The first Friday of every month signals the call for cyclists and other forms of human-powered transport to meet up in Birmingham's Pigeon Park (St. Phillip's Cathedral) and go to mass, Critical Mass, that is.
Brum's Critical Mass has been gaining momentum, with the last two monthly rides seeing numbers exceed 30. Friday's ride was accompanied by a trailer sound system pumping out cycling-related grooves and, for the first time, an in-line skater rode with us.
As there are no pre-set routes or led rides on Critical Mass, riders get to negotiate a route, through the congested evening traffic, on the fly. Birmingham's city centre road system can hardly be described as welcoming to cyclists. The city's inner ring road system was designed exclusively for the car, where cyclists come way below motorists in the highway's impacted food chain.
Some of us come to mass to reclaim the roads, where we're often forced to ride dangerously in the gutter by petroleum guzzling road users. Nothing beats the exhilaration of riding safely together like a shoal of fish, through the busy roads and three-lane roundabouts, whilst making a statement about cycling culture. Critical Mass succeeds in turning the highway's tables over for once in favour of cyclists and motorists are made to respect cycle culture.
We aren't stopping traffic; We are traffic!
On Friday's ride, just after turning left onto Suffolk Street Queensway, a cab driver attempted to undercut the mass by accelerating up a bus stop lane and dangerously collided with a cyclist. Having just witnessed a cab driver trying to run him over, the mass responded by briefly stopping to mutually help the shocked cyclist, and then continued on its way down to Holloway Circus.
Last night's mass also saw, for the first time, attempts by the police to intervene in the ride. At Holloway Circus, a WPC leaned out of a police van and ordered us to cycle in single file. As the last ride's theme was a celebration of cyclist Daniel Cadden's victory in the courts to ride in the middle of the road, and not be forced to ride in the gutter, we were a little confused, to say the least.
Whilst not willing to create an obstruction, riders continued on their way around the roundabout. One cyclist paused briefly to respond to her claims that we were creating an obstruction by pointing out that, rather than creating an obstruction, we were moving and we were traffic. Then, in plain view of hers, another motorist shunted into the leg of the cyclist talking to the WPC. "You just witnessed a car trying to run me over. What are you going to do about that?!" asked the cyclist, whilst the WPC's eyes glazed over.
At that point, the sounds of KRS-One's 'Sound of da Police' could be heard on the trailer sound system punching through the rain.
The mass continued up Smallbrook Queensway and then on to St. Martin's Circus Queensway, with the cops lagging far behind, whilst we weaved in and out of the congested traffic. Just before the crossroads of Moor Street Queensway, a set of different cops finally caught up with us with sirens and lights flashing. The mass spontaneously opened up to let the van though, thinking they were on a 999 call. But they pulled over a cyclist and booked them for riding without lights. This all seemed a little trivial considering the rider was accompanied by nearly thirty others with lights. (So remember, people, make sure you all get lit up for the next ride!)
"Can I talk to someone, the leader?" demanded PC 1275.
"We haven't got any leaders; it's a cycle ride," came the reply.
"It's some kind of protest, you can't do this!" he shouted.
"With all due respect, it's just a cycle ride; it's not a protest."
PC Leaver (1275) then claimed it was an arrestable offense to photograph the police and even threatened to arrest the light-less cyclist for assault if they tried to photograph him, but we managed to get a photo of his 'better side' in the end.
After hearing sirens on Moor St. Queensway and allowing the emergency vehicles to pass, one of those vehicles blocked the carriageway on James Watt Queensway. Cyclists attempting to cross the road at the pedestrian crossing found themselves penned in by the two occupants of the police car at one end of the pedestrian island and another police vehicle at the entrance to the crossing. At least three police vehicles were now engaged in attempting to disrupt the Critical Mass ride.
On the island, the police questioned riders as to who their leader was, but when this question was met with the response that we don't ride under any single individual's authority, a "friendly conversation" was had. The outcome of this conversation was that the officers recommended that we should not occupy both lanes when we are riding upon dual carriageway, and we agreed to head to the boozer since we were all getting cold and we'd been out for about an hour and a half. The police did comment on the environmentally sound nature of our mode of transport at this point. As soon as these officers had left the scene, however, another pair arrived and called over one of the group, the same individual who'd had the incident with the taxi driver earlier. A complaint had been made against him by the taxi driver and the police took his details and he is now waiting to see what will come of this complaint. Let's hope that the taxi driver's attempted murder of a cyclist will be followed up by the authorities, if any further action is taken against the cyclist.
The next Birmingham Critical Mass is on 6th April. Meet up from 5:30pm to ride for 6pm at St.Philip's Cathedral, aka Pigeon Park.
Sign yourselves up to the Birmingham Critical Mass mailing list to get more info on the next mass and cycling related tings. There's talk of a summer event including films, food and cycling culture.
Come to Mass!