Tuesday, November 08, 2005

CRITICAL (M)ASS

UP FRONT News July 7, 2005
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham

“The paper that can’t be bought and can’t be sold.”

Since I believe that automobiles are a major contributor to the sometimes toxic quality of the air in many major cities, I am a strong supporter of bicycle activism. For years I was a member of the New York Cycle club and, in fact, some years ago wrote a strong editorial in UP FRONT News, under the headline “Wheeling and Dealing”, which, combined with some lobbying, helped re-open the walkways across the George Washington Bridge for bicycle traffic. And, while I am supportive of the efforts of folks like Steve Stollman, whose workspace at 49 Houston Street in Manhattan is a center of organizational energy for bicycle activists, I am becoming pessimistic as to the long term prospects for the “Critical Mass” rides that are drawing both increasing support and hardening opposition from various powers that be.

And, based on my experience at a recent community meeting at the Theatre for a New City, called by Mr. Stollman, I am convinced that hardheads within the critical mass community are heading for disaster. Mr. Stollman, a man who takes full advantage of the rights guaranteed us under the First Amendment, nonetheless, has a distinctly less than small “d” democratic approach to “facilitating” meetings. He quickly established a pattern of allowing a few people to speak recurrently while studious ignoring others – e.g. me – with hands raised to participate. The main point I wanted to make was that the public response to Critical Mass might be less oppositional were the organizers to address the problem of certain bicyclists (Critical Mass participants and, sometimes, non-critical massers such as bicycle delivery people) who endanger pedestrians by careening along sidewalks. I have experienced the displeasure several times of being nearly run over by some cycling narcissist either trying to mase some money or operating under the illusion that cyclists have more rights than pedestrians – or, anyone else, for that matter. Stollman’s response was to ignore my comment as if it had not been made.

A second suggestion I made as regards the importance of enlisting support in, particularly, the New York City Council, was sloughed off by Stollman’s persistently rude aide “Lynn” (who, I believe, has an agenda that has nothing to do with cleaning up our air) with the brilliant comment that the best way to get Council support was by voting for Norman Siegel for Public Advocate in the upcoming Democratic Primary. While I happen to be a supporter of Mr. Siegel’s candidacy (and in fact have broken the story of incumbent Public advocate Betsy Gotbaum’s until now undisclosed marital link to the CIA), urging a Siegel vote as a City Council lobbying technique is an irrelevancy. In a cycling context, it is nothing more than a flat tire.

Several months ago, I observed the start and windup of one of the Critical Mass rides. I was not at all happy to listen to one experienced rider tell me proudly how he had stopped his bicycle under the FDR Drive, thereby causing a traffic tie-up. When I asked him how such a step might affect for example, an emergency vehicle carrying a stroke victim behind him, the narcissist looked at me and sped off on his wheels.

Steve Stollman – who, I believe, needs to do something about his aide (whom, henceforth, since I don’t know her surname, and because of her manipulative behavior, I will refer to as “Lynora”, as in Fulani) – will in the future become more receptive to the notion that, even as New York City can hardly be described a politically bike-friendly, cyclists to not rule the world. Should he continue his evidently arbitrary and sometimes dictatorial approach, Critical Mass may well become Critical Past.
Tomsupfrontnews@yahoo.com
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