Reader Response

Our features on urban cycling and street trees brought a whole mess of reader mail we wanted to share. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough space to print it all. That’s why we’ve launched a new online discussion forum to house more dialogue about issues brought up in the magazine. Go to and click the “Forums” link. Access is free so post and discuss all you want and take our Critical Mass poll. But before you do, read these letters:

hold the chainsaws In response to the torrent of complaints from concerned taxpayers about street tree removal, the City issued a media release that states that the City still plans to remove the trees, but will replace them with 24 new trees “along that stretch”. What it fails to mention is that the new trees will not be planted on Bernard, but along side streets. The release also states that many of the existing trees are in poor health because of improper trimming. Again, a few details are missing. The improper trimming was authorized by the City and performed by Avista after Spokane’s ice storm. I phoned Avista at that time and was scolded for questioning their expertise in tree pruning. The City has failed to collaborate with the neighborhood, allowing the traffic engineering department to monopolize neighborhood planning. Traffic engineering also has plans for Lincoln Street, where there are roughly four times as many street trees. The Bernard project will certainly set a precedent for future street projects throughout Spokane. In light of the urgency of the matter (the Bernard Street logging is scheduled for early spring) the Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane has stepped forward to represent alarmed residents and explore what course of action to take to ensure that the Comprehensive Plan and neighborhood concerns are addressed fully. I encourage you to contact them:
– Chris Davis

Bradley Bleck responds
>> As a committed cyclist who logged nearly 4,000 miles last year, one who joined the October Critical Mass ride with great anticipation, I understand why people advocate for better cycling in Spokane and elsewhere. That’s why it was such a disappointment to read Paul Haeder’s clichd bombast in the January edition of Out There Monthly. I don’t want to spend much time on the Haeder’s failed rhetoric. After all, who can take seriously the notion of bicycling as a radical choice, the idea cycling as an always superior way of transporting one’s self, or that any one cyclist can galvanize solidarity for all repressed cyclists around the world, never mind that that two police cruisers a gauntlet (just barely) make. As Sigmund Freud noted, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; similarly, sometimes a bike ride is just a bike ride. Unfortunately, this failed rhetoric is just one of the symptoms ailing CM Spokane.

In his response to a portion of my recent article “The Politics of Urban Cycling,” Haeder argues that I missed the point about CM Spokane. While that may be so, I’d like to suggest that CM Spokane misses the point about Critical Mass in general. Visit any CM website (just type “critical mass” in the search engine of your choice) and one of the first things you will read is that CM rides are a celebration of cycling. The “How to Make a Critical Mass” website states “Critical Mass is foremost a celebration, not a protest.” Celebrating is one thing I did not witness during my CM ride, truncated though it was. Perhaps the paltry few who turned out weren’t enough for a celebration. Perhaps it was the dank weather. Perhaps the various agendas of the participants didn’t allow for celebrating. Whatever the reason, the ride was not a celebration. Nor, if one believes the press, have subsequent rides been celebrations.

Far from being a celebration of cycling, the ride I participated in was an attempt to antagonize drivers and demonstrate the supposed superiority of cycling over driving. I witnessed cyclists swerving in front of cars stopped at lights. Had the riders ended up there as a matter of course, that would be one thing, but to pull in front of cars and act as if a bicycle is being “inspected” for its mechanical well-being is just BS. Chris Carlsson, the intelligent design behind Critical Mass writes, “If I let my opposition to state authority tilt my [CM] participation towards engaging in antagonistic encounters with the police [or drivers we might add], they win!” In that respect, CM Spokane riders, and pretty much every cyclist who encounters a police officer or motorist antagonized by CM rides and riders, are already losers in a battle that need not be. The “How To” sites suggest that “The best strategy is to avoid breaking any laws you don’t have to, try to reason with those individuals on the ride who display a tendency to get out of hand and don’t give the police an excuse to stop your ride or bust anybody.” Again, the movement’s philosophy is wholly at odds with the recent actions of CM Spokane.

As I noted in a recent letter to the Spokesman-Review, CM Spokane does not and cannot speak for me as a cyclist. Nor, I suspect, do they speak for the bulk of those cyclists who commute or ride for fitness or pleasure, either during the warmer, drier times or during the wet of winter. What CM Spokane organizers and riders might consider is that cyclists such as myself, those who regularly make the supposedly “radical” choice to ride no matter the climate, political or otherwise, don’t need CM. We’ll be here when the most recent iteration of CM Spokane is long dead. Instead, if CM Spokane is to amount to anything other than another failed attempt at activism, it needs cyclists like me, those who ride within the law, those who don’t see “Spokane’s finest” as some nefarious enemy. Not in my name can these riders antagonize motorists and the police, no matter how grandiose their notions may be.
– Bradley Bleck

Civil Disobedience is valid
>> I recently read the two opinions for and against the critical mass movement in Spokane surrounding bicycles. I must disagree with Margaret Watson very much due to my experiences. In August I moved from Seattle where I did not bike much because I could walk or take a bus everywhere. However, with Spokane’s sheer size and lack of great public transit, I started biking. Every time I ride my bike (which I admit is less now that it is winter) I almost get hit. This doesn’t occur every once in awhile, but every time. I have had the right of way many times and cars go through stop signs anyway. I know the rules of the road from the perspective of a bike and still it is dangerous. More needs to be done sooner and I believe civil disobedience is a valid form of expressing democracy.

I do not agree with Ms. Watson that all is being done that can be done especially in envisioning for the future. When I hear about new parking garages being proposed downtown I am skeptical. Also, more roads does not equal more space for bicycles. Rather, it is for cars. If we want to show space for bicycles why are there not more bike lanes or Centennial Trails?
Kevin Uhl

Who will police drivers?
>> I whole-heartedly support the critical mass movement, but haven’t always done so. I used to be like the nave letter writers who preach about bicycle education and following the rules. Now, after many years of commuting by bicycle, my opinion is that cyclists should imitate automobile drivers in their adherence to the law. I ride to school through downtown Spokane and get cut off, flipped off, and told off by drivers almost every morning. Many drivers act out against cyclists right in front of police cruisers without fear of punishment. The police, of course, do nothing to stop them. However, when cyclists congregate to speak their mind, and ride to show that they too have a right to the road, the police show up in force. The police have no qualms about threatening and citing cyclists participating in a harmless protest, but wouldn’t think of pulling over a driver that poses a real threat to a cyclist by breaking some of the same laws. To those brave enough to protest, I say ride on!
– Eric Reimer

Can’t stand it anymore
>> Regarding the issue of critical mass, I prefer to take no stand on which approach is best toward achieving a goal. But I will categorically state that the present situation in Spokane is dismal. When Watson is talking positive, I think it has to do with outlying areas, the trails, and to the future when there will be a bicycle path along the North South freeway. But what does that have to do with citizens of Spokane bicycling to and from work today? I’ve had all I can stand of both Spokane and Washington State and I am leaving.
– Alan Richter, Ph.D.

If you would like to respond to these letters or anything you see in Out There Monthly please e-mail us at, or, better yet go to our new discussion forums at Registration is free.

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