26 September 2008

Prague Cycle Chic

Photo by Jakub Turek, Horydoly.cz
There was a massive bike ride in Prague the other day, under the critical mass banner, and a friend of mine sent me these lovely photos. I have criticized the critical mass approach earlier as being counterproductive. Things are different, it seems, here in Europe. In Budapest and in Prague, the rides are as they are meant to be - a celebration. There is great cooperation between the organisers and the authorities and hardly any confrontations to speak of. Certainly not like what you see in New York. What a treat it would be to take part.

Photo by Jakub Turek, Horydoly.cz
Perhaps we have more of a tradition of protesting here in Europe. Each summer during "Strike Season", there are protests and strikes across the continent. They are a part of life - citizens passionately demonstrating for or against issues. So perhaps these European versions of the rides are just another demonstration in the eyes of the spectactors.

Whatever the case, it's lovely to see a spot of Cycle Chic in the Czech capital. Go Prague Go!


Anonymous said...

I think it is necessary to show such a mass action - at least here in CZ. The bike rides (usualy organized 2x year) are the only opportunity to ride your bike safely (at least in Prague and Brno). Other days you are risking your life (sadly enough few year ago one lead propagator of cycling was killed in a car accident while going on a bike...). So we just need to let the politicians to know that there is need for a change...

Anonymous said...

I read through your earlier post and comments on the Critical Mass. Indeed I'm sorry to see what it seems to have become in some places (though here, it was never violent and rarely confrontational - not with the cops or most drivers, but there are always a few jerks). Hockey riots cause far more aggravation...

I believe various forms of activism were necessary since the Second World War at least to safeguard the cycling culture in Northern European countries where it was longstanding. With more prosperity, more average workers did have access to cars in countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands and car-centred ideology was no weaker there than elsewhere - after all, there is so much money to be made.

We certainly remember that the UK had a venerable cycling culture; so much of our "cycling chic" comes from tweedy Brits. Yet disastrous planning has made cycling there risky and relatively rare (and done as much damage to the railways - among the earliest such networks in the world).

Surely autonomists from Cristiania and other "alternative" places took part in various actions to preserve and improve cyclability. I don't think it is just a matter of individually cycling every day in normal clothing, though I certainly do that and usually take pains to look nice.

Le Monde à bicyclette (Citizens on cycles) organised many types of actions over the years to promote everyday cycling, cycling visibility and provisions such as bicycle lanes and the right to take bicycles on the métro (underground/tube/subway) outside rush hours. These included die-ins, paint-ins (a squad painting bicycle lanes on streets) and disguising a bicycle as a giraffe to take it onto the métro - while others carried "acceptable" bulky items such as ironing boards.

The point was not to annoy anyone and we certainly didn't do that on a working day at 5 pm, but to point out laws, town planning and habits that were unfriendly to cycling.

We certainly have a history of mass protests in Montréal, from trade union demonstations (May Day or topical ones) through the huge demonstrations against the Iraq war as it began to the Bread and Roses march ("Pour le pain et les roses") that gave rise to the World March of Women.

Progress has been made, but there is so much more to be done. No, of course I don't want to villainise car drivers - some actually don't have any transport alternative due to dreadful planning - but the domination of the car is fuelling environmental destruction, a cortege of deaths and injuries, and wars for oil.

I loved seeing the Critical Mass demos in Budapest and Prague. They do look calm and inspiring (not that having the most beautiful cities in Mitteleuropa as a backdrop exactly hurts their photo-worthy style)...

Unknown said...

It is important to realize that prior to the Republican Convention in 2004, New York City Critical Mass was a fun and festive affair, complete with friendly police escorts (as the nearby Brooklyn Critical Mass remains to this day). Bicycle contingents also participated in the huge anti-Iraq-war protests held in 2003 and early 2004 and no problems occurred.

Certainly as the rides got larger - from under 100 to over 1000 - there would inevitably been more conflicts with cars and law enforcement... but I believe that the well-documented campaign against Critical Mass has its roots in the 2004 Republican Convention and the political/"security" climate that Bush et al brought to our city with the goal of suppressing dissent. Journalists, lawyers and innocent bystanders were arrested along with protesters, as also occurred at this year's Republican Convention.

After spending a night in jail back in 2004, I have avoided Manhattan Critical Mass and the lightning rod for conflict that it has become. Many other bicycle advocates feel the same way. I agree that the whole situation has become counter-productive, but it's important to understand that not so long ago things were very different.

On a happier note, from what I hear Brooklyn Critical Mass is still a peaceful and happy affair, and relations with the police are good.

Anonymous said...

I don’t know much about the Critical Mass rides in Brooklyn as Anne mentions above. I have seen some of the Critical Mass rides in Manhattan and have found them to be very discouraging. First of all, the riders generally don’t obey traffic laws. They run red lights; block intersections; occupy entire streets which prevents faster moving traffic from passing. As you can probably imagine, motorists and pedestrians become angry, and the police sometimes respond aggressively. It’s a sad situation and not really any way to win converts to cycling. It is vinegar when what we really need is honey.

Moderator said...

Critical Mass in New Haven, Connecticut is a celebration, not a protest. Summer rides regularly have 150 to 200 cyclists on them.

Police officers on bikes -- from several different jurisdictions in the area -- ride with the group!

I suppose that's the exception, but worth noting!

Colville-Andersen said...

thanks for contributing to the discussion!