Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Critical Mass in a Critical World

When the solution arrives by bike. 

by Michele Lapini 

Photo by Michele Lapini.

Can an alternative lifestyle contribute to reduce pollution and change cities? Probably, if civil society suddenly becomes a critical mass. Officially born in San Francisco in 1994, twenty years after the first time a hundred cyclists rode together in Stockholm, the Critical Mass is defined as a performance and not a protest, a movement that jointly promotes awareness of cyclists' rights and the use of bikes as a sustainable and green means of transportation. Nowadays, there are almost three hundred Critical Masses in the world and they hold several international events this year. 

During these events cyclists ride together on their cities’ streets , sometimes blocking car traffic and comemorating the cyclists who have died in the streets with the “ghost bike”, a bike painted all white and chained near the crash site. The times and ways change depending of the cities and the number of cyclists; sometimes cyclists stand in one place some other times they reclaim the city by a massive participation. There is no leadership or membership in this open movement., Spontaneity decide the routes, dates and frequencies of Critical Mass events. 

Photo by Michele Lapini.

Cyclists' rights are one of main claim of Critical Mass, but there are also many other aspects linked to the collective use of the bike. Often political claims about social justice and peace are associated with Critical Mass movements, but also commemorations. Environmental problems are today one of the central claims of Critical Mass cyclists, since climate change is a real problem for millions of people and cities are becoming less liveable due to car traffic and pollution. 

Critical Mass can contribute to developing sustainable strategies using bikes as green solutions for urban transport, reducing the number of cars and encouraging people to use human energy to move. At the same time, political claims are addressed to local and national institutions, to stimulate the elaboration of green transport policies, such as cycle lanes or bike rental. Numerous cities, in order to solve pollution and traffic problems , should consider Critical Mass as a positive instrument to share awareness of sustainable transport. 

Another purpose of Critical Mass is to re-think city planning, since those involved in it believe cities should be built to stimulate green transport and sustainability. In some cases Critical Mass have built numerous initiative and free services, as a repair shop and bike sharing, for the urban citizens. Critical Mass can represent a green solution, and not a problem, for urban life, because “is not blocking the traffic, Critical Mass is the traffic!” as you can read in many Critical Mass’s stencil and stickers. 

Photo by Michele Lapini.

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