General Narratives

(6) Eye Witness Reports

Report 1

Source: Jeff B (7/28/97)

I was driving on my way home down Octavia toward Market when I saw that a line of cars had been blocked by -- a wave of bicycle riders heading down market. By God or By Dog, Critical Mass, I realized, and my day brightened. I then quickly made a turn up Waller and then down Fell to Market, made a right turn and headed up Market without a problem. While I saw some hostility from a pedestrian on a sidewalk, I saw none from the riders.

Report 2

Source: Tom Lemon

I noticed a lot of minimasses last night, as late as 10:00 pm. There were bicycles *everywhere*, and no confrontations at all. I didn't get home in time to catch the news, so I was really horrified to hear this morning that there had been confrontations and arrests. Sigh.

Report 3

Source: Ed Rawlings

When I left Embarcadero at exactly 6:30 the route went down Stuart street and then immediately turned right on Mission -- all ready off track -- no police in sight. Until the next block. Either at Main or Spear a cop was standing in the cross street on the south side of Mission, blocking that street and motioning bicycles down Mission Street. I thought "well maybe I was mis-informed and this is the 'official' route" I found out I was wrong a few blocks later as we became mired along with the cars on Fremont St.

The ride then went up Fremont street and turned left on Market. I then went back to Embarcadero to see if the "official" route was happening. I then went around the same loop again: Stuart, Mission, Fremont, Market. No police to speak of, certainly not directing the ride down Stuart to Embarcadero, as the official route stated. Any hope of most people following the official route was doomed one block into the ride.

Report 4

Source: Rod Williams

This was my experience too. Another thing that didn't show up in any of the media reports is that when this huge section of the Mass turned left on Market, we stopped at all the red lights along the way, and we were cheered by pedestrians *and* motorists. This section of the Mass continued to City Hall, then up VanNess to Hayes, then Franklin to Lombard. We climbed up the hill at Lombard , then went down the wiggly bit, and up Columbus through North Beach. I dropped out at that point for cappuccino and cannolis :-)

But once we got moving on Market, there was *no* confrontation, no nastiness -- it was as good a CM, if not the best, as I've ever been on. I'm mad as hell with all this hysterical media hype.

Report 5

Source: Barbara Piper (edited for length)

Mayor Brown:

With all due respect, it's clear that you don't get the point of Critical Mass, or possibly of democracy. In the last 48 hours, two comments, one made by you and one made in your name, illustrate:

I don't know who you think we cyclists are, but let me introduce myself. I am a 48 year old, middle class, hard working professional who lives, works, and pays taxes in San Francisco. I ride my bike to work in the Financial District every day, rain or shine, and I support safer, saner, cleaner streets for all San Franciscans, more mass transit, fewer cars and less gridlock and pollution in my City. I support and have ridden with Critical Mass, and I belong to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. And I VOTE in San Francisco.

(And) with all due respect, Mayor Brown, what happens with future mass rides is not your decision to make. The California Vehicle Code states that "Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle. . ." I obey all traffic laws, and therefore can ride my bike on any street open to cars. If I ride home from work up Market street (my daily route) on a Friday evening, and 2 or 3, or 2,000 or 3,000 other cyclists choose to go the same way, I don't see where any laws are broken. Car drivers do it every day and no one questions their rights.

A few words about Friday's ride: I chose not to ride with the mass because I thought many cyclists would follow the sanctioned route (which, by the way, was an impossible route for many of us cyclists, doomed to failure, which may have been the intention all along). I regret my decision and am very proud of the thousands of cyclists who asserted their rights. I left Justin Herman Plaza at 6:00 p.m. in protest of the sanctioned ride and rode up Market Street, my daily route home. Traffic was already at a gridlocked standstill and it had nothing to do with cyclists. There were small groups of cyclists on Market, but they were obeying traffic laws and were in no way impeding the flow of traffic. At least 2 times I had to wait through 2 red lights because cars were blocking intersections (not a cicycle in sight), and I saw no police officers, who were already on Market, make arrests or issue citations to the drivers of the cars. In fact, in my 25+ years of riding a bicycle, and driving a car, in San Francisco, I have never yet seen one car or bus stopped for running a red light or blocking an intersection, daily occurences on a massive scale.

Which leads me to another point. Much has been made about the cost of the police escort for the monthly mass rides. Well, how much does it cost, and who pays for, the traffic guards on Battery Street for the daily car mass? How much do we taxpayers pay for the police, fire, rescue, and medical personnel who tend to daily car accidents? How much time and money is lost by people stuck in gridlock the 353 days that critical mass does not ride, and who pays for it?

So, please, Mayor Brown, stop scapegoating Critical Mass and cyclists for the daily gridlock in the City and propose real solutions (e.g., better mass transit, more bicycle lanes, streets open only to mass transit and bicycles), not just cosmetic ones (e.g., new uniforms and logo for MUNI). Most cyclists, I've found, don't suffer from the road rage that is infecting car drivers -- we actually enjoy our commutes. But your words and actions have awakened a sleeping bear that won't easily be lulled back into dream land.

And one more time, for emphasis, WE DO VOTE!

Barbara Piper

Report 6

Source: Marty (7/26/97)

My friends Conrad Oho and Zach Kaplan suggested I share this report, which I wrote for my local bicycle clubs, with you folks. So here it is:

I just got back from my first (and probably my last ever) Critical Mass ride in San Francisco.

Given all the publicity this is receiving, I thought to share with Single Cyclists and Grizzly Peak Cyclists my experiences, as contrasted with the media coverage after the event.

This is meant to be a highly subjective post, shot thru with my own biases. But then, MOST things you will read on this will be such, too, only many who give such heavily biased accounts will soberly swear they are giving an "objective report".

I arrived at Justin Herman Plaza by BART, at about 6:20 PM. I had heard on KCBS that "a splinter group" was planning to start at 6:00 PM, and I wanted no part of this, for I came to have a peaceful and enjoyable ride. The ONLY flyers I saw giving a route were the yellow ones that later, after the ride, I saw on TV waved by a police spokesperson on TV as being "phoney" flyers recommending an illegal route. They appeared to be official, and folks around me understood them as such too.

The police repeated spoke of the riders starting "early", but as far as I could tell the majority of the crowd did not start riding until about 6:30 PM or later. I got under way at about 6:40.

The police sanctimoniously prated about how the cyclists "ignored the provided police escort", but neither I nor dozens of other cyclists I spoke to who started at various times between 6:25 and 6:50 saw any sign anywhere of any "police escort". If there was one, I suspect only a tiny fraction of the thousands of riders saw it. So much for the implication that the bulk of cyclists willfully and intentionally took an illegal route, or ignored directions from a "police escort". That is 100.00% a lie.

Most of the riders I saw were in good spirits, and a friendly mood. True, many of them were of a mind to block traffic at red lights, but then we'd been told by Willie Brown that we COULD ignore red lights on the route. I just followed what appeared to be the bulk of the riders. Of course I, like most others, wound up becoming part of one or another "splinter group" as the ride itself seemed to fragment along many "routes" about half way or less into the ride. But I didn't even know this was happening until rather late into the ride.

Generally speaking most pedestrians were supportive of us, and most (tho NOT all) drivers were quite angry with us. I saw several incidents of drives deliberately hitting cyclists, tho with no apparent serious injuries. In one case, tho, two young males in a blue car deliberately ran over and destroyed a bicycle that a rider had dropped in front of the car in an effort to block it. Interestingly, when the car ran over the bicycle, the light was RED for the car, and green for the cyclists. I did not quite get the license plate number of the car, tho I believe others did.

At one intersection along the route I found myself travelling, two policemen were blocking the intersection with themselves and their car, attempting to keep cyclists from going thru the red light there. I stopped, of course. BOTH policemen had extremely hostile expressions on their face, and were virtually daring the crowd to tangle with them. When a cyclist attempted to cross on the red light, one of the officers pushed him over and kicked him. A moment later, I saw the other officer do the same thing with another cyclist. Now, it was both stupid and illegal for the cyclists to both disobey the traffic law and disobey a directive from an officer at the scene. But that is NOT the sort of criminal offense, it seems to me, that calls for the officer to physically assault the rider. There was a report on TV of officers getting assaulted. Well, if they were those who gratuitously assaulted those cyclists, then in my opinion, they deserved it.

Several other riders reported police were in a very hostile, confrontative, and combatative mood. Indeed, some suggested the entire situation was a result of a "setup" by Willie Brown and the police. I myself will reserve judgement on that particular conspiracy theory, but given what I saw, it certainly seems a not unreasonable speculation. It certainly seemed to me that the two officers I saw "in action" had been given orders to keep cyclists from crossing at the red light AT ANY COST, and were eager to carry out those orders in as brutal a fashion as they could get away with.

At another point on the ride, I saw a middle aged pedestrian grab the bicycle seat of a young woman's bike and start haranguing her. Several of us sped over, and suggested the chap take a hike in hurry. He left. He called out "I was just trying to save her life", to which I replied "We may have just saved yours by asking you politely to go away."

Toward the end of my part of the ride, on Broadway, I saw an old beat up brown Detroit Iron type of car suddenly stop and burst open both its doors. Two young men got out and started to assault some nearby cyclists. I have no idea what if anything the cyclists had done to provoke this. The thing became rather an ugly fist fight among four or five people. Others in the crowd of cyclists watching called for the fight to end. I don't know how this ended... I continued on my way.

The most provocative thing I saw cyclists in the ride do to drivers was plant themselves in front of cars to block traffic at intersections. The most provocative things I saw drivers do was run over a bicycle, and jump out and beat up cyclists. The most provocative thing I saw cyclists do to police was disobey their order to not run a red light. The most provocative thing I saw the police do was knock them down and beat them. Note that I have NO sympathy WHAT SO EVER for the poor, self-indulgent drivers who wrung their hands about being subjected to the AWFUL, VICIOUS fate of being caused to be delayed for 10 minutes at an intersection, given what I saw cyclists suffer on this ride, or what we know uncaring, incompetent, or in cases downright malicious drivers have done to us cyclists on the road in the past.

The ugly incidents, the hundreds of arrests, and the lying anti-cyclist coverage by all channels of the local TV news media who by and large appeared to me to parrot police lies about the event will all no doubt herald some sort of severe attempt at "backlash" toward Critical Mass. And frankly this event strikes me overall as a disaster for cycling advocacy in this area. However, I wish to emphasize that as far as I could see, Willie Brown and his storm-trooper police are probably more responsible for this disaster than are the cyclists of Critical Mass.

MOST of the riders, including myself, avoided any trouble by not actively blocking individual cars, avoiding confrontation with the police, and obeying police orders when they were given. Yes, I did return ugly epithets shouted to me by occasional drivers, but I spent a LOT more time returning thumbs up signs and expressions of brotherhood and solidarity with both pedestrians AND sympathetic automobile drivers. It's my impression that any participant who did not want to be a part of ugly incidents had no trouble avoiding such by merely using common sense. Remember there were perhaps 5 to 10 thousand riders in the event, and perhaps 200 involved in arrests or other nasty incidents. That means that 95% or more of the bicycle riders in this event had no part of the ugliness that the press is prating about.


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