Gothenburg is only Sweden's second largest city but it's home to the country's biggest regular monthly Critical Mass and has by far Sweden's worst air pollution.
On Friday evening as temperatures crept bellow freezing a score of well wrapt up cyclists braved the poisonous air to celebrate the freedom of the bicycle. This was the second Critical Mass with the theme of air pollution and we placed warning signs in some of the cities worst effected places.
Areas of Gothenburg city centre are so polluted that in January asthmatics and people with heart and lung problems were warned not to go outside on one occasion. The warning was a bit late and came out on the day after the record high levels of the toxic NO2 were measured which didn't make matters any better.
The problem with pollution in Gothenburg is usually blamed on a metrological phenomenon called inversion. This is where warm air sits over the colder air at ground level trapping the pollution over the city like a lid. According to the local authorities the reason that Gothenburg is Sweden's most polluted city is because of the weather. I think its time to point out to them that its cars that are causing the fumes. Under normal weather conditions when there is no inversion the NO2 floats away into the atmosphere and falls back to earth as acid rain poisoning the Swedish forest.
Critical Mass is not just about cycling it's also about cities. The cities of today are noisy dusty unhealthy polluted places. The inhabitants move around in constant fear of being run over. A fear instilled in the first years of life by rightfully nervous parents and road safety classes in nursery schools. A constant threat we have all leaned to live with. Anyone who has children or pets is doubly nervous. As the amount of urban traffic increase the numbers of asthmatic children soar. The average European life is shortened by over half a year due to pollution. Did you know that exposure to traffic noise increases the risk of heart attack? Think about it the next time you're out walking in a city and go from a road with heavy traffic into a pedestrian street. The difference in stress levels and general well being is enormous. The carnage that the automobile causes every day on a global level puts the deeds of the warmongers Bush and Bliar into the shade. Why aren't we protesting about the deaths inflicted on innocent victims of cars? Passive smoking is mainly a thing of the past in Sweden. When will protection from passive driving get the same status?
Cities are places for people; they are places of social interaction and relaxation, or just living, working and having fun. What we need to do is to chase the cars out of our city centres. That is what a few of us did on Friday evening for a short time; through active cycling we reclaimed some of the city's streets from the autoholics who usually monopolise them and I tell you it felt good. One day soon we shall have the freedom of our city's streets all of the time and not just on the last Friday of the month. Until then, long live Critical Mass!
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]