The Revolution Will Not be Internally Combusted

By staking claim to public space, Critical Mass rides are a powerful means of supporting First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly, according to this piece from Yes! Magazine.

Critical Mass bicyclists are supporting [the First Amendment] by saying that it is their only required permit. The rides are peaceable assembly. Their free expression comes in an intriguing form-the act of traveling by bicycle up streets and down avenues where defenders of the internal combustion engine have built a thick book of pre-emptive, car-friendly laws.

Critical Mass is leaderless and has no set route for its parades. To the cops it is like a mirage. Something in the sinu-ous mystery of the rides makes them gravitate to their power. The uninstructed bicyclists slowly circle out from Union Square and might suddenly take a hard left up 16th Street in an act like the flock-mind of birds. They just go.

Critical Mass represents freedom in public space, where ads, cell phones, surveillance, and traffic jams have melded together to make sections of Manhattan the outdoor equivalent of a privatized (First Amendment-free) super mall. These bikers don't wear logos; they are not en route to a purchase. The bicyclists are opening up public space as citizens see them wheeling by, and their trips through the city are ushered forward by a rolling citizens' cheer. Critical Mass bikers make it realistic that there is more in life than consumption, and people who see them feel relieved.

Full Story: On Critical Mass and the First Amendment

Comments

Comments

Taser Reverend Billy

It seems odd that Billy and Critical Mass want more freedom for bicyclists at the expense of anyone else. I don't believe the First Amendment extends any more freedoms for those in cars than on bikes. Automobile traffic is highly regulated. Drivers need licenses and car insurance. Traffic rules must be obeyed and I can't just drive with caravan of cars to block traffic to make some oddball point.

"Critical Mass represents freedom in public space, where ads, cell phones, surveillance, and traffic jams have melded together to make sections of Manhattan the outdoor equivalent of a privatized (First Amendment-free) super mall. These bikers don’t wear logos; they are not en route to a purchase. The bicyclists are opening up public space as citizens see them wheeling by, and their trips through the city are ushered forward by a rolling citizens’ cheer. Critical Mass bikers make it realistic that there is more in life than consumption, and people who see them feel relieved."

Guys like Billy scream freedom while trying to stamp out anyone else's freedom. He doesn't people to buy things and sees himself as some kind of hero with a fake white collar desperating seeking attention. He should ditch the superiority complex and consider taking the subway or moving to a rural area where he can bike and scream all he wants.

Bicyclists And Everyone Else

"It seems odd that Billy and Critical Mass want more freedom for bicyclists at the expense of anyone else."

You talk as if there were two different species of people, bicyclists and everyone else. In reality, Manhattan is so dense that it is easy to get around by bicycle, so most of the people in the "everyone else" category could become bicyclists - and if they did, we would all be better off and they themselves would have more freedom.

Charles Siegel

There are modes of travel

Bicyclists ARE different as are pedestrians, motorcyclists, car and truck drivers, mass transit; as well as, people on pogo sticks. Speed and size of all of these modes of travel demand different types of infrastructure and other planning considerations. In reality, Billy had more of a political agenda on two wheels than any consideration about freedom to spend your money how and where you see fit or the freedom to lawfully use a motorized vehicle on a public street. Having a guy riding a bike wearing just a flag and a G-string may get attention but it also gets some negative feedback from people like me who tend dismiss those who act like fools but want serious consideration in a public forum.

More cyclists in Manhattan would make sense but I'm not sure it would translate into more freedom. Beijing used to have more bikes but it didn't aid political or economic freedoms. There would; however, be more freedom in NYC from car pollution and more freedom spatially. I think you intend to say mobility is a freedom but I say purposely impeding others' freedom of movement isn't the way to win friends.

Mixed Feelings About CM

I have mixed feelings about Critical Mass.

I think civil disobedience is sometimes justified and effective, even if it inconveniences other people. The sit-ins in the south in the 1950s made everyone think about the injustice of segregation, even though they impeded some people's freedom to order their lunch.

But I think Critical Mass is not very effective because it does not have the moral seriousness of these sit-ins. In my limited experience, many riders are more interested in acting out than in anything else. At any rate, most people think of CM as us versus them and think of the riders as crazy bicyclists.

CM is not getting out their message that our excessive auto dependency is destructive as effectively as the civil rights movement got out its message that segregation is unjust.

So I think you are right when you talk about "those who act like fools but want serious consideration in a public forum."

(I won't comment on Rev. Billy, since I have never seen him. Satire can be an effective way of making a point, but I don't know if it is in this case.)

Charles Siegel

Regulation isn't the same as enforcement.

One only need visit mybikelane.com or hear horor stories from thousands of cyclists and their brushes
with death at the hands of motorists. Cars can have their space but it's normally at the expense of everyone else and
when space isn't given to motorists they take it, and often by force.

Times Square is the ultimate example. You have perhaps 120 ft. of road space and 30 ft. of sidewalk space, meanwhile
the sidewalks are well beyond capacity and carrying thousands more people per hour than the all of that public space dedicated to cars.

Billy's collar is on too tight

I checked out mybikelane.com. It doesn't surprise me since New York City drivers double park out of habit. Adding more examples of illegal parking is pointless. A better source is to check out http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/health/risks.htm for a balanced look at the dangers of/to bikes.

Double parking and illegally blocking bike lanes is wrong but so is Critical Mass which does the same thing by intentionally blocking streets. The "Reverend" wants to reduce consumerism and misread the First Amendment to mean freedom of assembly anywhere, anytime. That's not the case especially in a densely populated NYC. Billy didn't improve safety for bicyclists nor he make much of point of it in this article.

I agree Times Square isn't the best place to drive a car so perhaps it should be a car-free zone with some exceptions such emergency vehicles and some delivery trucks.

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