Arrests at London Critical Mass last Friday

Critical Mass is a global phenomenon that takes place on the last Friday of every month in more than 400 cities worldwide. The first Critical Mass ride was in September 1992 in San Francisco. In Toronto, cyclists gather at Bloor and Spadina at 6pm, then ride on an unannounced route. It’s a chance to experience cycling without fearing cars. If you haven’t been on a Critical Mass ride yet, join us at the end of this month.

In England, it’s a long-standing tradition. The London ride has taken place on the last Friday of every month since April 1994. This last ride, on Friday July 29, two significant things happened, both of which have to do with that other big event that’s getting news in the city right now.

First, London police failed in their attempt to ban the ride unless it announced its route. The House of Lords held that the event, which has no organisers or set route and proceeds on a “follow my leader” basis, was not governed by section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986. Instead, it counts as a “customary procession”. Since Critical Mass has no organisers, organizers are not required to announce the route, and the rides are not unlawful.

This was obviously an important victory for Critical Mass in England. But then, Metropolitan Police decided they would prevent the cyclists from approaching Stratford and (as they put it) disrupting the Olympic Games. When cyclists attempted to assert their rights and cross Blackfriars Bridge, which police had blocked, they were kettled, and 182 cyclists were arrested.

As The Guardian commented: “The problem with trying to hinder a peaceful event intended to assert the rights of cyclists to use the road is that trying to stop people making use of those rights will inevitably only make them twice as determined to do so. … A diverse group of people attempting to celebrate their right to use the road safely and in an environmentally friendly manner should be promoted by the Olympics, rather than persecuted for fear of their creating a four or five minute delay on the precious ZiL lanes. As Critical Mass is a long-running sporting tradition in London and many other cities across the world, Locog should have made sure they accommodated it — the Olympics are disrupting normal life in the city enough already without infringing the rights of the participants in one of few sporting events which no one is able to make a profit from.”


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