Would Critical Manners catch on in Portland?

Posted by on August 14th, 2007 at 9:51 am

Critical Mass August - Portland OR

Portland Critical Mass, August 2005.
(File photo)

While bouncing around some bike links the other day, I came across a story published yesterday in the L.A.Times about the age old question over the intentions and impacts of Critical Mass.

That debate is nothing new, but at the end of the article the writer mentioned a ride called Critical Manners. I read more about the concept (check out this story in the SF Chronicle) and instantly wondered whether this was something we should do in Portland.

Basically, the concept is very similar to what Portland’s Critical Mass (which is all but dead) has already morphed into. Of course our ride follows the letter of the law not necessarily by choice, but because of a constant and ticket-ready police presence.

People's Ride

The People’s Ride has been
billed as an alternative
Critical Mass, but it isn’t downtown
and it hasn’t caught on.
(File photo)

But what if we re-branded the ride, called it Critical Manners, and celebrated stopping and law-abiding cycling as the cool new trend in group rides?

Would it grow into a large group ride without any of the political and controversial baggage of Critical Mass?

The concept isn’t completely foreign. Remember back in December of 2005 when Elly Blue (yes, that Elly Blue) led the Super Legal Ride?

Elly wanted to “point out that many if not most cyclists exercise caution and understand and obey traffic laws.” The purpose of her ride was slightly different than Critical Manners, but it’s on the same wavelength.

Critical Mass in Portland has nearly completely fizzled out and despite attempts at a replacement, there’s no monthly ride that has caught on to take its place.

What do you think? Is Critical Manners the Next Big Thing, or has Portland moved beyond having a massive, downtown bike ride every month?

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ben
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ben

i think Critical Manners would make front page news here in portland, and couldn\’t possibly worsen the divisions between cyclists and motorists. We ought to try it, if only to see just how many law-abiding cyclists are still interested in mass rides.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

Count me in.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

We completely need one of these.

Matt Picio
Guest

Need minor edit – Super Legal ride was 2005, not 2002.

joy
Guest

definitely worth a go.

Matt Picio
Guest

I\’m all for cooperation and sharing the road – and a large group of cyclists all obeying all the laws would illustrate rather quickly *why* bicycles are different than other vehicles and why some of our laws need to change to reflect that.

And if it doesn\’t work, that\’s why we have Critical Mass in the first place.

Craig
Guest
Craig

It\’s a good idea. I\’d make time for that ride.

DK
Guest
DK

Should also invite motor vehicles along to ride side by side…so they can learn the manners of the road too!

Michael R
Guest

Portland is ready. We have the mass of riders who already ride like Critical Manners folks do. I\’ll be there.

Should we make it the second Friday of the month to distinguish from Critical Mass?

FWIW – I had a friend visit from San Francisco a week ago. He\’s ridden in both CMs down there. He described the Manners ride as a lot more enjoyable and sociable.

BURR
Guest
BURR

BTA did this a few times back in the mid 90\’s – fully permitted \’Bicycle Visibility\’ rides.

WOBG
Guest
WOBG

Hmmm. Seems like the nature of any large group ride is to stretch and bend (if not break) traffic laws—so I\’m skeptical this would work. For instance, would each rider really individually stop at a stop sign and not \”tag on\” to the stop a person in front of them had just made? And if the answer is yes, then what prevents the group from stringing out so much that it no longer functions as a group?

Flora
Guest
Flora

count me in. and to dress up in happy clothes and give out flowers to people sitting in traffic. flower power, bike power!

mtmann
Guest
mtmann

I\’ve never ridden a Critical Mass, mostly because I can\’t get from Gresham to Downtown in time, but also because I don\’t really feel an affinity for their methods. I seem to remember when it first began in Portland, there was a congruent ride referred to as \”Critical Wuss\” for those who weren\’t into bullhorns, running red lights, and pissing off cops, but who still supported what I thought was the most important goal of Critical Mass, to create a bike awareness for drivers. \”We\’re here, we are traffic too.\” Maybe it was just a story and never actually happened?

Here\’s what I\’d love to see, a traveling Critical Manners that would move out of the core area with a different target each month, taking up at least a full lane and exercising our right to ride as part of traffic. I\’ve often longed for a large group of riders to (legally) ride up Burnside through Gresham from end to end at rush hour. I\’m in.

Helen Wheels
Guest
Helen Wheels

If the proposed group ride is escorted by the police – no, thank you.

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

We should move completely beyond massing and clogging, and even beyond political group rides, no mattter how legal.

People (drivers, pedestrians, police) generally do not have the ability, nor does it appear they care, to distinguish between a peaceful, correct ride and one that is half correct, half partiers.

Any ride that even gives the appearance of a public disturbance, no matter how sweet, will still draw negative attention.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Dabby said:
\” Any ride that even gives the appearance of a public disturbance, no matter how sweet, will still draw negative attention.\”

That\’s a good point Dabby. So maybe the best thing to do is just focus our energies on getting more people to ride bikes in general. .. eventually we\’ll have a naturally occurring mass that no one will be able to complain about. awesome.

Antonio Gramsci
Guest

Jesus, Dabby. What are you, an emissary for the American Heart Association or something??

God forbid anyone\’s blood pressure should ever rise even just a hair, especially over a political or free speech statement.

You might be living in the wrong city. I think Stepford was somewhere in New England or other.

Personally, I thank God for living in Portland, where once in awhile people are n\’t afraid to get their blood circulating!

Anyone up for another Naked Ride this summer, while the weather\’s still warm?!!

greenkrypto
Guest
greenkrypto

Great idea! count me in!

hanmade
Guest
hanmade

I think it\’s a great idea, but let\’s start out on weekends or off hours. Critical Mass focused on rush hour confrontation. We should focus on off hours cooperation, which will lead more quickly to acceptance at those other, higher traffic times.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

Quoting Jonathan:

That\’s a good point Dabby. So maybe the best thing to do is just focus our energies on getting more people to ride bikes in general. .. eventually we\’ll have a naturally occurring mass that no one will be able to complain about. awesome.

I think that was the original meaning of Critical Mass– to create that critical mass of cyclists on the roads, as distinguished from the occasional lone cyclist negotiating for a right to a piece of the road.

It\’s already clear from a few comments here that even posters here don\’t understand the point of critical manners. It\’s not even close in intent to Elly\’s \”Super Legal Ride,\” and it\’s not antagonistic to police escorts, or motorists. If cyclists themselves can\’t distinguish the difference between critical manners and critical mass, what are the odds that anybody else will be able to distinguish between them?

I like the idea, and want to ride one, but Dabby may be right on the money…again.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Exactly! (reference to Dabby\’s and Jonathan\’s posts #16 & #17). This idea of organizing as a group of people out to proove a point will always cause the masses to dismiss the activity as a nuisance. An activity that comes across as renegade, subculture, alternative, etc. no matter how beneficial it is to everyone, will not appeal to the mainstream. The respect we seek from our fellow users of the roads will only come when we shed this image of being \”out\” to cause a disturbance. As much of a nuisance and toll motor vehicles have on our urban society, it\’s been engrained in us to accept them.

The same can be true for bicycles.

BURR
Guest
BURR

@Dabby#16: yep, we should just ban all group rides completely! Didn\’t some Louisiana parish pass a law like that a few years back? Isn\’t that what NYPD has been trying to do for the last four years in the wake of the RNC?

-insert roll eyes smiley face here-

Kristen
Guest
Kristen

Take out the word \”Critical\” and it sounds like a good idea.

Rixtir and Dabby have the right of it, really. Stop it, you guys, some people can\’t take that sort of common sense. 🙂

pfarthing6
Guest
pfarthing6

I think there\’s some good opinion here. A \’naturally ocurring mass\’ would would of course be best. What I think it missing is \’the point\’ of what these group rides are supposed to be doing. Are we trying to reach out to the other side or are we trying to say them, \”Just deal with it!\” I see lone cyclists riding up and down really bizy streets like powel and 39th all the time, being legal, and taking up a whole lane to themselves. I think that creates more of a division rather than awareness, same for monster rides of any kind. But we do have to do something and can\’t let it go that cyclists are getting killed left and right while innocently doing their favorite thing. Maybe instead of monster rides, there should be some sort of thing where people can ride together just for daily commuting? Try to reach out to employers perhaps and get them to sponsor weekly ride-to-work days? Or have daily commute rides published somewhere so that people going from point-A to point-B can look up and hook up. Basically, if we want more people on two wheels, they need to feel safer. Perhaps small to medium size groups with greater frequency are one way to do it? My 2cents anywho =)

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

While we all know of group ride bans in other cities, we also know this.

I sometimes go on group rides too. On the MMR last Friday night. I was trying to teach Team Beer to spin, but I don\’t think they got it.

Why would I want to ban group rides?

I am just pointing out the reality of what comes of a group or mass ride.

More bad than good.

Antonio Gramsci
Guest

Jason:
Helloooo?? Reality check:

Look, the whole reason people like me move to Portland is not to \”prove a point,\” it\’s because I don\’t fit in a place like a Orange County CA, and I don\’t WANT to have to carry a one-man battle day-in-day out against this murderous f***ing system. Most of us want to live our lives IN PEACE. It\’s not ME or most people who are out looking for a confrontation. But this system KILLS people. It\’s a massive death machine.

Remember the line from Terminator? \”It\’s a machine. It can\’t be bargained with. It can\’t be reasoned with. It doesn\’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.\”

That is what we\’re up against. You can be peaceful and mind your own business, but that won\’t stop you from getting run down and crushed, literally, by the death machines, in their millions.

So sorry, please pardon my rudeness, but once in a while I and thousands of others like me, who came here to get some respite from this madness with other like minded people, we get fed up, and decide to act in solidarity, to say we are tired of cowering in the shadows begging permission to live. The begging won\’t help that much anyways. So once in a while we have a grand epiphany that we\’ve got much less to lose and more to gain by taking in our own hands what is rightfully ours without apologies.

It\’s when enough of us have that epiphany, AND act TOGETHER, that change will happen. Not by playing \”Mr Nice Guy.\”

Backpedal
Guest
Backpedal

Now, in addressing road manners, I\’m all for a broader campaign that better educates riders in proper etiquette and drivers in how to share the road. Daily I see many examples of less than stellar behavior on both sides.

However, I think critical mass / manners concepts go against what bicycles stand for, which from one perspective is the absence of mass.

Doug
Guest
Doug

Re: comments 16, 17, and 22.

I think you guys are right on. Even if the letter of the law is followed, we don\’t need more antagonistic group rides. Critical Mass and/or Critical Manners will only add to the cyclist/motorist tension, leading to more attention being focused on other group rides around the city.

Instead, how about a totally different idea. To help work toward the \’naturally occuring mass\’ that Jonathan refers to (and we\’re damn close to being there already), why not have weekly rides in which the participants scatter about the central city at rush hour, blending in with regular commuters and adding to the perceived number of \’regular people\’ just riding their bikes for transportation? If we want real respect, we need for people to realize that the cycling community is more than just a mob of disruptive counter-culture types whom the average driver cannot relate to or sympathize with.

The ride could meet somewhere at 4:30 on a regularly recurring day (monthly, weekly?). Participants would be encouraged to show up in regular business-type clothing, and would then spend 1 to 1.5 hours just riding in the central city, hopefully acting as good representatives all the while. Then, beer at lucky lab afterward.

Crazy?

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

i take the lane when needed, i consider it \’traffic calming\’ and count me in.

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

It was the original meaning of Critical Mass.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Doug #29, what you refer to is the \”scatter-mass\” idea that has been tried several times and actually worked well (if my memory serves, others can chime in too).

I like that idea much better than a group ride of any type (besides officially escorted parade rides).

a.O
Guest
a.O

I\’m with Antonio, @ #27.

Successful movements focus limited resources on the most effective means for accomplishing change. What we all want is relative harmony on the road, and I think we all agree that we can achieve that by having more cyclists. That way, cyclists and motorists will be more used to each others\’ presence and there will be fewer surprises.

My $.02: Focus your energy on creating new cyclists. That\’s how you get the \”naturally-occurring mass\” that it will take for cyclists to be accepted on the road.

Maybe start small group rides of 5-10 people (or less). Each group is charged with bringing along one person who is not a regular rider. Find someone who wants to become a commuter or do more recreational riding, then commit to taking them out regularly, until they become a part of the group and a new person is chosen. It\’s self-replication.

Pods of cyclists, canvassing Portland, making more of themselves…

BURR
Guest
BURR

@pfarthing#25: do I hear a call for a ban on cycling on SE 39th and other arterial streets now, too???

jeez, I guess we should all just sell our bikes and switch to cars instead.

Antonio Gramsci
Guest

I like the idea of group rides. I understand people don\’t want to get their heads bashed in by the cops or court angry confrontations. However, I also understand that many people are looking for a sense of community and civic spirit that comes from community organized, DIY events. Witness the success of Pedalpalooza.

What people should be thinking about, instead of racking their brains for ways to be überpolite and lowprofile, is ways to \”depoliticize\” and \”deconfrontationalize\” events without robbing them of their spontaneity and life. I think Pedalpalooza proves this is possible.

Another thing people should be thinking about: I believe that in the Bay Area, Jason Meggs and others have had some good results by meticulously documenting petty harassment and selective enforcement by the cops and backing them down through effective and well organized legal challenges to police abuses.

Minda
Guest
Minda

These are all really good points. I agree with Antonio — I moved to Portland because I didn\’t want to have to FIGHT for my way of life constantly. I am not afraid of drawing a little \”negative attention\” if I am not doing anything wrong, but I also don\’t see the point in politicizing everything, because that puts people on the defensive and then you have a fight.
People just want to bike; not everyone wants to make it a statement. In LA, it IS a statement, whether you like it or not. It\’s so freaking crazy to bicycle on the streets down there, and cars will practically run you off the road if you DON\’T take the lane, that you have to be somewhat of a soldier on two wheels. Yeah, sometimes that\’s fun, but after a while, it\’s exhausting. And it was just plain infuriating when a city \”bike lane\” would thrust me into a suddenly dangerous situation.

What I want to see here in Portland is a city where cars, buses, bikes, and peds are given equal clout and equal room. As long as we have to share the road with motorized vehicles, we have to follow rules just like they do, for everyone\’s safety. I think a ride that teaches safety and bike/traffic rules would be great — not to intentionally disrupt but to be legitimate. What if there were 100 of us, and we all rode single file?

But really, I think pfarthing6 has it right: \”daily commute rides published somewhere so that people going from point-A to point-B can look up and hook up. Basically, if we want more people on two wheels, they need to feel safer.\” I recently saw two bicycle commuters stopped at a light and they started swapping route strategies. If we knew where everyone else was riding — not just the published bike lanes, but the most ridden ones — then it would create it\’s own flow of traffic. A lot of people just want to do their thing. They don\’t necessarily want to make a big deal out of it.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

I\’ve suggested elsewhere that riding with another person makes for a potentially safer commute, because you have a built-in witness in case you\’re harassed or injured. Something everybody should consider, and it has the added benefit, as people here have suggested, of creating pockets of mass throughout the city.

Spider Pig
Guest
Spider Pig

Perhaps we should reverse Critical Mass. Ssam Lacitirc? (Sounds like parsel tongue.) Once a month groups of 10-15 cyclists converging on a central location. Have a few beers, smoke two joints, listen to some music then go home in legal respectful manner.

Ssam Lacitirc accomplishes many of the original goals of CM….namely:::: Whoa, there are lots of bicyclers here!!!! Double whoa, if I don\’t run over these bicyclers they get to there destination just fine… 3x whoa, it\’s rush hour and those bicyclers are all smiling, WTF….. Whoa^WTF, it has been a long time since I went downtown on a Friday night and partied.

mykle
Guest
mykle

Look, I don\’t have a running beef with all car drivers, but the traffic laws for bicyclists are just wrong. so I don\’t obey.

But that opens a can of worms. If we really want to see the law changed, we should be figuring out what the laws should be, and acting as if those laws were already passed. Then, at least, we have a standard for safe & fair sharing of the roadway that we can point to when people call us scofflaws.

This particularly applies to group rides. Until I moved to Portland, I\’d never even been on one. But now it\’s part of the culture, and it\’s ultra-empowering for riders, and it\’s one reason why more people are riding here. But a large pack of bicycles simply can\’t obey traffic laws as written now, and stay together.

I could write a whole essay about the right way for large packs of bicyclists to ride in traffic, but my foremost concern is courtesy. Large packs of people can be intimidating and scary, no matter what they\’re up to — it\’s the riders\’ job to relax onlookers, if the riders want to be understood as peaceful.

The ideal is not to ride around at 5mph worshipping stop signs, but it\’s not a bike riot either. It\’s to come up with a set of traffic laws that don\’t penalize bicycling, laws that we can all agree to follow, so that drivers can at least predict what bicyclists might do — the better to not run them over.

IMHO, we need to pass city ordinances legalizing both corking and stop-as-yield, with clear definitions of the responsibilities of bicyclists in those situations.

(And nudity!)

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

Portland Critical Manners: Born August 14, 2007- Died August 14, 2007.

el timito
Guest

I think the reports of Critical Manners\’ demise have been greatly exagerated. Mykle is right – group rides are fun, empowering, and help newbies see just how fun life on bikes can be. Er – kind of like what Critical Mass was all about when it started.

Mykle is also right that it\’s awful hard to have a group ride on which every cyclist obeys every traffic control device to the letter of the law, rather than the spirit. Thus, the most successful group rides happen at off-peak times, in low-traffic areas. Most of the bike moves I\’ve been on have been critical masses – when you\’re hauling 100 or more pounds on a trailer it makes a lot of sense to cork a sleepy street on a Sunday. The drivers who are momentarily delayed are almost without exception amused by the spectacle. The riders (being in a generous community spirit, similar to a barn raising) are almost unfailingly smiling, sweet, and complimentary to the motorists for their patience. Everyone\’s happy. And what\’s wrong with that?

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

I think the reports of Critical Manners\’ demise have been greatly exagerated…. [followed by a rationale for discarding the principles of Critical Manners]… And what\’s wrong with that?

Critical Manners is not Critical Mass by another name. Once you\’ve changed the laws to suit the ride, you\’ve killed Critical Manners.

Face it, nobody gets it, and that\’s why it\’s already dead.

el timito
Guest

O.k. Rixtir, you win.
Just say no to bike fun.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

You are claiming that \”bike fun\” and \”Critical Manners\” are mutually exclusive. That may be a belief you genuinely hold, but it isn\’t shared by everybody who posted here.

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

I think corking will always be illegal, unless you get a parade permit.

In my experience, corking on a large group ride is the safest thing to do. Many times when a car get in the midst of a group of bikes they are overwhelmed by the bikes beside them, behind them, and in front of them, and next thing you know they smash into the bikes in front of them. I\’ve seen it happen on bicycle group rides and on motorcycle group rides. I think the safety of corking is worth the risk of being ticketed for it, and worth upsetting a few motorists because they lost less than a minute in their life.

Antonio Gramsci
Guest

The \”success\” of Critical Mass has everything to do with police behavior and relatively little to do with riders.

There will always be a spectrum of people who want to ride in a Critical Mass, from \”troublemakers\” to soccer moms, and in most cases they could almost always negotiate a safe modus vivendi — a la Vancouver BC.

But when the cops decide that \”they are the deciders,\” and think they should be able to lay down the letter of the law exactly as they see fit, without regard to the cultural preferences of a large segment of the population that they are charged with \”policing,\” then there will always be lots of trouble and conflict — and lots of people, particularly in this insanely reactionary society (even in Portland) who blame everyone BUT the cops for it.

The thing to understand about the cops is that, every second of their day, they are using their discretion to decide which laws to enforce and with how much vigor. There are so many laws and so many situations that arise spontaneously every moment of every day that make following those laws insanely inconvenient if not impossible, that they couldn\’t even know where to begin, if they did not choose to exercise such discretion.

The cops could perfectly well decide that strictly enforcing stop signs and lights on Critical Mass was more disruptive of traffic and confrontational and offensive to a sizeable portion of the population than simply shepherding the ride safely but \”illegally\” through them, or allowing them to do it themselves.

A factor that could help them in such a decision would be a vigorous legal defense campaign such as folks in the Bay Area have pursued against selective enforcement and police harassment.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

But when the cops decide that \”they are the deciders,\” and think they should be able to lay down the letter of the law exactly as they see fit, without regard to the cultural preferences of a large segment of the population that they are charged with \”policing,\” then there will always be lots of trouble and conflict

That \”large percentage of the population\” you\’re referring to is at most the 4% of the population that actually rides regularly in this town, and not everybody in that 4% that actually believes that pissing off everybody else on the road is conducive to cycling advocacy.

It would seem, therefore, that if the police are enforcing what 96% of the population wants enforced (assuming that 96% of the population approves of policing critical mass), they are in fact taking the cultural preferences of a large segment of the population into account.

bicycledave
Guest

It\’s impossible that 96% of the population approves of policing critical mass. Most opinion polls have at least 15% in the \”I don\’t know\” category alone.

I\’d also guess that critical mass draws support from casual riders as well as everyday riders (who are probably more than 4% now).

My point is I think we (bicyclists in general) have more support from the general public than you might think. Especially here in Portland where many believe it is important to protect the environment.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

I would not dispute an argument that less than 96% of the public supports policing critical mass. If you read what I wrote, I did qualify that 96% by saying \”assuming that 96% of the population approves.\”

I would also not dispute that critical mass draws some support– perhaps even the majority of its support– from casual riders.

I would also not dispute that *bicyclists* have support from a larger percentage of the population than the 4%– and that is the current estimate for \”America\’s Bicycling Capital\”– of the population who regularly ride.

I don\’t think an argument can be made that the percentage of people who support *bicyclists* is in the same ballpark as the percentage of people who support critical mass.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

We already have a ride like this. For most of us it\’s called going to work/school each day.

Jan
Guest
Jan

\”Scatter-Mass\” in groups of two. I like that. Add that to a possibility of $5.00 for a gallon of gas, and all of a sudden there are more people on bikes, and possibly the sense of safety on a bike increases.