Tuesday Photo Challenge – Lift

Yes, I know: Tuesday’s a long way off seeing as it’s already the weekend. But there’s still time to get my entry in for this week’s Dutch Goes the Photo challenge on the subject of Lift.

Bike Lift_2442902362_l.jpg

Not long after I rediscovered cycling in 2007, I discovered Critical Mass which, at the time, was a pretty big event in Toronto. This was a monthly bike ride that was officially organized by nobody. It was just understood that people would meet at the corner of Bloor and Spadina at 7:00 PM on the last Friday of the month. In the summer, 300-400 people might show up. With that many people, the entire traffic lane could be taken up by cyclists for the length of a city block. Riding in the middle of such a group felt incredibly safe and so it became something of a rolling social event with people “mingling” by changing position in the crowd. There was no set route. The people in front would just choose where the group went and the rest of us would follow. To keep the group together, the contentious practice of “corking” intersections – blocking traffic while the whole group went through an intersection regardless of whether the signal was red or green (as long as the group started through the intersection when it was green) – was taken. Mostly, though, reactions from others including drivers was bemusement at seeing so many happy cyclists, some playing musical instruments, others in costume, riding by.

Occasionally, in a fit of joy brought on by feeling relatively safe on the roads because the power dynamic had flipped, the group would stop in an intersection and raise their bikes over their heads. The photo above captures that moment.

In Toronto this ride seems to have petered out a bit. On one ride (that I didn’t go on), the entire group found its way on to an expressway and stopped traffic there. This changed the attitude of law enforcement toward the ride and it was much more heavily policed with a contingent of bicycle cops often joining the group and making sure the group stopped at lights regardless. This broke the group in to pieces and created a bit of an adversarial tone. I haven’t been in almost a decade now but I look back with great fondness on the days when it was mostly unnoticed in the city.

6 thoughts on “Tuesday Photo Challenge – Lift

    1. No apologies are necessary. This ride has always been a bit of a polarizing topic even among cyclists. It is particularly challenging due to the logistics of dealing with 300-400 additional cyclists. Riding in a line presents challenges to safety by right-turning drivers, riding side by side presents a level of frustration for drivers. Continuing through red lights is a legal issue but better from a safety standpoint and prevents the group’s being split up which then makes multiple blocks of 50-100 riders that need to be navigated. Up until the group overstepped their bounds by going on a controlled access highway, they were treated in much the same way as a peaceful protest would be: Make sure they’re safe and wait it out. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t disrupt much.

      Some might also argue that a permit should be required but this is tricky, legally, given the potential infringement of freedom of assembly laws. It isn’t illegal for people to meet up together and go for an unorganized ride no matter what the size.

      In the end, though, the exciting part of this event and photograph is the flip of the power dynamic between road users – a flip that in the case of the photo lasted for about a minute in the space of a month: 0.02% of the time :-).

      That said, the contentious nature of this ride is such that I don’t do it anymore. For many drivers it’s bad enough that I’m on the road by myself at all, no need to generate further conflict regardless of its righteousness or lack thereof.

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