In 1971 I bicycled across the United States from Boston to Oregon, so that gives me standing to criticize what I saw last night: About 1,000 people bicycling through Houston ignoring stop signs, and trying to stay in a constant stream so no motorists at cross streets could get past.
The monthly demonstration goes by the name “Critical Mass” in Houston and dozens of other cities. The idea is to cause massive delays, purposefully irritating motorists. The theory is that upset drivers will tell politicians to spend millions of dollars for special bike lanes.
Critical Mass began in San Francisco, where thousands of riders have been doing it for more than two decades. The event packs a political punch: Journalist Joe Eskenazi reported last month in SF Weekly that one cyclist blocking an intersection bellowed to his fellow riders, “Own it! Own it! It’s ours,” and to the trapped drivers, “You can’t have it.”
I watched the 1,000 generally polite Houston cyclists ride through an affluent neighborhood: Only one yelled out an imprecation against “the rich.” I feel the pain of bicycle advocates in a city notorious as one of America’s car-centric, but will they advance their cause by causing others’ pain?
Eskenazi described a growing alternative to Critical Mass in San Francisco, a monthly Bike Party: “Unlike Critical Mass, Bike Partiers don’t goad motorists into pointless arguments; they stop at red lights and (some) stop signs. Asked to explain what they’re up to, Bike Party organizers made oblique references to Critical Mass: ‘It’s a very positive environment, as opposed to some group rides.’ … ‘We’re very pro-bicycle as opposed to being anti-anything else.”
Critical Mass: an interesting phenomenon in itself, but one that also carries a lesson for Christians who rage against THE HEATHEN in the belief that the stick is mightier than the carrot.