Friday, July 31, 2009

Jumpin' Jim Chu, it's a mass, mass, mass

Why the demonization of Critical Mass, the last Friday of the month bike-riding protest through downtown Vancouver streets? It's one of 300 around the world.

It just so happens that the last Friday of July is the opening of the World Police and Fire Games at General Motors Place. At 20:00 hours, as they say in the biz.

On the last Wednesday of the month, Vancouver Police Insp. Rick McKenna of the emergency and operational planning section told a news conference that "this Friday evening, despite our best efforts, we are very concerned about the safety, timing and location of the Critical Mass bike ride." He cited an increase in road rage and rule-breaking last month and even warned motorists to avoid downtown Vancouver.

"The fact of the matter is that Critical Mass has reached a critical mass of civil disobedience," McKenna said.

Cyclin' politician Mayor Gregor Robertson and VPD Chief Jim Chu issued a joint plea on the last Thursday of the month for riders to meet them to discuss creating a predetermined route "as well as ways to reduce tension and improve safety for citizens."

Robertson, who is also chairman of the police board, joined the April 2008 Critical Mass ride during his campaign to become the Vision Vancouver mayoralty nomination.

With all the advance publicity, the only thing preventing a record turnout of riders could be the sweltering heat.

On the first Tuesday of the month, RCMP Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit chief Gary R. "Bud" Mercer told Vancouver city council that the Critical Mass ride could bring chaos to streets during the last Friday of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Feb. 26.

Mercer pointed to the fact that Critical Mass has no organization or leader.

Coincidentally, Critical Mass traditionally starts at 6 p.m. at the Vancouver Art Gallery's north side, near the Omega Olympic/Paralympic Countdown clock. It's Vancouver's de facto civic square.

The VPD communications strategy in the last week of July is undoubtedly a consequence of Mercer's July 7 council appearance and a bid to prevent a Games-time version of Critical Mass.

Critical Mass isn't new. It's been here since the 1990s. You Never Bike Alone is a 2007 documentary on the phenomenon. The cycle protests have achieved victories. There is better cycling access in downtown, an expanded seawall around Burrard Inlet and False Creek and even a trial of new bike lanes on the Burrard Street Bridge. Motorists have one less lane.

Now if more cyclists would wear helmets, stop at stop signs and avoid using iPods while riding, the world would be an even better place.

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