Monday, April 20, 2009

Critical Mass Downshifts

This spring's Critical Mass was a family affair, as you can see here: Kristin holding up Lance (buckled into the seat on the back of my bike) mid-way through the procession, with bikers coming off the Chain Bridge into Roosevelt tér.

As you can see from the photo, there weren't as many cyclists as usual. Both Népszabadság and estimated 30,000 participants, less than half of last year's figure of 80,000.

I was struck by how sparse the crowd was compared to previous years, when you would spend 80 percent of the time walking your bike because the crowd was so thick and moving so slowly. This year, by contrast, we peddled all the way through it at a slow, comfortable pace, stopping only for the occasional crossing guard. We finished in record time, and had about an hour to kill at City Park waiting for the customary bike lift.

There could be a few reasons for the smaller turnout. The weather was nice, but it was threatening to rain all day, so that may have scared off some people. And let's face it, Critical Mass isn't going to last forever. Although many participants will come out time after time to make a political statement, others are there mainly for the fun of it. For them, the Critical Mass closing party at City Park doesn't offer much aside from some recorded music and a few beer and pretzel vendors. With professional organisation, it could become a major festival. To date, however, it's been put together by a loose coalition of volunteer helpers, and it probably won't grow without stronger direction.

Having said that, I don't think the decline of Critical Mass is necessarily lamentable. The ultimate goal is for Budapest to become a bike-friendly city where cyclists can get from any origin to any destination safely and comfortably. As long as the city makes serious strides in this direction, I don't care about Critical Mass. For me, it's a means, not an end.


Fidelius said...

Hi Greg!

The Budapest CM is meanwhile also for Cycling activists in Vienna either a popular trip destination or source of amazement. On the web discussions mulitplied in the last days, how such a turnout is possible with a rather low everyday cycling level.

The lack of the typical event-management ado with stage, merchandising aso is often seen as the strength and certainly the charme of the CM in Budapest.

I´d like to invite you to write a blogpost about the Budapest CM and its character, development and aims for the www.ig-fahrrad blog, where different people write about bicycle activism issues, mostly on Vienna, but I think we should look beyond our own city now and then.

As You´ll see the site is in German, but blog-entries are of course fine in English.

(your fb-friend)

Greg Spencer said...

Hi Fidelius,

I'd like to contribute such a post. I've seem comments by cyclists from other countries who are amazed by the turnouts here. I have some theories about it, and will try to summarise them for you.

Eszter Balazs said...

Greg, some eager cyclists were obliged to work that day, missing out both on a running race and the critical mass :(( When you are the Master Organiser, make sure the marketing plan involves a talk to the PM to time his pressers better!!!