Critical Mass is a monthly gathering of cyclists in major cities around the nation. The main idea behind the event is to rally as many cyclists as possible to hit the roads to make large, fast, gas-powered automobiles aware that bikes are not only present on city streets, but also legally allowed.
Depending on the size of the group (places like Austin, Chicago and Portland get several hundred cyclists to show up), the mass of riders can temporarily stall automobile traffic. Corking is one of those car-stopping tactics, and it is controversial.
If a group of riders is halfway through an intersection when a traffic light turns red, a few people stop and put their bodies and bikes in front of the path of oncoming traffic to form a human barrier to make sure the rest of the group makes it through safely. If the group is a hundred riders strong, it can take a minute before cross traffic can take advantage of their green light.
The practice is meant to protect the cohesion of the group, but this can lead to tension between those with two wheels and those with four. It also runs counter to the legal fight Mass riders are waging; they break some laws to draw attention to the other laws that protect them.
However, where normal traffic is supposed to stop, corkers insist this practice is done for the safety of the group. Cyclists are safer in larger numbers and losing track of the group causes cyclists to spread out across the street. After the lead cyclists have gone through their green light, it is difficult to know when a light has turned yellow or red. Slowing down or constantly turning around and diverting attention away from the front can produce harmful results.
We've all seen what can happen to even the professionally trained cyclists in large road races like the Tour de France; pile-ups are a frequent occurrence.
An argument against corking is that spreading out is better for Critical Mass. Instead of encountering one unnaturally large clump of cyclists, motorists actually become aware of riders when they are stretched across a longer portion of the road.
The main concept of Critical Mass lingers a bit longer, if more subtly, when the encounter happens more naturally.
Are you a cyclist, a motorist or both? Use the Talkback feature to post your thoughts on corking, cycling or Critical Mass.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.