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Gossips Hit a Nerve

We’re enduring another Critical Mass tempest in a teapot here in San Francisco. Unlike New Yorkers, who have doggedly faced down intense police and legal harassment for years now, but are still routinely arrested and have their bikes stolen month after month, we in SF have had an easy time of it. In fact, as I already posted in my last entry, the March 30 ride was fantastic, leaving from the foot of Market around 6:20 or so, twisting and turning brilliantly through downtown, whipping around City Hall and out through the Mission, all the way to the Excelsior via San Jose Ave., back through the Bayshore/Industrial district, north on 3rd Street after an intelligent regrouping at Jerrold and 3rd… by then the ride was down to about 800 or so. I left a bit later, about 8:15, as we passed 16th at 3rd, where I turned west on 16th. At that point it was still an amazing euphoric ride, full of good cheer, and nary a bad incident reported.

As I heard it from a friend who kept going, the ride went towards the ballpark, then through downtown again, into North Beach, through the Broadway Tunnel (ugh) west through Pacific Heights, before turning south again near Alta Plaza. No more than several dozen riders were left by then, and some of them apparently got into an altercation with a woman in her SUV. According to Kate McCarthy of the Bike Coalition, via my pal Joel who got her account:

“She says the typical aggressive push through the crowd by the driver was all over and done with AND THEN, after she drove a block farther, she hit a cyclist and that’s when the crowd went crazy and the lousy p’lice got involved. She heard the cop tell the injured cyclist that the only way they’d even take a report is if the guy was taking a ride in an ambulance.”

So this story gets twisted by gossip columnists for the SF Chronicle, long-time Critical Mass baiters and haters Matier and Ross. Two worse excuses for writers would be hard to find. Their bread and butter is inflaming politicians and the public over the trivial and the stupid. In this case, the woman’s car was trashed after she’d hit someone and tried to escape, but M&R wrote a piece making her sound like an innocent passerby. Even in their piece, quoting the police, she supposedly ‘tapped’ a bicycle… how does a 3,000 lb. SUV “tap” a bicycle? It was laughable when the piece was published this morning, and it’s worse now.

It seems to have set off a mini-storm of vitriol and abuse by the 101st Fighting Keyboardists of the Bay Area, sitting at their computers waiting for someone to blame for their miserable lives. Of course! Must be those goddamn bicyclists! They’re out there having a good time, free of the debt ball and chain that keeps these morons attached to their cars, jobs, and boring lives. They have friends, they’re changing life, they’re engaged in making something real and tangible and worthy…

I got a letter from someone I don’t know today, somehow expecting me to be responsible for this event. I reprint my exchange below.

Hello,

I am new to San Francisco, and an avid bike rider. I have enjoyed Ccritical Mass’ rides and activities thoroughly in other cities around the country. However, after reading the San Francisco Chronicle’s article today on the outrageous and VIOLENT behavior of some of the riders acting in your name, there is no way on this great earth I would ever join the SF rides or organization.

Acting in anger, as the folks did who attacked a minivan carrying an unsuspecting family with small children, is not in keeping with the principles of non-violent resistance practiced by Critical Mass. The violence spewed by not just a few, but MANY bike-riders involved in this event is nothing less than disgusting and ridiculous, and I and others I know in this city will have nothing to do with it.

Your organization should be deeply ashamed. While I understand that Critical Mass has no official accountability due to the decentralized structure, someone on behalf of your organization owes this family, and the entire city of SF, a public apology. If you can’t agree on who should sign this apology, one idea is to circulate the apology, petition-style to get signatures from as many of your riders as possible who disagree with the horrendous actions of those acting in your name. If it were my organization (I am the Director of a statewide nonprofit based here in SF), I would also be inclined to pay for the damages incurred by this family on their vehicle in this horrific attack.

My jaw is still dropping in shock. I have rarely heard of anything more obnoxious and stupid in all my life as what happened on this fateful evening. How terrified and afraid for their lives those poor children must have been! To say nothing of the significant financial cost that this family must now bear, for no other reason than being in the wrong place at YOUR time.

I hope someone from your organization will act accordingly and responsibly to make amends in this situation. It is the only right thing to do.

Please DO NOT suscribe me to your list, I have no interest in you whatsoever.

Sincerely,
K.J.A.

Mr. A,

I don’t know you and you don’t know me. Why you addressed this silly letter to me is not clear. Why do you believe a gossip column in the Chronicle has given you an accurate picture of events? I wasn’t there, having peeled off around 8:15 at 16th and 3rd, after a really remarkable, peaceful, lovely, long, mellifluous ride… How many bicyclists passed how many cars and pedestrians and bus riders without any bad vibes during the evening, preceding this apparent confrontation? Tens of thousands at least… I’m sorry for the woman and her children, but this is a wildly biased account of what happened, which neither you nor I have any real idea about…

show me any public event where there is always perfect behavior by all the participants… I can guarantee one thing: no bicyclists have ever attacked a car without serious provocation… that the gossip columnists (they are NOT news reporters, please note) tell a sob story about some poor woman and her children who were brutally attacked is a laughably inaccurate account. That just doesn’ square with any experience I’ve had here, or NYC, or Minneapolis, or Milan, or Rome, or Mexico City, or Berkeley, or anywhere I’ve ridden in Critical Mass.

All that said, if you’re so worked up and you have a statewide nonprofit (hungry for publicity I’m sure) why don’t YOU organize a petition, commending Matier and Ross for their objective reporting, lamenting the Bad Bicyclists, and raise the money? As you note, there is no one ELSE who is responsible, and since you’re so concerned that SOMEONE take that responsibility, it seems appropriate that it be YOU.

–Chris Carlsson

Anyway, looks like we’ll have the mayor grandstanding for a while now. At least the Bike Coalition folks did a fine job of emphasizing the incredible bias in the reporting, the missing facts about the driver hitting the cyclist, and even more importantly, stressing the overall rotten conditions for bicycling in San Francisco that prevail as an everyday reality. Another friend who I mentioned the above letter exchange with suggested that he’d be willing to make a donation to the repair when AAA starts helping covering burial costs for the cyclists who have been killed by DUI drivers in the past few years. The bizarre assumption that still prevails is that bicyclists are hazardous scofflaws (but child-like in their choice of transport) that are causing traffic problems, rather than the everyday absurdity of wall-to-wall cars being the overwhelmingly biggest problem facing urban life. The follow-up article in Thursday’s SFGate is a bit less skewed, but after fomenting this shitstorm, they’ve got some ‘pologizin’ to do… how many more cyclists are going to be hassled and even hurt in the next few days by the (male and female) macho jackasses who got their pea-brain worldviews validated by this fabricated story?

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14 Responses to “Gossips Hit a Nerve”

  1. 1
    hibiscus:

    700 comments and counting. several people appeared to have packed a lunch AND dinner for the occasion. at the point i stopped reading, some of the early anti-CM people had just switched to neutral based on the nightly KTVU video witnesses against the driver.

    M&R need to retract or at least say the evidence no longer supports their rant.

  2. 2
    yer host:

    This is being circulated by some bicycle advocates, and came to me by email a little while ago…

    We think this piece is part of the Chronicle

  3. 3
    hibiscus:

    yes, that sounds more like reality. less like a hitchcock movie. ~the bikes~. “aaiee! they came flying in through the sunroof! they pecked at the walls! they watched me from the cargo rack! aaaaaaiieeeee!”

  4. 4
    Darren:

    We had a pro-police columnist here in Toronto try to convince his readers that we rode CM with urine filled water bottles. Apparently we sprayed cars with it. I invited him out to the next CM and he actually came. He borrowed his mother’s bicycle and rode with us. The columnist was the first person to get a ticket that night, no lights.

  5. 5
    bikesound:

    My account of this incident: This was towards the end of the ride (after splitting off and dissipating). We had about 30 people by the time we were leaving Japantown when I heard a noise, which I could even hear over the music, and I turned my head to see a minivan on my left just having run over a bike and saw the rider on the ground. Riders nearby yelled at the driver to stop and the minivan just sped away. Many people in the ride chased after the van and surrounded it after catching up with it at the red light. The driver had her hand pressed on the horn the entire time. The cops got there pretty much right away as they were following right behind us. I rode away with the rest of the ride but some people stayed behind to deal with the cops. I didn’t see the rear window get smashed but I can say that I only saw the couple sitting in the front of the minivan as the rest of the windows were heavily tinted and we could not see that there was anyone else in the vehicle.

    If anyone cares, you can see that the windows were tinted in this video of the awful KRON4 news report:
    http://tinyurl.com/27v4pf

  6. 6
    misfithero:

    C’mon. You mis-characterize Matier and Ross as gossip columnists by name-calling, and all you can say in defense of the ride is that it was a beautiful, meandering ride in which there were a lot of riders who did not have a confrontation?

    You know this is not the only incident of violence or confrontation from the monthly mob of bikers. You might be a nice guy that would never hurt a fly, but you know that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of riders in Critical Mass that can’t wait for any car driver to make even the slightest move against them so that they can riot against him or her, smug in their self-righteousness of bike vs. car. Everytime I have had the unfortunate incident of being caught up in this Friday Night Social Outing For Bike Dudes I have seen at least a small confrontation between bike mob and car driver.

    Look I am glad you have fun on your rides every Friday, but I don’t like having to ever be caught in it so you can have fun through my City streets breaking laws. I bet 90% of you riders can’t believe you can get away with something fun like this every month and glad you can hide behind some “bike vs. car” environment message. I’d love to take my bicycle out for a joy ride too, ignoring lights, laws, and pedestrians. Hell, I’d like to take my car out for that ride too.

    Critical Mass is useless as a protest – no one even knows what your message is. And if your blog is any indication, your message is “Critical Mass is a lovely ride through San Francisco… what fun lovely twists and turns… look at all my pretty picures.”

    Bah. Watch this deteriorate over the next few months. Bikers will get more righteous and smug and come more prepared for confrontation… drivers now know what you are capable of and might even band together themselves… someone else is going to get hurt, I guarantee it. Does not matter who is right or wrong. You have 3,000 pounds against 1 bike. Easy to see who gets hurt there. You have hundreds of self-righteous bikers looking for a fight against one or two auto drivers. Easy to see who gets hurt there.

    Everybody.

    Admit what Critical Mass really is… a social outing and a fun bike ride through the City, and not any kind of protest or statement. If it is a protest, then publish your fucking route so people can avoid you guys and won’t have a reason to provoke you.

    Oh but wait… that’s exactly what you guys want people to do right?

  7. 7
    francesca:

    The funniest part of Mr. A’s letter:

    “My jaw is still dropping in shock. I have rarely heard of anything more obnoxious and stupid in all my life as what happened on this fateful evening.[[well what bubble have you been living in mr. A???]] How terrified and afraid for their lives those poor children must have been! To say nothing of the significant financial cost that this family must now bear, for no other reason than being in the wrong place at YOUR time.”

    If Mr. A is really concerned about egregious and horrible acts done to people who are just “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, perhaps he should spend more time thinking about kids getting injured or killed by cars (or guns, or denied proper education or nutrition…) which clearly overwhelms the conflicts occuring in critical mass… and “the significant financial costs”…?? Of getting your car messed up? Man. Even putting aside Mr. A’s hopeless desire for there to be an entity or person responsible for critical mass, his argument lacks any central point or demand or greivance, and reveals only that he has some personal beef with the event or with the ‘types of people’ he holds responsible that he cannot articulate sensibly. It’s just funny how people justify their vitriole, you know?

    Like with misfithero above, his vitriole results in the conflation of a series of arguments that don’t really have much to do with each other. misfithero argues (1) there are people at critical mass who look for conflict with cars, (2) critical mass breaks the law, (3) critical mass is just ‘for fun’ and not a protest, (4) critical mass is obnoxious for drivers. All are sort of subsumed under (4), which gives the post its driving force, and which is the thing he really seems to want changed. But outside of that (to which there are many good responses) the post loses all continuity and analytical reason.

    Dad, chris, you imply that what’s beneath the irrationality of, for instance, anti-bike enthusiasts, is a sort of subconscious jealousy and resentment towards people who look like they’re enjoying themselves. I don’t know if i can agree with that yet, but I do agree that the reason these people are voicing these opinions has little to do with the ‘humanist’ arguments they make. The veneer of moral indignancy is soooooo thin and easy to scratch.

    It is frusturating when you’d certainly *like* to respond to arguments from your ‘opposition’ but they just don’t ever make any sense…

  8. 8
    francesca:

    whoops, apologies for assuming misfithero’s gender.

  9. 9
    John:

    Chris said “Another friend who I mentioned the above letter exchange with suggested that he’d be willing to make a donation to the repair when AAA starts helping covering burial costs for the cyclists who have been killed by DUI drivers in the past few years.”

    OH yeah, that’s an “appropriate response” to someone who was NOT drunk and just trying to legally drive on streets paid for by AUTOMOBILE taxes. If the problem in your mind is DUI drivers, then fight for legislation to outlaw alcohol. THAT would be a more appropriate response than to endorse terrorizing motorists. You guys are not doing cycling a favor.

  10. 10
    Dennis:

    To the folks who are are anti-Critical Mass: Your ignorance really shows!

  11. 11
    greg:

    What I learned on Friday is that no matter how you slice it, the police more or less protect the status quo– how things are right now, while critical mass pushes things into kind of a ‘how things might be’ or ‘let’s forget about how things are for a moment’ sort of space.

    That basically means that critical mass is outside of consideration for basic protection by police.

    When I saw the lady take off after hitting the kid on the bike, I thought it would be the right thing to do to catch up with her and at least get her plate #. I wasn’t expecting a member of the agro front to take his hostility out on her rear window. I was, however, expecting the cops to treat a suspect like a suspect and a witness like a witness.

    Instead, the witness (me) was treated like the criminal and the suspect (the van driver) became the victim (while the real victim and the faceless vandal took off)! The only way I can process this and understand it is by assuming that driving, reckless or not, comports with the way things are, where riding in a big group of cyclists obviously does not.

    While it’s true that the woman was driving recklessly and endangering the lives of everyone around her, we need to understand, as riders in critical mass, that the casus belli does indeed fall on our shoulders. The origination of her panic was seeing the out-of-ordinary: a regiment of bike riders where the legion of cars usually is.

    Most folks respond to the unknown with fear. We shold expect drivers (and peds, and ourselves) to do stupid things in such circumstances; we are basically dumb animals when we are stressed.

    I actually think Gruesome is right when he says we need to police ourselves. We certainly can’t rely on the shield of the professional police.

  12. 12
    Scott Klesert:

    I have questions/comments regarding the incident withe the minivan. If the woman driving the minivan actually hit and ran over the bike in question (this according to riders’ statements), then how was he able to ride away afterward? There was no damage either to the bike or the rider? And why didn’t he file charges and ask for the arrest of the woman rather than ride away? I’ve been hit three time while riding bikes, and in none of those instances was I able to ride away immediately afterward, either due to damage to the bike or aches/pains to my body. You and others state that the minivan ran into the rider and attempted to drive away afterward. This is according to several “witnesses”. So, who are these witnesses? They are never fully identified. My bet, based on the fuzzy logic you and others are employing, is that those witnesses are the other riders, among the ones who surrounded the minivan and beat on the car until one got carried away and smashed the rear window. Finally, using the argument that it’s not such a bad thing that happened because of all the cyclists who are injured and killed on the roads of America is just plain stupid. How young were you when you first heard the old adage that two wrongs do not make a right? Apparently not young enough.

  13. 13
    hibiscus:

    many layers of incivility make
    an entirely unappetizing cake.

    blame who you want, there’s no law
    that says you must see what others saw,
    in fact the truth is the reverse;

    and witnesses hush by convention,
    and memories break through extension,
    and cops’ reports are often worse.

    critical mass’s vigilante socializing
    can attract the unattractive both
    inside and outside the ride.
    but really, every good party
    can end on a sour note,
    and luckily, not every annoyed NIMBY
    is operating heavy equipment, or
    more parties would go bad than do.

    to people who suggest more regulation
    in response to incidents of violence
    between revelers and the over-rushed,
    don’t waste time playing chaperone.
    no simple civil nuisance ordinance
    can protect you from warmer weather.

  14. 14
    Captain J. Rab:

    It’s unfortuante the new right-ward conservative slant. The new instinct seems to be typical of the whole country for which I used to think SF stood against. People get real upset by the excercise of freedom and will stand up for “law and order” like the little cop inside them and need to squash this freedom at all costs. I think there are many class issues going on. I can’t afford a car and my bike is my main transportation. Cars are way more deadly and motorists need to be aware they don’t kill somebody by accident or on purpose. There are way to many hit and runs in this city that never get reported or solved, with motorists fleeing the consequences and leaving the bicyclist or ped for dead so their insurance rates don’t go up or maybe they’re drunk or maybe it’s road rage (motorist on motorist in this case).
    Nothing is said of the horrible parenting decision of the woman plowing through a pack of bikes that if there were only 30 or so, would’ve taken no time at all. By provoking this response, this woman is a bad driver and should not be aloud to put her children at risk. Revoke her licence for the safety of us all.

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