I originally intended to write about the destruction wreaked at the last Critical Mass bicycling rally in San Francisco last month. As an urban bicyclist who has lived and worked in San Francisco, I understand the anger and frustration on both sides.
I have actually never biked in downtown San Francisco, but it’s a yukky place to get around by any mode of locomotion during weekdays. Automobile traffic is in near-gridlock, while pedestrians have to dodge agressive panhandlers, ostracized smokers, and red-light running cars. If I were on a bicycle and had to deal with all that, plus the many double-parked cars, junk-strewn traffic shoulders, and multitasking drivers and pedestrians, I’d be a little crazy, too.
On the other hand, there are downtown bicyclists who are real jerks. They’ll run red lights, and jump across the sidewalk and cut off pedestrians. When I worked in San Francisco, they really frightened and annoyed drivers heading back to the residential districts by grabbing on to their passenger-side mirrors and hitching a tow. And in any case, slashing tires, snatching keys out of a car ignition, and smashing windows, as has happened at these Critical Mass rallies, is a terribly shoddy way to advocate for more respect for bicyclists.
But this has all been said now. The real news is about a different kind of bicyclist rally in San Francisco, called Critical Manners. If Critical Mass is the in-your-face activists, Critical Manners is the nerds who want to set a good example. Like Critical Mass, they meet once a month for a group bike ride within San Francisco. Unlike Critical Mass, though, they do stop for traffic lights, and stop signs, and use hand signals to indicate turns. They don’t block traffic, drive angrily, or damage cars. I like them, and if anyone’s going to make the case for better, safer urban bicycling, I think Critical Manners is the better group.