Critical Mass – a threat to London pedestrians

A Critical Mass demo

A Critical Mass demo

I was walking tonight from Great Queen Street in Holborn to a hotel in Southampton Row.  I took a familiar route by the back doubles to avoid the huge crush around Holborn tube station but was somewhat alarmed to hear a cacophony of noise from the junction at Holborn tube.  It sounded like a mob of drunken football supporters and I was pleased to be taking a back route.  That is until I reached Southampton Row, on the opposite side of the road from the hotel where I was dining.  I saw a mass of cyclists, grouped very closely together and many of them were carrying devices blasting out noise – some may have thought it was music.  It looked quite impossible for me to cross Southampton Row, such was the mass of cyclists and they clearly had no intention of obeying the traffic lights which I had assumed would make it easy for me to cross the road.  They also clearly wanted to block the road space and prevent pedestrians from crossing as well as making life impossible for cars, lorries and, for that matter, ambulances and fire engines, not to mention the police who were nowhere to be seen.

Welcome to Critical Mass, a cycling protest group or, to be more precise, an anti-car group who apparently deliberately gum up Central London streets with their mass cycle ride on the last Friday evening of every month.  I will know to avoid Central London on the last Friday in future and I hope shopkeepers, pubs, hotels and other businesses will make their views known.

Having stood on the side of Southampton Row for some minutes while these cyclists came to a grinding halt but so as to block the road completely, I decided to push my way across.  A small number were helpful and asked their colleagues to make way for this pensioner pedestrian but a lot more just sat on their saddles and were clearly determined to occupy the road at the expense and to the detriment of all other potential road users.

I think this was a complete disgrace.  It brings the whole cycling community into disrepute and I want to know why the Metropolitan Police are not out in force to cart then away, confiscate their bicycles and lock them up?  They are guilty of obstructing the highway by their behaviour.

 

 

About Keith R Mitchell CBE

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967. Pursued a successful career in financial training and publishing until selling his interests in 1990. Elected a County Councillor for the Bloxham Division in 1989. Leader of Oxfordshire County Council 5 November 2001 to 15 May 2012. Chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee July 2002 to July 2005. Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly July 2005 to July 2008. In HM the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours, appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of services to local government.
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10 Responses to Critical Mass – a threat to London pedestrians

  1. ‘I want to know why the Metropolitan Police are not out in force to cart then away, confiscate their bicycles and lock them up’

    I gather it is because this mass ride is regarded as a legitimate protest within the scope of established civil rights. That status has been challenged on many occasions, but was last confirmed by the Law Lords (as perhaps you are aware, and take issue with in the light of your difficulty crossing Southampton Row): http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2008/nov/26/critical-mass-london-police

    Some lawyer probably points to the general inconvenience of political protest and perhaps even the history of the Ramblers Association… but your experiences do seem to have provoked some online reflection, and even some measure of agreement with your complaint:
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/2304619551/?fref=nf

    But there is still quite a measure of disagreement, I suppose, if you want them all locked up.

  2. Matt says:

    It’s called critical mass for a reason. When a mass becomes critical the inevitable happens and it can’t be stopped or held back. The whole purpose is to demonstrate the enormous number of cyclists that need to be catered for but are largely ignored and moaned about by people such as this blogger. I wonder how his blog would read if no one cycled and we got in the way of his birth right to an unhindered bus journey?

  3. The Big Pink Dub Soundsystem says:

    Please accept my personal and sincere apologies for disrupting your sojourn in our great capital, and trust our monthly soiree along the thoroughfares of London Town will not deter you from visiting us the future. Perhaps you could hop on a Barclays hire bike and join us? It’s a bit like the Tweed run, but fewer pipes and less facial hair (and more music, admittedly). We’re welcoming to cyclists of all ages, abilities and political polarisations, and it’s an excellent way to discover the City.

    The Metropolitan Police used to accompany the ride, but they’ve probably got better things to do (that, or they sold their bicycles in the cuts). As to the legality, I’m afraid that’s been done to death in the High Court: ‘Tis a Public Procession, held since time immemorial (well, we had our 20th Anniversary last year). Would you insist on exercising your God-given right as a True Born Englishman to cross the road when you damn well please, had the procession involved motorcars or horses? No, the sensible thing is to stand back, enjoy the spectacle and go about your business once the procession passes. Funnily enough, this is the overwhelming reaction from most pedestrian and other road users: Londoners are, by and large, a tolerant lot and far less likely to get hot under the collar at the sight of others enjoying themselves.

  4. Warden says:

    I regularly experience the huge crush outside Holborn Tube station. That junction is a death trap and both pedestrians and cyclists are regularly killed there by the heavy traffic. A common obstruction lately has been large crocodiles of school children which are parties visiting places like the British Museum, I suppose. The teachers in charge naturally have to keep their wards close together because, if they got separated, they might get lost or worse. It’s a similar issue with the Critical Mass cyclists. Legally, they are a customary procession and, as a procession, they are entitled to maintain their cohesion as a group. It’s safer that way.

    • ….. and to hell with pedestrians trying to get about …..

      • Big A says:

        ….. and to hell with cyclists trying to get about safely …..

      • That is somewhat heated. Bar the request that we lock people who exercise a lawful right, no one here has suggested ‘to hell with’ anyone.

        I put it to you, Keith R Mitchell CBE, that such heated expression does not appear to be aimed at clarifying or responding to any answer to your question ‘why the Metropolitan Police are not out in force to cart then away, confiscate their bicycles and lock them up?’

        Of course, I might not have correctly understood you. Possibly you had not in fact meant to ask a question.

        If you weren’t asking a question, then I would guess the appeal of your rhetorical indictment depends on seeing “motorists”, “pedestrians”, and “cyclists” as distinct categories of person, with “cyclists” denoting a loud and obstreperous minority “community”, objectionably insisting on special treatment.

        Well, conceived of as a distinct “community” one encounters no “cyclists” on the streets of Amsterdam or Utrecht. But I don’t think that is a state of affairs that ‘Critical Mass’ is protesting against. So perhaps your idea that they are a sort of special interest group may be misplaced.

        https://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/a-cyclist-is-not-a-different-species-just-another-human-being/

        https://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/there-is-no-us/

  5. waltonharry says:

    Critical Mass is ‘pro-bike’, it has never been ‘anti-car’ (or ‘anti’ anything else, for that matter).

    Your statement that Critical Mass “brings the whole cycling community into disrepute” is a bit out of line. Do you judge the majority of good motorists by the drunken/speeding/texting minority who cause deaths? Do you judge the majority of sensible pedestrians by the rude/careless/inattentive few who get in your way?

    By and large, pedestrians enjoy the spontaneity of Critical Mass – a London event that has taken place on the last Friday of every month for nearly 21 years. Moreover, it’s hard to see how a couple hundred slow-moving people on bikes could cause more of a ‘threat to London pedestrians’ than motor traffic – you said yourself that you heard the riders before you even saw them, so it’s not entirely clear how they could have posed a threat to you unless you put yourself in their path…

  6. Reginald Noble says:

    Keith, I’m not sure that anyone mentioned hell.

    I respect your right to your opinion but my opinion is that this is a bit of an overreaction. The Mass only ever takes a few minutes to pass. As stated above, the cyclists need to stay together to prevent the minority of impatient and irresponsible motorists from endangering them by finding gaps in the mass and attempting to bully the cyclists off the road with a combination of close overtaking, revving and verbal abuse. I have witnessed such activity first hand and it can be extremely frightening for inexperienced cyclists, as well as dangerous for all concerned.

    You should join a Mass sometime, it really is fun to cycle through London as part of such a large group. Otherwise, consider taking a moment to admire the beautiful architecture in central London. Travelling around London is stressful enough without getting excited about waiting a few minutes to cross the road, on the of occasion when a visit to London falls on the last Friday of the month…IF the Mass happens to be passing at the exact moment when you want to cross the road.

  7. Evo Lucas says:

    If you want to come along next month do so. Plenty of old timers like your good self ride too. I’ll even provide you with earmuffs to protect your sensitive ears in the event the din gets too much for you.

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