April 21, 2008
Budapest bicyclists claim a world record for their mass demonstration on Earth Day 2008. Yesterday 80,000 riders rallied to promote cycling, awareness of the climate change and protest against traffic mismanagement.
Critical Mass is an event typically held on the last Friday of every month in cities around the world where bicyclists take to the streets en masse. While the ride was originally founded with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to bicyclists, the leaderless structure of Critical Mass makes it impossible to assign it any one specific goal. Critical Mass has became a form of criticism towards car-oriented cities, pollution, and lack of environmental commitment all over the world.
Budapest was a perfect scene for a world record of this kind on 20 April 2008. Two days before the Critical Mass (and the Earth Day) the public transport workers held a one-day general strike against the mis-management of BKV, 10-20 years ago one of the world’s best and most envied public transport company. The decline of the only world class public service that the people of Budapest were used to has lead to a very energetic and critical pro-public transport civilian movement in Budapest which put transport on the top of the city’s agenda. Budapest has also got completely clogged by cars. Metropolitan Budapest has lost more than 200,000 or 10% of its population to its suburbia over 20 years, and incomes have easily doubled, which were spent on first, second and third family cars. The metropolitan capital of a land-locked country has felt one of the strongest impacts of global climate change: last year’s average temperature went more than 6 Centigrade above the average, the unbearable summer heat has claimed many lives. The perfect, cloudless springtime sunshine just added to the attractiveness of the mass demonstration.
Although green movements are not very strong in Hungary, sometimes day make a change. In 1989 the first mass demonstrations since the crush of the 1956 public uprising were organized by the spontaneous outrage over the building of a water dam in the Danube rivers most beautiful landscape which would have changed the ecology of Central Europe’s main river forever. Once people lost the fear to raise their voice on public, they remained on the streets until the dictatorship collapsed. Maybe the cyclists have started something in Budapest on this beautiful spring day.Dániel Antal