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Atlanta’s Courteous Mass, Ideas for All

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atlanta courteous mass critical mass bicycle ride advocacy commuter downtown cycling peachtree city urban bike

Although this interview has been in progress for about a week, it’s a great followup to the NYC Critical Mass post below.

I spoke with Atlanta’s Courteous Mass ride organizers, Jeff McMichael and Jett Marks, about their softer version of Atlanta’s Critical Mass, about the ride and why they differentiate it from a typical CM.  They’re both daily, year-round bike commuters, are members of the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign and work with a few local bicycle groups.  In other words, they’re pretty much like you and I, except they’re doing the right things to get more people on bikes…

BIKERUMOR: Are you the organizer for Atlanta’s Critical Mass or Courteous Mass?

JEFF: I am helping to organize the Atlanta Courteous Mass Rides. I seek opinions on routes and other matters, and post announcements on various local websites.

Critical Mass is a ‘leaderless ride’, often with just the people in front going where they want.

BIKERUMOR: Sounds like Fight Club…you don’t talk about Critical Mass, or at least not the “organization” behind it. Why not?

JEFF: I think this quote from the Wikipedia Critical Mass article says it better than I could:

“The “disorganized” nature of the event allows it to largely escape clampdown by authorities who may view the rides as forms of parades or organized protest. Additionally, the movement is free from the structural costs associated with a centralized, hierarchical organization. In order for the event to function, the only requirement is a sufficient turn-out to create a “critical mass” of riders dense enough to occupy a piece of road to the exclusion of drivers of motorized vehicles, pedestrians, and other road users.”

Read “more” for the links, pics and the rest of the interview…

BIKERUMOR: What’s the difference between Atlanta’s Critical Mass and its Courteous Mass?

JEFF: To stay together as a ‘mass’, Critical Mass riders will block intersections (corking) and allow the entire mass of riders to proceed through–often breaking traffic laws by doing so. Courteous Mass rides strive to obey all traffic laws and to not unduly antagonize motorists—we will ‘take the lane’ on multi-lane roads.

JETT: Perhaps not all readers will understand that “take the lane” means the cyclists confine themselves to a single lane instead of stretching across all lanes.  This is done in an effort to get faster-moving traffic around us.

atlanta courteous mass critical mass bicycle ride advocacy commuter downtown cycling peachtree city urban bikeBIKERUMOR: Where did the idea for Courteous Mass come from?

JEFF: As a response to a couple of large (for Atlanta) Critical Mass rides which drew police attention and crackdown.

JETT: The Atlanta incarnation of Critical Mass did see some backlash (particularly in June) and this was the impetus, but the idea of Courteous Mass did not necessarily originate here.  There are a number of similar rides throughout the country.  Our Courteous Mass pretty much follows — consciously or not — what other cities are trying.  I got invovled because I like the positive aspects of Critical Mass and feel Courteous Mass retains the positives while addressing the few negatives.   For me, the significant negative of Critical Mass is it can re-inforce poor perceptions of cyclists as law-breakers.  The element of subversiveness does add to the fun however.

BIKERUMOR: It’s now a regular monthly event, right? How many have you done and what’s the average turnout?

JEFF: They started in July 2008 and only skipped September. The first 3 rides had 50+ riders, but the winter weather has dropped the turnout to just a handful–but we still had a good time.

BIKERUMOR: Let’s say someone wants to start a Critical Mass (or Courteous Mass) in their own city. In your experience, what’s the first thing they should do?

JEFF: Find a few like-minded cyclists/friends, set a time, place and route, and publicize via local bicycle groups and websites, flyers at local bike shops.


The Courteous Mass is very family friendly, helping get people more comfortable with riding on the road.
The Courteous Mass is very family friendly, helping get people more comfortable with riding on the road.

BIKERUMOR: Granted, bikes are allowed on the road, but do you (or whoever) work with local police or officials to get their blessing?


JETT: Most group bicycle rides do not seek police involvement.  If this were a parade which required the street to be closed, then yes, you would need a permit.  My daughter’s soccer team sometimes drives (in cars) as a group to a match but we don’t seek law-enforcement’s blessing to make the trip and I don’t see why traveling in a group on bicycles should be any different.

BIKERUMOR: Do some people get out of hand on the rides, risking bad public perception of cyclists or CM rides? If so, how does the group deal with that?

JEFF: Yes, they are always a few people on the Critical Mass rides (a *very* small number) who seek to provoke and have conflicts with motorists. Cooler heads will often try to defuse the situation, with a middling success rate.

atlanta courteous mass critical mass bicycle ride advocacy commuter downtown cycling peachtree city urban bikeBIKERUMOR: Do the rides generally end somewhere specific, or do people just pull off when they’re tired of riding?

JEFF: Critical Mass rides don’t always return to the starting point—sometimes they end at a local tavern or such. The Courteous Mass rides, so far, have always returned to the starting location. At both rides, people will drop out and ride off for a variety of reasons (being close to home, going to dinner, being not happy with other riders, etc).

BIKERUMOR: What’s the craziest (or weirdest, funniest, something-est) thing you’ve ever seen or done on a CM ride?

Police confrontations are never good—usually someone is going to say or do the wrong thing and will evoke the police’s ire. These incidents are rare. Halloween rides are always fun.

 – End of Interview –

About the Courteous Mass, from their website:

Atlanta commuters, recreational cyclists, college students, hipsters, racers, riders,couriers, families with children – the curious and the bored, timid and bold, are all welcome to join the local bicycle advocates and organizers for the monthly Courteous Mass. Meet at Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta at 6pm.This ride takes place the 2nd Friday of every month.  Their Facebook profile is here.

Pics from some recent events are here:

August: http://cycling.jettmarks.com/2008/08/atlanta-version-of-courteous-mass.html

October: http://cycling.jettmarks.com/2008/10/atlanta-courteous-mass-oct-2008.html

November: Courteous Half-Dozen: http://cycling.jettmarks.com/2008/11/courteous-half-dozen.html

Atlanta’s Critical Mass takes place the last Friday of every month, and you can get route info here.

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