when more than 6,000 cyclists brought San Francisco commuters to a dead stop last Friday evening, motorists were spat on, cyclists were screamed at and swerved into and about 250 of them were arrested on assault or other charges, their bicycles confiscated by police.
Apart from the orgy of finger-pointing over who is to blame -- normally peaceful bike riders were said to have been in the grip of a "mob mentality" -- the incident has exposed the widening gap between defenders of an ever-expanding car culture and eco-topians promoting alternatives to the auto.
Both sides are blessed with absolute certainty. Supporters of Critical Mass, the monthly bike ride through San Francisco streets, are passionate about blocking ever more costly highways, behemoth trucks and road rage. Their message was clear: Bay area residents better choose what side they stand on -- highways or bike lanes -- or find themselves stranded in city intersections at all hours.
"People want alternatives but are forced to take cars," says David Snyder, executive director of the S.F. Bicycle Coalition. "Most people don't see the trend changing, because the auto industry spends a billion dollars a year on advertising."
Some advocates believe that the Friday night incident will change all that. "The solidarity of numbers and a brutal police response may have transformed (Critical Mass) into a movement," wrote one bike rider who participated in the event. He was referring to eyewitness accounts claiming that police cycles rammed bikes, used billy clubs on bicyclists and smashed cameras.
Bicycle advocates accuse San Francisco officials of having no policy toward "alternative" -- i.e. non-car -- transportation. In fact, the city's Department of the Environment, following the lead of Portland and Seattle, recently issued a "Sustainability Plan" that calls for barring autos holding only one person, eventually closing principal downtown thoroughfares to private cars and installing people-movers.
City Transportation Planner Peter Albert says such a plan is particularly logical for San Francisco. "We're not like Houston or L.A., which have been taken over by the freeway. The quality of life here is legendary in so many ways ... It is San Francisco's biggest asset, and we're starting to recognize these things and make them sustainable for the long term."
Some critics would say such statements reflect a rather inflated and conceited view of San Francisco. And not every resident agrees with it. "If you have a city, you need a freeway going through the center of it," one neighborhood activist told reporters. "It makes sense." Chinatown merchants -- angered when the freeway closest to them, damaged by the 1989 earthquake, was shut down -- are now planning a huge parking garage to lure more autos.
Meanwhile, across the bay in Oakland, the re-opening of the Cypress Freeway -- at $250 million per mile, the most costly freeway ever built -- nearly eight years after the earthquake that knocked it down was greeted by much fanfare. And Detroit certainly hasn't been swayed by the anti-car rhetoric. Auto manufacturers there are gearing up to produce "monster trucks" -- massive "sport utility vehicles" that weigh more than 3 tons and get 14 miles or less to a gallon. Through a loophole in the law, these are considered "light trucks" and so do not have to meet federal fuel economy standards.
These developments don't sit well with bicycle advocates, who say such modern urban phenomena as "road rage" will increase as a result. "Road rage is a symptom of a contradiction between the image and promise of cars and the reality," says Snyder of the S.F. Bicycle Coalition. "You never see a car ad showing someone stuck in traffic."
Certainly, the lines are clearly drawn. The question is whether San Francisco and other cities will be able to find a sustainable compromise between the forces of pedal power and the lovers of the automobile. It could be a rough process. Writing about last Friday's violent confrontation between bicyclists and police, one bicycling participant observed: "The sheep -- like the man who was just riding to the gym and decided to join and have a little fun -- were bewildered, angry, defiant. Turned into wolves."
July 30, 1997
) Pacific News Service.
What are your views on "Critical Mass" and the cars vs. bikes war? Join the discussion in Table Talk.
Editor's note: Salon has received numerous e-mails in response to two stories by Daniel Reitz on Andrew Cunanan and the gay community. The first, "Cunanan the Barbarian," ran on Tuesday, July 22; the second, "A Timely Death," ran Monday, July 28.
Below are some of the letters we received.
I just finished Daniel Reitz's article, "A Timely Death." As a gay man who is constantly mortified, stunned, and repulsed by what passes for "gay culture" out there, I was absolutely THRILLED to read Mr. Reitz's article (not to mention overjoyed to find the link at the bottom to his previous one -- I read Salon maybe once every 2 weeks, and had missed it).
Besides his point of view, which I'm sure will get him in plenty of trouble with the politically correct and totally rigid gay subculture, I found Mr. Reitz's writing to be direct, pointed, humorous, and delightfully "bullshit-free."
Please add my letter to the other appreciation I hope he received, and to the piles of hate-spewing mail I'm sure he got from many gay people. And do what you can to beg, plead, and cajole him into writing more for Salon. I know he's probably up to his ears in his screenplay, but voices like his need to be heard, and NOT JUST IN GAY PUBLICATIONS, but in mainstream ones like Salon.
And I hope that Salon will continue to address these issues even after the serial killer publicity fades.
As a gay man, I find three things fairly offensive in Mr. Reitz's article ("Cunanan the Barbarian"). First, he expostulates his hypothesis that Mr. Cunanan is guilty. Mr. Reitz never even for a moment concedes that perhaps, just perhaps, Mr. Cunanan is innocent and it is up to a court of law to decide. However, this is the least of my concerns.
The second concern I have is Mr. Reitz's insistence on assuming that this is all happening as a result of Mr. Cunanan's discovery of his HIV status. I've seen that bandied about the press recently, but it's never been confirmed, and as such, having an entire "news" article (as that section of your Web magazine is labeled) assuming that hypothesis is more than marginally misleading.
However, I am downright offended at his free-spirited use of the word "fag" and its relative forms ("faggot," etc.). While it is true that certain members of our community (Mr. Reitz perhaps among them) use this term, it is unacceptable to see it used in a public forum such as this. It is used not to make a point, or to shock, but just as another term for homosexual men.
Would this lack of editorial regard have been shown if an African-American author chose to use the term "nigger" or "negro" throughout an article? Ultimately, we as a society have established for ourselves that there are some words that are patently offensive and have no place within civilized discourse. While their use perpetuates within certain communities, I'll not choose to enter into a discussion of linguistic and sociological theory on these points; however, they are strictly in-group behavior, and not usually done in the presence of others.
In short, I find this article grossly beneath your ordinarily fine standards and I find your lack of editorial oversight (or your editorial policies if this article actually did pass the editorial staff) galling.
I found the article ("A Timely Death") by Daniel Reitz very timely. His remarks on the narcissism of many young homosexuals is very much to the point.
Here in New York, during the so-called "Pride" week, the Village Voice published a special issue devoted to gay-related topics. Judging from the reader feedback, a lot of people were angry at the Voice because instead of portraying the positive aspects of the gay culture, the Voice had focused on issues that usually do not get coverage, such as homosexuality and the radical black Muslims, etc. In their opinion, the Voice should have focused on the brighter aspects of the gay culture.
In my opinion, many young homosexuals today are a walking testament to the assertion that homosexuality is arrested development. Could a personality like that of Gore Vidal, for instance, ever be produced by a subculture which is so self-referential and self-absorbed?
Could this be the Closing of the Homosexual Mind?
I am writing for two reasons: (1) to convey my appreciation for your wonderfully fresh, clear-eyed exposi of what too often passes for "the gay community" and (2) to give you a piece of advice.
First, how long have I waited to see reflected in print the revulsion I feel on the (increasingly rare) occasions when I find myself among many of my brother gays! You have exposed the narcissism, the elitism, the sheer cruelty that unfortunately characterizes a highly visible segment of our community. I spent years trying to determine the causes of this malady, but finally gave up and simply retreated from "the scene," convinced that there was no place for a black boy of average looks, a flabby chest, and a fluctuating waistline.
There's a world of sinister meaning in Cunanan's life and, by extension, the horrendous values he unfortunately shared with so many of our gay brethren. If anything good can come of this tragedy, it may well be that we all take a good, hard look at Cunanan's life and see glimpses of our own. What the gay community needs more than anything is to pause the music, dim the lights, and stow the disco ball for a moment of collective introspection.
There is much more to be written and discussed on the tinderbox of topics you have exposed. Considering the breathtaking honesty of the two pieces available here, I look forward to your further ruminations.
However, might I suggest that your writing and your ideas would be much more affecting if you could effectively control your anger/anguish? Channel it. Distill it. There's a lifetime of hurt in these essays. The power of that pain is overwhelming and, I'm afraid, somewhat offensive. You've got some wonderful things to say to us. Things we need to hear, reflect upon, and discuss with each other. Don't give the detractors an easy way out of taking you seriously by presenting an outburst rather than an exposition.