This past Friday evening I participated in an event called Critical Mass, with the purpose to celebrate cycling and assert cyclists' right to the road. In Boston, bicyclists hold a ride on a last Friday of every month, starting at Copley Square in the Back Bay. There are no organizers. I heard about the event from some fellow Brandeisians through Facebook. I'd never done any real urban riding before, so naturally I felt anxious as I sat with my Schwinn on the Commuter Rail, waiting to arrive in Boston. Since I work at WalkBoston Fridays, I rode the bike over to Old City Hall and locked it up outside the office. Making it from North Station without incident felt like quite an accomplishment!
After work when it came time to ride over to Copley, I realized how disoriented I felt bicycling rather than walking around the city. Suddenly I had to deal with a bunch of one-way streets and I lacked the time to think about my direction at each intersection. When I arrived at Copley Square there were already a number of cyclists, many with single-gear or fixie bikes, others with modified road cycles, and a whole bunch of people in costume for Halloween. I felt silly with my mountain bike. I ran into a fellow I met at the HONK!Fest and we chatted for a bit. Again, no one was in charge, so we just had to wait until someone started riding and then follow.
With over 100 cyclists, we took over the streets of downtown Boston. It was simply amazing and brought a huge grin to my face. Instead of being pushed to the margins, we owned the road. Collective action gave us the right to ride in freedom. Instead of thinking about the car behind me or the intersection ahead, I could actually take in the sights and lights of the city. And the pavement--so smooth! The automobiles have it so good. We blew through the red lights, with people physically blocking the cars along the way. It was brilliant, and sooo satisfying to stick it to the faceless, polluting cars. Still, the whole thing was rather self-indulgent. We made it nearly impossible for pedestrians to cross the streets, and that brought on a little guilt. While it's not right to act as the automobile drivers do and selfishly take up the entire street, I don't think it really hurts anyone to do it for an hour or two once a month. I'll be sure to participate again.