I've advocated for a long time that we don't really need Critical Mass in Minneapolis because we already have it so good. Apparently other people finally got the message, if this forum post is to be believed.
I was browsing on mplsbikelove.com today and came across a thread with someone who had just moved here and tried to go to Loring Park on the last Friday of the month to meet up with Critical Mass. Apparently some 'messenger kid' rode by while he was waiting there and said that they don't do Critical Mass anymore.
If that is true, it's pretty huge. CM has been a huge force world wide for bicycle advocacy, it's thousands strong in many cities across the US, and a source of a lot of strife and contention between motorists and cyclists everywhere. I never really liked the tactic - asserting our right to share the road by taking over the road and blocking it from all other users seemed like the wrong message to send. When we did the protest ride for the people killed in September 2008 I tried to make sure that the ride rode legally for as much of it as possible - it sent a totally different message to the people who saw it. We had handouts for everyone to have, cars would pull up alongside and talk to the cyclists, the cyclists could hand the information out to the cars. It worked really well. I've heard of similar things in other cities - Critical Manners where everyone rides following every rule of the road.
So what does it mean that Minneapolis has quit having a Critical Mass? From the comments in the thread most cyclists don't miss it, but the original poster brings up a good point that it's a good way to get out and meet people in the local scene. Is there anything that can really take the place of this ride as a way to get connected to cycling culture? I'd say yes, with mplsbikelove.com we have a pretty easy way for the cycling 'scene' to become accessible to anyone that wants to participate. Maybe that's not good enough though. I don't know.
It also makes me wonder - are we done fighting for our rightful place on the road? What is the hierarchy on the road? In many cases it seems as if the cyclist in Minneapolis is the king of the road, the motorists are so used to seeing us and so used to seeing us behaving badly that they often are yielding to us when they don't need to. I have been waved through red lights by cars who stopped at the green to let me go. It's nuts. I know there are still incidents of conflict but I find by and large I'm treated well and even beyond what is necessary by most cars on the road. Maybe that's just where and when I ride, I have a really tame commute and I'm also pretty used to riding so I don't tend to get upset or fazed when bad things do happen. It seems like we still have a long way to go, infrastructure is poorly maintained in winter and markings are often confusing or hard to see. But overall we do have it pretty nice here.
Does this mean anything to relations between bicyclists and the city? There's been several incidents in the past with the police breaking up CM rides. Have we lost a tool in our arsenal if all the cyclists are so complacent that we no longer ride CM? Are people being active politically in other ways that accomplish the same goals as CM is supposed to have? Are there ways that we can make sure that we're not missing out on things that other cities have?
I don't know, I'd say someone should start a Critical Manners ride in Minneapolis and see how it goes. Maybe I'll try that as a ride type on bikedate.mn come spring time, if I decide to try and do anything more with that.
It makes me wonder what the state of Critical Mass is in other cities? Are there any other major cities where CM is on the decline? What makes Minneapolis so different that we don't need to have Critical Mass? Why do the cyclists here would see it as a negative influence instead of a positive one?