Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Critical Massholes versus Soccer Mom

(Image from Bike Radar.)

Anyone who has been following the cycling scene will be aware of the recent altercation in San Francisco between Critical Mass riders and a minivan driver from Redwood City. Neither side has admitted fault in the incident.

Some links to bring readers up to speed:

Minivan's rude introduction to Critical Smash

Woman claims SF Critical Mass terrorized her, kids

Two views of mass confusion {Critical Mass}

Accounts of the alleged events differ sharply between the two parties. The gist of the melee is this:

Suburban mom from Redwood City, Susan Ferrando, brings her brood to San Francisco Japan Town for dinner. Driving out, she runs into a horde of Critical Mass riders (their routes are unplanned and never announced beforehand) on their traditional end-of-the-month ride. Trapped along with other drivers behind the riders (with a bunch of screaming brats in the back?), she decided to, in her words, "inch her way through the crowd of cyclists." Whilst doing so, she, in her words again, inadvertently "tapped one of the wheels of a cyclist."

Critical Mass (CM) cyclists accuse the minivan driver of losing her patience, gunning the engine, and weaving through the pack of cyclists, driving like a mad woman. Eventually, she knocked a cyclist over and ran over his bike. Then she tried to escape. The pack chased the hit-and-run driver down, and surrounded her vehicle until the police arrived. During this time, an unknown cyclist swung his bike through the rear window, shattering it.

According to, Susan Ferrando, the minivan driver, she didn't know what Critical Mass was and was simply trying to find a way out of the traffic gridlock caused by the event. She said that she tried to drive carefully through the pack of cyclists when she tapped a rider's wheel. Then, all hell broke loose, with cyclists pounding her vehicle from all sides. Fearing for the safety of her children, she tried to drive away but was chased down, cornered and surrounded by the angry mob, kicking and pummeling the vehicle. One cyclist then shattered her rear window with his bike. Repair estimates for the minivan amount to US$5300.

Much has been written about this event. You can spend an entire day searching and reading opinions about it. I am not going to take sides on this, but I have frequently voiced my distaste toward Critical Mass (CM) in San Francisco. Breaking laws (blowing through red lights and blocking intersections), scaring pedestrians (CM riders do not stop for pedestrians, even when the light is in the latter's favor), causing 2-hour traffic jams every last Friday of the month, vandalizing vehicles, and getting into street fights with automobile drivers, are counter-productive to bicycle advocacy.

At the same time, if Susan Ferrando could feel a "tap" against the wheel of a cyclist while cocooned in 4270 lbs (1941 kg) of steel, one wonders if she is being less than forthcoming in this matter.

It doesn't help that the polarized parties possess a distorted view of each other:

         How Critical Mass riders view automobile drivers.

         How automobile drivers view Critical Mass riders

I am, however, going to post one — just one — comment which I think is the best, and succinctly wraps up the entire issue:

My car was smashed up by critical mass back in the 90s while I was stopped at a traffic light. Hundreds of riders went by, kicking and swinging tire pumps, smashing my headlights and making it impossible to drive the car away. Critical Mass is full of wild-eyed "Stick it to the Man" crazies who want to smash the state, starting with anyone who isn't just as Pee Cee as them. They need a good dose of realty, starting with a jack-boot in the jimmy.

However, I've read statements by witnesses on various cyclist blogs already. The driver knew she knew she hit a rider, she didn't bother to check if she injured the rider, tried to leave the scene. Furthermore, it sounds like she sees having kids in the car as some kind of pass to special treatment and privilege.

Self important, overprivileged suburban mommies and leftist pedal-power fascists are both things we can do without. Let's help them work it out in the San Francisco way by having a peace gathering in Golden Gate Park where they can hold hands, sing kum-by-ya and drink deeply from a washtub full of Guyana grape kool-aid.
         Posted By: Coyoteblue | April 04 2007 at 08:55 AM

So, there you have it. Crazy Critical Mass riders who think that, just because they ride bicycles, traffic laws do not apply to them, and soccer moms who think that, just because they have a brood of kids, the world owes them special privileges.

All the while, Ferrando was screaming, "There are children in this car! There are children in this car!"

If Susan Ferrando has a bunch of kids in her car, why on earth was she trying to drive through a pack of cyclists? Why can't Susan Ferrando wait like everyone else? Other drivers were probably just as pissed off about the delay as Susan Ferrando was, if not more — after all, Susan Ferrando neither lives in San Francisco nor commutes there — but they waited and did not step on the gas to "weave through" the pack of cyclists. What makes Susan Ferrando so special? Just because she was playing Mother Hen to five children?

The "Think of the children!" routine has been done to death by Mrs. Broflovski in South Park, Mrs. Ferrando. American Express membership brings you special privileges, not your five children. Ask any driver — with their sense of entitlement, soccer moms are some of the most dangerous drivers on the road.

At the same time, you have these crazy Critical Mass riders who have the most unbelievable excuses why they can be scofflaws. E.g. blowing stop signs and red lights. The argument goes, it takes more physical effort for a bicycle to regain forward momentum compared to an automobile (where all one has to do is depress the accelerator pedal). But, isn't that what you are out for?  Exercise?

Like a match made in heaven, both parties deserve each other.

Further reading

30 August 2007: Appeals court upholds Critical Mass cyclist's vandalism conviction.

16 February 2010: Federal Judge rules bike groups like Critical Mass must get permits.

26 February 2010: San Francisco police chief plans to crackdown on Critical Mass.

2 March 2010: SFPD to end Criticam Mass? (Don't miss the comments either.)

No comments: