causing a localized disturbance on a city’s streetgrid. Contrast this to two groups of 150 cyclists (which may result from a group being split up by red lights), or 3 groups of 100, or 6 groups of 50 each… instead of one localized group of many cyclists, you would have many groups of many cyclists.

Many people suggest that Critical Mass should get parade permits, and this happens is some cities, like Portland, OR… but for the most part, a Critical Mass route is not planned beforehand, attendees aren’t registered, and is simply a bunch of cyclists riding together.

If a bunch of cars travel together down a city street and clog it up, even trying to go through intersections at bad times and block traffic until they can exit the intersection, why can’t bikes?

However, for arguments sake, let’s say that Critical Mass (which has been pretty successful all over the world since starting in San Francisco (Google Video) in 1993), changes, and we start stopping and dividing the group at red lights.

The Misanthrope Cyclist has already explored this possibility, and it’s actually a really good idea:

Stop for the red lights. If either of the separated groups are “too small”, the people that made it through the light should pull to the side of the road and wait; that’s not illegal, right? When the light changes, they rejoin as one mass – preferably with much fanfare – and proceed. However, if the two groups aren’t “too small” they can proceed as two Masses.

As the group splinters, the Mass’ ubiquitousness will increase. A single five hundred-person Mass could become ten fifty-person Masses and each would still be larger than many smaller cities’ rides. Imagine ten simultaneous Critical Masses meandering through the city!

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