On September 27th, a boisterous crowd of forty cyclists took to the streets of downtown Grand Rapids. As they rode through town they enthusiastically shouted slogans such as “no blood for oil,” “we want bike lanes,” and “consider the earth, ride a bike.” The monthly bike ride celebrates pollution-free transportation, advocates cycle awareness, and draws attention to the fact that bicycles are viable modes of transportation in the city. Critical Mass rides have been organized in Grand Rapids on the last Friday of each month for the past three years, as part of a decentralized movement in which simultaneous rides occur in over three hundred cities worldwide.
September’s ride was particularly noteworthy as it was the tenth anniversary of the first Critical Mass in San Francisco. In celebration of the ten-year anniversary, a book titled Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration was released featuring articles, essays, fliers, and photos from dozens of contributors from around the world documenting the movement’s history. Critical Mass was born out of a multiplicity of issues, among them concern for the environment, the need for bicycle lanes, the orientation of American society toward an impersonal “car culture,” and for simple celebration. Many Critical Mass participants ride bicycles as their primary mode of transportation and view the monthly mass bike rides as a way of showing that they exist and promoting driver awareness of bicycles. In major US cities such as San Francisco and Chicago, it is not unusual for Critical Mass rides to have over a thousand participants.
Realizing that mass bike rides are not going to bring about change, a coordinated effort has emerged out of the Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass to make the city’s transportation policy more inclusive of cyclists’ needs. In the summer of 2001, work began on a bicycle advocacy video designed to share cyclists’ experiences biking in the Grand Rapids area. The video features voices from dozens of cyclists explaining the need for bike lanes and bicycle friendly transportation policies. Recently local activists attended a city council meeting and spoke about the need for bike lanes in Grand Rapids. They cited the fact that many cities of comparable size have bike lanes and that bike lanes increase the number of cyclists thereby reducing traffic congestion in the city.
In a continuation of this campaign there will be a public screening of the bicycle advocacy video on Tuesday November 12th. The screening will be held at 6pm at 207 E. Fulton St. After the video screening cyclists will be attending the City Commissioners meeting to advocate for bike lanes and other cycling issues.
The next Critical Mass ride will be on October 25th at 5:30pm. Cyclists will meet at Veteran’s Park at the corner of Fulton and Sheldon in downtown Grand Rapids. In response to the increasingly likely war in Iraq this ride will be based around the theme “No Blood for Oil!,” highlighting the role oil plays in current US foreign policy and the how individual transportation decisions create demand for oil. It is also the annual Halloween ride and participants are encouraged to wear costumes. If you would like more information about Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass, you can visit http://www.mediamouse.org/cm/.