Wednesday, May 21, 2008

crimanimal mass (or, critical mass w attitude)

well, following on the theme of bicycles as alternative transport for car-culture cities like Los Angeles, i figure i might as well give note to Crimanimal Mass.

Crimanimal Mass is a small protest phenomenon here in Los Angeles, created as a more vocal offshoot of the larger Critical Mass rides. most of you know Critical Mass as the global movement that holds monthly bike rides around the world to remind people of cyclist rights to roads (reference:, and Crimanimal Mass apparently came about as a response to perceived police harassment, with a small group of riders choosing to escalate the profile of their group rides as a means of more aggressively representing the interests of bike riders (reference:

there's been a series of Crimanimal Mass rides--to my knowledge, 3 so far. the latest one was the most audacious, with a pack of about 30 riders taking to the 405 freeway in Santa Monica during afternoon rush hour traffic on Friday, May 9. no one was injured, and no one arrested (although, this may have been because it was so unexpected, and people were so shocked, that the ride was over by the time anybody managed to contact the police). you can see video of the ride: or

the ride was given a front-page article in the May 10 issue of the Santa Monica Daily Press:

for those of you who don't know, the 405 freeway is one of the most congested freeways in Los Angeles, and one of the multitude of Southern California freeways that has given the region its reputation for horrendous traffic jams (and not just for the road rage, or the density of cars, but for the sheer scale in geographic scope). through the city of Santa Monica, the 405 essentially becomes a massive parking lot during the 3-7pm hours every day, particularly Fridays.

this is why cycling is realistically a faster means of commuting than car on the Los Angeles westside. friends have told me that during rush hour, the dangers normally associated with riding Southern California streets become minimal, as motorists literally sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling at around 2-3 mph (literally, walking pace). bicyclists during this time can speed blissfully by.

which is why, i suppose, Crimanimal Mass decided to stage its protest during rush hour, and why they took to the 405 freeway in Santa Monica: they meant to give a vivid lesson in just how insane the L.A. car commute culture has become, and remind everybody of the relative benefits of cycling.

of course, riding on the freeway (any freeway, anywhere in the U.S.) is completely illegal.

also, i have to point out that i have some issues with the confrontational nature of Crimanimal Mass. i don't know if their kind of "in-your-face" attitude is the kind of posture that should be taken in the constant give-and-take of negotiations over rights to the road. personally, i've always believed that escalation of conflicts to extreme positions tends to only polarize parties into opposing sides, making compromise tenuous--and sometimes, less likely.

i'm not the only one with these kinds of feelings. a review of posts on cycling discussion groups, as well as within Critical Mass itself, will show a divergence of opinions as to the nature and value of Crimanimal Mass. not all riders hold them with high regard.

having said that, i have to concede that so far Crimanimal Mass has avoided violence, and eschewed damage to property or people. with the rides they've done to date, the only thing that's happened is that they've done some very highly profile rides with shock value, and have done so in style (with masks to cover their identity, to avoid prosecution by police). so long as they hold to this, i'm willing to view them as just another protest group...and as along as they actually protest based on some argument with a rational logic to explain their cause (i.e., that cycling is an effective alternative means of transportation)--as opposed to be behaving in petty or vindictive ways (i.e., like damage to property or people for its own sake)--then i'm even willing to pay attention.

on a side note, i should point out that i think i may know several of the riders in Crimanimal Mass. but to protect their identity, and to protect myself, i'm going to avoid asking questions for the sake of plausible deniability. i don't want to know...i just don't want to know.

1 comment:

jonathan starlight said...

interesting...i didn't know that. i stand corrected.

and i'm aware that people do ride on the 5 freeway on the stretch going by Camp Pendleton.

although, i'm guessing most police officers don't know about the nuances of this.