The first Thursday of every month is a day when rush hour here in San Marcos becomes a little more complicated. Some motorists may have already noticed this when last month around 200 bicycles were cruising down Hopkins en masse.This movement, like the much larger versions in big cities, is called Critical Massive. The latest revival of the Massive here in San Marcos was initiated by local bicycle enthusiast Silas Parker, who was willing to express his views on the topic to Newstreamz last week.
“It started in San Francisco,” Parker explained, “and when they do it there they have upwards of 2000 bikes on the streets. The whole massive will take 45 minutes to an hour just to pass through an area, so the streets really do get owned up. It’s a big statement in a city like that during rush hour to eat up that much traffic. We’re not really capable of doing that here, it’s such a small town. We only call it Critical Massive because people know what the name is. At least, some people do. We are a Critical Mass in this town.”
This is not the first instance of this movement in San Marcos, however. “In 2003, Ben Patterson and Ryan Magillicudy started the Critical Massive on the first Thursdays at the Library, but they called it Bike for Your Right. They were afraid of the consequences of calling it Critical Mass. They understood that it wasn’t going to be so critical and there’s not going to be 10,000 people there and they felt it would draw less negative attention. That died off when they graduated in 2004 or 2005,” said Silas.
“I just started it back up. I didn’t really do anything, I just made up the date and reminded everyone that we used to do it. It’s not really me, that’s the whole idea behind it, it’s a Massive. It has nothing to do with me, I’m just a spokesman for it at this point. I’m one of the oldest bikers in this town as far as the scene. Not age-wise, but I’ve been biking this town for seven years pretty intensely. It’s not a very big town, you get to know it pretty well in seven years. There have been alley-cat races and I’m the undisputed champion.”
Some of the motorists here in San Marcos have expressed uneasiness and even anger about the timing and location of the Massive. It starts at 5PM downtown and in the hour that it occurs the cyclists hit all three major thoroughfares here in town. “We’re not trying to upset anyone,” commented Parker. “If there’s one message it’s awareness. We’ve just got to let people know that there are bikes in this town. There are a lot of bikes in this town. There are at least 300 or 400 people in this town who ride their bike every day, who do not drive.”
“Critical Masses in the bigger cities have been very aggressive,” Parker added. “Somewhere along the line someone’s going to break something or someone is going to smash into a car with their bike or do something bad. We’re not out to do that and that’s not encouraged at all. We are actually following every traffic light, we’re obeying every rule of the road that we can, and there just happens to be a lot of us, so it’s going to move differently. People think that we’re trying to drive them crazy and we’re intentionally taking up the space but this is a realistic situation. You may be driving, it may be rush hour, and there may be someone on a bike.”
“The point of the Massive is that 100 bikes isn’t any different from one bike,” he continued. “For some reason it takes 100 for people to notice. People need to notice that we are a type of traffic. We’re not protected by bubbles. We can get hurt very easily. It’s dangerous to ride, I feel very fortunate that I’ve never smeared myself. I’ve been hit by cars twice now I’ve come out pretty good, but not everyone is so lucky.”
Driver awareness of bikes has been an ongoing problem here in San Marcos. With the school year in session, it‘s compounded by the increased amount of pedestrian and street traffic. Parker explained; “It’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk. That’s just a fact. There’s no bikes on sidewalks; this is against the law wherever you go. There’s no bike lanes in this town, and I’m fine with that. I feel that it’s better for bikes to be in a lane. That would be the other statement. There’s nothing wrong with a bike taking up a lane if there’s two lanes in the road. It’s way safer, and if they get on the shoulder and try to pretend like there’s a bike lane two things happen. That’s where all the debris gets kicked off and people will just pretend to pass them. Instead of going in the other lane and passing them as if they were in a whole lane, they’ll just kind of nudge around them. Sometimes you don’t even have to hit them, you can just startle a cyclist by just getting too close, and you can run them off the road and kill somebody.”
“If I had any real goal, I want people driving to know that I’m on the streets. In this town my goal outside of the Massive is to get as many people on bikes (as possible). I’ve been all over this country on my bike and ridden all over some big cities,” claims Silas. “Some are very nice, and very accessible – especially on the west coast – but this town is built for a bike. There are hills, but there are no big hills. They’re all just short enough that when you get to the other side there’s a fun downhill. It’s not like there’s a high side of town that’s really hard and that you would just have to drive to get around near the mountains or something. It’s a wonderful town to bike in and it’s almost inappropriate to drive sometimes.”
One positive aspect of more people riding bikes, aside from the obvious health benefits to the individuals, would be less traffic, and thus less need to keep constructing new roads that take up our lovely hill-country green spaces. “My biggest fear with cars and the rate that people are buying and using them exclusively to get to work and in everything that they do,” says Parker, “is the roads. Every time they build a new road, that road is there forever. They have to pave all that space and they have to destroy the land underneath it because they put in all the pipelines and these other things like electric wires underneath them. These roads will always be there. In the future there will be many places to park, but not so many places to play. Prairies are all turning into roads. Anything that’s easily transformable like flat prairie land, they transform into roads and parking lots, and those will always be there. We will never get those back.”
To find out more about Critical Massive in general visit critical-mass.info, and for the one here in San Marcos just come downtown between 5PM and 6PM on the first Thursday of every month with your bicycle.
by SARAH STEVENS