Critical Mass celebrates 30th anniversary with bike ride through San Francisco

Critical Mass, a monthly street demonstration in San Francisco that grew out of controversy, celebrated its 30th anniversary Friday night.

At peak times, it draws tens of thousands of people, causing traffic jams and headaches for commuters. But over time, events have evolved.

The tone and turnout have been very different in recent years compared to the past.

The mood is upbeat right now, with some saying that critical mass has made San Francisco better.

“Happy 30th anniversary,” shouted one cyclist over a champagne toast celebrating the milestone. Cycling at the Embarcadero in San Francisco on the last Friday of every month.

Advocates describe it as a joyous mass occupation of the streets by cyclists to raise awareness and improve safety. This is a leaderless ride with no routes.

Cyclist Fennel Doyle said she saw a difference in 15 years at Critical Mass, “seeing more families cycling.”

On this night, the tone and turnout were in stark contrast to the past. More than 100 people attended the milestone celebration.

Over the past few decades, the event has been described by some as a sport that has attracted thousands of riders.

They blocked traffic during the evening commute, which was the norm at the time.
This led to a conflict with the driver.

The police arrested the cyclist.

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Conflict and controversy brought change, one advocate said.

“This change has led to the popularity of cycling. This has led to cycling being important to San Francisco.
In my opinion, this makes San Francisco a better place for more people to ride bikes,” said Janice Li, former director of advocacy for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Now, cyclists say they’re focused on community and camaraderie. Great strides have been made; more cyclists and bike lanes are protected.
But that’s not the end of the race or its goals.

“I’d like to see fewer cars parked on bike lanes. I’m tired of having to drive around them,” Malinda Walker said.

“It’s an expression of power. It’s an expression of freedom. It’s a sense of belonging,” Lee said.

The San Francisco-born event inspired similar rides across the country and around the world. This anniversary ride seems to be less about nostalgia and more about cyclists’ warm embrace of the freedom that comes with being able to ride safely on city streets.

Amber Lee is a reporter for KTVU. Email Amber at or text/message at 510-599-3922.Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU, Instagram @AmberKTVU or Twitter @AmberKTVU

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