CRITICAL MASS: A "Take Five" with JAO
- TPS: CRITICAL MASS. WHAT IS IT?
JAO: Critical Mass is a way for bicycle riders to get out and ride, enjoy our city from within the relative safety of a bicycle “mass.” It’s meant to be fun, a celebration of the bicycle. It’s a way for riders to come together monthly, make some noise and hopefully increase the popular appeal of the bicycle as a valid way of getting around while increasing driver awareness of cyclists. Optimally, we ride in-mass one day a month, and every other day drivers who have seen us, or heard about us, might think, “Hey, maybe there’s a bicycle around, I should slow down...”
TPS: WHAT IS YOUR ROLE IN IT?
JAO: My role? First and foremost I’m a rider and supporter of the bicycle. Within that capacity I’ve been involved in encouraging the mass ride - spreading the word, passing out flyers.
TPS: WHAT DREW YOU TO THIS "MOVEMENT"? OBVIOUSLY YOU MUST LIKE PHYSICAL EXERCISE BUT WHAT ELSE DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH OR DOES THIS REPRESENT TO YOU?
JAO: Last October I rode the Long Beach Marathon. I got out there at 6:30 in the morning with my buddy Mike; there must have been 4000 cyclists waiting for the gun. I’ve lived in San Francisco, where the Mass got started, and I’d ridden the Los Angeles Critical Mass the month before; I got to thinking, if there are this many riders out here, in the dark, on a Saturday morning in Long Beach, there’s got to be a call for more driver awareness and more city support of bicycles. Sure, a lot of the riders for the marathon may have come from outlying cities, but I bet that a majority of them live in this city. I got to thinking, if there are this many riders who will come out for an organized event in the pre-dawn hours of fall, why not orchestrate a Mass ride to get some of them out just after rush-hour and increase driver awareness? I’d been in touch with an ex-Bikestation employee, Aubrie; she had similar ideas to mine, so we started passing out flyers.
Every day bicycles are forced to deal with drivers who give us little or no consideration - people who “California-stop” the stop signs, people who shout or honk at us. One day last month, I was riding north on Bellflower just after PCH, riding about as close as I could to the parking lane, and a little two-door car comes flying past me, a guy leans out the passenger window and shouts “Get off the road asshole!” I’m trying to get someplace just like everybody else, but because I’m not surrounded by a ton of steel I become a target for abuse and hatred? It doesn’t make sense.
I ride by choice, I leave my car in the garage whenever I can. During rush hour, I can get across town by bike in half the time I can by car, literally. One day this week, I rode from PCH and Seventh, my girlfriend was on a bus from the same point, I got to downtown in 15 minutes; the bus took closer to 25 minutes for the same distance. On a bicycle, I can smell the wind each time it changes direction, feel the temperature drop when I get close to any of the bigger parks; on a bicycle, the rider becomes an active part of the environment rather than a passive observer. Interaction with automobiles is about the only drawback to bicycling in the city - the cars keep getting bigger and the lanes stay the same. Critical Mass ideally gives a voice to the bicyclist, it allows him to be heard by city hall and the mayor, it fosters recognition and awareness in the cross-town driver.
TPS: HOW DO YOU DIFFER FROM THE BONESHAKERS? OTHER BICYCLE CLUBS?
JAO: I don’t know a whole lot about the Long Beach BoneShakers, other than what I’ve read in the papers - some of them are interested in joining us, that much I know. They’re apparently a group of bicyclists focused on art, beer and barbecue. From what I’ve heard, they’re almost a moving exhibition in and of themselves, a mobile work of art. The Mass is a bit more political. We’re just getting started, and now that we’ve proven we can do it, draw enough riders to justify calling ourselves a Critical Mass, (it’s a worldwide phenomenon which began in SF in 1992), our next intent is to contact some of our city leaders. What I personally would like, is for the city to make a concerted effort to stripe a few of their numerous “proposed routes.” One of the riders in our last Mass, a guy named Charles, he told me he’d been “doored” twice in the last year - that is, he was riding on the right, solo, traffic passing on his left, and two times people have opened their doors from the parking lane; he had nowhere to go but into the door. With the current state of traffic and concerns over air quality, our civic leaders should be jumping like fish to promote alternatives to the automobile. A few more designated bike lanes might encourage a few more people to ride their bikes on a daily basis; a little more paint might eliminate doorings, a little more striping might help cut down on the daily traffic in our city.
TPS: WHERE CAN SOMEONE LEARN HOW TO BRING "CRITICAL MASS" IN THEIR 'HOOD?
JAO: Anyone interested in staring a Mass ride should start with the internet. There’s a ton of information out there, everything from laws to strategies. As one site says of Critical Mass, “CM has no leaders. It’s an event, not an organization. In every city that has a CM, one or more cyclists picked a day and time and started handing out flyers. You don’t need anyone to authorize your ride, you just do it.”
TPS: WHAT IS THE "CHAIN OF COMMAND" ON THE STREETS? DO YOU HAVE A CABOOSE? DOES SOMEONE CARRY A FIRST AID KIT?
JAO: There is no chain of command on the ride, it’s flexible like a slinky, weaving through the city at the whim of whoever happens to be in front. One thing people in Berkeley propose, is that the mass ride like it’s one big automobile - a big-rig, or a bus perhaps. This is for safety mostly - if half the Mass is through a green light and it turns red, you don’t cut the group in two, riders follow the lead group through. This may sound like a contradiction to law, but it’s more of a safety issue. One or more riders should stop in the intersection and wave down oncoming traffic, allowing riders through, allowing the Mass to stay together. These flag riders are called “corkers,” preventing cars from cutting into the Mass, preventing riders from feeling the compelling desire to race around cars to catch up to the Mass, keeping cars from breaking the Mass and creating the potentially dangerous individual-rider-in-traffic situation.
TPS: WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING THING THAT HAS HAPPENED ON A RIDE?
JAO: The most exciting thing to happen on a Mass ride? Probably the fact that on our inaugural ride this past January 17, we had probably 40 people show up. So we had a 1% response of my guesstimated Marathon attendance, we had a percentage. Forty people, plus or minus a few, made up their minds to say, “tonight I’m gonna go out and ride my bicycle with a bunch of strangers.” The fact that an idea on paper, on flyers, in the minds of a few people, turned into an event which generated a public response, it’s incredible.
TPS: WOULD YOU CALL YOURSELF A CONSERVATIONIST? WHAT OTHER ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY THINGS ARE YOU INTO?
JAO: Am I a conservationist? I don’t necessarily believe any one person can save the planet, maybe guys like Richard Gere (sp?) and Robert Redford can do that; on an individual basis I believe in doing what I can. I leave my car in the garage whenever I can and take my bike - did you know that the average transit a person makes in their daily life is less than two miles? Did you know that in the ratio of energy to motion, the bicycle is the number one most efficient method of locomotion, in the history of mankind? I put my paper and plastic in the Long Beach purple recycle bins, I put my bottles and cans in a box for the homeless to pick up. I ride my bike to the video store, oftentimes to the market. I’m appalled at the condition of the Los Angeles river - all the people in all the cities upriver don’t have to see the results of their careless garbage. Take a look at the bay, read the newspaper about the waste-collecting booms we’ve installed here that explode with garbage every time we get a fair amount of rain; I’m concerned about what we’re doing to the planet, yet I’m not an idealist. I realize that in order to live in such a luxurious way as we do in the US we have to sacrifice certain things, but I think people and our civic leaders can do more on an individual basis to protect our environment. We have to live here; even animals know not to soil their own dens. Adlai Stevenson may have said it best, “ We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent upon its vulnerable reserves of air and soil--all committed for our safety to its security and peace, and preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work and, I will say, the love, we give our fragile craft.”
TPS: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CURRENT FORMS OF PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION, AS THEY APPLY TO LONG BEACH?
JAO: Long Beach and Public Transport: I think Long Beach is on the cutting edge. We have in this city an excellent bus system, with highly competent drivers. Our busses connect both with Orange County and Los Angeles transit. We have a phenomenal light rail in the Blue Line, which with connections, can take you anywhere you want to go in the City of Angels. With the exception of a trip to Costco or Home Depot, I don’t see any reason to drive within the city of Long Beach.
TPS: WHAT DO PEOPLE DO IF THEY WANT TO RIDE?
JAO: If people want to ride, they need to make the choice. For a long time I’ve been fascinated by what it is in the human mind that makes a person go from thinking, to acting. Why do I suddenly get up and put on a new CD? Why aren’t I incapacitated by thought? Motor skills kick in and suddenly I move. If people want to come out and join the Critical Mass they need to do simply that. We meet at three places, every third Friday of the month. First, we leave the downtown Bikestation, First St. and Promenade at 6pm. Next, we make our way down to Second/Livingston/Ocean streets near Polly’s Coffee, departing there at 6:45 pm. After that, and until the Mass decides better, we’ll meet at Recreation Park South, Seventh and Park Streets, to depart at 7:15. The ride is flexible, subject to the whims of its participants. Everybody is welcome - if you’re under 18, bring a parent. If it’s going to be dark, bring lights and reflectors. If you can, bring a helmet. Critical Mass is meant to be a fun ride, a way for bicycle enthusiasts to come together and enjoy our city streets. We want more bicycle lanes and awareness from drivers - Long Beach is the sixth largest city in California, bicycle riders here want to be represented and recognized.
TPS: WHAT'S YOUR "HANDLE"?
JAO: I’ve got no handle other than that my parent gave me when I was born, Jeff Oberle.
(Ed note: The last CRITCAL MASS pedaled from the Bikestation to 2nd, then 7th Street, then onto the PIKE, a new fish n' beer bar owned by Chris Reese of Social Distortion fame! Visit criticalmassrides.info and to contact JAO, email lbcmass@... KaRi)
theprimespot.com ~ VftH ~ gallery117.com
Long Beach 562-804-5625 SoCalifornia
Local Art and Music