Thursday, June 3, 2010

Critical mass

[photos courtesy iamtonyang's flickr]

As I look back at all the wonderful Tweed Ride photos that continue to materialize (and probably also as a reaction to my recent bicycle-car accident), I've been reflecting a bit on the practice of cycling in the city.  One thing that made the Tweed Ride so enjoyable, aside from the fun fashions and the vintage bicycles and the beautiful day, was that it felt so safe.

When there are enough cyclists, you begin to feel you have just as much right to the road, just as much presence, as the motorists.

When there are enough cyclists, you feel safe taking the lane and making a left turn just like a car would, without getting yelled at.

When there are enough cyclists, it's tough for cars to ignore the logic of passing at an appropriate distance, for everyone's safety.

When there are enough cyclists, even gigantic, scary buses can't help but notice you are there.

It would be really nice
if there were enough bikes
 every day of the year.
From somervillain's flickr.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I've thought about that a lot as well - we had about 150 people on the tweed ride here, and at points we were stretched out for like 3 blocks going down the road. Portland is hitting that breaking point where there are enough people riding bikes that there are starting to regularly be groups of them on main routes, and the pressure for more bike-related infrastructure is really coming to a head, as it's starting to prove obvious that what we have isn't sufficient for the people who are using it.

That being said, in the absence of said infrastructure, it does feel much nicer to ride in a group of people, as it is then much harder for folks in cars to feel they can intimidate you, and of course you have to be asleep not to notice a group of 50 cyclists, or even 20 (which is now happening pretty regularly here in some places).

Here's to the re-rise of the bicycle in our cities!

somervillain said...

yep, no doubt it's true-- having a critical mass of cyclists on the road means that it's impossible for drivers not to notice us. i wonder if that's one (of the many) reasons why places like amsterdam and copenhagen are so safe for cycling-- there's too many cyclists to ignore. drivers are just accustomed to sharing the roads with them.

taking the observation one step further, i've noticed that on group rides, cars are not only more tolerant of cyclists, they seem to enjoy them! on the group rides i've done so far (even ones with as little as 5-10 cyclists), motorists waved at us and gave us nods of approval. granted, some of that was probably a response to the novelty of encountering a swarm of cyclists on cool vintage bikes, but still...

margonaute said...

I think the timing also makes a huge difference for the group rides, though. When it's a holiday or some weekend evening, drivers can be like, "oh, neat! Bikes!" But if it were rush hour on a weekday (like, when cyclists might actually be on the road going to work), drivers are much more likely to be pissed at having to share. But you're right that if this were a more common thing, they'd eventually just be forced to get used to it, and I suppose bicycles would just fade into the general haze of rush hour annoyances, along with red lights and stopped traffic.

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