Critical Mass

The ride ended with me in handcuffs, but my incarceration wasn’t the most notable thing that happened that night. No, the real take away from that Critical Mass in 1998 was the feeling of New York City cyclists emanating strength and safety and confidence. And as much as I’ve changed, and Critical Mass has changed, and the city has changed too, I’ve kept that feeling in my mind.

With Mayor Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Khan ready to take their final bows, I’ve heard a lot about how lovers of livable streets ought to be afraid. Without the powerful pair that remade our city, the chattering goes, the best we can do is try to keep the gains we’ve made. Of course, that’s not the truth of the matter. If you actually look into New York City’s 300 neighborhoods and 51 council districts, you’ll see that a truer and deeper story is unfolding, and it couldn’t come to light at a better time.

During the past six years, as the Mayor and the DOT took care of top-line policy, T.A. organized, and our supporters around the city institutionalized change and shifted policy on the local level. Over a dozen City Council Members from neighborhoods as diverse as Morris Park, East Harlem, Woodside, Williamsburg, Prospect Heights and Park Slope passed crucial legislation that made streets safer for their constituents. And thanks to our recruitment and organizing, local community boards like Brooklyn CB 10, Bronx CB 12 and Manhattan CB 4 have taken matters into their own hands, spearheading bike lanes, pedestrian plazas and Play Streets.

The big, bold changes that have swept New York City aren’t just about high-profile projects that shape streets and open spaces but the zeitgeist surrounding them. Scores of local elected officials, hundreds of community activists, thousands of city employees and 100,000 T.A. supporters believe that streets prioritizing biking, walking and public transportation are the new normal, which brings me back to critical mass. We have it. And I’ve got that special feeling all over again.


Paul Steely White
Executive Director
Transportation Alternatives