Tim Wieclawski/metro ottawa


Elliot Fockyer, 23, rides with Critical Mass — an informal group of cyclists who gather on the last Friday of every month to ride on the streets in downtown Ottawa and remind motorists that they are not alone on the roads.

For a motorist trying to escape the city for the weekend, a gang of bicyclists blocking rush-hour traffic on a Friday can raise hackles.

But a group that uses the last Friday of every month to organize a ride designed to take over the streets say motorists must understand they don’t own the roads.

“It’s important to empower cyclists in a group,” said Pascale Arpin, 19, who has attended Critical Mass rides for two years. “It just gives motorists a little check that there are other people on the road.”

According to the Critical Mass website, the event started in San Francisco in 1992 and has since grown into a worldwide movement.

The website claims monthly rides are held in 400 cities.

The local group will not run red lights or stop signs, but it does defy the portion of the Highway Traffic Act, which requires bicycles, “be driven in the right-hand lane as close as practicable to the right-hand curb.”

But the cyclists in turn feel motorists are also disobeying another HTA clause that states “every person in charge of a vehicle … meeting a person travelling on a bicycle shall allow the cyclist sufficient room on the roadway to pass.”

Arpin said the Ottawa ride has been held for two years after fizzling out briefly. And while there’s an activist message inherent in cyclists purposely slowing automobiles, many riders say that’s not what attracts them.

“I don’t do it to protest,” said Alex Magdzinski, 22, who started a bicycle club at the University of Ottawa. “It’s a fun thing to do, and it’s a nice experience.”