Opinion

At the Intersection of Critical Mass and Critical Shortage

At the Intersection of Critical Mass and Critical Shortage

 

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 Their unpublished routes are clearly designed to gain the attention of as many people as possible, often going through the downtown area, near the airport and around the Balboa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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Anthony Wagner

Anthony Wagner
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28 comments
Andrew Camacho
Andrew Camacho subscriber

and pedestrians. So I really hope that anyone reading this article has a more open mind than Mr. Wagner. and understand that like any event, especially one that is not centrally organized, it's definitely going to have it's problems, but it is evolving, there are now volunteers who ride along and help guide and politely inform riders to be mindful, the guidance of the SDPD has been amazing, this event has the potential to be a great one if organized well.

Andy
Andy

and pedestrians. So I really hope that anyone reading this article has a more open mind than Mr. Wagner. and understand that like any event, especially one that is not centrally organized, it's definitely going to have it's problems, but it is evolving, there are now volunteers who ride along and help guide and politely inform riders to be mindful, the guidance of the SDPD has been amazing, this event has the potential to be a great one if organized well.

Bill Davidson
Bill Davidson subscriber

Quite frankly, motorists hold their own critical mass on the freeways every day at rush hour. You can't move.

billdsd
billdsd

Quite frankly, motorists hold their own critical mass on the freeways every day at rush hour. You can't move.

Bill Davidson
Bill Davidson subscriber

@Jim Jones: I see you're still spreading your disinformation about who pays for the roads. Bicyclists pay for the roads too. The last time we argued about this, you still had yet to show a single city our county road budget showing that the roads are exclusively paid for by motorists, even though you continued to insist that it was true. Your made up assumptions are not the same as real facts.

billdsd
billdsd

@Jim Jones: I see you're still spreading your disinformation about who pays for the roads. Bicyclists pay for the roads too. The last time we argued about this, you still had yet to show a single city our county road budget showing that the roads are exclusively paid for by motorists, even though you continued to insist that it was true. Your made up assumptions are not the same as real facts.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

License and tax bikes to pay for bike improvements, because the last thing we need here is another welfare program for rich bikers.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

License and tax bikes to pay for bike improvements, because the last thing we need here is another welfare program for rich bikers.

Dagny Salas
Dagny Salas memberadministrator

--Dagny Salas, web editor

Omar Passons
Omar Passons subscribermember

t people who are just going about their lives than to be diverted to observe a bunch of people who are fortunate enough to have the time and resources to ride anywhere in the city but choose to do so in a disruptive manner. I'd rather pay to close down a street or work to reallocate needed resources to make bicycling safer for all of us than to have to pay for the few who choose this vehicle for expression.

omarpassons
omarpassons

t people who are just going about their lives than to be diverted to observe a bunch of people who are fortunate enough to have the time and resources to ride anywhere in the city but choose to do so in a disruptive manner. I'd rather pay to close down a street or work to reallocate needed resources to make bicycling safer for all of us than to have to pay for the few who choose this vehicle for expression.

john quismondo
john quismondo subscriber

If you want to protest sharing the road, be a responsible bike rider. Be courteous to everyone on the road & share lanes. This includes pedestrians, cars, trucks, & other bike riders. Ride everyday & show all out there how bikes can be part of the community. 99.99% of you are NOT a messenger that has a package due in 5 mins. regardless of how many times you've watched Quicksilver or seen that MASHsf video.

jaypee
jaypee

If you want to protest sharing the road, be a responsible bike rider. Be courteous to everyone on the road & share lanes. This includes pedestrians, cars, trucks, & other bike riders. Ride everyday & show all out there how bikes can be part of the community. 99.99% of you are NOT a messenger that has a package due in 5 mins. regardless of how many times you've watched Quicksilver or seen that MASHsf video.

Jim Dodd
Jim Dodd subscriber

And who gave the orders to the officers?

JimDodd
JimDodd

And who gave the orders to the officers?

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

Certainly bicyclist rights do not rise to the level of the civil rights advocated by the Freedom Riders, and if injuries or damage to property are occurring this both defies the nonviolent concept of civil disobedience and weakens the message. It is counterproductive. That said, if people are concerned enough to protest so consistently and substantially, it speaks to an issue inadequately addressed. Has anyone in a position of authority asked this group: What do you want and what would adequately address your concerns?

B Chris Brewster
B Chris Brewster

Certainly bicyclist rights do not rise to the level of the civil rights advocated by the Freedom Riders, and if injuries or damage to property are occurring this both defies the nonviolent concept of civil disobedience and weakens the message. It is counterproductive. That said, if people are concerned enough to protest so consistently and substantially, it speaks to an issue inadequately addressed. Has anyone in a position of authority asked this group: What do you want and what would adequately address your concerns?

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

It started as an unauthorized, informal thing, but developed structure, rules, insurance, funding, membership, etc., with the cooperation of city authorities. Its the kind of thing world class cities do.

fryefan
fryefan

It started as an unauthorized, informal thing, but developed structure, rules, insurance, funding, membership, etc., with the cooperation of city authorities. Its the kind of thing world class cities do.

Walter Chambers
Walter Chambers subscribermember

Critical Mass is a protest ride. It's not supposed to be a quiet, lawful, pleasure ride. The probem is with The City of San Diego for it's nearly non-existent bicycle infrastructure and disreard for bicyclists. Keep on protesting Critical Mass! until the City does something to correct the woeful lack and disregard of bicycle infrastructure.

WaltSDCA
WaltSDCA

Critical Mass is a protest ride. It's not supposed to be a quiet, lawful, pleasure ride. The probem is with The City of San Diego for it's nearly non-existent bicycle infrastructure and disreard for bicyclists. Keep on protesting Critical Mass! until the City does something to correct the woeful lack and disregard of bicycle infrastructure.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

You afraid of violent reprisals from the critical mass punks?

mgland
mgland

You afraid of violent reprisals from the critical mass punks?

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

The police should take video to record infractions and take photos to record faces, clothing, and bicycles of the worst offenders. This won't be enough to put names to faces, but the SDPD could compile a "most wanted" list of scofflaw bicyclists.

Derek
Derek

The police should take video to record infractions and take photos to record faces, clothing, and bicycles of the worst offenders. This won't be enough to put names to faces, but the SDPD could compile a "most wanted" list of scofflaw bicyclists.

barb graham
barb graham subscriber

Perhaps banning all group activities outdoors would solve the problem. Stay home. Watch tv. Don't go outside where the city might have to spend money on you; money they've already earmarked for other vital nonsense like a new stadium downtown.

White Deer of Mission Valley
White Deer of Mission Valley

Perhaps banning all group activities outdoors would solve the problem. Stay home. Watch tv. Don't go outside where the city might have to spend money on you; money they've already earmarked for other vital nonsense like a new stadium downtown.