By Scott Mullen
BOSTON According to Noah Webster, critical mass is “the amount fissionable material necessary to sustain a chain reaction.” But if you’re talking to cyclists who are fed up with being relegated to the gutter, then Critical Mass is defined as an open-to-all celebration of cycling that takes place on the last Friday of each month. Critical mass is a giant, rolling protest against autos and the power that they wield, sometimes with deadly results, on the roadways. Initiated in San Francisco in the early 199Os, CM now occurs in major metropolitan areas, (and some smaller towns as well) across the globe. This form of protest has led to trouble with the law in the past, most notably in San Francisco where, in 1997, the police arrested dozens of CM participants. No rider was convicted of any crime.
On Friday, May 26 the Boston CM ride met with police opposition, albeit on a much smaller scale. Flying balloons and waving ‘honk if you like bikes’ signs, the group of more than 100 cyclists took both lanes of Memorial Drive, the major road on the Cambridge bank of the Charles River. Taking up both lanes, the cyclists were soon passed by a State Police cruiser that sped by and then blocked the road before them. Peter Rowinsky stopped to speak with the officer who said the group must move to the right lane.
“I said that I would move ... but that I could not answer for the actions of the other people in the ride,” said Rowinsky. The officer then detained Rowinsky and 20 minutes later arrested him. Rowinsky was charged with failure to obey a police officer and disorderly conduct. Both charges were dismissed on court fees.
Massachusetts General Law states that bicyclists “... shail have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited-access highways or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted.”
There are no signs prohibiting bicyclists from using Memorial Drive. According to a State Police spokesperson, the signs are missing, but should be there. “[The MDC] is in the process of replacing them,” said Sgt. Ron Sieberg.
Such a lax enforcement of the signage policy leads to confusion on the streets. Cyclists are confused as to where they can ride while police have no protocol in place to deal with such an incident in a decisive manner. The result is an arrest that cannot stand up in court.
Despite the arrest, June’s CM ride went off without a hitch. Attracting more than 120 cyclists, the parade of bikes cruised the city as it has for many months prior. Peter Rowinsky was there, riding with the same big smile as before. When asked why he rides the CM, Rowinsky spoke of the 29 days per month that cyclists are subjected to the wrath of motorists. On day 30, “I can ride slowly enough to actually talk to the people around me, I don’t have to suck a cigarette’s worth of exhaust fumes, and I can take part in an action that resembles, for a short period of time, the way I would like the world to be.”
Rowinsky plans a lawsuit against the State Police to defend the rights and responsibilities of cyclists on Massachusetts roads.