A Double-Edged Sword is Handy but Tough to Wield Dave Snyder, SFBC Executive Director

Critical Mass this Bike Summer will be its usual wonderful self, and present its usual challenges and opportunities to the SFBC.

The opportunity is the media attention focused on cycling, which the SFBC takes full advantage of, always disavowing any connection to Critical Mass. The challenge is that our disavowals fall on deaf ears, and in the minds of most of the public, the SFBC equals bike advocacy equals Critical Mass.

The SFBC does not endorse Critical Mass, because we cannot control and take responsibility for its excesses, though we're not opposed to civil disobedience in principle. The SFBC does not condemn the ride, either. Besides the publicity opportunities, Mass is almost always a powerful inspiration to its participants who experience our streets as they ought to be for a change. We encourage our members to participate because we want them to experience this inspiration and because we hope they will lend a cooperative spirit that does not invite antagonism. Our membership survey revealed a similar split opinion, with about a third of our members saying we should support the ride more, a third disagreeing with that sentiment, and a third "undecided." It will take a while before people understand the separation between Critical Mass and the SFBC. In the meantime, the more important question is the effect Critical Mass has on our movement.

Critical Mass is best when it serves as a flagrant reminder that bicycling is fun. Bystanders can't help but notice how much fun it is to ride through the city's neighborhoods, able to appreciate its beauty and its inhabitants, safely surrounded by fellow bicyclists as giddy as you are. However, twice in the last two days, somebody has relayed to me the same complaint: "I support your cause. I want more bike lanes. But I was stuck in Critical Mass, waiting patiently, when riders came up to me and swore at me and threatened me just for being there. It only takes one jerk like that to set my perception of the ride even though another 100 people were friendly and smiling."

Critical Mass is a double-edged sword. Let's wield it well. Happy Bike Summer!