It could be called anarchy on a bicycle, given the group’s complete disregard for public health and safety — all during a Friday night ride through the Gaslamp District.
There are plenty of responsible cycling enthusiasts in the San Diego County area. Too bad the group Critical Mass is not among them.
Take a few Fridays ago. The group of rolling demonstrators, mostly 20-somethings, used their massive size to shield their identities and create chaos for anyone in their path. This sea of bicycles ebbed and flowed through San Diego’s streets racking up countless traffic violations. They rode against traffic, cut off drivers, blew through red lights, intimidated vehicle traffic by pounding on windows and harassed pedestrians.
General lawlessness, en masse.
Critical Mass is a loosely affiliated group of more than 750 bicycle riders who take over San Diego streets to embark on a 20-mile group bike ride on the last Friday of every month. Their unpublished routes are clearly designed to gain the attention of as many people as possible, often going through the downtown area, near the airport and around the Balboa Park areas.
They methodically co-mingle their bikes with caught-off-guard motorists who try to avoid the chaos — to no avail, with little to no maneuverability.
The bikes are tantamount to an amoeba swallowing its prey.
They spew an ideological invincibility for being un-safe — giving a bad name and impression for those dedicated to safe streets, shared road ways and helping our city to be recognized as a world-class bicycle friendly town.
Their name — Critical Mass — refers to the number of riders needed to literally dominate the streets to prove their point.
One past Friday, most rode in the dark without lights, tempting fate or at least the motorist next to them. It doesn’t take a traffic safety expert to label this moving version of Occupy San Diego downright dangerous.
No permits. No courtesy. Just chaos.
Their message (according to their Facebook page): Make San Diego more bike-friendly. Good luck with that.
According to published reports, people have been hurt. Riders are responsible for an array of vehicle collisions, and pedestrians caught in the fray have made trips to the hospital.
Also caught in the melee — the San Diego taxpayer and at least 24 of our city’s finest. In August, one rider threw a screw driver at a San Diego Police officer’s head. That officer was seriously injured.
You know you’re witnessing a dangerous, non-permitted event when San Diego Police are forced to pull 10 bicycle officers from the downtown area at the last minute and as many as 14 additional officers who normally patrol Hillcrest, Balboa Park, and Mission Hills.
These officers are being pulled away from their normal duties, protecting our neighborhood, to babysit unruly cyclists and ensure their safety.
Their orders — follow, monitor and observe. Do not escort.
At an estimated $85 an hour for each officer and $108 an hour per sergeant, this group is easily costing taxpayers $2,063 an hour just in emergency services, not to mention the cost and concerns of delayed motorists. Some intersections are delayed by 20 minutes or more because of the riders.
The total cost to the taxpayer for a three-hour ride can easily travel north of $6,000.
Piqued your interest?
According to a May 2012 report by the Office of Independent Budget Analyst, which provides objective and unbiased analysis to the public regarding financial and policy impacts to the city of San Diego, we’re short 158 sworn officers and have been so since 2010. We won’t be able to back-fill the shortage with new recruits until well after 2014.
What’s the point? We need all of our sworn officers where they’re supposed to be — in our neighborhood ensuring our collective safety.
Lastly, we must support a level playing field with groups that pay their way. The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade does it. Balboa Park’s Earth Day does it. So does the America’s Finest City Half Marathon, Tri-Rock triathlon series and police-sponsored Crime stoppers Light Up the Night Race. They all pay fees for traffic control and public safety. Some of these events last about as long as a Critical Mass bike ride.
But while sanctioned events spend $25,000 in permit fees to protect public health and safety of participants, Critical Mass does not contribute one dime to the city coffers. Instead, taxpayers — you and I — have to foot the bill.
Perhaps, most important: The only difference between Critical Mass and a motorcycle gang is a motor. And like unlawful motorcycle gangs, these riders continue to be a major threat to public health and safety.
Anthony Wagner is a board member of the city of San Diego Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices. The views and opinions expressed are solely his.
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