Critical Mass Bike Ride Angering Some Houstonians

CritMass.jpg
Photo by Heather Vidrine.

My first experience with Critical Mass, the pro-bicycle organization that takes to the streets monthly in droves, was about a decade ago when I was still living in New York City. I recall walking down Fifth Avenue on a Friday evening when a herd of bikers came careening down the avenue; there must have been a thousand of them. They hooted and hollered as they drove by, swerving past cabbies and town cars. It was quite a sight to see, and all the people on the sidewalk stopped what they were doing and reveled in the moment. I was awestruck.

Houston is no stranger to Critical Mass. The H-Town arm of the organization has been in existence since the early 2000s. The group meets up on the last Friday of each month starting at Market Square, and they proceed to take to the streets in an "organized/disorganized" fashion. Sometimes the route is planned, sometimes they wing it, but they always have a great time. It's a monthly party on bikes with a cause: bring awareness to car drivers that bikers are a part of the roads. For a long time, this didn't appear to be bothering anyone, but something has changed.

There is no denying that Houston's Critical Mass is growing in numbers. What used to be 100 to 150 riders can now be estimated at closer to 1,000 on certain monthly rides. This expansion can be attributed to several things -- greater awareness, heightened publicity, more people biking in general and the development of the city. Regardless of reason, Critical Mass has made some enemies, and they are trying to figure out the best course of action.

Are people really angry at Critical Mass, and what is setting this negativity off?

Hector Garcia, a longtime rider and volunteer with the group, is wondering the same thing. Garcia notes that there has been a recent increase in complaints about the rides, but he sees the current issues as manageable. He admits that the group's notoriety for breaking traffic laws and partying is not unfounded, but he attributes the rise in this behavior to newer riders who have yet to acclimate to the informal rules of the organization.

"Critical Mass has definitely grown," says Garcia, "and we see more and more people coming in to ride from outside the city who may not be aware of city riding. This is something we are working on."

Aside from those who don't know the ins-and-outs of riding in a developed city street, the sheer size of Critical Mass is an issue as well. Just as with any other organization, growth is a desire, but it comes with its challenges, and that is where the city comes in.

Recently, the city reached out to Critical Mass to try to work with the group to ensure safer roads for both riders and cars. Garcia can't say enough good things about how the city has been handling the problems. This past month, Critical Mass held its annual Halloween ride, "Critical Massacre," and the crowd swelled into the thousands. Being cognizant of this possibility, the city had Houston Police officers along the route making sure traffic moved along. But there were still kinks.

"There was definitely a lot more stopping and going than we are used to in this ride," mentions Garcia. "I am sure this was felt more by the drivers who got caught up in the traffic." However, Garcia does not feel this is the norm, but more of a product of the evolution of how to manage these rides. There is a learning curve.

But that learning curve might be too curvy for some Houstonians. A petition has been submitted through Change.org for the city to completely stop Critical Mass's monthly rides. The petition states:


Every month anywhere from several hundred to a few thousand bicycle riders participate in an event called "Critical Mass." They ride through downtown Houston in a large group ignoring traffic lights and, whenever possible, cars. Apparently, they consider it some kind of demonstration, but the only thing they demonstrate is selfish, childish, irresponsible, dangerous behavior on our city streets. It is not unusual to be stuck for more than half an hour waiting for these adult children to get out of the way.

(I reached out to the originator of the petition for comments, but he/she did not return my inquiries).

As of this posting time, the petition has 44 signers, which wouldn't be enough to catch much attention, but the reaction on social media has been explosive, and many people are very upset with the organization. Of those in favor of shutting down Critical Mass, many of the more negative comments say that the rides are just big parties with drunken bicyclists who disobey traffic laws and cause a hazard to those on the road or walking within the route. Others say that if the rides are supposed to be a type of activism, which some consider Critical Mass to be, the group is going about it all wrong and "blocking traffic" and "acting childish" is not a way to rally support for a cause. Throughout the 200-plus comments I stumbled upon, colorful language and four-letter words directed at the riders were commonplace.


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140 comments
Rose Anne Noe Knight
Rose Anne Noe Knight

I love it! Bicycles have as much right to the roads as cars, and, yes they should follow all the rules of the road. Cycling scofflaws give all cyclists a bad name. That said, we were unexpectedly caught in the midst of CM a few months ago, and the people were all just delightful, having a great time, respectful and funny and yeah a little bit crazy. So what if I had to wait a little while? It was amazing and I love that our city supports cycling! Houston is a big city, big enough to have a place for everyone! Those who don't like it need to chill out and stay clear. Those who do, roll on!!!

Marco Tapia Jr
Marco Tapia Jr

The last Friday of every month! Brian Slacum Ryan Rydman

Tyler Valerie Moore Vella
Tyler Valerie Moore Vella

If they want equal rights as cars,then they should obey stop signs & traffic lights like the rest of us. It's a real douchy move when they're running lights & stop signs making people late for work. If not then it should be open season on CM with rotten eggs!

Travis Langdon
Travis Langdon

They need to remember. They're on bikes. Plus drinking before biking and then having confrontations with drivers. Smh. Go bike at a park

Kyle Jack
Kyle Jack

Riding with Critical Mass is the safest way for a cyclist to ride, Adam.

Traci Rogers
Traci Rogers

Go where there aren't cars - why cause congestion. These guys are annoying.

Adam Komar
Adam Komar

The amount of time doesn't matter. You're encouraging people to put lives in danger in a situation that's already dangerous all by itself.

Casey Quillen
Casey Quillen

Riiiight, because its a totally equal situation. When a bike hits a car, the car gets hurt or dies. So we should be fair and equitable. Makes sense if you don't think about it...

Terrance Jewett
Terrance Jewett

What attitude you are being way more aggressive than I am. I am just trying to explain that a few hours a month is not the big deal you are trying to make it out to be.

Noelle A. Perry
Noelle A. Perry

"We just want to be an inconvenience once a month for a few hour(s)." so two wrongs make a right then, is that it? so you'll increase tension between the groups and exact petty revenge instead of trying to make things better. that sounds like a great idea. attitudes like yours are WHY there's a problem with CM.

Terrance Jewett
Terrance Jewett

In most situations in a city as large as Houston, if one group likes something another group will get upset over it. We need to keep in mind that everyone has a right to enjoy the city. Since crit mass is only once a month it is not a big deal or a big inconvenience for everyone. Bike riders are ran off the road, honked at, and hit daily. Cars are a big inconvenience for them daily. We just want to be an inconvenience once a month for a few hour in the evening. I dont think asking you to wait a few minutes once a month in the small chance that you come across our path is asking to much. To all those who say it looks fun, I hope to see you on the 29th.

Adam Socki
Adam Socki

fcuk Cars! i love cm! it's UTOPIA!

Nicky Cruz
Nicky Cruz

The people that complain about it are squares.

Adam Komar
Adam Komar

Make your point, but don't be a petulant child to do it. If you want motorists to respect you then respect them. Lead by example. Yes, they have a right to lane, but there are too many cyclists that don't keep to the side of the road like they're supposed to. And they're never supposed to ride with more than 2 cyclists adjacent to each other in a single lane and that's only allowed if the lane isn't wide enough for a car and a cyclist to ride side-by-side. Cyclists love to throw the laws around that give them access to the road, but love just as much to ignore the laws that limit that access. Critical Mass is just encouraging the ignorance and escalating the frustration. It doesn't matter who the law says is right or wrong. Everyone should be doing what's safe. Motorists need to watch out for cyclists, cyclists need to stay out of the way so they don't impede the flow of traffic and everyone should be following basic traffic laws.

Amanda Nash
Amanda Nash

I always thought it looked like fun. I'd definitely feel safer in a big group of people instead of riding alone-which I do daily to get to and from work-and while it's true that the group holds up traffic, I take a little enjoyment from it. Motorists can be very rude and inconsiderate/invasive of the few bike lanes that do exist for our safety. Even when I'm adhering to the rules and riding in the designated area I've been clipped or nearly hit by drivers who I assume believe those double white lines are just there for decoration. I can deal with that, so far I've been fortunate not to have an accident that's severely injured me, but if drivers are annoyed because a group of people are holding them up from their bar hopping, now they understand how I feel on a daily basis being surrounded by THEM.

Sean Kim
Sean Kim

i've participated a couple times. nice group. just wished they would abide by traffic laws and not frustrate and antagonize motorists.

jnelsonatx
jnelsonatx

Dude, fuck these guys. A bunch of drunken cyclist causing problems all over town. I love how bike riders think all the rules need to be changed for them. 

Angie Cabrera
Angie Cabrera

I love CM! Always have and always will!!! Even before I started cycling, I would see them and be, like, yay! I am gonna ride in CM one day and I did and have been for years.

Nelo Maciel
Nelo Maciel

Critical mass is reaching critical mass

Jeremy Rogers
Jeremy Rogers

The HOV is safe, non stop ride to multiple areas of town. This could have a decent impact on retail/ eateries in downtown that talk about the slow weekend crowd. I would love to jump on my bike and ride to downtown from Spring. #parkandrideyourbike. Someone get newly elected mayor Parker on the phone.

Adam Socki
Adam Socki

45 would be a good place on the HOV (except there are big gaps between the concrete slabs when the weather is cool)

Jeff Hunter
Jeff Hunter

Perhaps this will help you over the fence...A stopped car is safer than a moving car. All of my points have been reasonable...just approaching from different angles.

José Pineda
José Pineda

That is the most reasonable thing you have said thus far. I disagree, but finally understand your point of view. I am completely for cyclist safety, but simply riding tightly packed does not make a single vehicle. You you apply the same standard to biker rallys? What about caravans? Stoping at a traffic that is red, is honeslty the safest thing a cyclist can do. It gets trickerier at 4 way stops though, so I think you idea fits better there. i am on the fence for this particular take on the subject.

José Pineda
José Pineda

Sure and if they are caught they get ticketed, licenses suppended etc. They are not allowed to do whatever they want whenever they want, which appreas to be Jeff's position. So really your commentary is neither here nor there.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Hey Houston before you complain about cyclists why not try actually using your turn signals for a change? Funny how many bitch about cyclists breaking laws, but you seem to think you're entitled to do as your please and break the laws as your see fit  in an automobile putting our safety in jeopardy due to your laziness and apathy.  Another thought, if you see CM take a detour whiners..

Jeff Hunter
Jeff Hunter

The law in Texas is that a vehicle that is legally in the intersection when the light turns red can clear the intersection legally. I would argue that Critical Mass should be considered one vehicle, and once it enters the intersection legally can hold it for as long as it takes to clear. I, of course, know that you see each bicycle as an individual vehicle. My reasoning for identifying CM as one vehicle is that riders in a group that big are safer in numbers. If you start splitting them up every 30 seconds, this creates an unnecessary risk to bikes.

Kyle Jack
Kyle Jack

I was responding to this part: "Cars on the road at five do not need permits just like bikes don't. Then agian cars, stop at stops signs, and stop at traffic light." Some motorists follow all the laws. The vast majority do not, at least not all the time.

Robi Simone
Robi Simone

I think CM does more harm than good for building cyclist awareness & promoting a positive image of cycling in the city.

José Pineda
José Pineda

Kyle Jack working with the city is sufficient. But last time I waited on CM it was a random cyclist holding traffic, not the police. Also what makes you think I am okay with speeding. Assuming I do speed what makes you think I'd fight against my ticket. My problem with CM thinking it is above the law is it creates riders that think they are above the law and suddenly I have to deal with that stigma as a traffic law abiding cyclist.

José Pineda
José Pineda

Lisa Cummings don't get bent out of shape because I have crude humor. I am okay with CM being unorganized. I am not okay with ignoring traffic law. If my crudeness suddenly made it okay with you for cyclist to break the law then perhaps it is you that needs to do some thinking. Jeff Hunter I ride my bike as much as I can. I hate being in cars.

Kyle Jack
Kyle Jack

Think of Critical Mass like a march for a cause, except on bikes. It is not a parade, and does not need a permit.

Kyle Jack
Kyle Jack

Why would a permit legitimize it for you personally, Jose? The City is working with us to allow us our free expression. We give them our route and they manage the traffic at the major intersections. They don't require anyone to pull a permit.

Kyle Jack
Kyle Jack

Jose, around 90% of motorists violate the speed limit. Just about all of us are choosing when and where to skirt the rules.

Kyle Jack
Kyle Jack

Yes, we've done some of that. We talk about all kinds of bike issues, and many of us participated in lobbying the City to pass Safe Passing.

Kyle Jack
Kyle Jack

If you'll read the piece, you'll see that we have given our route to the police, and the police are managing the traffic at the major intersections to ensure cars can get through.

Kyle Jack
Kyle Jack

Cars and bikes have equal rights to the roads, Jason. Highways are reserved for cars. Everywhere else cyclists have a right to ride.

Kyle Jack
Kyle Jack

We get hit when we're not riding in Critical Mass, not when we are. Critical Mass creates a safe space for riding.

Randy McCoy
Randy McCoy

I love bicycles. I hate Critical Mass.

Fred Soto
Fred Soto

Maybe a meeting before the ride starts, may help. Organizers can go over common sense road rules

Karina Rodriguez
Karina Rodriguez

Took me almost an hour to leave the Kroger parking lot and get to I 10 , I just went to get some eggs and I just wanted to get home and put my kids to sleep....it was a frustrating and it seemed very chaotic and some bikers were down right disrespectful.

Lisa Cummings
Lisa Cummings

I was fully behind Jose's POV until the funeral caravan part, which is incredibly selfish and obnoxious. That stupid sentiment made me reconsider my own impatience toward the bike riders -- do y'all's thing, I won't honk or threaten you quietly under my breath (anymore). However, if y'all could hitch one of those "16 minutes to Beltway 8" type of traffic signs at the back of your mass, that would be helpful. "23 minutes to turn right onto W. Alabama" would really diffuse some of the biker-driver tensions by letting the drivers figure out alternate routes...

Jeff Hunter
Jeff Hunter

Permit would indicate a formal ride organization...it is not or ever will be...this is a mild protest, as classified by the city. With all that frustration on the roadway, you should definitely ride a bike more.

José Pineda
José Pineda

You can have everything you described with a parade permit. Attention to bikes, blocking traffic for it etc. People are annoyed by gay pride taking up westheimer and pride is definitely a form of protest and politcal attention grabbing. So I dont understand the opposition to having your poltical statment abide by the law. BTW, the train pisses me off, as does the car traffic. In fact funeral caravans piss me off too. Why the rush, the person is dead, they will still be dead and ready for burial if you stop at the light.

KHorn
KHorn

@Jeff Hunter Your logic is a faulty as your sense of responsibility.  Should we consider a large group of motocyclists as one vehicle?  Bikers will tell you they have the same problems with inattentive car drivers, so obviously 30 or 40 of them riding together get to blow past lights, because hey safety for them, screw everyone else.  Every one of your posts shows you to be completly self centered and unconcerned with how your chosen hobby affects others.  As a pedestrian who has already been hit twice by your band of drunken thugs, I really hope you only ride bicycles, becuase the thought of you behind the wheel of a car is terrifying.

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