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Critical Mass turns ugly

Posted by on May 1st, 2006 at 1:56 pm

[Photo Kerrke Yu]

The calm and civility that has long been the hallmark of Portland’s Critical Mass ride was shattered last Friday. According to a report and photos on Indymedia there were several arrests that got out of hand.

As usual, there are several different accounts of what happened. One says the riders instigated the arrests with their disrespect of the police and the law, while another side says the treatment from the cops was totally out of line and unprovoked.

After the fracas, the ride regrouped and continued on without incident.

Unfortunately I wasn’t on the ride so I can’t relay my perspective. However, I can say that I have lived on both sides of this equation. On past rides I have had heated disagreements with the cops and have advocated for them to leave the ride alone.

At the same time, as many of you know, I have built relationships with several members of the Traffic Division and I have worked with others in the bike community to turn these relationships into a better understanding of cyclists and Critical Mass in general.

Ironically, I have also been contacted by several media people and advocates from other states wondering how our Critical Mass has become so peaceful.

However, despite all the warm and fuzzy PR, Critical Mass remains a complicated and volatile issue, even in the most bike-friendly big city in America. More thoughts to come…

[Read all of my previous posts on Critical Mass.]

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44 thoughts on “Critical Mass turns ugly”

  1. Avatar Crankers says:

    I read through the link, but I came away not understanding if CM is “a leaderless, spontaneous bike ride through the streets of Portland,” – or an angry protest against capitalism, the military, the Portland police, mini-vans, conformity, the obedient servers of a fascist police state regime, and laws we see them as marginalizing factors against us. I’m truly stumped.

  2. Avatar Dabby says:

    As I have stated in the past, I feel that Critical Mass Is the wrong thing to do, and once again, it is media coverage like this that emphasizes to me the need to stop Critical Mass entirely.
    It does not matter who appears to be at fault, whether the cops, or the cyclists, or the drivers.
    The police are doing their job, which is to stop you from disrupting traffic through critical mass.
    I am no friend of the police, and I break laws all day.
    But I do not do it under the guize of bicycle awareness.
    This is the wrong message to be sending out people.

  3. Avatar Mike says:

    I must disagree with Dabby.

    Civil Disobedience is a catalyst for change, and folks on bicycles are no exception. Awareness comes from press coverage, good and bad. It’s all about the “spin” the media places upon the news. I’m sure whatever message is offered by Critical Mass, it’s differently recognized by everyone.

    The trick is for Critical Mass to do what most of those participating want, without the true intention being “translated” by lawmakers into somthing completely horrible for bicyclists.

  4. Avatar Hugo says:

    Mike, I have to go with Dabby on this one. Taken to its extremes, there are two diametrically opposed possible outcomes. One is that car drivers are transformed and get out of their cars and join us. The other is some Beaverton soccer-mom gets pissed and starts an initiative campaign requiring all cyclists to be licensed.

    Month after month we can succeed and/or fail to transform drivers without anything dramatic happening. But all it takes is for the wrong, highly-motivated person to get pissed off, and the ramifications can spread far wider than Critical Mass. At risk of sounding like our Pretender in Chief, we have to be right every time, they just have to succeed once.

    And really, what constructive purpose does CM really serve? It MAY teach drivers how to drive with HUGE groups of cyclists, but that seems to me to be a rather pointless skill since pretty much the only massive group a driver needs to learn to deal with is Critical Mass.

    You’re right as far as what the “trick” is. I’d just rather not gamble my rights and priveleges as a cyclist on this “trick” working out the way we’d like it to.

  5. Avatar Garlynn says:

    I’ve tangled with the cops on Critical Mass rides in Portland, as well, back in the 90s when they wrote tickets for ANYTHING. Given that history, I’d be inclined to not believe their side of the story.

    The point of Critical Mass is to prove that bicycles are traffic. This point is easily made when you look at the amount of bicyclists who can fit in one block, vs. the amount of people in cars (as eptiomized by a great BTA poster showing, side by side, the same block filled by bikes, by cars, and then by people standing in the street where they would have been if they had been driving the cars, but sans cars).

    Finally, nobody can “stop Critical Mass entirely.” It has no leaders. It is not organized by any group or individual. It is simply the collective wisdom of bicyclists to meet on the last Friday of the month after work/school/whatever, and go for a ride. As such, it is simply the exercise of the right to freely and peacefully assemble.

  6. Avatar organic brian says:

    Crankers, Critical Mass is whatever the people who show up make it. If militant cyclists show up, the ride will end up being militant. If folks who just want to have a nice bike ride show up (barring any wild actions on the part of police) then the ride ends up being a nice bike ride.

    The reason for the statements on the CM website is that the people who are most involved in organizing Critical Mass, that is the people who actually take the trouble to create online resources for finding it and who reach out to cyclists to publicize it, would like for the CM to be that way. If people who have a different idea show up and do things that cause negative attention, including the kind of police attention that some have been struggling mightily to rid the Mass of, it really can’t be helped much.

  7. Avatar Devon says:

    Garlynn is exactly right on this.

    The point is to remind people that bicycles ARE ALREADY traffic. Few, if any people who ride in CM labor under the dellusion that the SUV driving soccer mom is going to see this happy group riding past and immediately go out and trade the truck for a bike.

    There are people however, who show up at events like CM looking for a fight. Those people are the ones who get arrested at CM, break windows at anti-war rallies, and get on the news, thus becoming the unwanted posterchild for whatever cause the rally was for. It’s sad but true. The most ignorant people are often the most visable.

  8. Avatar Nate says:

    Still we ride

  9. Avatar Randy says:

    Question is do you want change or do you want a few minutes of drama like I observed Friday evening? All it takes is about 2000 peaceful riders to show this town that we are traffic too. Martin Luther King new this so he encouraged people to gather in mass. Any four year old can scream at the police and the police are ready for this. Are they ready for a gathering of 3000 cross-bikers, zoo bombers, spandex racers, commuters, bicycle shop owners, the publisher of this site, your next door neighbor, and new cyclists gathering at once in harmony to use the streets in this to town? Portland’s critical mass remain a flash in the pan until is gets more support from the general public.

  10. Avatar Tankagnolo Bob says:

    I have a plan for an organized friendly ride that will not piss off drivers, but will make them aware of how silly their commute can be. On a crowded Friday eve about 5:30, a bunch of cyclists with signs that say “Isn’t there a better way”, cycling I-5 North from the Portland Blvd entrance to Vancouver would be great. If the traffic is slow, stay in the emergency lane, if it is stopped, lane split. We would NOT be stopping traffic, just beating it to Vancouver. Then we could take the bike path home.
    -Tankagnolo Bob

  11. Avatar Justa says:

    personally, i’ve never been a fan of critical mass in this city, mainly due to the suffocating police presence. i’ve participated in alternative masses before, that were loosely organized and happened at some arbitrary time of month as opposed to the last friday; ie, a time and place cops were unaware of.

    portland critical mass, as it stands, seems to provide nothing more than a scapegoat for scared and self-righteous car-dependant individuals to demonize.

    and just as a sidenote, a fair few of the cops were actually being dicks. i had one officer tell me (near the very start of the ride!) to “be considerate and don’t ride like an idiot” for weaving through a part of the group on a minibike.

    another sidenote…regarding ‘disrespect of the law’, exactly how much respect is due to unreasonable laws?

    i guess when it comes down to it i’d just like to highly encourage people to ride en masse without relying on the ‘critical mass’ image to do it. it’s a much more immediate and realistic method of establishing yourself as a part of traffic, and helps (forces?) drivers to recognize you as an individual or groups thereof, and not a mindless mob parading under an obnoxious banner.

  12. Avatar renato says:

    I like Tankagnolo Bob’s idea.

  13. I agree with you Justa, the police presence is a drag. It would be one thing if they just stayed quiet and provided an escort, but I too have been the target of overzealous cops barking unreasonable orders to me.

    It is clear that most of the bike cops don’t understand the concept of bikes as traffic.

    While we have a good relationship with the top officers in the Traffic Division, unfortunately their openness and tolerance does not always trickle down to the rank-and-file cops on the street…and these are the ones that are being overly aggressive toward cyclists on CM.

    Their must be more education and understanding by the rank-and-file or we will continue to see this kind of activity.

    I also think it’s ironic that the first Critical Mass since a new Commander took office turned out bad. This is a Commander who has a past of being very aggressive toward Critical Mass riders.

    I like Tankagnolo Bob’s idea too. That would be interesting but you’d need some pretty daredevil riders to join you. Count me in. I live right near that entrance…we could meet at my place…

    I think finding an alternate to Critical Mass is the best outcome this incident can have. We need to move beyond Critical Mass and it’s harmful baggage and perceptions.

  14. Avatar Bryan says:

    Critical Mass made me sad. . . While there were many first time riders. I came, I rode, I was discouraged.

    PDX.CM does not seem like an effective cultural bridge – why would 9-5 office type, weekend bike jocks join the mass of 24-7 bike-anti-elitist-elitists? why would people who get to break law to enforce it, carry guns, drive fast, get trained to use force and be an army for the rich treat a mass – whose most visible characters appear to be immature belligerent confrontational fucktards – like saints? Why would the average motorist – who is perhaps involuntarily ignorant of the global impact their daily life style makes – look upon a group of people who probably seem like they cannot afford cars, who look intimidating and probably have mostly negative coverage in mainstream press – have some sort of spiritual awakening at the sight of another obstacle to their arriving home?

    I think we should call it Portland Critical Masturbation, or Portland Critical Mistake. I like the freeway ride idea [above], along side motorists as they burn gas waiting in line. Something needs to be done. This is not working for us.

    P.S. if you before you try to act like I just judged you, practice playing devils advocate, or try thinking for someone else’s perspective you fluking numb skull!

  15. Avatar Biker Mom says:

    Hi from Tucson, Az y’all.

    We used to have CM’s here too. Cops got obnoxious dealing with the anarchists, and we got divided on issues around ‘do we want to get arrested?’ then we turned it into a ‘Community Bike Ride.’ Too boring for the anarchists, and yet they showed up anyway to ‘mix it up’ with the cops. It’s been at least five years since we’ve had anything like it.

    *However* we have very cool bike posses that show up to demos, protests, parades. They are intertaining, non-threatening, and great. Bikes in these circumstances are not isolated but blended into the entire progressive community.

    BTW–love Portland!!

  16. Avatar dan says:

    Ya know, I don’t think that most Portlanders give a rodent’s rump about CM, one way or the other. Sure, a few drivers who get caught up in the traffic get pissed. But do you ever hear people really talking about it or see more than the occasional news article about it? Blog comments don’t even begin to capture what most people are thinking on this, or any other subject.

    The only people who seem to care about it anymore are the CM’ers themselves and the cops. Most people seem to accept the fact that bikes are here to stay in Portland and will only become a larger part of the transportation system over the years to come. I think CM, as others have noted, is pretty much pointless in this city and has long since served any purpose it once had in regards to getting the public to recognize cyclist’s rights.

    Just ride your bike in a way you’d want others to treat you. That will do more to generate good will towards bikes and those of us who love them than scuffling with the police in the streets. And, the Tucson poster’s ideas are good as well.

  17. Avatar mr.macadam says:

    I don’t understand CM. I get a more positive outcome from people by commuting to work everyday and riding my bike respectfully, not running stop signs, following traffic; instead of once again giving cyclist a negative image with the “We are traffic” band wagon. And you know what? I’m not even trying. I’m just doing.

    CM perpetuates the negative stereotypes of cyclist from roadies to messengers to commuters.

    Portland Cycling would be better off without another Critical Mass.

  18. Avatar organic brian says:

    “Ya know, I don’t think that most Portlanders give a rodent’s rump about CM”

    “The only people who seem to care about it anymore are the CM’ers themselves and the cops.”

    Actually, there is a good percentage of people out there who despise cyclists in large part because of CM. Whenever I’ve in the past had a corporate job (thank gawd, no more), and often as far away as Hillsboro, most of the time if the topic of cycling came up with anyone who doesn’t cycle themselves, the first thing they have to say is “blah blah DAMN CRITICAL MASS blah blah BUNCHA ASSHOLES blah blah…”

    No amount of discussion seems to dissuade them from their belief that cyclists are assholes and the purpose of CM is to “block traffic”… then certain Massers get so upset at me when I try to coax them out of their habit of taking more lanes than necessary, when they’re purposely blocking the last available lane just to deny passage to any motorists.

    I believe in CM, but I don’t know what to do with the minority of riders who are screwups and come with their first agenda being not having fun or promoting cycling but finding an outlet for their anger.

  19. Avatar joe says:

    To me, Critical Mass is a celebration of biking. I love the slogan of “Ride Daily, Celebrate Monthly”.

    Here in Toronto we are mostly peaceful commuters, fathers, mothers, students, but a small portion are a bit more extreme in their views, which hasn’t caused any big problems yet.

    CM is great, but far more useful is what I call the “mini-masses” I find myself in more and more as the weather warms up – cyclists grouping together at intersections incidentally. It’s great for having more presence on the roads!

  20. To add to my previous comment, I will say that the police are on the ride to make sure people obey the laws.

    If you show up to Critical Mass and you do not heed the cops’ warnings, you will be arrested. If you resist the arrest or interfere with the arrest things will get ugly.

    Regardless of whether or not you like the laws or the cops, this is the current reality of the situation.

    You have to ask yourself how to go about changing that reality. Is getting arrested and antagonizing the cops going to make them (or anyone else) see your point?

    Also remember that cops are not robots. They are fallible just like the rest of us. They may not always act 100% appropriately but they attempt to enforce the laws and do their job.

    I’m not making excuses for them, but you can’t expect perfection when it simply doesn’t exist.

    If you don’t like being escorted around by cops (I hate it) than maybe Critical Mass isn’t the ride for you.

  21. Avatar Biker Mom says:

    With all due respect, JM, we here in Tucson have tried to tell the anarchists the same thing about the cops, and the fact that all their cop-baiting is not accomplishing anything. Didn’t work. We tried to have Community Bike rides (on the same day as CMs) to be friendly to moms (like me) dads, nonarrestables, etc. Didn’t work. Many of us here too work well with the cops at protests and rallies. It’s the ‘we don’t need authority’ anarchists that are the big problem. And, they just won’t ever get the hint and stay away. Ever.

  22. Avatar Randy says:

    Critical Mass in Portland has become a celebration of red lights, it is no longer a celebration of bicycling.

    Portland’s vaunted bike-friendliness is mostly a myth. What Portland has become is a city with a lot of bicylists; but the prevailing attitude of many motorists and the police is still anything but friendly. We live in a cars-first culture and that hasn’t changed one bit.

  23. Avatar Tomas says:

    How about everyone skips the Critical Mass rides and instead attends the meetings that are held in the city concerning traffic laws and regulation? Can you imagine the impact it would have in a City Council meeting if all the riders from CM locked up their bikes outside (legally) and attended a meeting?

    Yelling at cops will only get you a facefull of pepperspray or a taser to the gut…neither are tickling sensations.

    Participate in the legislature and help MAKE that difference rather than just preach about it.

    Got it?

  24. Avatar pAx says:

    I was the one pictured being arrested at that mass. A major point that seems to be missed here is that I wasn’t trying to be arrested. People are debating back and forth whether getting arrested is a viable tactic or not. It doesn’t matter if it’s a viable tactic or not, because it’s not a tactic I or (to my knowledge) my fellow arrestees chose.

    Maybe we didn’t stop long enough when taking a right turn on red (and I don’t believe any committed regular bicyclist doesn’t break these laws… I’m a messenger and I’d be fired within a week if I ceased to break these laws). The response from the cops was outragous violence and we got somewhat rowdy in our reaction to it. The repsonse to that was more outragous violence.

    I’m undecided as to whether I’ll ride critical mass again. I never really liked the police presence, but at least I felt like I was in the presence of pro-bike allies. Turns out they’d rather be shaking hands with our armed friends in yellow and black than promoting a bicycle-friendly movement open to all bicyclists, regardless of your preconceptions about their political ideology.

    Sounds like if you don’t fit the description of what a wealthy bike-jock looks like, you’re not wanted at CM…

    How attached am I to CM’s radical roots? Not very. It’s just a name and that name has been very effectively co-opted.

    So, ya know what, if you don’t want me there, I’m gone.

  25. Good to hear from you pAx,

    Questions I have for you:

    Were you given any warnings from the police before they arrested you?

    Did you engage them in any verbal exchange prior to your arrest?

  26. Avatar Randy says:

    Based on some police radio traffic I happened to overhear at the very beginning of the ride, my take on the arrests last week is that the cops singled out several cyclists for their perceived attitude or appearance very early on, and were just waiting for an excuse to make arrests.

    There has been only one significant change in the landscape since last month’s Critical Mass ride: a new traffic commander. Marty Rowley is the person who should be explaining why this happened on the first Critical Mass ride on his watch.

  27. Randy,

    Singling people out based on attitude and appearance is part of their job. Can you blame them for watching some people more closely than others?

    I have been in that position (the one being closely and unfairly singled out as a trouble maker) and I agree it is a volatile situation.

    However, in my case I didn’t end up face down on the concrete because I never crossed the line.

    There is a way to disagree and exchange words with the police so that it doesn’t end up getting ugly.

    Also, I spoke with Lt. Kruger on the phone today and found out that the new Commander was out of town and was not involved in this Mass in any way.

  28. Avatar Randy says:

    I was near the back of the ride and was not a witness to whatever precipitated the arrests, so I can’t comment on that aspect of this incident, but I do know that I didn’t see any earlier behavior that I would consider ‘provacative’, just maybe some exuberance as a result of the nice spring weather.

    The ride also took it’s time getting started, and the cops seemed annoyed by that, so maybe it was the participating cops’ own attitude that was a significant contributing factor. I also felt the route choices were poor, most of the early ride was on secondary streets with too many stop signs and long traffic signals.

    Nevertheless, every time I see the police behave this way on Critical Mass I always wonder why excessive force and arrests are necessary when a simple ticket should suffice, just like for the few motorists who are unlucky enough to get caught breaking the law.

  29. Avatar Randy#2 says:

    I was at the front of the ride and saw most of what happened. Nobody was singled out and tbose arrested deserved to be arrested. Good to see a dailogue is starting about the purpose CM. If we want to be noticed we need thousands of bicyclists on the street, not dwindling numbers. To do that you need good marketing, name the event CM or whatever, and a internet site like this to get the word out I’ve lived in California and this isn’t frenetic San Francisco, this Portland. Maybe there is a Portland way to do CM? When I ride at CM the cops aren’t even on my radar. They are just spectators and only have as much power as one gives them.

  30. Avatar Randy says:

    We had thousands on Critical Mass in August 2002, and the police response was to ram cyclists with motorcycles, pepper spray, tackle, taser and arrest them in substantial numbers. The police waged a two and a half year long campaign like this which succeeded in driving the numbers down to a couple dozen participating cyclists. Recently, there was a political change in City Hall, and the new mayor kept a promise to ride with CM (Jan 05); since then, the police have backed way off, but there is no real joy on the rides anymore, just the police now ‘casually’ insisting that all participants obey the traffic laws – or else.

  31. Avatar JJ says:

    I don’t get. Have a CM, but do it right, show the people that have cars how responsible a person with a bike can be, how effective the bikes are in and around town, and most of all, “OBEY THE LAW”. If your in a car, you have to obey traffic laws or get cited. If you ride a bike and blow a stop sign, you can get a ticket, if you impeed traffic, It’s disorderly conduct. By instigating problems and conflict, you have to know your going to get cited/arrest, why act suprised. Do it right and do it responsible. Let the drivers of the cars look like idiots not us.

  32. Avatar Randy says:

    Another arrestee’s story from PDX IMC:

    I was one of the people arrested during last Critical Mass and would like to say some words. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and I’m visiting Portland for a few days. In the Bay Area the Critical Mass ride is really democratic and spontaneous, the cops are not there controlling the ride. Not because they don’t want to, but because the bikers have fought hard in the past (and have been arrested, beaten up) to conquer that respect. So now the cops prefer to leave Critical Mass riders alone and avoid confrontation. Once in a while there’s some attempt from law enforcement to interfere in the ride, but the bikers keep the same “activist” attitude and defend the collective spirit of the ride. So when the Portland CM started last Friday, I was really disappointed. It’s not a leaderless, spontaneous, non-hierarchical ride – it is controlled by the cops, the crowd is divided at each stop sign, and there isn’t that enthusiastic, defiant, critical attitude by the mass. Instead, there’s an apathetic submission. My partner, who also lives in the Bay Area, approached me saying that we should leave, saying that the ride is lame and ridiculous. But I felt that I shouldn’t leave without trying – after all, CM is about people taking responsibility and not waiting for others to make it happen.

    Let me say that I am not the kind of person that confronts the law often, in fact I have never been arrested before. I just expressed my feelings loudly to other bikers that were around me, saying that I felt that we should keep the crowd together, and maintain the flow. Some bikers replied, some agreeing but also expressing concern about the cop’s retaliation. Soon became clear that the cops weren’t there only to impose the obedience of traffic laws (even the most insignificant ones) but were also there to prevent the spirit of spontaneous collective organization, and started “punishing” those that expressed themselves, shouting, intimidating and threatening us. At some point, Pax (who I haven’t met until then) screamed back at the cop, angrily stating that threatening one of us is threatening all. I think that what he said represents the spirit of CM, that we are all one, but some people in the crowd literally shouted that Pax should speak for himself only, showing that they didn’t share in the solidarity. For fear, I wouldn’t scream at the cops as Pax did, but I totally admired his courage because I think that what he said was right and the anger that he showed to the cop was fair and deserved. Then cupcake tried to stop in front of the cars in a stoplight, to let the other bikers go and protect them from being run over by cars – this is a traditional bike ethic in CM and any other democratic bike rides, but one of the cops advanced on him, threatening to arrest him, clearly showing that it’s not a leaderless ride, but actually they are in charge. Then in a red light we turn right (from bike lane to bike lane) and a cop shouted that we should stop. Since we kept going (and I still think that is not illegal to turn right in the red light) he violently attacked my partner Molly, in a really bizarre and coward manner. It is really weird that from every one around he chose to attack her. Seeing his over reaction and in the heat of the moment, I jumped in between the cop and my partner, and Pax was also there shouting to him to let her go. Soon, other cops grab me, and ended up arresting me, Molly, Pax and Cupcake, and also gave tickets to other people that protested. Some worthless rats turned theirs backs while we were being violated and called other bikers to leave the scene. Many others, though, went to the police station in solidarity and waited for hours until our release.

    Clearly, in Portland there’s no Critical Mass, since the cops are the bosses and people “uncritically” accept every order. I can even understand that some people are somewhat cowards, and would rather avoid the trouble or the risk of a reprimand from the police (I myself learned my lesson and would never again go to a ride with that many cops). But to have solidarity to those that do take the risks for everyone is the minimum to expect from CM riders. That some people actively speak against those bikers and justify the authoritarianism of the cops is just disgusting. I heard that some people in Portland have meetings with law enforcement, speaking in the name of CM. These opportunist bastards are perverting the spirit of CM. Unfortunately, underneath the superficial style of hip biker, most people are just like the great majority of people in this society: conformist, alienated, submissive, or just plain hypocritical motherfuckers.

    Whether people will try to save critical mass by doing rides in different dates (preventing cops and two-faced bikers to show up); or if people will just let the project die or be appropriated seem less important. What seems to really matter is that as long as this kind of alliance between conformists in one side and authoritarians in the other goes unchallenged, every fun, free, democratic project is doomed to fail and this society’s journey towards fascism will succeed.

  33. Avatar beth hamon says:

    Critical Mass is a tough issue for me to take definitive sides on. I’m not a regular participant though I have been on several CM rides in Portland and elsewhere over the last ten years. My CM experiences have been largely positive. When things got tense I left the rides early and went home.

    That said, I believe I get far more “traction” with my friends and colleagues by simply riding my bike everywhere for transportation and behaving in a safe and predictable manner on my bike. If I want to be treated like an adult it’s up to me to ride like one so that folks will know that I’m an adult on a vehicle, not a kid on a toy.

  34. Avatar Hugo says:

    “Sounds like if you don’t fit the description of what a wealthy bike-jock looks like, you’re not wanted at CM…”

    Oh pAx, get over yourself. No one sees you as anything, one way or another. You’re the one projecting all of your own insecurities onto the “wealthy bike-jock(s).”

    Two wheels good.

  35. Avatar organic brian says:

    “I heard that some people in Portland have meetings with law enforcement, speaking in the name of CM. These opportunist bastards are perverting the spirit of CM.”

    Guess what, Randy? The “opportunist bastards” you speak of have ALL been on the alternative “Mass” rides which have been at different times / locations and organized by word-of-mouth and email, in fact one of them was the keeper of the mail list. These rides have been 100% cop free, in part because the PPD does not know about them but also because certain idiots don’t get invited. Many concessions have been won from the police with diplomacy, including no cars, no motorcycles (usually) and the officers leave the mass after a time. What compromises have been made by the Mass? NONE, which wouldn’t have happened anyway as the result of citations and arrests. When you have to live in an imperfect world, you end up with less-than-perfect choices.

    There is definitely a faction of the CM crowd which highly values breaking laws as a means to, whatever, have fun, or express solidarity, I sure hope they don’t think it is the way to promote biking to the motor-heads. In my opinion, since most riders favor following traffic laws and regrouping occasionally after signals (it’s not that difficult, people) then those who are dedicated to law-breaking should start their own ride. While I don’t agree with a lot of police behavior I’ve seen at CM rides… the CM is much too high-profile for police to let riders do whatever they want. People driving cars would be screaming bloody murder and calling for a recall of the mayor if that were to happen every month. I don’t know why this is so hard for some to understand.

  36. Avatar loli says:

    This was my first CM ride, and while I truly enjoyed myself and the chance to ride and meet other like-minded cyclists, I was also really dissapointed. It seemed like the police presence was there more to shepherd the riders around the city, rather than just be participants in the ride. From my experience of the ride, if there is a schism between riders and the police, it is the police who need to re-examine their tactics. At one point while riding down a one way road the person next to me swerved towards me, causing me to move over into the adjoining lane. A cop riding behind me barked at me right away to “Get back in one lane!!!” without taking a moment to consider the consequences.

    When I saw the people being arrested, I was almost in awe. Despite an explanation from Officer Christensen, I still didn’t feel that their actions were justifiable. As a normally law abiding rider, I felt extremely threatened by their presence and felt that they were just waiting for me to ‘screw up’. No different than getting tailed by a cop in the car.

    I will be at next month’s CM. Despite my elation and dissapointment, and all the things that I can see need to be changed, I still feel like its an important and worthy event.

    PS….imagine my surprise when I looked at the CM pictures and the 2nd picture I see is my arse on a bike!

  37. Avatar Daniel says:

    I think most people who have participated in Critical Masses over the years see it as a combination celebration (of bikes), demonstration (that we’re here), and protest (against car-centric transportation planning).

    Me, I stopped participating in Portland CM a few years ago when I felt that it was no longer politically effective as a demonstration or a protest. I don’t think this is the fault of anyone in particular (cops, riders, media), but simply how things happen to have turned out here: a function of Portland’s always-evolving politics, civic attitudes, size, population, bike culture, bike infrastructure, etc. Every city is different.

    I’m always glad to see CM, though; it’s still a great celebration, and I know many people still get a lot out of it.

  38. Very well said Daniel.

    If you (or anyone else) would like to share thoughts on what Critical Mass means to you, check out what I just posted. Thanks.

  39. Avatar Safely Anonymous says:

    Jonathan Maus said, “Also, I spoke with Lt. Kruger on the phone today and found out that the new Commander was out of town and was not involved in this Mass in any way.”

    Jonathan, respectfully, Randy is right.

    Commander Marty Rowley *should* be explaining why this happened on the first CM ride of his watch. He is the Traffic Division Commander, which means he is responsible for the men under his command, whether he was present or not. It works the same way as the military – he doesn’t stop being responsible because he was out of town. I’m sure he is well aware that the CM rides occur on the last Friday of every month, and if he wasn’t going to be here for it, he should have left instructions / guidelines for his subordinates.

    Comment in general:

    Whatever you think about CM, CM is bicycles. Bicycles are vehicles. Multiple vehicles (bikes) are traffic, and traffic is his responsibility. I don’t understand the Portland PD. Despite all the negative press they’ve gotten over the 6 years I’ve lived here, they still use excessive force FREQUENTLY, and they still use selective enforcement on many occasions. I’ve seen a lot of police departments work, and the best I’ve seen was the Washington, D.C. PD in the 1990s. Those guys have to deal with protest marches all the time. I watched them handle the last big gay pride march in 1993 or 94, and they managed to keep the most extreme anti-gay religious folk and the most extreme in-your-face gay folk from beating the stuffing out of each other, and they managed it with very little force and very few arrests. If DC’s police department can manage a 1/4 million person protest without a newsworthy incident, why can’t the Portland PD do the same with a couple dozen, hundred or even a thousand cyclists? It’s not like we’re a massive physical threat – a cop on foot can easily dodge a cyclist, a cop in a car is immune to being rammed, and brightly colored racing garb likely can’t conceal a hidden weapon. When’s the last time a cyclist shot a cop? I’ve never heard of an incident. When’s the last time a motorist shot a Portland police officer? I know of at least 2 incidents just in the last 6 years without even having to look it up.

    Cyclists are not a threat. Portland police need to chill, and allocate their officers someplace useful on Friday nights. When CM has 100+ riders again, then maybe the police should send 1 or 2 officers on bikes to make sure nothing gets out of hand.

    Actually, thinking about that for a second – why does CM warrant more than 2 bike cops anyway? Regardless of size, all they really need is one officer for escort to phone for backup if something happens.

    Anyway, that’s my opinion, and yes, I’m too chicken to post under my real name this time – police officers ARE human, and while I’m sure most of the department are decent guys and gals, all it takes is one a$$hole with a grudge to ruin my day. Make of that what you will.

  40. Avatar Toby says:

    I never missed a CM in the years I lived in San Francisco (and I was in fact cited on one for “obstructing the flow of traffic”). What’s clearly different between the Portland CM and the SF one is the general tenor of the ride. SF strikes a good balance between parade and demonstration, where Portland has that ratio skewed toward demonstration, nearly every time (Halloween might be the only exception that comes to mind). Some of this is obviously just meeting the nastiness of the police halfway. But I can’t see that we’re going to attract too many everyday commuters, little kids, or random passers-by if everyone riding is angry and scared. And this seems to be a vicious circle, which makes the ride smaller and angrier as time goes on, which is depressing.

  41. Avatar Eddie says:

    It sounds like the cops are out to get the cyclists. If the Portland cops have nothing better to do than harass cyclists for traffic violations then I’d say we don’t need those cops. I don’t pay taxes to have cops on bikes or motorcycles harassing cyclists. I imagine you’ve noticed that this city has some money problems and the cops might as well do some sacrificing to help out with the budget. I’ve noticed the streets have a lot of crud on the edges where bikes usually travel and I think the mayor should assign the bike and motorcycle cops a big broom, a big dust pan and a garbage bag and tell them to get to work cleaning the edges of the streets. At least they’d be doing some good for the citizens who pay their wages. When they’re done they can lay them off like every private business does when their employees are out of work. Sounds like the cops have forgetten that bikers pay taxes that pay their wages.

    Why don’t you folks who are communicating with the mayor see if you can get him to reprimand the police and make them stop harassing cyclists and assign them to something that might actually help the people of Portland. There is no benefit to the people of the city from cops harassing cyclists for traffic violations.

  42. Avatar Jasun Wurster says:

    Getting the officers off of the ride is a running theme with meetings. I am constantly reminding them of their 25% understaffing and the City’s budget issues. From the meetings there have been other things come out of them. Another continuing theme I push at the meetings it to get the officers to interact with the community in a educational way that does not involve giving a ticket.

    One such program was the PPB getting Federal grants to give bike lights out riders. The PPB also started having a plainclothes officer ride a bicycle legally on a street with a patrol car/motorcycle very near by to ticket drivers that are aggressive to the cyclist. There also have cross walk and stop sign policing events in which more warnings are given to cyclist than tickets.

    Another thing that is in the works is making the PPB aware of bicycle theft in Portland and seeing what resources they can provide to curtail this.

    I am not a fan of having officers on the ride that are in an aggressive enforcement mode. In the same breath I am not a fan of having cyclist on the ride that are in an aggressive agitation mode. This benefits no one. However, having the riders and the officers communicate prior to and during the ride I feel fosters mutual respect and civility that has long been lacking.

    One last thing. The PPB is not the only agency that attends the monthly meetings. Many local government agencies take the time out of their schedule to participate in an informal public forum to hold a constructive dialog with citizens. This is very different from any ‘stuffy get nothing done’ public meeting I have been to; for we can be candid, open and honest with our concerns, suggestions and ideas.

  43. Avatar Eddie says:

    Jason wrote: “Getting the officers off of the ride is a running theme with meetings. I am constantly reminding them of their 25% understaffing and the City’s budget issues….” I say getting them off “our asses” instead of off “the ride” would be a better goal. They obviously are not understaffed – they are obviously overstaffed if they can spare ANY cops to do “stop sign policing events” as you called them. What a WASTE of taxpayer dollars. The whole department ought to be taken out to the woodshed and given some old fashioned instruction in “what cops are paid to do” for such blatant waste of taxpayer dollars. We pay them to catch criminals, not to harass people riding bicycles.

    Here’s a great waste of government funds: “One such program was the PPB getting Federal grants to give bike lights out riders.” Gawd almighty! If those cops don’t have anything better to do than this, fire every one of them on the spot right NOW.

    Jason wrote: “Another thing that is in the works is making the PPB aware of bicycle theft in Portland and seeing what resources they can provide to curtail this.” Here’s an idea that might curtail bike theft: get the cops to stop harassing bicyclists and start DOING THEIR JOBS harassing criminals that steal, rob, rape, murder, harass, threaten, vandalize,etc,etc,etc! What a concept: a cop actually doing cop work! Is the cop force run by idiots?

    Jason said: “This is very different from any ’stuffy get nothing done’ public meeting I have been to; for we can be candid, open and honest with our concerns, suggestions and ideas.” Apparently it’s still a “get nothing done” meeting from all the reports I see on the internet about the Portland cops bullying bicyclists. Apparently you’ve had no effect or possibly negative effect. Maybe they let you spout off, but apparently they aren’t getting the message.

    Jason wrote: “I am not a fan of having officers on the ride that are in an aggressive enforcement mode. In the same breath I am not a fan of having cyclist on the ride that are in an aggressive agitation mode. This benefits no one. However, having the riders and the officers communicate prior to and during the ride I feel fosters mutual respect and civility that has long been lacking.” Fact: There is going to be no civility between cops and bicyclists as long as the cops are acting like a bunch of bully gestapo thugs. I’m not talking just about the CM ride – but about their daily activities on the streets. I read WAY TOO MANY accounts of cops harassing cyclists by giving traffic citations to cyclists. There is no way to justify such a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. They are protecting no one. Bicylists almost never harm people by running lights and not following the strict rules that cars must follow. There is a reason cars must follow those rules: if they don’t someone will get hurt or killed. There are no victims if a cyclist runs a light. If a cyclist is actually causing a disturbance by intentionally blocking motorized traffic then he/she should be given a ticket. But,in general, running lights on bicycles hurts noone. To have a paid officer of the law giving citations for such things is wasting taxpayer dollars. We cannot afford the waste. Fire ’em if that’s the best they can do. Let’s get a bike friendly police chief who will pull the plug on the bully cops.

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