The Bicycle Brief, Chapter 3: Friday Night Mass
On Friday night after work I dragged my tired ass to Critical Mass, my first experience riding in non-formation with other bikers for blocks and blocks. When I lived in San Francisco, I would get wistful when Critical Mass rolled around, since my mountain bike was stolen from a second-floor balcony by some soulless spider-man and I didn’t bother to replace it. So I finally went to check it out, arriving at the Wilshire & Western Metro stop slightly after the designated “show up” time and well before the thing got rolling.
We rode north, which was nice because I had plans later and they were to (a) scarf a Skooby’s dog and (b) meet a friend in North Hollywood to catch a ride to Spaceland. So heading up Western, cutting over to Cahuenga, continuing north to Hollywood Boulevard … all good. Very, very good. I split off from the group at Hollywood and also managed to lose track of two friends around dusk, about 8:15. So I got a half-hour communal ride in, and it was a lot of fun. But I have two questions:
(1) Is there a better way to corral bikes at intersections? I heard later that a corker (one who stops traffic on perpendicular streets to allow bikes to go through) got a ticket that night. If L.A. had countdown traffic lights, perhaps 150+ bikes could come to a stop, thus obeying the law. Hell, even Phnom Penh has these lights — though Cambodian drivers hit the gas when the light is 10 seconds away from “go.”
(2) What is this going to achieve? Yes, drivers were honking, but only a couple of times did I witness with my own eyes that it was a positive rather than “fuck you guys” honk. One of the supporters was even an ambulance driver (see video for proof). But it would be naive to think that none of those sounds came from angry people stuck in traffic. Yes, a lot of drivers seemed to agree that bikers belong on the road. But then what?
I’m divided. The people riding Friday night were unaggressive on a personal level, but running red lights as part of a chain of bikers amounts to an act of aggression — in a city plagued by road rage and high-speed chases. Bikers have to share the road, not dominate it. That said, it’s liberating being seemingly insulated by other riders. Emphasis on seemingly. I’m going to let fear creep in for just one moment because the next time I’m part of any group ride, this probably won’t be far from my mind. Just the act of one drunken driver; it could happen to any one biker, one pedestrian, another car or even a telephone pole — but it’s not unfathomable that some enraged person who has encountered a group ride like Critical Mass could gun it and do similar damage.