TAKING TO THE CITY STREETS:

S-L-O-W-L-Y Cycling Proves the Point that Roads are for Bicyclists, Too

by Scott Loughrey

The last time I took part in a Critical Mass (CM) was very strange for me, and not just because I was s-l-o-w-l-y bicycling through the city wearing a shower/swimming cap associated with senior women. We, the unarmed, two-wheeled revolutionaries for a slower-paced, more sustainable lifestyle, actually defeated the combined efforts of SUV drivers, and were assisted by the Baltimore City Police Department.

Will this be the case during our next ride? Or will more violence from homicidal motorists and police beatings return to CM Charm City?

Here’s a trip diary: We start the ride around 6:10 p.m. from the usual gathering spot (Redwood and Charles streets). Our first mission is to find the CM Breakaway Group. (These are the riders who inexplicably left that spot at 5:30 p.m. in order to reach their favorite bar ASAP.) We tour up north on Charles Street, taking up all the lanes as is our norm. Traffic this evening is very light. Strangely, the cars that are being inconvenienced by us are much less vocal than usual in their displeasure. A few turns and about 15 minutes later and we reach the SideBar. (The SideBar was the host of a recent IMC fundraiser. The music was...loud.)

Then we head south and then turn right to go west on Lombard Street. It is at this point that I realize that we have been bicycling exceedingly s-l-o-w. The point of CMs is obviously to go slow. However, we are moving in such a leisurely fashion that we seem in danger of falling over.

Most curious is how relatively calm are the unhappy pedestrians and motorists being inconvenienced by us as we head west on Lombard street. The dialogue we have with them is much more civilized than in previous months. We actually have the opportunity to explain to people that they don't have to perpetually walk their treadmills, that there other ways to spend a life besides living to work and commuting to work.

One factor behind the strange, relative calm that we are experiencing was our choice (at the last CM meeting) to wear masks and funny hats. I put my swim cap on after a guy and a gal put on Halloween masks. (One mask features a freshly-severed pig's head. This is not a G-rated CM by any means.)

As we head South down to Pratt Street we are a festive group of s-l-o-w-l-y riding bicyclists, some wearing Halloween headwear and others discretely drinking beer from our moving bartender. CM tonight is a festival, not a protest. Heading east on Pratt Street we take up all the lanes, kids join us, cars honk their horns but their operators otherwise behave, pedestrians stare at us and accept our flyers. Suddenly, an ambulance is heard from the rear. Without saying a word all of the CM bicyclists move to the side of the road. We wait until it passes before continuing. At this point two Baltimore City police cars escort us! We're riding slower than molasses on Pratt Street, but thanks to the BCPD there is no violence as we tour down Baltimore's main drag. This is an amazing moment in Balto CM history, and one that will not soon be forgotten. Our message that we're entitled to access to the public roads as much as homicidal SUV drivers has actually been accepted by the Heat!

We travel to Fells Point, taking as much time as bicyclists can. We are well received on Thames Street. We conclude at the Wharf Rat and commence to working on libations. All in all, it is the best CM I've been involved with. This Critical Mass smells like—I don't know?—victory.


The writer, a Bolton Hill resident, informs us that plans are being made for a Critical Mass ride on Halloween.


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This story was published on September 18, 2003.