Critical Mask – A Hallowe’en Ride

Critical Mass Halifax

Co-written by Anna Duckworth and Mark Lamovsek

HALIFAX – Tonight is the much-anticipated Hallowe’en Critical Mass ride. And hopefully the beginning of a new chapter for the Halifax ride.

Critical Mass is an international monthly celebration of bikes and bike culture. In Halifax, cyclists gather at Victoria Park on the last Friday of every month to cruise around the city.

For most, Critical Mass is a chance to cycle safely, experience strength in numbers and celebrate life on bikes.

Despite Critical Mass’ generally celebratory and peaceful nature, it’s garnered some negative attention as of late. The ride has been associated with aggression, an effort to pit bikes against cars and even some police intervention.

Just last month, police stopped riders at the corner of Quinpool Road and Oxford Street. Historically, police seem to struggle with the concept of Critical Mass – perhaps because of its non-hierarchical, leader-less structure. No one is in charge during a ride.

The most recent police interference inspired a few cycling enthusiasts to get together to chat. It became clear at the meeting that Critical Mass represents a myriad of voices and opinions – a spirit of diversity and inclusivity.

While motivations for riding are varied, a consensus was reached on at least one point: Critical Mass is ready to shed its aggressive reputation and invite the entire community – babies, parents, old folks and Peter Kelly – to the most wholesome party of the month!

photo by Mark Lamovsek

4 comments

  1. Maybe I’m biased (of course I’m biased), but I wouldn’t go as far to say that HFXCM has had an ‘aggressive reputation’ in this town. If you look at the movement globally, that statement could hold some weight. But here, the vibe on the rides is overwhelming good-natured. And although impossible to separate my views from my involvement with the masses, from what I’ve heard, and especially from people who’ve experienced CM in different cities, Halifax rides are known as being friendly and fun. It’s important to uphold and spread that message.

    In the past, the police’s reaction to HFXCM has been all over the map. There have been times when the police have driven by the mass in process, and continued driving. Other times, bike cops have accompanied the ride without incident. There have been other rides, during the massive masses of summer 2008, where police have attempted to usurp the roles & activities necessary for the execution of a safe ride – by not allowing cyclists to cork intersections. And then there have been the sporadic incidents when members of the police, acting as if it’s the first time they’ve ever encountered this event, have made elaborate gestures of power by handpicking certain cyclists and ticketing them.

    When a cyclist is ticketed, during any day of the month, it has a far-reaching effect, that goes beyond the individual incident. Especially when a cyclist is ticketed for a bogus reason (not cycling on the far right of the road – when making a left turn!)

    Relationships are defined by the incidents and events that arise between those involved. When incidents arise in a relationship where one party is being unfair, unsupportive and/or unwilling to cooperate, said relationship becomes strained. Cyclists have been hassled for a myriad of reasons – some preposterous and pathetic. No biking at Point Pleasant on the weekend? No walking your bike through the Public Gardens (just cause)? The Dawgather incident?!? When the police ‘crack down’ on individual cyclists for minor and debatable infractions, they are sending a inconsistent message to all of the city. A message that needs clarification.

    There’s a lot of lip service paid to environmental issues, and very minimal work on the ground being done to promote alternatives. We live in a tiny town, and with some creative rearranging of the city’s roads, bike lanes and bus routes – Halifax could live up to the potential it has. A potential so great, and so evident to so many, that we continue to live here. Despite the many frustrations that accompany being a mindful Haligonian with an awareness of municipal issues, we are still here, still fighting to help Halifax pull its head out of its conservative time capsule, and get caught up to speed on the pressing issues of our time.

    Not everyone wants to or is willing to ride a bicycle. And that’s fine. But cyclists shouldn’t have to exist as a fearless fringe group who are risking their lives and their criminal records every time they bike to the corner store.

    There needs to be a major reworking of the relationships in this town. Between Metrolink and the Ferry people. Between the Bridge Commission and the traffic authority. Between the rural and the urban. Between drivers and pedestrians. Between cyclists and police. Between you and me. There needs to be a great emphasis on cooperation.

    Big thanks to Spacing, for giving this space. Much appreciated.

  2. Last night’s Hallowe’en ride was fantastic. There was a good turnout and a great energy. I noticed, however, admittedly for the first time, how homogeneous a group we are. I didn’t spot a single visible minority among us (although there were a few people wearing masks). Is this the cycling demographic in Halifax or are we failing to appeal to a broader group? How do we encourage a more diverse cross section of the community to take part?

  3. This is a sensitive and debated topic, Renée. Last year, a U of T planning student did a study on cycling diversity, which I covered, publishing some of her results and comments in both the magazine and Spacing Toronto blog (http://spacing.ca/wire/2009/08/15/diversycling-a-look-at-whos-not-biking-in-toronto/). The resultant conversation became quite heated, with some commenters linking this issue to socio-economic, geo-political (in terms of areas of the city where cycling is most viable, and who tends to populate those areas), and systemic factors. Others dismissed the topic, some even offended by its proposition. Obviously, in the context of Critical Mass, and in the context of Halifax, the issues become a bit different.

  4. Thanks for this article. Police intervention in Critical Mass certainly plays a major role in whether I participate. I’m up for a fun ride with other cyclists but I don’t want to be stopped by police while doing so (although I salute those willing to take the risk), so I tend to ride monthly until police start to interfere, sit out a few months hoping that it will cool off, then try going again.

Comments are closed.