Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Biking Bloc

This year's free-jazz approach to Critical Mass seemed to produce more harmony than discord as far as I could tell. And participation was once again huge, at least 10,000 according to the report by Hungarian wire service MTI. Certainly, Érzsébet tér was swamped with cyclists for the closing bike lift at 8 p.m.

My advance post on the ride was called "Critical Chaos," but this was not descriptive of the event as it happened. Despite having no fixed starting point, and only a crude script calling for people to ride on the Pest side of the Nagykörút starting at 6:30 p.m., most participants rode in an orderly fashion on schedule. There seemed to be heavy bike traffic in both directions over most of the length of the route.

From my limited vantage point, it appeared that the traffic going from Margit bridge to Oktogon was heaviest. The entire curbside lane was packed with cyclists and at some points, we even spilled into the second lane. On any other day, I wouldn't think of taking my 5-year-old boy on the körút. The traffic there is as fast and aggressive as it gets in Budapest. However, Critical Mass offers safety in numbers, so Lance accompanied me on my bike's luggage rack the whole way. Mind you, he has no patience for Critical Mass. To him, this is an event that looks from a distance like a festival, but then upon arrival you see it has no rides or toys. I explain to him that it's a political thing. Lance thinks it's BORING.

Despite the usual civility of the crowd and the effectiveness of the volunteer traffic directors, there were tonnes of police this year. MTI noted that there were police checks at at least 10 intersections and that they were handing out fines as high as HUF 15,000 for not having lights and/or spoke reflectors. Hungarian Cyclists' Club János László lamented a lapse in the traditional good cooperation between organisers and police.

Near Oktogon, I noticed a group of cops questioning some kids on trials bikes -- and I could see that main organiser Gábor Kürti had stopped to mediate. Further on, I observed a group of cops at Blaha Lujza tér stopping cyclists seemingly at random. I don't know if the guy below was guilty of anything, but the cops let him go after a couple minutes of interrogation.

I reckon the city would be remiss if it didn't exert some official control on a demonstration that routinely attracts tens of thousands of people. At any rate, I didn't see any acts of violence by either the cops or participants.

A little while later, we came across Justin Hyatt -- a member of the Young Greens (Zöfi) and a stalwart of the livable-cities movement. He and a fellow activist were in bunny outfits, which provided some welcome comic relief for Lance. They handed me a flier with this URL: More political stuff, apparently, although I didn't tell Lance.

It was getting late so we turned off the körút and headed down Rákóczi út (maybe the only street downtown scarier than the körút) and eventually found our way to the closing bike lift at the Gödör klub. A couple guys with a three-wheel bike taxi emblazoned with a sign saying "Put some fun between your legs!" had some balloons. This salvaged the evening for Lance. It was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd and Kristin had come with our 4-month-old daughter Sequoia (by stroller, not bike). This was Sequoia's first extra-utero (?) Critical Mass. She did the last one in utero.

Kristin didn't have a bike for the bike lift so she lifted Lance. It's hard to make out, but Lance is spread-eagled here, with one leg above Kristin and the other below. Reminds me of body-surfing photos from my grungy heyday back in Seattle.
After that, the family went home and I hung on to catch the start of the most overtly political part of the evening: mayoral candidates for the fall election were invited for a cycling-focused Q&A -- broadcast on a big screen facing the Gödör's terrace. Apparently, every party sent their candidate except for the odds-on favourite, Fidesz. That candidate, István Tarlos, is apparently confident enough of that he'll win that he didn't bother with a cycling rally of 10,000 people.

Along with the other major party candidates, the LMP's candidate Benedek Jávor was on hand. The kerékagy blog did a run-down of all the parties' cycling platforms and LMP's stood out as the most elaborate and thoughtful.

I don't know about the Socialists' cycling platform but their candidate, Csaba Horváth (below), was at Gödör giving press interviews ahead of the Q&A event. (He didn't take part in the Q&A-- see comments!)


GABOR said...

Greg, I have to correct myself: although MSZP candidate Csaba Horváth was at the mass, he did not participate in the Q&A. He said he didn't want to sit at the same table with a representative of a party -- Gábor Staudt of Jobbik -- that goes against democratic norms. He gave an evasive answer to the next reporter question as to whether he would also stay away from the Budapest City Assembly if and when elected for it. (Although the odds of winning the mayor's race are equally low for the Socialists as well as Jobbik, both parties will likely be represented in the Assembly, therefore they will have to work together one way or another.)

The Socialists did, however, end up finding a surrogate mayoral candidate to represent them at the Q&A, Tibor Pásztor, who also happens to be mayoral candidate for the local elections in Budapest District 5. ( ) Evidently he didn't have a problem sitting at the same table with Jobbik.

Fidesz, by the way, was also represented at the Q&A by Budapest City Assembly representative Linda Szikora.

Jelica said...

Well done, guys! I am very proud of Budapest for the Critical Mass--no such thing over here, although there were a bunch of cyclists gathered in a cafe just a bloc from my place yesterday afternoon. Not sure what was happening there but it was good to see so many bikes parked--strength in numbers, definitely :)

Jelica said...

Btw, how about adding my other blog to the Other Cool Blogs list? Just a gentle suggestion, no pressure whatsoever...