The highs and highs of Leeds critical mass

Tagged as: critical_mass cycling environmentalism
Neighbourhoods: leeds millenium_square

Leeds critical mass has had a revival.  For the past three months double figures have been turning out to cycle the center of town and show card drivers how it could be done.

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Often critical mass has been a place where cyclists block cars which leads to confrontations.  Tensions after a day at work are frayed and things can get unpleasant.  It is hard to get the message across about what a critical mass is about when the motorists are so angry.  Three months ago the critical mass was re-started to remember the cyclist Kate Furneaux (see Indymedia article for info). 

What the mass should be about is alerting motorists to the existence of cyclist and showing them that there is another way.  To achieve this the mass need not annoy drivers but alert them to an alternative.  This means that the mass has not been blocking cars and going slowly but has been part of the rush-hour traffic: stuck at lights and going nowhere fast.  Pointless?  No.  In the jam created by the over use of cars we can hand out leaflets and chat to motorists.  This gives some a chance to vent frustration but many more offer messages of support.  A van driver told me he cycles to work, and he thought it was great to see a bunch of happy cyclists on the road.  We can even interact with people in large 4x4s who often look sheepish when we ask them to come join us next week.  It is the positive interaction with the rush-hour that has set the Leeds critical mass on good track.  The rides now ends with people feeling positive and having found more cyclists in the activist community, instead of being shell-shocked at the attitude of car drivers when they cut centimeters in front of you in a dangerous overtaking manoeuvre.

The mass should be a celebration of cycling.  We have flags on our bikes and had a few costumes for the Halloween mass.  If we want to see bikes making up a larger number of road users then the mass should be showing how fun it is.  Luckily cycling with a load of other cyclists in good spirits is fun, and it shows.  An important message is that the more people cycle the safer it becomes.  See CTC report "London has seen a 91% increase in cycling since 2000 and a 33% fall in cycle casualties".  This is due in part to drivers being more aware of cyclists and it is role that the mass could play more of a part in.

The mass is taking a holiday for Christmas but should be back by January (or February at the latest).  If we can keep the numbers high and reach out to other cycling groups than more other road users will be made aware of cyclists.  The most hostility came from a pedestrian how started shouting about road tax, in response we said, "Cyclists are in danger of being killed by cars, this is more important than money".