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Research/Tips: Ezra Teter, Jeff Lazar Editor: Michael Bluejay
Sponsored by Easy Street Recumbents | Austin's first & only recumbent-only dealer
CRITICAL MASS SPECIAL
Before flaming your editor, please understand that I am not a regular participant of Critical Mass, much less a leader or even a spokesperson. Further, I don't condone any violence or vandalism on anyone's part, whether motorist or cyclist. Finally, if you want to berate Critical Mass, then emailing me won't accomplish your goal, since I am not Critical Mass, and I'm not a messenger besides. If you want to talk to CM riders, the only way to do so is to go to a ride.
From the Editor
I just got back from another bike trip, riding with a friend from El Paso to Austin. We averaged 70 miles a day and it took two weeks. God help me, I'm turning into a recreational cyclist.
I rode the BikeE CT which I got from Easy Street Recumbents. It's not a performance bike, but it beats being sore all the time, like my riding partner who rode an upright bike. (I had no soreness the whole trip, except for a little in my legs the first few days while I was getting used to the long mileage.)
I haven't posted a journal or photos online yet like I did on my last trip (from Austin to Baton Rouge), but may do so in the future. There are more pressing things at the moment, like reporting on the recent Critical Mass controversy, which comprises this issue.
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What happened on the September Critical Mass ride?
What is Critical Mass?
Critical Mass is a monthly bike ride to assert cyclists' right to the road. It started in San Francisco and quickly spread to dozens of cities all over the world. The flavor of CM varies from city to city with regard to size, police intervention, adherence to traffic laws (or lack thereof), and courtesy. A more in-depth look at the local ride is below, but first, the controversy...
Easy Street Recumbents
On the September ride, an impatient motorist intentionally ran over a cyclist, crashed into a car waiting at a traffic light, then got out and got into an altercation with the cyclists. The Austin American-Statesman ran their typically incomplete article which raised more questions than it answered. The Austin Chronicle then ran a piece criticizing the Statesman's handling of the matter. Following that, the owner of the Civic that was hit at the light (Krissy Morrow) wrote a scathing letter to the Chronicle, blasting the Chronicle for supposed inaccuracies, and the riders for being aggressive and unreasonable.
So what REALLY happened?
It's always frustrating when there are two sides of the story in the papers and you don't know which one to believe. In this case, though, it's easy to learn the truth, because we've put the video of this event up on the website. Here's a summary of what the video shows:
Mike Henderson, frustrated by the delay, squealed his tires and sped his jeep recklessly through a pack of cyclists, who parted to avoid getting hit. He appeared willing to continue through the red light at the next intersection, except there was too much cross traffic so he had to stop suddenly. Cyclists then surrounded him at the red light and yelled at him. The light turned green, and then Henderson STEPPED on his accelerator, plowing right through cyclist Justin Davis (slamming him into the ground), running over his bike, and running over a second bike as well. Henderson proceeded to crash into Krissy Morrow's Honda Civic which was waiting at the same light but headed in the opposite direction. Henderson got out of his jeep and one cyclist (apparently the one whose bike Henderson dragged under his jeep) pushed Henderson's head with his hand. Henderson then walked around his jeep and grabbed another cyclist's bike, throwing it to the ground. That cyclist punched Henderson in the face. During this time, a cyclist slashed at least one of Henderson's tires.
How did the police screw up?
First of all, we can sympathize with bewildered police arriving on the scene of a disaster like this, with dozens of people screaming different things simultaneously, and trying to figure out what was going on. On the other hand, according to Ezra Teter, one of the riders, the police were unwilling to take any action against Henderson, until the cyclists showed the police the videotape, at which point they finally arrested him for reckless driving. Justin Davis, the rider who was thrown off his bike when Henderson plowed into him and whose bike was crushed, was also arrested for "obstructing a highway". Davis also claims that the police didn't even list him as a victim on the accident report.
Reckless driving nothing -- Henderson should have been charged with the real crime: Aggravated Assault. But what does it take to get real charges filed against a motorist? If recent history is any indication, it takes being local cycling superstar Lance Armstrong. Three years ago a motorist who drove aggressively towards Armstrong received strong charges and got a whopping 10-year sentence, even though neither Armstrong nor his bike were struck by the vehicle. But Henderson, who blatantly ran over at least one cyclist and two bikes and destroyed a Honda Civic last month, was charged only with simple Reckless Driving, which warrants a fine of no more than $200 and/or 30 days in jail (and jail is unlikely).
If you think this is an isolated case, check out our No Justice for Cyclists section.
How did the media screw up?
We never expect much from the Statesman, as evidenced by their long history of screwups. But here the Statesman outdid itself. According to Teter (who the paper misidentified as "Teeter"), the Statesman reporter was openly hostile, and the photographer likened the riders to the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center. (!) Yeah, I guess you could expect to get an objective story out of these guys, huh?
Morrow, the Civic driver, says that when the reporter asked her name, she must have paused a little too long, for the reporter then said brusquely, "Fine, I'll get it off the police report, then."
But the Statesman article wasn't actually as inaccurate as it was incomplete. To be fair, though, it must have been pretty hard to reconstruct what actually happened in the midst of dozens of shouting voices amidst the chaos. Then again, we suspect that they didn't really try too hard.
And much as it pains us to critique the Chronicle, Morrow claims that the Chron never bothered to contact her for her side of the story before running their article, even though her contact information is in the police report -- an allegation they didn't refute when they ran her letter with that charge. Now, Morrow is completely non-credible, as we later discovered and as you'll see below, but we still expect an attempt to get both sides of the story.
For those who want the sordid details, here's the complete Statesman & Chronicle coverage of the incident.
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Critical Mass in general
CM in the old days
Critical Mass in Austin has changed a lot over the years, and is very different today from the Critical Mass of old -- so much so that I rarely ride any more.
I think I know a bit about CM, since I've probably ridden on more local CM rides than anyone: I started in the early days, and was just about the only one who kept riding, even though there was nearly complete turnover every two years or so. Twice when it slowed down in the summer, I was one of only two riders to show up for the ride! (The others were John Dolley one time, and Tommy Eden another.)
After the first CM, the police turned out in full force for each ride for the next year or so, waiting for the group before it even got started. Dozens of motorcycles, squad cars, and bike cops lined Guadalupe in front of the University Co-op, not to mention the paddy-wagons and unmarked cars, which would videotape us as we rode. Police looked for any infraction, no matter how slight, and made numerous false arrests (not just tickets, but arrests), for things like riding on the sidewalk or asking why another cyclist was being arrested. Of course they handed out plenty of bogus tickets, too.
CM'ers filed a Freedom of Information request to get copies of the police video. Naturally, the police tried to keep us from getting the tapes, but they were unsuccessful. The police edited out some scenes that were especially embarrassing to them, but they did a sloppy job of it. (At the end of one tape, the last few minutes of the tape repeats itself, indicating that they'd re-copied it and left something out of the middle. Duh!) Even so, there was plenty on the tapes that was damning. CM'ers took the tapes, along with some video that riders took, showed it to the City Council, and then amazingly, the police stopped showing up before the rides.
But probably the best way to demonstrate what CM used to be like is to contrast it with what it's become...
Here's how I see the CM of today being different from the CM of old:
Early CM was certainly wild, but it wasn't typical for cyclists to go out of their way to piss off motorists. Now, however, it's more common for cyclists to yell at motorists, and seem to look for any excuse to start an argument. I stopped riding CM in October of last year after what happened on that ride. Before the ride I had addressed the crowd and encouraged them not to be confrontational and not to do things that would openly invite the police, such as taking up every single lane on every single roadway. After I spoke, someone else stood up and invited everyone to ignore what I had said. The crowd seemed more receptive to his message. On the ride, cyclists actually stopped in the middle of the street and faced traffic while straddling their bikes, just because they could. One motorist, frustrated by the delay, ran over my bike and knocked me to the pavement. (Sound familiar?)
One of the silliest things some CM'ers do is to ride as slowly as they can in front of a vehicle, practically begging to get hit, and then to act all surprised, shocked, and indignant when a motorist accidentally bumps them. Now, nobody harps on injustice to cyclists louder than I do, but it has to be real injustice. Trying to get hit and then having it happen just barely isn't injustice. It's just stupid.
There used to be a feeling of unity among the group. Not so much so any more. Now when the mass gets split at a red light, those in front are more likely to keep going rather than slowing down or pulling over to wait for those behind. When I was hit on last October's ride, none of the CM'ers stuck around to be witnesses for me when the police arrived. (Thanks a lot, guys.) I was lucky to run into witnesses around town after that.
Early rides were an event. People came with high-bikes and other crazy homemade bikes, many mounted various musical instruments to their bikes, and people showed up in costumes, even when it wasn't Halloween. Several rode around half-naked. Cyclists had flags, banners, and trailers. We made cool fliers, handouts, and t-shirts. We had potluck dinners afterwards. Perhaps all these things helped us focus on ourselves, as a celebration of biking. Maybe it's the absence of this kind of fun that lets the attitude drift more towards anti-car instead of pro-bike.
But one of the most striking differences is the lack of involvement of today's CM'ers in any other sort of bike advocacy. In the early days, CM was more of an adjunct to other things that were going on. Many of those who rode CM did bike advocacy outside of Critical Mass. But with the exception of the occasional Yellow Biker, that's all but disappeared. Here's a fun historical fact: The local austin-bikes email list originally started out as a Critical Mass list! But today, there are no regular CM'ers on that list. Put another way, apparently none of the regular CM'ers has bothered to even join the local email list.
There's a part of the video from last month that's priceless. A cop tells the cyclists, "There are other avenues to get what you want, you know. How many of you have gone to the City Council to ask for bike lanes?" Almost all the cyclists are stone silent. Then one of them says, "I don't know where the City Council meets!" as though he's bragging about his not knowing about his local government or trying to influence it. (The officer replies, "3700 Lake Austin Blvd.")
CM around the world
Readers of this newsletter and BicycleAustin.info may not be aware that I also run the worldwide Critical Mass directory, since I've never promoted it much locally. That's because it's an international site, serving as a directory of all the CM rides all over the world. And yes, it's kind of ironic that I still maintain the CM Hub though I hadn't ridden in my own local CM in a year until this month.
I get email weekly from CM'ers all over the world. And as far as I can tell, Austin may have the distinction of having one of the more confrontational rides. Australian CM'ers have been known to hold signs saying "Sorry for the delay" and to hand out flowers to motorists. And it was from the Athens, GA folks that I got the idea for the Courteous Mass....
Around 1996 we started a "CM-Lite" ride that would follow traffic laws, in response to all the people who said they wouldn't ride Critical Mass because not all riders obeyed all the laws. The result was a phenomenal failure: We only got a tiny handful of riders, and the ride lasted only a few months.
Now there's talk of resurrecting the second ride, and calling it Courteous Mass. Details are still being worked out, but it looks like it's going to happen. Stay tuned for more details.
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CM 9/28: Responsibility on Both Sides
I seem to do a pretty good job of alienating myself, and I'm about to do so here by disagreeing with both sides about the 9/28 ride, since I think BOTH the cyclists and motorists have some culpability. It's lonely in the middle.
The homicidal driver, Mike Henderson, whose victims include at least one cyclist, two bikes, a Honda Civic, and its passengers, obviously gets no sympathy from me. That should go without saying. More curious, though, is the case of Krissy Morrow, the driver of the Honda Civic that he hit.
After the September ride/chaos, Morrow found my name on a website and lit into me via email, blaming me for what happened. Somehow, she didn't think the motorist who recklessly slammed into her was to blame at all, but instead said she was "sorry that such a terrible thing happened to him".
I replied saying that I wasn't there and had no idea what she was talking about. (It was the first I'd heard of the incident at the time.) Since she had insisted that she had seen the whole thing, I invited her to write up her story so I could publish it. Morrow immediately backtracked and said that she hadn't actually seen everything after all. She continued her rant, blaming me again (ignoring my explanation that I wasn't there), and claimed that she could identify the mental problems of the cyclists because she was a psychologist. Then she admits she's really NOT a psychologist. After more emails with her alternately blaming me, changing her positions, and not providing me with her version of the events, I gave up.
Then comes her crazy letter to the Chronicle. The complete version is on the website, but here are some excerpts:
MORROW: "When the light turned green, Henderson asked the cyclists to please leave him alone because he was going forward. He then inched forward cautiously. When the cyclists still did not heed his warning, he proceeded."
FACT: Henderson did not "inch forward cautiously", he STEPPED on his accelerator from a complete stop. And saying he "proceeded" is certainly euphemistic. Henderson ran over or through at least one bicyclist and two bikes before destroying her Civic!
MORROW: "I would have done exactly the same thing and sped off. I would have felt as threatened as he did and feel the need to remove myself from the situation. 'Fight or flight', it's human instinct. And Henderson didn't want a fight..."
FACT: Henderson had no fear of the cyclists. He willingly got out of his vehicle, grabbed a cyclist's bike, and threw it to the ground.
The confrontational nature of some CM'ers has already been discussed, so let's take a different tack: their unwillingness to accept any responsibility. Justin Davis, mentioned earlier, sent us his unsolicited side of the story. Davis was arrested and charged with Obstructing a Highway, which is exactly what he did. While he didn't deserve Henderson's aggression, he seems to think that he's being scapegoated by being charged with a crime he actually committed, as you can see in this excerpt:
"After being questioned by police and only having part of the story listened to (up until Mr. Henderson fishtailed through the bikers) I was arrested also. The official charge is obstruction of a highway. The fact that I was looking out for my fellow citizens and actually helping the police out [by detaining Henderson] was overlooked. The fact that I was not out there to cause trouble or mischief was overlooked. The fact that the vehicles attempting to drive on Congress were obstructing the road more than I was ignored.... I was arrested on what I believe to be a frivilous charge, Obstruction of a highway. I believe I was the scapegoat."
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The October Ride
Easy Street Recumbents
The ride took place last Friday. Though this was the annual Halloween ride, there were fewer people in costume than at any other Halloween CM I'd ever seen. After the chaos at last month's ride, the police were waiting this time. They gave an order on the bullhorn for cyclists to obey all the traffic laws and to ride to the right or risk arrest. (Amid the noise, I think most of us didn't hear exactly what they said; I kept asking around until someone could tell me.) A few blocks later, a cyclist was arrested (not just ticketed, but ARRESTED) for Disregarding Order of Officer, apparently for doing a U-turn to circle back towards the middle of the group. During the arrest, officers parked in the opposite lane, blocking traffic. After this incident, two bike cops left the scene, riding through a red light across a four-lane roadway to do so.
The arrest seemed to have a calming effect on both sides (bike cops continued along with the ride), and the rest of the ride occurred without incident. The funniest thing was when someone on a patio downtown called out to the bike cops riding with us, "I never thought YOU guys would participate in this!"
The arrested cyclist was kept nearly 48 hours before being released.
Critical Mass seems to have some strong ties to ICC, a seven-house co-op organization:
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Thanks for reading this far. Ride safely! :) -MBJ-
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