Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pittsburgh's Critical Mass ride, 5-25-2007 (May 25, 2007)

Current mood: accomplished accomplished

Finally! After a year of trying and failing for one reason or another, I finally got to go on a Critical Mass ride. For those in the dark, the point of Critical Mass is to get as many bicyclists as possible to ride down a succession of city streets all at once. It's not just a Pittsburgh thing, they're everywhere. Pittsburgh's contingent meets by Dippy, the huge dinosaur in front of Carnegie Library in Oakland, usually on the last Friday of a month.

I had hoped to catch a bus into Downtown, but I missed the 4:28 trip, and being that it was an 11C, there was no guarantee it would have had a bike rack anyway. That decided, I chose to take much the same path into Oakland as I did two weeks ago. The trip was fairly uneventful, and exactly 60 minutes after leaving the house, I was standing next to a life-size apatosaurus.

At precisely 5:30, there were maybe 15 cyclists there, but they streamed in in ones and twos for the next half hour. By 6 sharp, we had 76 there, by my unofficial count. Most were twentysomething, though there were maybe 10 men and one woman in their 40s or older. By gender, of the younger set, I'd guess maybe three women to seven men. No young teens, so far as I could tell. In terms of equipment, my early-1970s Raleigh Record was probably the oldest bike there, but I'm a poor judge. Let's just say mine had the most rust.

With a shout and a holler, off we went! With a right onto Forbes, we clearly filled the street, both outbound lanes, from Dithridge to Craig. A left on Craig stretched us out a bit, as it's only one lane northbound. A left onto Fifth, then we really strung out, almost from Craig to Bellefield, scattered across both inbound lanes. We continued on Fifth through Oakland, then a left onto Meyran (not sure), and again left onto Forbes to go past where we began.

Note that this is 6:00 and it's still pretty busy, car-wise. Automotive traffic pretty much came to a halt as we went by, which as far as I can tell, is partly by design. The message is: "We're here, dammit, and we matter. If you don't like it, then join us." So, lots of cars got to wait 40 to 60 seconds longer than usual to get through a light, poor babies.

We got pretty spread out as we climbed Craig Street from Centre Avenue to the Bloomfield Bridge. It's not that steep a hill, but not everyone is in the same physical condition. FWIW, I found myself about five to ten bikes behind the leader. I had no problem whatsoever keeping up, in fact I didn't even feel that I was working very hard (not like on the trip there), so I must be in OK condition.

Crossing the Bloomfield Bridge, we were moving along quickly, so got even more stretched out. As we rounded onto Liberty outbound, we asked the front riders to hold up, as our length was becoming a problem -- i.e., our mass was no longer critical, and also, we can self-correct. Once back together as a single group, we turned left onto Gross St, then left onto Friendship, and another left onto Penn, heading for Downtown via the Strip District. At 26th, we made a leftright onto inbound Liberty. Here, we were quite bunched, now fully occupying both lanes on inbound Liberty. I couldn't count people anymore, but I suspect we were down to about 40 to 50 riders, as several split off while we rolled through Friendship and Lawrenceville. At someone's suggestion, we stuck to just the right inbound lane to let some cars by -- again, self-correcting as soon as we made our point.

At one point, I thought we had decided to ride through the Armstrong Tunnel to the Sahside, but we ended up aiming straight for Downtown and the North Shore. These rides are apparently not choreographed very tightly. For all I know, a bunch of them did go that way. As I said, I tended to be toward the front, and may not have noticed a group splinter off.

Fun memory: Everyone whooping and whistling as we rode under the railroad bridge on Liberty Avenue at the edge of Downtown. I think this was also where the one flat tire occurred (not me). From Liberty to Grant Street, then right onto Fifth Avenue. Somewhere in here a Pittsburgh police car appeared, though it seemed its occupants were more helpful than disturbing. (At the March 2006 ride, one cop gave the group a decidedly difficult time, and I don't know if it ever got properly resolved.) Again, being toward the front, I didn't see anything that may have happened. In any event, I've seen buses routinely take longer to get through Downtown intersections than the bunch of us were taking.

From Grant to inbound Fifth, left onto Cherry Way, right onto Forbes, then left onto Wood because of a police barricade. Apparently a TV show, The Kill Point, is being filmed in our fair city, so parts of Downtown have been roped off. Anyway, we rolled down Third Ave, and crossed into the fountain area by the Tomb of the Unknown Bowler. I don't know if anyone actually rode through the fountain, but a couple got close enough to get a splash or two. Then over to Market Square, where the actual movie set was. There was apparently a break in the action, since we were allowed to proceed past the black S.W.A.T. truck and the Channel 5 News van (there is no Channel 5 in Pittsburgh) over to Forbes. I guess I'll have to watch the show to find out what all this was about.

We left town via Stanwix, Fort Duquesne Blvd and the Sixth Street Bridge, where we got the most angry honks. I guess Downtown drivers are far less patient at 6:45 with 40 riders than Oakland drivers are at 6:00 with almost twice that. Once across the river, with a hook turn we aimed for the river itself, then headed downstream. An orange plastic fence slowed us a bit -- it took a bit to heft a couple dozen bikes and riders across -- then we ended the ride down by the Korean War Memorial.

Splitting up, a few went to a fundraiser at a watering hole off of East Ohio Street, while a few others, myself included, bought some snacks at the Cedar Avenue Giant Eagle, then headed down by the riverside to have a small picnic -- talking bikes, birds and general BS. It was a relaxing little get-together at the end of a very pleasant ride.

Towards dark, I thought I'd better get home while I could, so stood at the corner of East Commons and East Ohio Street, looking for any of a 1D Mount Royal, a 12A North Hills Shopper, an 11D Perrysville or a 500 Highland Park-West View. Any of these could get me close enough to ride the rest of the way home, but none were guaranteed a bike rack. Whichever one was so equipped would be the one I'd run to catch. I wasn't at a bus stop, just where I could see all four routes approach. The winner was an 11-year-old Novabus, 2744, running an 11D. I mounted it in less than 15 seconds, then off we went. In West View, I think I might have set a personal record, unmounting it and storing the rack, in under 10 seconds. From there, it was a 20-minute ride up Perry Highway, but I was home by about 10. With a quick shower, I was soon in bed, asleep.

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