Critical Mass returns (at least in name)

Critical Mass returns (at least in name)

Critical Mass - Portland

Critical Mass in Portland, June 2005.
(Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)

After years of telling people that Critical Mass was dead in Portland, it seems I might have to start telling a different story. Tonight, after a nearly six-year hiatus the well-known tactic of bike-centric street activism will return — at least in name if not in form.

Here’s the ride description via the Shift Calendar:

Critical Mass: People, Planet, Peace Over Profit

Catastrophic climate change is already gripping our planet. But Portland is still clogged with cars, our rivers and rails are highways for fossil fuels, and our air continues to be poisoned by the worst polluters in the country.

We have no more chances. With our future at stake, we have no choice other than pedaling for People, Planet, and Peace over Profit.

Bring your bike.

It might seem like just another ride, but given the sense of ennui among many Portland bike activists these days, and the steady stream of bad news about our climate’s health, we wonder if tonight’s ride will spark a new era in Portland.

To my knowledge, the last time Critical Mass happened in Portland was in 2008. I thought that ride might rekindle the movement, but instead it fizzled completely. There’s even a new documentary by a Portland-based filmmaker that’s screening nationwide called Aftermass: Bicycling in a Post-Critical Mass Portland.

PDX Bike Swarm - ALEC F29 protests-2

From a PDX Bike Swarm ride in 2012.

Interestingly, it looks like volunteers with PDX Bike Swarm (FB) are behind this latest incarnation of the ride (traditionally, Critical Mass has no organized leadership beyond a few people who post the ride’s meeting time and place). When we remembered Critical Mass’s 20th anniversary in 2012, PDX Bike Swarm was alive and well following its formation during the Occupy protests.

The Swarm never did really turn into a “movement of its own” as I once suggested it might and it remains to be seen if rallying around the larger concern of climate change and using the powerful mental framework of Critical Mass will spark something with the broader community — many of whom share this worry about the environment and understand the powerful role bicycling should play in our future.

Whether this ride is just a flash in the pan or the start of something bigger, it serves as a reminder that even in Portland, which is regarded by many as a bastion of bicycling and progressive environmental policies, there are people who feel it’s time to head back into the streets.

Here are the ride details:

    Critical Mass: People, Planet, Peace Over Profit
    North Park Blocks, NW Park Ave and Couch St (at the Bronze Elephant)
    5:30pm

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