Category Archives: San Francisco

San Francisco’s Critical Mass

I’ve only done it once, but it was a blast!. San Francisco’s Critical Mass begins at 5:30 on Justin Herman Plaza. There are hundreds of bikers dressed both formally and informally, and is escorted by the police for courtesy and security.

The environment is quite festive, I remember bikes covered with flowers, bubble making machines mounted on cars, music, bikes that look like a harley davidson, etc. Plus people kindly stop cars and make sure the mass is dense and gap less.

The ride itself is nice and slow, allowing for people of all ages to enjoy it while also paying a visit to SF’s interesting spots. Additionally, the hills and the dusk light makes for great pictures, not to mention visiting the seaside and the Palace of Fine Arts at night.

sfCriticalMass

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Healing wounds

During the 50s and the 60s things where wrong, really wrong, when it comes to transportation diversity. The car filled the gap of the American dream: a big house on the suburbs and a work downtown required a way of transportation suitable for very low density in an individualistic society. Long and wide roads were built, and enormous wounds in the form of highways divided entire cities.

Most people here in Seattle love Vancouver, Canada. People mention how beautiful and nice it feels and here is one key thing: it isn’t crossed by a highway in the way most American cities are. Having a highway-divided city has one potential advantage: fast commuting. However, every single day its capacity is exceeded and urban highways are full and slow at peak hour and when there is a big event. Moreover, the properties around it loose value since nobody wants to live next to a source of pollution and noise. Not to mention the fact that, if you have a business and you aren’t a big brand, nobody driving on a highway is going to see you and take a detour to stop by.

Luckily, though, the US has been healing these wounds. A clear example is San Francisco’s embarcadero area. Previously a noisy double decker freeway, the 1989 earthquake helped transform it into a beautiful open space that attracts a lot of tourists and locals.

embarcadero

A similar thing could be said about Boston’s Big Dig which, despite having some issues, managed to substitute a high density highway with a more pleasant open space and nature

bigDig

And it isn’t only roads, Chicago’s Millennium Park turned a bunch of railroads into one of the most popular spots in the city. And Barcelona’s railways were rebuild underground to improved the whole city.

And now, Seattle, what are you waiting for?.

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The Critical Mass

Let me start by the beginning. The grounds appeared in China as a consequence of a characteristic cyclist behavior. It consists in a cyclist waiting in an intersection until a group of bikers is created. Once they have the sufficient power and visibility, they can cross it and force the cars to stop. By the way, the name of “critical mass” is taken from this film.

Then, it jumped up into the U.S. and specifically to San Francisco as the first “official” Critical Mass. Here, the participants had to fight against the lack of understanding of local authorities and dramatic actions were even taken. The documentary We are traffic! shows those initial moments. As you can see, the atmosphere was committed with all the participants wanting to spend a good time while at the same time they defended claims such as a better world, pollution reduction, practicing more sport, reducing street accidents and so on.

Today it is celebrated in more than 300 cities worldwide once a month. The specific date varies between places and it is a good idea to contact with local bikers to join it. So remember, if you see suddenly cyclists on the street, let’s say dozens, hundreds or even thousands, you would be probably seeing the Critical Mass. It could also be possible that it did not still exist where you live. If this is the case, why don’t you start it?.