Confession: before friday, I had never joined a Critical Mass. I liked the idea, but I had always been busy, or else it had slipped my mind. But on friday I remembered, had no excuses, and it was a lovely day to head down to the river after work. Clearly, several hundred people agreed that it was a nice afternoon for a bicycle ride.
A colleague declined to join me. “Yeah, because that’s a brilliant way to win people over and promote cycling.” A cabbie asked what point we were trying to make, as we blocked his entry to the Strand to let the mass pass. A North American gentleman out for a walk on Picadilly asked us what we thought we were doing, and raised the excellent philosophical point that no man has any right to block the traffic. A young lady on Shaftesbury Avenue asked what we thought was achieved by a thousand people riding around in a slow moving block?
What we were doing was having a nice afternoon bicycle ride in the sun. What we achieved was a nice afternoon bicycle ride in the sun. The point that we made is that it’s nice to have an afternoon bicycle ride in the sun.
If Critical Mass had to make a point at all, I would suggest that the point it should be making is that no man has any right to block the traffic. That no man has the right to hold a city hostage, to intimidate and inconvenience the people who are out trying to enjoy a summer evening in town, to make an unpleasant racket, and to destroy our heritage, environment, and health. And all day every day of the month the Motorist is blocking the traffic. Every traffic jam in London, every dead pedestrian and uncrossable road, every background drone and booming truck, every smog cloud and dirty building is caused by the Motorist, and they get away with this without comment the width and breadth of the city, all day, every day. Critical Mass is a couple of hours a month where some people stop them and say: this is you. These five minutes when we piss you off and laugh in your angry face: this is what you do every day to everybody in this city.
But Critical Mass doesn’t have a point. It’s just a nice bicycle ride on a sunny afternoon.