Saturday, August 26, 2006

Stretched for Excuses

When you have undercover officers (who fail to identify themselves as such) clotheslining Critical Mass riders off their bikes, dragging them to the paddy wagon, and beating them up in a Public Safety Building holding cell, you better show that you have good reason for doing so--something with more weight than just "because we thought we could get away with it". That is why in a city where the police force is 'stretched for resources', such great effort went in to babysitting Critical Mass yesterday afternoon. That is why a force that has a not-so secret problem of inability to respond to calls (you know, crimes) in a reasonable time used at least thirty officers to control a peaceful bike ride.

To the Tom Brodbecks of the city--their opinions undeveloped and misinformed--the resources that tax-paying citizens spent on babysitting Critical Mass will of course be the cyclist's fault; like their presence actually requires that many police officers. Yet in March, at the first Critical Mass ride of the year, 75-100 cyclists rode through downtown unescorted and without incident. In June and July, after the notorious and brutal May ride, a handful of bike patrol officers rode with us, both times without any real incident (except last month's made-up one). Yesterday, with one officer for every five or six cyclists, Critical Mass riders still did the number one thing that raised the ire of so much of the motoring public, and what prompted the police to clamp down on CM in the first place: hold up traffic by going through traffic lights en masse. Traffic behind us was just as slowed down, too, since police kept cyclists to the right lane(s), but their cruisers occupied the left lane(s), meaning no one was able to drive past us anymore than they were in previous masses, where cyclists occupied all lanes going one direction. (On Corydon, both directions of traffic were blocked because as CM occupied the eastbound lane, police cruisers occupied the westboud.) As a result of riders being kept to the right, the mass was thinned out, stretching a greater length, and thereby holding up motoring traffic longer.

I don't know how much more redundant and embarassing this can get. If it's OK for Critical Mass to ride through traffic lights and hold up traffic in August, why the brutal opposition to doing so back in May? Why devote a significant portion of your Force to watch, corrall, videotape (hello, Orwell), a peaceful group of 200 bike riders when 400 did so two months ago with just a small number of bike police along? It's too bad the police have been unable to answer those questions, and that the mainstream media has failed to ask them.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Transparency at City Hall

There is no longer a bike rack outside of the City Hall council building. For awhile, there was one sitting at the Main Street side, but for the last couple of weeks it has not been there. The only bike rack you will find at City Hall now is largely hidden behind shrubs and shadows outside the Administration building. Of course, compared to the Maryland Bridge, Main Street underpass, beligerent hillbillies, undercover cops, etc. this is small fries for Winnipeg cyclists. However, it sends a loud and explicit message to all citizens and visitors of Winnipeg: We refuse to join every other city across North America--from Vancouver to Phoenix--in at least pretending that we care about cycling.

And really, in a city where the mayor in 2005 told reporters that "ideally, they [car and bicycle traffic] should be separated," it makes sense that there would be no bike racks outside of City Hall. Good for Sam Katz' City Hall for having the courage to express to the public how they truely feel about cycling; no more gestures of cycling downtown being something that is encouraged, or that City staff might actually have a place to lock their bike should they choose to get to work sans Taurus. For this City Hall, that bike rack out front was a serious conflict of interest.