Welcome back Critical Mass NYC


The last Friday of the month is internationally reserved for Critical Mass and on Friday, July 26, Extinction Rebellion revived this tradition in NYC.

About 300 bike riders came out at 7 pm at Union Square to take the streets of Manhattan for 2 hours and to ride 13.5 miles. Our cyclists rode via Times Square raising their bikes in a "bike lift"to symbolize cyclist deaths and injuries caused by automobiles. One participant described her experience as “the best ride of this year… maybe ever.” There was a strong feeling of community and of having accomplished something together. After the truly inspiring ride, participants rested in a park to get to know each other. 

What is Critical Mass?

Critical mass is a celebratory bike ride that took off in 1992 in San Francisco. The bike ride takes place to show how many - normally unnoticed - cyclists there are in a city. It shows that we are traffic and have a right to safer streets both for pedestrians and bicyclists. During critical mass, we symbolically form a long bicycle-vehicle - similar to a road train. Our extra-long bike-vehicle can take a while to cross an intersection. 

Critical Mass NYC and group bike rides contributed tremendously to the bike infrastructure created in NYC so far. In the early 2000s, thousands of critical mass riders regularly headed to Times Square and performed a bike lift to demand an auto-free Times Square and a new DOT commissioner. In response to the pressure, eventually some infrastructure began to be emplaced on the streets: bike lanes, auto-free plazas, greenways, and bridge access to name a few. [1

NYPD attacked the critical mass riders with a vengeance. They tried everything from lawsuits, tickets, arrests, and harassment, to violence, spying, undercover agitation, divisionary propaganda, and even going to the point of cutting locks and stealing people’s bikes to try and stop the bike movement. [2]

Cycling in New York City is not safe

Our critical mass rides on the last Friday of the month are a demand for safer infrastructure: Many New Yorkers have never ridden a bike in the city because they are -rightfully- scared for their lives: 17 cyclists died in 2019 so far. In 2018 107 pedestrians [3] and 10 cyclists [4] were killed.

SUVs increasingly dominate the streets and have made cycling even more dangerous. If hit by an SUV pedestrians and cyclists are two to three times more likely to die. The height, weight, and off-road-capabilities of these vehicles often cause fatal injuries. Protective gear like helmets and vests at best give a wrong sense of security to the victims of these accidents.

The critical mass ride in New York City has always been a place where cyclists that normally don’t drive in NYC can feel safe. It is the opportunity to be protected from cars by more experienced cyclists and can be an opportunity to gain a new perspective of New York City’s streets.  

Cycling in New York City is not inclusive

Our critical mass rides on the last Friday of the month demand inclusivity and a cultural change. For biking to become truly the climate-friendly alternative to car ownership, it must be open to all types of users. Even if experienced cyclists think infrastructure in place is good enough, the variety of users might tell you a different story of how inclusive your road space is. The lack of safe road space in NYC both from an infrastructure and a cultural perspective discriminates particularly against women, people with disabilities, people of color, the elderly and children. 

To give you an impression of how bad the situation is in New York City: in 2016 only 24.4 % of Citi bike rides were carried out by females. It should also be noted that particularly female cyclists are confronted with extremely violent and sexist behavior disincentivizing them from mounting a bike. Bike riders of color are also reporting to have a very different experience with bike infrastructure often limited to white neighborhoods and bikers of color fearing racial profiling by law enforcement. [5]

Extinction Rebellion’s call for safer street is therefore not limited to putting in protected bike lanes and safe intersection designs, safety extends to a cultural space where everyone can ride.

Aware of the fact that critical mass itself still not inclusive enough, future events like a “Kidical Mass NYC” can be a step forward. Kidical mass is a slower bike ride that takes particularly safe routes to allow small children and cycling beginners to join the ride. 

Future Critical Mass Rides 

The next Critical Mass will take place on Friday, August 30, 2019. The meeting point is the north side of Union Square at 7 pm. Please invite your friends using the hashtag #CriticalMassNYC