In the next 24 hours ten people will die and 130 will be seriously injured by motor vehicles in Britain.
They are a success for two main reasons. First of all they are very easy to do - it's a kind of cycling coincidence. People just meet at a pre-arranged point, and decide there and then which way to go. To avoid legal problems there are no official organisers, and no pre-planned route, although some groups give the police advance warning.
Secondly, the event is not just a boring demonstration against something but a positive statement about how things could be better if we gave up our addiction to the car culture. This is the sort of action that really works and is a lot more fun than shouting SLOGAN! SLOGAN! SLOGAN!
Reclaim the Streets stopped traffic in London with sound systems, set up sandpits for kids in main roads and offered free food and drink to people passing by. In Oxford waiters appeared out of nowhere and brought traffic to a standstill as they casually served tea. And we all got a chance to see just how our streets could look at Claremont Road, the squatted street which stood defiant in the way of the M11 Link Road. The street was full of chairs, sofas, a bath tub, pool table - and a rusty old car blocking entry to all motor vehicles. And every Sunday people partied in the street... Critical Mass is about this sort of positive action. As one cyclist told SchNEWS, "The aim of Critical Mass is simple - to create a car-free space in towns that cyclists and pedestrians can enjoy, free from the worry of pollution or accidents. Is that too much too ask?"
It clearly is for Sussex Police, who have been getting mightily annoyed at the subversion cyclists can spread by riding bikes. Last month in Brighton scores of coppers equipped with video surveillance units and a helicopter (costing a mere �1,200 an hour to keep in the air) tracked and recorded 70 cyclists.
Local councillors agreed with the police that these cyclists needed a close eye kept on them - one complained that "everyone has the right to use the road but no one has the right to close it down because they disagree with cars" while another demanded that cyclists should "work out with the police a demonstration that would not be disruptive."
Well excuse me but car owners have been disrupting the health of children, the lives of pedestrians and the future of the planet's eco-system for years and politicians haven't done anything to stop it. Now ordinary people are doing something - and, surprise, surprise, politicians and the police are ganging up to condemn these actions.
Two people in Brighton have already been charged under the Public Order Act for supposedly 'organising' an illegal demonstration - ie not asking police permission to cycle down the street - even though one of them doesn't even own a bike! An anonymous bike rider told SchNEWS: "The intimidatory tactics used by Sussex Police are meant to scare people off riding their bikes. They will not work. It is vital that as many people as possible turn up to the next critical mass in Brighton to ensure that we can still cycle about in safety ".