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Houston’s Critical Mass Faces Criticism as Participation Grows

Critical Mass is a bicycler's movement that has had a Houston presence for over a decade.  However, as the number of riders involved continues to increase, many begin to question the movement’s safety and legality.

 

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This is the sound of over a thousand cyclists passing an intersection.

These bicyclists are part of Critical Mass, a monthly movement that aims to promote biker awareness. It began in San Francisco, but now takes place in over 300 cities worldwide.

In Houston, hundreds of bikers meet at Market Square on the last Friday of every month to take part in the event.

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

“Here in Houston we like to push that it’s more of a celebration of people coming together who love riding their bicycle and, just having fun.”

However, as the movement grows, so do its problems. Criticisms include 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 job one Friday night after getting stuck behind Critical Mass not just once, but twice.  

“Of course I tried, you know, leaning on my horn and they just, like, would laugh at me…And, you know, at one point I looked over to the guy next to me, and some drunk guy had fallen into his car …..and I was also really irritated that they didn’t obey the traffic laws, which considering the message that Critical Mass is trying to convey to the public I just found that a little bit ironic.”

Yet the group has many defenders. 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.

“I think most of us out there are about promoting this community. There are a few bad seeds. Sometimes, you know, you have people out there that, they might be drinking, or, you know, just kind of get away from their normal self…Those are very isolated incidents that tend to be magnified after the fact.”

Still, Garcia says that as Critical Mass grows changes need to be made.

Recently, they’ve begun a campaign that distributes pamphlets that promote good riding etiquette, and there’s also interest in communicating with city government and the police.

Kese Smith with the Houston Police Department said HPD is interested in and welcomes discussion with Critical Mass about the possibility of police cooperation.

Yet Moran says one of the biggest obstacles to improving the group’s conduct is its lack of structure and leaderless, unplanned style.

So, until improvements can be made, he asks that drivers be aware and have patience.

“You really have to just look at the big picture—what is this all about? How does it impact me? It’s 15 minutes once a month, at most. Sometimes, if you get stuck behind them twice, maybe it’s 30 minutes. You know, enjoy your time, look at all the happy people riding past you, get some information from them and find out when the next ride is and come out next time.”

And to the reckless riders causing additional problems, Garcia says:

“Come, come have fun, don’t come drunk, don’t come high. Enjoy the ride, and if you want to go drink or do anything like that, man, please save it for after.”  

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