The fact that Critical Mass this fall will be organised on a weekday rather than weekend reflects a belief that the movement needs to get tougher in order to effect change, according to one of the ride's organisers. As I mentioned in my September 7 post, Critical Mass this fall (on European Car Free Day, September 22) will be different this year by being timed during the tail end of a work day rush hour. I had an email exchange about it with my friend Gabor Bihari, who edits the English-language page of the Critical Mass site for Budapest. This is what he told me, in part:
The basic concept is that we're trying to get bicycles recognized as 'real' vehicles, with rights equal to those of motor vehicles. So WE ARE TRAFFIC, and don't just want to be regarded as some weekend demonstration show, as it's been in the past couple of years. It's clear that the record breaking turnouts of the previous couple of years were partly because they happened to be on weekends, and the weather was nice too. But there's not much else we can achieve by trying to keep breaking our own records. We need to pressure the decision-makers more and more, since - for instance - the new Minister of Transport has recently eliminated the post of the Bicycle Ombudsman. Just like that. (Index.hu article on axing of ombudsman Bodor Ádám)
I told Gabor that while I unequivocally support Critical Mass's aims, I'm somewhat concerned about what might happen this time around. Besides being timed on a weekday, when there is more motor traffic, the ride will go forth without a route permit -- in fact with no set route, at all, only a starting place, Heroes' Square, and a destination, Moszkva ter. No roads will be closed to speed the procession. The riders will simply ride with normal traffic.
In this respect the ride will be more like other Critical Masses around the world, as Gabor correctly noted. However, from what I know, most other Critical Masses draw crowds of a few hundred, while CM Budapest routinely draws tens of thousands. These are exceptionally large numbers -- according to some observers, Budapest's is the biggest CM in the world. My worry is that if this fall's ride draws even a quarter as many riders as last spring's, there would be 20,000 cyclists on the streets without the organisation and safety precautions that everyone has grown accustomed to. Not that I'm against the new approach, but in this laissez faire atmosphere, there's more potential for conflict and hostility between cyclists and motorists -- as the experience of several cities demonstrate. I think everyone who takes part needs to take this into account and make a special effort to keep cool and ride in the spirt of peaceful protest.