Saturday, July 26, 2008

Critical mass

I went to give a talk today at SFU (that's about it for the Physics and
Education part of this one...!) After coming back across town I grabbed
my bike and headed downtown to the Art Gallery for something I had
previously been told about: Critical Mass - where many hundereds, or
even thousands, of cyclists take to the streets to remind the drivers fo
Vancouver that cycling is a Big Thing in the city. The route is not
pre-determined, but chosen by the people at the head of the queue and
traffic at intersections is 'corked' by cyclists who stop the traffic.

It is a wonderful atmosphere; like a carnival - there were people with
speakers on the back of their bikes, bubble machines, people in fancy
dress. I saw tandems, unicycles, recumbents, dogs and children being
towed along. We rolled around the city in the Friday evening sunshine
for two and a half-hours - and the peleton was still rolling on as I
left to come back of Burrard St bridge to get home by dark! The best bit
was stopping the traffic on both directions on top of the Lions Gate
Bridge. People raised their bikes above their heads to cries of "We're
not blocking traffic: we ARE traffic".

Most delayed motorists took it in good heart, some tooting support,
which was greeted with furious bell-ringing and cheers. There was the
odd arse giving people abuse (It raises some people hackles for reasons
other than being held up for a few minutes. There's a political
dimension to this whole idea, which started in San Fransisco and is now
held regularly around the globe).

It's the law here to wear a helmet while cycling, yet about half of the
riders yesterday did not. Some saw it as a chance to ride hat-less,
without fear of being fined. But if anything, the risk of falling off in
a tightly-packed group of cyclists seems to me to be higher than when
cycling in regular traffic here. I saw at least 3 spills, one person
quite badly injured coming down a slope in Stanley Park, with what
looked like a nasty bang to the head.

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