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As Mass Bike Riding Movement Grows In Houston, So Does Criticism

Every month, hundreds of bicyclists gather in downtown Houston to go on a mass bike ride. It's part of a worldwide movement called "Critical Mass." But as the number of riders continues to rise here in Houston, many begin to question the movement's safety and legality.



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If you’ve ever wondered what it sounds like when more than 1,000 bicyclists ride through the streets of Houston, this is it.

This more than 18-minute long video posted on YouTube last month shows a seemingly endless stream of bicycle riders crossing a feeder road in the Greater Heights.

Except for the occasional driver who uses a gap to slip through, cars have no choice but to wait until the entire group has passed.

It’s part of Critical Mass, a monthly movement meant to create awareness for bikes on the road.

“Here in Houston we like to push that it’s more of a celebration of just people coming together who love riding their bicycle and, just having fun. And I think it still kind of has those same roots of awareness.”

That’s Hector Garcia, one of the many ride-facilitators of the leaderless group.

Critical Mass was founded in San Francisco in 1992 and now takes place in more than 300 cities around the world, usually on the last Friday of every month. Garcia says Houston’s movement started about 10 years ago and has since grown to more than 1,000 riders.

But with growth also comes problems. Motorists often complain about the group’s disregard for traffic laws and the conduct of its sometimes rowdy or drunk riders.

Kevin Bernier is one driver who found himself almost late for a commitment one Friday night after getting stuck behind a Critical Mass crossing not just once, but twice.  

“Of course I tried, you know, leaning on my horn and they just, like, would laugh at me. And then, you know, at one point I looked over to the guy next to me, and some drunk guy had fallen into his car and so he angrily climbed out of his car and got into a confrontation with the bikers and stuff.”

Scott Moran has been riding Critical Mass for years. He says he loves participating because of the community and that the group’s positives outweigh its negatives.

There are a few bad seeds. Sometimes you have people out there that, they might be drinking, or just kind of get away from their normal self, and they kind of step outside of their own skin and kind of feel like there’s no rules ‘cause this is a chaotic environment and everything goes.”

But he says incidents where cyclists treat drivers disrespectfully or bang on their cars are isolated and don’t represent the whole group.

Still, Garcia says that as Critical Mass grows, changes need to be made. To start, some have developed a campaign that distributes pamphlets that promote good riding etiquette. There’s also been talk about communicating with city government and the police.

Kese Smith with the Houston Police Department has indicated that there is a possibility of police cooperation for the rides.

The next time Critical Mass meets on the evening of Friday, July 26, at Market Square Park downtown.