Critical Mass Prague: April 19th, 2007

Having found out about the Critical Mass concept and an upcoming ride in Prague from one of my students, I decided that I absolutely had to participate. The ride was set for April 19th at 6:00 PM, fortunately time I had free, and even more fortunately my last class of the day finished at 4:45 with the student who had informed me of the event (bike-rider).

After stopping at the home of my student, Petr, to pick up his son, Honza, we went to the pub for a quick beer to kill time before the ride. Beer before a ride you may ask? Well, this is the Czech Republic. Beer goes before and after just about everything here, and sometimes during.

Exiting the metro at the station Jiřiho z Poděbrad, I noticed some bicyclists getting off and heading up the stairs and started getting excited. Rays of sun were shining down on us when I came up to ground level where everyone was to meet and was amazed to see so many cyclists. There had to be over 600, probably more. Searching the crowd in vain, I saw no unicyclists. I was getting some funny looks and nice comments, overall positive energy about a unicyclist joining the fun. Most people were interested because they hadn’t seen a unicycle like mine before, only 20" wheels. My unicycle is a 26" with a Hookworm tire and 125mm cranks.

At about 6:20 people started off from the square where we met, down Italská street and, in a rather round-about way, to our first destination, Vaclavské Naměsti (Wenceslas Square). I mounted strongly and began on my way, but quickly had to dismount as all of the riders bottlenecked and I couldn’t go so slowly (as I can’t idle yet). Fortunately, things spread out a bit and with a big smile on my face, the bicycle pack and I started to progress towards the city center.

Many pedestrians stood looking puzzled, wondering when they were going to be able to make it across the road, while some brave folks quickly weaved in and out of the spinning wheels. The vehicular traffic seemed to have given into to the idea that they weren’t going anywhere for a little while. I saw only one car attempt to drive into the demonstration, which was quickly blocked off by some menacing-looking bike messengers. The car was going nowhere, despite giving a nudge to the riders with their front bumper, which attracted an even bigger swarm of angry dudes. As my Czech isn’t very good, I didn’t stand around to yell.

There was another jam of bikers while we waited for the police escorts to let us onto Vaclavské Naměsti, which forced me to dismount, but when it was time I was back on again without any hesitation. We all circled the square (as geometrically impossible as it sounds), attracting large crowds, and after headed off towards the river.

The next part was one of the most enjoyable for me as we entered the short freeway portion that would take us across the river. By freeway, I mean four lanes total, divided by center barriers and with no pedestrian access. All of the cars on the opposite side were stopped to let us onto the road and most people were out of their cars, just standing and watching, smoking cigarettes, thinking about buying some wheels/a wheel of their own. The bicyclists were well behaved and friendly, just waving and smiling at the people they were inconveniencing. Most of the drivers I saw smiled at me and waved back, as did the police. One policewoman even asked me if someone had stolen my other wheel, but I declined to file a report.

We crossed the river and made it to the metro stop, Vltavská, which was of particular interest to me as I teach there twice a week and have never approached it any way other than underground. It really gives you a whole new perspective when you traverse your city by your own power, above ground. Past Vltavská, we were on our last leg and eventually headed through the gates of Vystaviště, Prague’s Art Nouveau-styled exhibition grounds. Congratulations were given all around and immediately the line started forming for beer.

When it was all said and done, I felt great to have participated in such an event and to have kept up. My initial worry was that I wouldn’t be able to go fast enough, but actually the problem was more not being able to go slow enough at some parts. I didn’t miss any mount attempts and didn’t knock over scores of bikers in an untimely UPD as I had feared, actually I didn’t UPD at all. Sadly, I didn’t see any other unicyclists, but on the other hand there was something nice about being the only unicyclist out of nearly a thousand cyclists. I feel strongly that Critical Mass is a worthy cause and I will certainly continue to participate.

A few pictures can be found here: http://picasaweb.google.com/jmando/CriticalMass07

[rant] Why do these people think that purposely massing together to block roads is going to do anything to help cyclists?!

All it can possibly do is annoy other road users and fuel the anti-cycling feelings. DON’T ENCOURAGE THE IDIOTS. [/rant]

Rob

I completely disagree. It’s to raise awareness of the numbers of cyclists present in a city and to show that they have rights to the roads as well. Most non-participators I saw seemed to be amused by the demonstration. Also, it was highly publicized beforehand, including the exact route, so just about anyone not wanting to be caught in it could have chosen an alternate route…or joined in!

They have rights to the road, but not rights to block the road. You mention cyclists actively working to block the progression of cars, and being menacing. Pissing off motorists is no way to get them to be more careful or respectful of cyclists.

The cars were blocked by menacing bikers, that’s true, but that was where police weren’t doing it themselves and only because it is an organized event where the riders have the legal right to the road for the half hour or so it takes for them to pass through. What if a car pulled into the middle of a marathon? Same thing? They still have the right to the road then and shouldn’t be blocked by angry runners?

The reason I’m so against Critical Mass is not their aims (of course I’d like better/safer roads for cyclists) but their methods. The majority of motorists think of cyclists as a nuisance who shouldn’t be on the road. Purposely getting together to block roads (and being actively aggressive to other road users, as you point out with “quickly blocked off by some menacing-looking bike messengers”) can’t do anything except annoying people and increasing their hatred of cyclists. You say people could take another route, but while driving round the (probably longer or less convenient and crowded with all the other people avoiding the protest) detour they will be thinking “F***ing cyclists blocking the road again”.

As for raising “awareness” of cyclists, people already are aware of cyclists, and a lot of them hate us.

I just think it’s a very childish, right-on-student-political-activist way of going about things. I may be wrong, but that’s how I see it.

This isn’t a personal attack, by the way. I know other people who think CM is a good idea and I don’t hate them for it - but I don’t agree with them on that matter.

Rob

The attitude of the car driver trying to pull into a pack of cyclists is exactly what critical mass is about. As a minority road user (I don’t own a car, I ride a uni and a motorcycle and run) I support ideas to increase the visibility of other road users.

Critical mass is a tricky one, Rob is right it does anger some drivers, hopefully it makes some think and hopefully thats more than it annoys.

The unfortunate truth is that a (seemingly large) minority of car drivers think they have a right to a car & subsequently a right to the road. Any one else can get stuffed as far as they are concerned. When those others are squishy like cyclists (pedal uni & motor) and pedestrians its an attitude that requires action to correct. Yes it ought to be the job of hte police, but they seem to have been replaced by speed cameras…

Hmm its friday, its been a long week I’m ranting

in short we ought not to need critical mass, unfortunately it appears we do in several countries

Edit
Sorry rob it seems you got an edit in whilst I was typing I think I broadly agree with your 2nd edit, but I’m not sure there is currently a better way :frowning:

Great writeup, it sounds similar to the critical mass that I participated in. Unfortunatly mine was smaller though. I find alot of people tend to view it negatively because they think that we are trying to inconvenience people and are trying to be jerks about it. I just recently watched the documentary on critical mass in San Fransisco and they probably describe it the best (I won’t try here).

Unfortunatly I doubt I will ever be able to go to another critical mass due to my work schedule but I am going to an event this Sunday to watch a documentary that just came out about the critical mass movement in Vancouver. One of the interesting things is that Critical Masses are completely different in every city. For instance from what I saw in the San Fransisco one they blocked off all lanes. In Ottawa we always leave one lane if possible for public transit and emergency vehicles.

Rob - I understand your arguments and partially agree with some, but I still tend to disagree on the whole. One of the main reasons I disagree, speaking only from my experience with Prague not other Critical Mass demonstrations, is that this city is full of active people with absolutely no chance to cycle to and from work. This city is horrendous for cyclists. Cycle paths are nearly non-existent and traffic is heavy. By cycling people are truly taking their lives into their own hands. When the city has to deal with a demonstration of this sort and is made aware of just how many people are active cyclists, it may provide the necessary encouragement to construct safe routes for non-drivers throughout the city. Many of my students, men and women between 25-60, are very active people on the weekends; cycling, rollerblading, hiking, etc. who often express the desire to be able to ride to work, but that they really can’t find a feasible route to take them there.

anam - Thanks for the support. I think you raise some very good issues. The car is certainly a shell that allows for a motorist to push a lot further than they would otherwise. Case in point, the car from my story that nudged the bikers with his bumper. The man actually hit the gas and started to run into the bikers that were in his way, albeit he stopped very quickly when he saw they weren’t moving. Would this guy have tried to push anybody over if he weren’t in his car? I find that highly unlikely.

Historicalgoof - i didn’t realise in your case that the road was closed for the event, with that knowledge I agree the motorist was evidently in the wrong. Around here the roads aren’t closed for critical mass, but they’re not as large as the one you attended. They do their best to block the roads by riding across the width of the lane. I think these arguments between unicyclists are so rife because critical mass operates in very different ways in different cities/countries.

I am not a big fan of Critical Mass, either, but the complaints about it are fairly ridiculous. In San Francisco there are hundreds of thousands of cars that drive in every day; they are the ones causing traffic jams, not 2000 bikes. A driver might be delayed 60 seconds by Critical Mass, and then sit in traffic on the bridge for 30 minutes, and somehow it’s Critical Mass that’s the problem.

hmm, i wonder if my hometown has a critical mass, i might try googling it!

sounds like a fun event to go in.

But they expect to be stuck in traffic - what they will remember is being held up for that minute by the cyclists.

Perhaps they are more sensible about it in some countries but, as kington says, in the UK they do seem to go out of their way to cause as much disruption as possible - that’s my reason for disagreeing with them. The point is that lots of people going about their normal business on cycles doesn’t cause disruption, but when they group together for the purpose of winding people up, whatever the message behind it it’s not a good thing (I’ve heard of them actually riding more slowly than normal so as to block the road for as long as possible, but that’s only hearsay).

Even as an avid cyclist it annoys me (when I’m driving a car) to get stuck behind cyclists riding two-abreast as if they have a right to do so. Non-cycling Joe Public is surely just encouraged to hate cyclists even more by being held up even for a few minutes by a CM demo. I think it makes the participants feel good about themselves but actually promotes negative attitudes to cycling on the whole.

Anyway, that’s my view of it - don’t want to turn this into a rantathon. It sounds like your (HistoricalGoof) event was a bit more well-behaved than the ones I’ve heard about. If so I apologise for the rant, but my views on the whole still stand.

Rob

EDIT: As a member of both cycling clubs and classic car clubs I often find myself stuck in the middle - cyclists are supposed to hate motorists and vice versa. I’m going to sound like a hippy now, but “Can’t we just all get along?”

Uh, they do have a right to do so. And often it’s the safest way of using the road.

It is legal to ride two-abreast in the UK, but it is surely courteous to give way to faster-moving traffic if there is not room to pass safely. When riding in traffic where I’m as fast as the cars I will often ride in the middle of the lane near junctions or other hazards to discourage people trying to force past, and I think that’s a reasonable practice, but I was talking about faster-moving roads. I’m pretty sure nobody has the right to hold up other traffic unnecessarily, do they? Even tractors have to pull over to let people pass.

I’m going to try not to reply to this thread any more - it’s making me sound like a right miserable sod (perhaps I am). It’s just one of the things that winds me up :o

Rob

The right to use the roads is quite well-established; what is new is the strange concept that car drivers have the right to go as fast as they want to, all the time. Yes, it is courteous to let people pass when it is safe to do so, but car drivers are terrible judges of when it is safe to pass a bike/unicycle on the road.

I have only been in one critical mass and my opinion of it was a very positive experience. I’m sure it was smaller than most of the other critical masses that people talked about. We had about 30 bikes and my friend was on a unicycle. By the end of the ride we had about 10 or 15 more people join. The group stayed close enough together that we did not have to block traffic to prevent cars from getting between the bikes. We were also traveling at a decent speed with my friend on the unicycle having a hard time keeping up. At the end of the ride we went to memorial park and had a big potluck lunch and a game of Ultimate Frisbee:D

I don’t remember seeing a single angry face in the people we may have inconvenienced, and got a lot of smiles and waves.:slight_smile:

Hey all, just a little update. I was looking for new cyclepaths in Prague, doing my best with the Czech language and ended up on a little report on the ride I took part in recently. Well, there was a video on the page and guess who made an appearance? That’s right! I was pretty excited, even though it’s only two shots and a combined total of 2 seconds, maybe 3. Anyways, here’s the link for those who are interested. The video is the first one on the page, about halfway down, under the heading PRAHA and a block of text. I appear about 45 seconds in.

http://www.nakole.cz/vemeste/clanek.php3?id=232