Who runs Critical Mass? No one

Is Critical Mass an organized harassment campaign against motorists? Or just a scheduled group ride that is getting unmanageably large? Or is it a peaceful celebration by people with sincere interests in promoting health, community and sustainability?

An e-mail from SFU psychology professor and cyclist Michael Schmitt offers this insight based on his research, an ethnographic study of Critical Mass that began three months ago and is ongoing:

“I share your concerns about the rising antagonism between cyclists and car drivers, and for unsafe driving practices by each.

“On the whole I think we all try to be safe on the road, but for sure some cyclists and motorists are careless.  Of course, when it is motorists who are careless, the consequences are more injurious and too often deadly.

“I also share your concerns about the safety issues surrounding Critical Mass. Fortunately, many Critical Mass regulars are working very hard to encourage participating cyclists to behave in a peaceful and safe manner.

“You should know that Critical Mass in Vancouver has no organizers.  There have been a number of individuals who have worked to promote the ride and shape its culture, but these are only participants acting of their own free will.  There is no Critical Mass organization in Vancouver, only participants.

“When you talk about the Mayor’s and police department’s attempts to set up meetings with the organizers, most people active in Critical Mass will either take this as a sign of ignorance about how Critical Mass works in Vancouver, or worse, as a disingenuous political strategy to make Critical Mass look bad and unwilling to cooperate.

“Such a message may play well among motorists who feel that their right to the road is threatened, but will likely turn off Critical Mass participants, making them angry and less willing to cooperate with police and other figures in authority. I don’t mention this to criticize you, but to be helpful.

“There are many discussion within people who participate in Critical Mass about what kinds of behaviours are approriate during the ride.  Many folks are trying to persuade other to take an approach that is less antagonistic, more considerate of cars, and more safe and sedate more generally.  Those who are engaged in those attempts have a more difficult time when they see people in power as working against them.

“Lastly, there is one issue that I hardly ever see mentioned in this debate — public health. Car exhaust is one of the major sources of air pollutiln in our city, and negatively affects the health of many of our residents.

“I myself have been having trouble with asthma this summer, for the first time in many years, and both my doctor and I attribute this to the increase in air pollution. Just one more reason why the city needs to make the reduction of cars on the road a major priority.”