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#1 2008-05-31 19:20:06

tomwald
Moderator
From: 78722
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 288

Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

I met with dozens, perhaps hundreds of other bicycle riders yesterday to safely see a bit of central Austin by bicycle.

It turns out that it was my longest ever daytime ride in Austin (of sixteen years of Austin bicycling) free of threats from motorists driving recklessly, violating traffic laws, and harassing and/or threatening me.
The only two problems of note:
1) There was a bicycle-bicycle collision just a few bicyclists in front of me that required me to slow down and stop.  (There were no injuries to anyone in that collision.)
2) A police officer gave, via a loud speaker, an arbitrary order to me and others.  I have filed a complaint with the police monitor.

Critical Mass began in San Francisco in the early 1990's as a response to reckless motorists, law-breaking motorists, and other motorists who would go so far as to threaten or assault other road users.

Thank you to the bicyclists and motorists who made my safe ride yesterday possible.

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#2 2008-06-01 13:09:14

Adriel
Member
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 91

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

I enjoyed it a lot.  I was the guy on the lemond with the saddle bags.

I heard the police officer order everyone to the right lane, and I pondered as I saw all the cars, why they were not treated as a single entity.  We were not a single entity, we were about 300 individual entities.  However, when a police office shouts stay in the right lane, on a loudspeaker, I tend to comply which I did.  And to my knowledge no person was arrested for any reason, so it was a good ride.

One other item of note.  At guadalupe and 1st there was a red truck honking and I was blocking him to let everyone through, and someone on my left said "I dare you, I'll give you a dollar".  If you read this.  Next time you want to dare someone to run a cyclist over, make sure it is you they will run over, I have no desire to be crushed by a car.

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#3 2008-06-02 09:11:27

Jason
Member
From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-31
Posts: 48
Website

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

I had a great time this weekend as well. There weren't any tickets or arrests at all and with the exception of the officer with the loudspeaker we didn't have any police involvement whatsoever. Overall it was a very peaceful, laid back and slow-paced ride. I was piloting the blue single speed IRO with the big yellow trailer hauling the tunes, good to see y'all out there. Talk about perfect weather for riding!

Another rider sent me a link to his pictures, check them out:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/sentient_r … 356525722/

Adriel: Sorry to hear about the people taunting the driver. I actually had a driver push my trailer with his truck (twice) at one point in the ride. I didn't retaliate or respond negatively, but I did have my video camera in-hand so I got his license plate number and a shot of his face (and his finger). Eh, I guess it happens.

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#4 2008-06-02 13:27:48

dougmc
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Registered: 2008-06-01
Posts: 553

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

It was my first CM ride.  I wouldn't call it my safest ride.

I felt more threatened by motorists than usual.  Many motorists were amused, some were confused, many were annoyed and a few were mad.  There was a fair amount of engine revving and yelling going on, and that made me nervous.  Normally I'm not really threatened by motorists at all.  I was also somewhat concerned about a bike-bike collision, as it was quite crowded and very chaotic.  Worked out OK though, at least for me.

I'm guessing that any cyclists riding near the mass, but not actually part of the mass, might feel less safe than usual, as the mass obviously riled up a lot of motorists, and while only a fool would do something stupid with hundreds of people ready to pounce on you, they might be a lot more bold if it's a lone cyclist.

It was nice to be able to ride down these roads at a leisurely pace, however, not worrying about getting hit by a car.  Many of those roads I wouldn't ride on by myself.

I heard the police officer give two orders to the group -- `Take only one lane' and `You can't block intersections'.  I'd hardly call either arbitrary (though I'd argue with hundreds on the road, riding in the right lane only wasn't practicable, to use the term used in the law.)  But we should have left at least one out of three or four lanes open.  Between the constant red light running and the `no more than 2 abreast' law (stupid law, but the law) they could have easily arrested the entire group if they really wanted to (and rounded up enough manpower.).  All in all, the police seemed to show an appropriate amount of restraint given the situation, though it sort of looked like the troopers guarding the capitol were annoyed at those guys talking to them?  (Stopping at the capitol building and that big hill/fountain south of the river, that was very cool.  I had to leave after that, so I don't know what happened after that.)

It looks like some went out of their way to antagonize the motorists.  I wasn't wild about the intersection corking and constant red light running, but it made sense in the situation.  And when you've got hundreds of people, taking all the lanes probably shouldn't surprise me.  But going around that round-a-bout 5 or so times?  Or stopping at that intersection for some stragglers to catch up for 2-3 changes of the light while blocking all the lanes of the road?  (and I never did see any stragglers.)  That was uncool.  And I saw a few individuals verbally baiting some motorists, like they wanted to make them mad.

(To be fair, it looks like the mass was easily herded by a few people.  With nobody leading the group, all it takes is a guy to go one direction and people will follow him, or a few bikes to block the road and everybody stops.)

Side note, I had one motorist ask me what we were doing (`just some friends out riding!' was my answer), and two more ask me for directions.  Normally motorists seem to ignore me when I'm riding.  Not sure if this was because I was going slower, or riding downtown (where I don't normally go, car or bike or on foot) or what.

All in all, it was interesting and fun, but there were times that I was embarrassed to be a part of the group.  I haven't decided if I'll go on it again or not.

Last edited by dougmc (2008-06-02 14:31:08)

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#5 2008-06-02 14:30:55

tomwald
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From: 78722
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 288

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

Doug, with friends like you, who needs enemies?!  ;)

It seems like you're giving the benefit of the doubt to the police officer and the motorists.  Try turning that sentiment to get a perspective on what you're expressing.  Bicyclists don't need to be second-class citizens.  It will take some self-respect in order for bicyclists to eventually be considered and treated as regular, first-class citizens and road users.

I recommend taking another look at the Texas law.  I think you're referring mostly to § 551.103, which can be found online here:
http://tlo2.tlc.state.tx.us/statutes/do … 551.00.htm

I heard those two orders from the police officer as well.  The first order -- to move out of the intersection -- seemed reasonable to me. The bicyclists in question (about 4 total) complied immediately.

The second order was arbitrary or it was a misinterpretation of the state law.  First of all, consider who the target of the order was.  Was it one person?  Was it twenty persons?  Was it all bicyclists in range?  Was it all traffic (bicyclists and motorists)?
Secondly, the conditions of § 551.103 (a) were not met for several reasons, and one reason alone is sufficient:
  I.  Much of the bicycle traffic, if not all, was not "moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway".
  II.  Many of the bicyclists were passing other vehicles.  (§ 551.103 (a) (1))
  III.  It was not established that all bicyclists were together, with the same destination, only going straight and not preparing for a left turn.  In fact, many of the bicyclists present for order did turn left, but had started on the right side of the roadway.  (§ 551.103 (a) (2))
  IV.  The amount of road traffic arguably did not warrant that every bicyclist (and, as an aside, *only* bicyclists) use a single lane on the road.  (§ 551.103 (a) (3))
  V.  This was a one-way street.  § 551.103 (b) could just as well apply, precluding § 551.103 (a).  The law doesn't dictate that another road user must follow my choice of lane, or vice versa.

"Riding two abreast", § 551.103 (c):  It is reasonable to assume that this refers to bicyclists who are traveling with each other, much as two people in the same car travel with each other.  This law hardly can mean that I must coordinate with dozens of strangers on the road driving/riding independent vehicles (incl. bicycles) to ensure that no one on the road is riding more than two abreast, just to ensure that I will not be cited for violation of this law.  I have little control over where other road users drive/ride on the road.  I cannot be held responsible for their actions.  At no point on that ride did I ride more than two abreast.

they could have easily arrested the entire group if they really wanted to

The police can do many, many things.  How on earth could APD have justified arresting every bicyclist on the road while leaving every non-bicyclists to go free?  That simply would have been a ridiculous action.  I really doubt that every bicyclist was witnessed violating a traffic law.  Indeed, there were likely many bicyclists on Friday who violated not a single law.

I agree that the police exhibited restraint.  The arbitrary order to 'use one lane' was a fairly mild order... though when have you ever heard a police officer order a traffic jam of cars to move over so that buses and bicycles could get through?  Cars don't have a right to jam up a road anymore than a large conglomeration of bicyclists have.  Slow moving motorists are required to move aside to allow faster traffic to go through, but motorists tend to be self-centered and ignore many of the traffic laws.  Traffic jam cars are indeed blocking traffic just as much as we can call them traffic itself.

------

Many motorists were amused, some were confused, many were annoyed and a few were mad.

If that's the worst that can be said for the effect on motorists, then bicyclists should ride around town much more all the time.  Your assessment puts motorists in a better-than-typical mood.

Afternoon rush hour seems to be the most dangerous time in Austin.  I nearly always hear revving engines, hear tires squealing, see riled-up motorists during this time.  Indeed we each had our own experience on Friday's ride, so I'm not saying you didn't see what you saw, but my experience was that the motorists exhibited less (in degree and quantity) aggressive and reckless behavior than I have ever witnessed during a typical afternoon rush hour in Austin.

------

Red light running:  I was always looking out to see if the first bicyclists went through red lights.  My guess is that it didn't happen on this ride at all or much, but I wasn't always near the very front so I can't be sure.  Indeed, just as rush hour motorists will do, most of the following bicycles continued through the lights after it had turned yellow and even into red (Mike Dahmus calls this 'orange'), but as the bicycle traffic thinned out, no more bicyclists went through.

------

The round-about riding was almost certainly 100% legal.  In addition, as a few cars approached and waited, the bicyclists moved on.

------

Many of those roads I wouldn't ride on by myself.

* Guadalupe St. (23rd St. going south)
  * Congress Ave.
  * W 6th St.
  * W 5th St.
  * Lamar Blvd. (b/t Barton Springs Rd. & W 6th St.)
  * Riverside Dr. (b/t S. 1st & Lamar)
  * Barton Springs Rd.
  * 15th St. E
There were a few others:  What streets am I missing?

I am glad that bicyclists could feel safe riding down these streets on Friday.  I understand why bicyclists would avoid these streets, especially since many motorists habitually violate the traffic laws and also drive recklessly on these streets.

------

To fellow bicyclists:  Get a backbone and you'll keep your bones from getting broken.

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#6 2008-06-02 18:30:51

Jason
Member
From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-31
Posts: 48
Website

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

I was riding the music bike and trying to keep tabs on the back of the group to make sure we didn't drop people.Sseveral times we did wait up for stragglers, as was the case with the delayed spin in the roundabout. We were exiting the roundabout by the time the final stragglers were in view.

The rides have been getting a lot better about keeping everyone mostly together, which helps minimize the delays and thereby antagonize the drivers a little less. Part of that has been in keeping the front of the pack from racing off, since lately it seems the majority of the people who have been trying to "win" Critical Mass have either stopped coming or chilled out and ridden a little more with the pack.

I think a little more education needs to go into the local Critical Mass group. Some people put a few spoke cards together that had "know your rights" and bike safety advice printed on them and distributed them at the last ride,  so I know people are receptive to it at the very least. I've seen flyers with decent diagrams of how and when to cork, in fact here's an excerpt from one of them:

Corkingflyer.jpg

Something with info about critical mass like that would be handy.

The group has also been doing better with not "taking" a red-lighted intersection but instead waiting for the traffic to clear or for it to turn green. I think I saw it happen a couple times but I was rarely at the front of the pack so I can't say with 100% certainty. I don't think running lights that turn red as we're passing is avoidable, but if we come upon a red light we should stop. Also gives the stragglers an opportunity to catch up and the rest a moment to catch their breath.

The individual instigators who yell at cars or throw stuff at them can be talked to directly on the ride. I was messed with by a driver (mentioned above) and shortly after was approached by another biker who wanted to retaliate since he'd seen him messing with another cyclist as well. As much as getting intentionally bumped upset me, I told him that this wasn't the time or place for retaliation, and the last thing we needed was someone calling the cops because we bashed their mirror (example). I've been known to hit a car that hit me when biking by myself where I'm (practically) defenseless, but there's no reason to do that and get the whole group in trouble. Better to wave, smile and move on than act aggressively and escalate a situation.

For everyone who came for their first time (or for those returning after a long hiatus), great to see y'all out there! And for the rest of you that I see every month, y'all are awesome too. Thanks for the memorable and incredibly fun ride.

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#7 2008-06-04 10:44:29

Adriel
Member
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 91

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

No matter how uncomfortable you may have felt on the Austin CM, the Toronto one was apparently scary.

Very cool photo however.

http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/434942

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#8 2008-06-04 12:45:37

RonB
Member
Registered: 2008-05-28
Posts: 20

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

I have to ask - How exactly do actions like CM Toronto's promote / advance the bicycling cause?

IMHO, this is one of the biggest problems of CM, is that a few yahoos will get a dumb idea, and it turns into this.  I have seen Austin CM do it along Lamar in the past.  The reports above talk about antagonizing and verbally baiting drivers.

Actions like this are what sour the bulk of motorists to the bicyclist cause.  Because of this, now a major group of motorist have a legitimate reason to be frustrated at the cycling community, and why?  A loud minority.  To win these people back now takes EXTRA work to get reasonable arguments on the table. 
"Cyclists want to discuss shared use roads?  No way, look what happens on roads they aren't supposed to be on."

Last edited by RonB (2008-06-04 12:46:08)

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#9 2008-06-05 10:11:20

damicoaustin
Member
From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 143
Website

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

Unfortunately, the problem is that motorists contend that bicycles shouldn't be on any of the road. Too dangerous don't you know. I think the problem with the Toronto "protest"--judging from the photos--was that there weren't enough bikes.

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#10 2008-06-05 10:43:32

Adriel
Member
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 91

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

maybe 2000-4000 bikes would have been a different article?  It would have gone from crazy stunt to massive demonstration?

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#11 2008-06-06 16:36:59

tomwald
Moderator
From: 78722
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 288

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

This post here has gotten a bit off topic, IMO.
If anyone would like to take a look at another post started to discuss the Toronto ride in the news, here you go: Critical Mass ride on freeway

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#12 2008-06-10 21:45:20

dougmc
Administrator
Registered: 2008-06-01
Posts: 553

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

About red lights ... I saw the first bicycles in the mass go through red lights a few times (when there were no cars in the intersection), but that's not really what I was talking about -- I'm really talking about what happens after that.  Once the first few bikes go through the light, the intersection gets corked off, and all the cyclists go through until they are all through, even if it took a several full cycles of the light (and it often did.)  Yes, cars do occasionally run an `orange' light, perhaps two or three in a bad case, but I've never seen a case where the light turned red and 100 more cars went through it, and kept going as it stayed red, then green, then yellow, then red, then green and then maybe the cars stopped.  Well, I have seen it, in parades and funeral processions.

Considering the size of the mass, and the desire to keep it together, continuing through red lights until the entire mass was through made sense.  Or at least I don't have a better suggestion, beyond letting the mass break up into many smaller groups, which defeats a lot of the purpose (and probably inconveniences the cars around even more.)

Indeed, there were likely many bicyclists on Friday who violated not a single law.

Yes, there probably were -- people who stayed home.  In general, I'd say that about one third to one half of the cyclists ran each of the lights on the route, and there were many.  And nobody stopped for stop signs unless there was traffic in the way.  The only time I saw people actually waiting for green lights was when that cop car was right there with us -- and even then many people were running the light, or going behind a building where he couldn't see them run it (the corkers seemed to have stopped as well, probably wisely.)  If you were to stop each time you ran into a red light, you'd never be able to keep up with the group without really working at it and lane-splitting to get caught up after every red light. 

The red light business made sense, even though it's illegal.  What really bothered me was the roundabout thing and just stopping in traffic for a few minutes (2-3 cycles of the light) for some stragglers to catch up or something.  The roundabout thing basically stopped traffic for several minutes as the bicycles just went round and round.  Probably legal, but still rude.  Just stopping the entire road, all lanes (it was a one way street) for a few minutes, that was probably illegal, but more importantly, it too was rude.

Is the mass pro-bike or anti-car?  Just stopping traffic for the fun of it is anti-car.  Riding around, waving to people who honk at us -- that's more pro-bike.  Personally, I'd rather be pro-bike.

That all said, I enjoyed it, and met a lot of neat people.  That alone is probably worth doing it again, and perhaps by being considerate of the motorists, others will too.

Last edited by dougmc (2008-06-10 21:50:19)

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#13 2008-06-11 01:27:07

Tower of Pedal
Member
Registered: 2008-06-06
Posts: 7

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

aw man, the roundabout rules.

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#14 2008-06-11 19:00:09

Jason
Member
From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-31
Posts: 48
Website

Re: Critical Mass -- my safest daytime Austin ride ever!

If someone can keep the mass ride slower so that the group can maintain better cohesion, we wouldn't have to do the roundabout for so long. I was watching and stragglers were still trickling in after we were leaving the roundabout. Now I say "someone" but it's not really any one person. It takes a group effort to keep the rides from getting too stretched out.

Stopping at red lights (when we come upon them) helps and I saw the group do that quite often, though they also ran them once traffic was clear many times as well. I advocate stopping at the reds and waiting for them to turn green. That lets the slowpokes catch up. But if it turns red while we're cruising through, cork it and go.

More frequent stops helps people catch their breath and not drag ass as much, but again that depends on the whim of the crowd. Sometimes people just want to RIDE! Also when we make stops we run the risk of people who live nearby bailing. I like to do more riding on these rides.

Roundabout forever! That's one of my favorite parts of the ride.

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