It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

Responses to "Critical Massholes"

Hamish Grant posted a link to my polemic about Critical Mass on the Tribe magazine message board, and five pages (thus far) of discussion has ensued, featuring a die-hard Critical Masser, a number of unbelievers and more than the recommended daily dosage of internet forum snarkiness. But as George C. Scott said when playing the title role in the movie Patton, “I love it. God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life!”

Jerrold from Accordion City-centric blog BlogTO sent this link to a video shot on Car-Free Day 2006, in which the bicycle advocacy message of the day gets flushed down the toilet by a cyclist who does just about every stupid thing you can do on a bike in traffic.

My advice to all cyclists in the city: the best way to advocate cycling as a valid form of transport in the city is to just cycle, obey traffic laws and don’t be a jackass. Contrary to the Critical Massholes, arrogantly taking over the street on a Friday at rush hour, when all people want to do is get home, will not help the cause of the bicycle. You won’t be welcomed as liberators, and you will not be showered with flowers and candy.

It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

Critical Massholes (or: Why I No Longer Ride with Critical Mass)

Before I Begin…

…let me first show you the Scorpion King, my bike, which I bought immediately after getting hired by Tucows back in 2003. She’s still running well:

Joey deVilla's bike
My bike. Yup, that’s a keytar in the rear basket.

Now let me point you to a couple of articles by Accordion City’s favourite Crazy Biker Chick, Tanya:

…and now, the meat of the article.

Critical Mass

Today is the last Friday of the month, which means that in many cities all over the world, there will be a Critical Mass bike ride. I won’t take part in it — partly because I have a prior engagement, and partly because I refuse to take part in it anymore.

The simplest way for me to describe Critical Mass is to borrow a line from this page: “a monthly bicycle ride to celebrate cycling and to assert cyclists’ right to the road”. The closest to organization that the event comes is that there is an agreement for interested cyclists to meet at some specified location and go for a bike ride en masse. No leadership or central body coordinates its activities and the route taken is determined as the ride takes place. It’s up to the participants in each of the cities to make it what it is, oftentimes as it happens. It’s rather like the BarCamp/DemoCamp “unconferences”, which shouldn’t be surprising: both arose from the culture of San Francisco.

While I wouldn’t call myself “hardcore” — I’m neither a mountain biker nor a bike courier — I could honestly self-identify as an avid urban cyclist. Ever since coming back home to Accordion City from my (unexpectedly long, but rewarding) stint at Crazy Go Nuts University, I’ve biked to work whenever possible. This city is a pretty decent one for cycling by North American standards, and there’s a certain way that travelling the roads by bike puts you in touch with the “feel” of a city that travelling by motor or even on foot can. The benefits of exercise as well as not being beholden to the Saudis and other equally unpleasant terrorist-funding oil states (as my pal Cory likes to say, “an oil state is just a failed state that happens to have oil”) are bonuses. It is my love of cycling that led me to participate in Critical Mass.

Why I No Longer Participate

It is also my love of cycling that led me to stop participating. I understand that the character of Critical Mass varies from city to city, and in this city, it seems to have degenerated. It’s turned from a celebration of cycling into a bike-driven way for hipsters and the angry underemployed to act out their unresolved rebellion issues against their parents. I think that Critical Mass Toronto does more harm to cycling than good. That’s why I no longer participate in it, and that’s why I’m speaking out.

The battle cry of Critical Mass is “We’re not blocking traffic, we are traffic!. I agree with that sentiment: bikes are vehicles with as much right to the road as cars. The problem is that Critical Mass participants here in Toronto seem to have forgotten that with rights comes responsibilities. The rally here tends to hold itself above the law, hogging as much of the road as possible, holding traffic by running red lights as a group and harassing drivers for committing the heinous crime of driving a car.

There’s a regular participant in Toronto’s Critical Mass, a bike courier type with curly brown hair and always in shades. He tends to bike ahead of the pack and seems to take great joy in either goading the police or threatening drivers. He often bikes up to cars to block their way and hurls verbal abuse at their drivers. At the last Critical Mass I attended, a guy in an SUV asked him how long they’d be blocking the intersection, to which he replied “Go fuck your mother.” In retrospect, I should’ve given in to my urge to clock him with my Kryptonite lock.

The problem is that in the sort of working anarchy that things like Critical Mass are, enthusiastic participants like him tend to define the spirit of the event, and the rest follow suit. The end result is that Critical Mass becomes less about celebrating bikes and more about acting out revenge fantasies against “The Man”.

In the meantime, the people in the cars who have been barricaded by the bike rally aren’t likely to be convinced that bikes have a ride to the road. What they see are ruffians who are flouting traffic laws and hurling abuse at them. For the most part, they’re people who are willing to share the road; they’re probably less willing to do so after encountering the two-wheeled barbarian horde.

In the last few Critical Mass rallies I attended, some bike cops escorted the ride with mixed results. Some of the crowd were a bit annoyed at the presence of the cops, and a couple of the cops shoved some of the cyclists about, follwoing it up with a “Go ahead. Hit back. I dare you.” It was two kinds of stupid coming together for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of ass-hattery.

Some People Share My Sentiment

I don’t think I’m alone in these sentiments; consider the comments by otherwise sympathetic people in this blog entry. I find myself in the weird position of agreeing with a writer from the “Moynihan Institute” web site, who wrote this about Critical Mass in a pretty good article about bike commuting:

I understand the statement they claim they are trying to make but the truth is that they come across as a bunch of douche bag hipsters living off trust funds. No one has ever taken up the cause of the cyclist as a result of these fart knockers grid locking traffic.

And Finally…

That’s the problem with Critical Mass Toronto: does it want to be about celebrating and promoting bikes as a better alternative, or about punishing people for using their cars? And really, when you boil it down, isn’t it about punishing people for not sharing your lifestyle, which is the sort of thing for which one typically blames “the conservatives”?

As long as it’s about the latter, then they’re Critical Massholes. I’ll still bike, but not with them.

Related Reading

Back in 2002, I wrote about a similar event, “Reclaim the Streets”, in an entry titled Not-So-Smart Mobs, which got a link from BoingBoing.


Today on the Tucows Blog…


25 Signs That You’ve Grown Up

Here’s a list of 25 signs that you’ve moved on from your crazy university days and into adulthood. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your lust for life has to end — my thirties represent some of the best and wildest times I’ve had (“He doesn’t need a bachelor party, his goddamn life has been a bachelor party,” said my buddy George once). But yes, I haven’t stumbled from a party at 6 a.m. in quite some time.

A quick note about item 24, “You drink at home to save money before going to a bar”: we always did that back at Crazy Go Nuts University. We called it “warming up”.


A Reminder…

Catmas is coming!

Geek Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

Meeting with ICT Toronto

Squeaky wheel, meet grease!

In response to my last article on ICT Toronto, in which I cast some serious doubt on the efficacy of the initiative to boost Accordion City’s profile as a high-tech hub, a meeting has been called. I was contacted by local techie consultant and DemoCamp regular Mark “Remarkk!” Kuznicki, who was contacted by ICT Toronto’s project manager, Alicia Bulwik. He told me that she’d proposed a meeting with prominent Accordion City tech bloggers to solicit our input on what’s really necessary to support a vibrant and world-leading tech industry cluster in Toronto. Among those invited:

The meeting will take place on Thursday, October 5th, and we’ve all agreed that in the interest of transparency to the local tech community whom we claim to represent, we’ll blog our thoughts and the ideas that we’re going to take to the meeting. I look forward to this meeting and the chance to meet with the people from ICT Toronto — and if we’re very lucky, make the first steps towards realizing their stated goal.

Over the next few days, I’ll do just that. I also want your input — if you’ve got a stake in the local tech community, whether you’re a programmer, engineer, marketer, business development type, entrepreneur or even just someone who wants to contribute to a vital sphere within this city, please let me know what you think, either via email or in the comments!

In case you’re looking for articles I’ve written about ICT Toronto, here they are.

Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

AGO Extends its Hours for the Warhol Exhibit (plus: Dress Like Warhol, Get in Free?!)

The Art Gallery of Ontario’s exhibition of the darker side of Andy Warhol’s works, Supernova: Stars, Deaths and Disasters, 1962–1964, has proven to be so popular — over 55,000 visitors have come — that they’ve decided to keep their summer hours for the duration of the exhibit. Those summer hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Wednesdays to Fridays, with Wednesday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. having free general admission.

This Saturday, September 30th, you can see the exhibit for free under one condition: you’ve got to come dressed as Andy Warhol. That evening, the gallery will be open ultra-late; the Andy Warhol exhibit will be open until 2 a.m. and the rest of the gallery will be open until 7 a.m..

There’ll be another set of extended hours on the final night of the exhibit, Saturday, October 21st, when it will be open until midnight.

The Ginger Ninja and I enjoyed the show — in addition to seeing some of Warhol’s work from that time on display, they provide “audio wands” which let you hear audio commentaries matching Warhol’s pieces, with comments by guest curator David Cronenberg, film critic Amy Taubin, artist James Rosenquist and an “I was there, maaaaaaan” bit by none other than Dennis Hopper.