Sometimes a movement toward positive change can get ugly and downright mean. In San Diego, Critical Mass came about as “unorganized chaos to spread awareness” of alternative transportation. It was about riding a bike to reduce traffic and pollution. Not a bad idea, right? Sadly, it quickly devolved into a way to piss off motorists on the last Friday of every month.
Riders take to the streets like the four-hundred horsemen of the apocalypse, raining a shit-storm of judgment and dickish behavior on anyone who dares drive a car. Some riders have been seen pouring beers on cars, screaming at drivers to “ride a fucking bike” and generally earning the nickname “critical massholes.” Worse, aggravated drivers have been known to hit riders with their cars and their fists in retaliation.
Penelope Robles, a secretary's assistant from National City, felt it was time for a change. She'd heard about Courteous Mass, the Emily Post version of Critical Mass that promotes the same message, only with a hearty dollop of kindness (search for “Courteous Mass & Critical Manners San Diego” on Facebook). Riders go at a slower pace, stop at red lights, obey all laws and are encouraged to smile, wave and say “Thank you” to motorists. She decided to bring it here and give people an alternative to the alternative.
“I think Critical Mass is creating negative awareness,” Robles says. “If you're yelling f-you, people are gonna want to run you over. “ Last Friday night, 145 polite cyclists showed up to take part in Courteous Mass. Everyone reportedly smiled, said their pleases and thank yous and rode along like happy kids on their way to get milkshakes.
Even with their mom approved behavior, though, they weren't always met with kindness. Robles herself was yelled at by a cop who wanted the group to stay single file. She intends to write a strongly worded letter to the police department. That is, after she thanks them for their service. Robles says a few other riders got earfuls from angry motorists, and there were some defectors who thought the pace was too slow.
Even so, Robles plans to make Courteous Mass a monthly event. It may not be world peace, but it's a step.