Friday, February 17, 2012

Miami's Critical Mass

For two years now I've enjoyed the monthly congregation of Miami metro's bicycle community at Miami Critical Mass. Meeting on the last Friday of every month outside the Stephen P. Clark Center in downtown Miami, around 7:00 pm, Critical Mass is my near-mandatory, public expression of a deep enjoyment of the act of bicycling.
Unlike most group rides which keep a rather difficult pace and go distances in excess of 20 miles, Critical Mass is an opportunity for the entire community of cyclists to gather and take to the streets. The ride, which when I began garnered participation of around 300 people, has in recent months expanded to average over one thousand.
The meaning is quite clear, the people of the Miami metropolitan area enjoy riding bikes! The ride has no particular end other than enjoyment.

But while cyclists enjoy themselves, many car drivers find the ride a nuisance. It can be a long wait if one is caught at an intersection in which the mass passes.
What's more, any unsuspecting police officer we pass often immediately tries to stop the mass. On a few occasions that police efforts have successfully halted our progression, they demand to know who the leader is. I've heard it said, "someone's getting arrested for this!"

Critical Mass has a unique meaning to each, but most generally it's simply the opportunity for enjoyment. At a somewhat more controversial level, though CM is an active recognition that the streets of Miami belong to the people of Miami, regardless of their mode of transportation. While few would think twice about being stuck in a Miami traffic jam, something about a jam caused by bicyclist induces a tremendous range of thoughts.
Some cars honk in pleasure, happy to see such an occasion, but few others honk in impatience. There have  been incidences of drivers getting out of their car to physically threaten cyclists, and others of drivers cutting into the mass.
While personal threats are short-lived due to drivers being severely outnumbered by participants, those driving into the mass put cyclists in a very dangerous situation, particularly those inexperienced with biking in vehicular traffic.

Despite the few instances of danger, the overall experience is pleasant, perhaps even wonderful. On the rare occasion the mass gets stuck at a drawbridge the sight is beyond words.

What an occasion!

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