Cycle Advocacy: How Police Brutality Killed Portland’s Critical Mass Rides

Aftermass: Bicycling Post Critical Mass in Portland

Directed by Joe Biel (2014)

Film Review

This documentary relates the painful history which has made Portland Oregon the most bike friendly city in the US. Part relates to federal and state enabling legislation, and part to two successful lawsuits filed by Portland residents. However most relates to the massive Critical Mass rides that took place between 1993 and 2008, despite the brutal physical, legal, and psychological harassment by the Portland Police Bureau.

As of 2014, when the film was made, over 6% of Portland residents used bikes to commute to work. At the time, roughly 20,000 bikes crossed Portland’s city center bridges daily.

Enabling Legislation:

  • 1971 – Oregon Bicycle Act requires every state and urban roading project allocate 1% of their budget to cycling access.
  • 1973 – Oregon Land Conservation and Development Act creates framework to establish urban growth boundaries (to prevent sprawl) and limit construction of big box stores (eg Walmart).*
  • 1990 – Clean Air Act amendments sets strict toxic air emissions limits, forcing Portland (which violated the new Act at least twice a week) to reduce vehicle traffic.

Lawsuits

  • 1974 – grassroots coalition wins lawsuit blocking construction of Mount Hood Freeway through downtown Portland. Funds allocated for the freeway are invested in Portland’s light rail network.
  • 1995 – Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BLA) wins lawsuit against city for failing to include designated bike lanes in their roading projects.

The majority of this film consists of footage of Portland’s Critical Mass bike rides held the last Friday of every month between 1993 and 2008. Critical Mass first started in San Francisco and quickly spread around the world among activists seeking to promote cycling as a carbon neutral alternative to fossil fuel vehicles (our local bike advocacy group has organized them here in New Plymouth).

They spread to Portland in 1993. The ultimate dream of early participants was to pressure the city to build a cycling infrastructure, comparable to those found in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and other European cities, to safely separate them from motor vehicles. In survey after survey, prospective cyclists consistently identify the risk of injury (or death) from motor vehicles as the primary obstacle to using bicycles as their primary form of transportation.**

For most of us, the best part of Critical Mass rides is they allow cyclists to ride in total safety for the few hours a month they take over the streets from cars.

As depicted in this film, the extreme brutality Portland police subjected Critical Mass cyclists to (extensively documented in this film) is truly horrifying. In addition to being clubbed and manacled by cops, they had their cameras confiscated and were subject to repeated arrest. Although courts dismissed most of the charges, being summoned to court monthly seriously disrupted work and other obligations.

The rides were also infiltrated by police informants (which was illegal at the time), who repeatedly urged other cyclists to break windows or bash cars and who lied in court about other cyclists alleged criminal activities.


*Preventing sprawl is essential to developing cost effective public transport networks, and blocking box box stores helps preserve neighborhood businesses that residents can access via bicycle or on foot.

**Because cycling is so safe in Amsterdam that one third of all trips are made by bicycle.

Anyone with a public library card can view the full film free at Kanopy. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into you search engine.

 

 

1 thought on “Cycle Advocacy: How Police Brutality Killed Portland’s Critical Mass Rides

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