Criticized masses

When Sacramento area bicyclist advocates staged the first Critical Mass protest rides on the first Fridays in May and June, police were caught off-guard and the rides went unabated. But during the latest ride on July 6, police were ready and waiting.

Bicycles swarmed traffic lanes in both directions from McKinley Park to the California State University at Sacramento campus before having to squeeze the brakes to avoid a head-on collision with a police barricade.

Tickets were handed out and an arrest was made of one determined protester who may have welcomed the ride in the back of the police car, after hauling an 8-foot trailer complete with stage monitor speakers, creating the atmosphere of a party for the participants.

“Sacramento politics do not accept or understand Critical Mass. It is not respected or recognized here,” said one bicycle advocate who was given an $85 ticket for “impeding vehicular traffic.”

The purpose of the event is to unite local bicyclists and demonstrate their desire to improve conditions for bicycling in the central city. But it inevitably also draws those that just want to use the opportunity to yell and swerve at cars, and some feel they end up being a repellent to the cause.

Nate Berry experiences hostility from drivers every day in his job as a bike messenger, so for him, participating in Critical Mass wasn’t about confrontation, but a way to demonstrate bicycling as a superior form of transportation.

“I can understand why police have to crack down. A lot of people who participate are in it for the confrontation, but if people want it to be an enduring event, it has to be civilized,” he said.

Sergeant Daniel Hahn, spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department, agreed, saying that the police don’t have a problem with the event as long as bicyclists aren’t violating legal codes.

“We would prefer them not to create a safety hazard. If they want to send a message to the community, we don’t have a problem with that. That’s their right. It’s when they start blocking traffic and safety becomes an issue that we have to interfere,” Hahn said.

The origin of these protests remains as secretive as ever, but about 30 bicyclists turned out this time, convening in McKinley Park before heading out in support of pedal power.

Bicyclists hope that next month will be a little more constructive, with cars recognizing the bicycle as a smart alternative, instead of an obstruction.

“A city permit or plan would destroy the spirit of Critical Mass,” Berry said, “but we would like to ride without being stopped by police.”