Images of Critical Mass in Minneapolis

Sat, 29 Aug 1998

The following report comes from both Tom Taylor <> and Jon S. Roesler <>:

There are people occuping condemed houses in Minneapolis to stop a BAD reroute of a highway.

Critical Mass visited in solidarity yesterday:

You may find the following e-mail, which I sent to a bicyclist friend, to be of interest.


Last Friday, the last Friday of August (August 28, 1998), I made the decision to forgo a trip with my wife and daughter to the "Great Minnesota Get Together" (the Minnesota State Fair), so that I could participate in my first Minneapolis Critical Mass ride (my family went to the Fair without me).

I am not sure how much you know about Critical Mass rides. Evidently they started in San Francisco in 1992 with perhaps 45 riders. There the rides have grown to as large as 7,000 riders. The rides occur on the last Friday of the month, during the evening rush hour. It is estimated that there are now perhaps 100 cities participating around the world. The Minneapolis rides evidently began sometime in 1997.

These are not organized rides. They are not sanctioned by any organization. There are no designated leaders ("When enough people lead, the 'Leaders' will follow!"). The route is not predetermined. There are not necessarily any clear goals, objectives, or coordination for the rides. I saw one reference to Critical Mass rides as a "mass coincidence" of bike riders coming together. Another called Critical Mass a "xeroxracy", as the most organization which occurs is that some people (no one in particular) xerox and post announcements about the time and meeting place of the rides.

There is obviously a "green" theme which runs through these rides ("Share the road - spare the globe!"). In Australia, Critical Mass bikers often carry small blue flags, signifying pollution-free blue sky. At our Minneapolis ride, someone gave me a vest which read "Critical Mass, Not Greenhouse Gas". At the Minneapolis ride there seemed to be anti-car activists ("One less car!"; in England, "One car down!"), as well as pro-bike enthusiasts ("Bikengruven!"), some anarchists ("Vehicle of the Revolution!"), and some just looking for something to do on a beautiful August afternoon ("What's up, man?").

These are very different bicyclists than what we saw on the Ironman bike ride last April. At the Ironman, cyclists wore LYCRA shorts, CoolMax jerseys, and Gortex jackets, with some very fine machines being ridden, which often arrived atop or behind some late model SUV or sport ute.. At Critical Mass, there were a lot of people from the Uptown crowd. Many were younger, wore army boots, had spiked/dyed hair (or no hair), and various pierced body parts. There were also older riders, YUP-pie riders, and even a bicycle racer. I think that for many of them, the bicycle was their primary, if not ONLY, means of transport (aside from their feet). The bicycles included an exquisite road racing machine, late-model mountain bikes, cruisers, old English three-speeds, a double-frame high bike, and, of course, everything else in between.

As you've probably guessed, there is a strong sense of civil disobedience which runs through all Critical Mass rides. In San Francisco, the Critical Mass ride has gone out unto the freeway, completely congesting rush hour traffic. Police there have arrested hundreds of bicyclists. Before we left on our ride, somebody gave me a pamphlet describing what I should do if I were arrested. The Saint Paul Pioneer Press (8/1/98) reported that several bicyclists in Minneapolis were arrested during the July Critical Mass ride of 120 bicyclists down Lyndale Avenue.

As I rode with about 150 bicylists through Minneapolis this August, two or three cyclists would pull into an intersection and stop traffic, while the rest of us would ride through the intersection against a red light. Motorists might angrily blow their horns, but we had attained the needed critical mass. Starting at Loring Park and after riding north up the Nicollet Mall, we rode east on Washington Avenue, using both east-bound lanes ("we're not blocking traffic, we ARE traffic"), than went south on Cedar Avenue, again using both south-bound lanes. As we came to south Highway 55 (Hiawatha Avenue), the police showed up with their paddy wagon. A voice called out from within the group, telling us to now ride two abreast and use only the right most lane, so as to minimize the possibility of arrest.

We rode very slowly down Highway 55 (I don't think anyone broke a sweat; this is not a hard ride!). Occasionally, a few bicyclists would ride out into the other southbound lane, totally snarling traffic. We would then hear an order from the loudspeaker of a police car following us that blocking traffic would result in arrest. As we went around one curve, I noted that behind us we now had a paddy wagon and an additional two or three squad cars, some with their lights flashing. I think that all of us riders were feeling a bit empowered, with our "police escort" and traffic backed up on Highway 55.

By the time we neared the far south end of Minnehaha Park, near the "Stop the Hiway 55 Expansion" encampment (which seemed to be the group's destination), it was almost 7 p.m., rush hour was over, and the police (having followed us for so long) were evidently itching to make an arrest. A sergeant drove up slowly alongside the group, until one of the front riders crossed the lane line, apparently bumping into the police car. The sergeant leaped out, flung the cyclist across the hood of the car, and handcuffed the rider. The paddy wagon raced up from the rear, and an officer took the arrestee's bike, and flung it into the trunk of one of the squads. Another rider complained, in what must have been an inappropriate way, and the same happened to him. Now the traffic on Highway 55 ground to a complete halt, as the bikers were all in the right hand lane (gawking), and the police blocked the left hand lane as they made their arrests. Slowly the bikers started up again, being careful to obey traffic laws, as we completed our ride. For awhile, the police lingered near the edges of the group, even after the ride was completed. Somebody in a van drove up, and someone inside brought out complimentary watermelon as one of the encampment activists told the story of the area that is threatened by the Highway 55 expansion.

The lawlessness of the rides bothers some people. Evidently the mayor of San Francisco has been beside himself in rage with the civil disobedience (there's a bit of irony in this, as San Francisco has a history of and is known for demonstrations and civil disobedience), but with an organization-less, leader-less occurance, there has been no one towards which he can direct his fury. The local bike advocacy organization, while friendly to Critical Mass rides, does not condone, support, or represent Critical Mass. But because the mayor has no one else to go to, he has met with the advocacy group to talk about bicycle issues. Membership in the bike advocacy group has soared since the Critical Mass rides have begun in San Francisco.

I hear that the Critical Mass rides in Minneapols will regularly meet at the Fountain in Loring Park at 5:00 pm on the last Friday of the month. My guess is that there will be a ride in September and October, but I have no idea if anyone tries to do a Critical Mass ride in the months of November through February here in Minneapolis. Without any organization and without any leaders, its hard to say what will happen. I think that I will try and do the next ride. Are you up to joining me???


**On August 24, my phone number changed to 612/676-5773**

           ____       __           ----------------------------------
            \________| _)         |    Mail: Jon Roesler, MS         |
           / \      / \           |          Ctr for Health Promotion|
      *  */   \_   /   \*  *      |          Minn Dept of Health     |
   *     /  *  \| /  *  \     *   |          717 Delaware St SE      |
  *     /____*__O/  *    \     *  |          PO Box 9441             |
  *          *  |_  *          *  |          Minneapolis, MN   55440 |
   *        *        *        *   |   Voice: (612) 676-5773          |
      *  *              *  *      |     Fax: (612) 676-5775          |
       J o n   R o e s l e r      |  |