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A critical mess...uh en masse

The Chicago Tribune: A critical mess …. uh en masse

By Scott Rowan
October 2, 2011

A homegrown organization of radicals took to the streets of Chicago en masse on Friday, affecting the end-of-the-week, end-of-the-month commute home for thousands of citizens and doing everything possible to disrupt the normal peace and enjoyment of another fall Friday afternoon.

They're going to do it again this month. And the month after that too.

You cannot call the police.

You cannot call City Hall.

There is nothing you can do about it.

You must simply take it. And suffer.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that your taxpayer dollars are being spent to support them with police escorts?

Revolution?

Anarchy?

State-sponsored terrorism?

No, it's just another Critical Mass in Chicago, allowing anyone with a bicycle to flout the law and, in their words, "take the streets back."

I am a small business owner, homeowner, family man and responsible cyclist. My book, "The Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide," is a collection of lessons learned from more than 15,000 miles of riding on city streets every day and a year of research talking to everyone from psychologists about road rage to city planners on the future of urban design to bicyclists and manufacturers and fellow inventors. I am the biggest advocate of safe cycling you will find, having invented new helmets and bike frames that improve cycling for the next generation.

Chicago is $635 million in deficit, yet Critical Mass requires a police escort through the city or else you will have something nobody wants — the kind of carnage that we saw happen in Brazil earlier this year when a motorist turned a Critical Mass into a mass of critically injured cyclists.

How can City Hall endorse such illegal, selfish and society-undermining behavior? How does City Hall allow this ridiculous display of thumb-nosing to hard-working taxpayers forced to sit behind a group of lawbreakers who feel it's their right to be able to ride en masse because they want to?

Cycling is a sport that an individual or team can compete in or enjoy either as a workout or a commute or as means for "getting away."

Critical Masses are designed not for sport or exercise, but, according to their own website: "Critical Mass is created when the group of riders comes together for those few hours to take back the streets of our city. The right of the people to assemble is guaranteed in the Constitution, and Critical Mass helps people remember that right."

I have the right to free speech, but I cannot walk down the street swinging a baseball bat to show everyone how much I love baseball. When used incorrectly, a bicycle can be as dangerous as any baseball bat, car or weapon.

Sure, Critical Mass has the right to assemble — but where does it say that they are allowed to make that assembly mobile? The Constitution may allow for the right to assemble, but where is the right to have taxpayer money pay for police escorts? Assembly is fine — assemble at Daley Plaza and talk all you want about cycling rights. But there is nothing in the Constitution that says the police must protect you as soon as you make your assembly a movable feast on the city streets.

Critical Masses are more akin to predetermined, rolling riots than they are to a parade. A parade is intended to entertain the crowds, not the participants. However, Critical Masses are intended to entertain the participants, not the crowd which is forced to sit by without reacting to such a selfish act.

Critical Mass is a major part of the problem. Critical Mass participants are not cool or hip or accomplishing anything other than driving a huge wedge between motorists and cyclists.

The answer to everyone's problem is simple: corporate sponsorship.

The 2012 London Olympics has raised more than $1 billion in corporate sponsorship funds in just six years. Olympic organizers will raise even more for Sochi in 2014 and even more for Rio in 2016.

Corporate sponsors average $78 million per year to be an Olympic sponsor.

International companies are begging for creative real estate to promote their products.

By embracing bicycles and corporate sponsors, Chicago can court international companies to pay for the creation of bicycle-only roads throughout Chicago and become a "corporate partner of tomorrow."

Chicago needs to stop thinking small and throwing good money after bad by coddling a group of lawbreakers who flaunt their right to assemble by meeting at Daley Plaza before illegally taking to the streets with police escorts.

If Chicago were to stop supporting Critical Mass and instead turn it into a for-profit monthly ride-along that is organized with wards that want to invite new visitors to their part of town, then Chicago will be safer for motorists and bicyclists, Chicago will truly become a global "green leader" and the city will reap millions of dollars in sponsorship funds.

Scott Rowan is president of Sherpa Multimedia and the author of "The Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide."