Should Critical Masses Be Considered Demonstrations? Zurich Police’s Recent Decision Sparks Controversy

2023-07-09 19:54:43

Should the Critical Masses – the gatherings of cyclists who impose their numbers on motorized traffic in cities – be considered as demonstrations subject to authorization? The Zurich police recently made this decision.

The Critical Mass are processions of cyclists organized spontaneously every last Friday of the month in several cities in Switzerland, such as Sion, Geneva, Lausanne, Bern or Zurich. The objective of this phenomenon, which appeared in San Francisco in the early 90s, is to be numerous enough to impose itself in the face of motorized traffic.

The Zurich Police Supervisory Authority recently decided to consider them as demonstrations in response to a complaint from the PLR. Critical Masses in the country’s largest city will therefore now be subject to authorization.

Safety in question

Maxime Provini, Geneva city councilor PLR, believes that this decision is logical. “Critical Mass raises a number of issues, particularly in terms of security and coordination with other events. I understand the desire to submit these events to authorization, like any other event that uses public space” , he explains in the program Forum of the RTS.

For the chosen PLR, there is no doubt that the Critical Mass are manifestations. “From the moment when we have several hundred or several thousand people who gather in the public space, whether on foot or by bicycle, we can consider that as being a demonstration. I do not see why we would do a distinction. Especially since they have demands. So we tick all the criteria.”

We can say that the claims of the critical mass are widely heard. Soft mobility is on the rise

Maxime Provini, Geneva city councilor PLR

Maxime Provini considers this to be important from an equal treatment point of view. “If today we consider that a Critical Mass does not need to be submitted to authorization because it supports a noble cause, we can also consider that urban rodeos can be done without authorization to claim the creation of a Formula 1 circuit in Switzerland.”

The Geneva city councilor also believes that Critical Mass’s claims are no longer really relevant. “We can say that the demands are widely heard. Whether in Switzerland, in Europe or in the world, soft mobility is on the rise, greenways are being developed everywhere and safe routes are offered.”


Franziska Meinherz, municipal councilor in Lausanne for Ensemble à Gauche, does not share this observation. She regularly participates in that of Lausanne. According to her, the authorities must do more in favor of the safety of bicycles.

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“There are always deaths of cyclists, there are many people who do not dare to cycle in the city. The infrastructure is not there at all, there are parents who refuse – rightly – to let their children ride their bikes.Older people don’t dare to cycle.The infrastructure is certainly improving, but it is still made for cyclists who are very sure of themselves and who have a lot of experience. “

Bicycles that participate in the critical mass, it’s traffic, it’s part of the means of transport that exist in Switzerland

Franziska Meinherz, municipal councilor in Lausanne for Ensemble à Gauche

According to her, Critical Mass can reverse the trend. “The goal is to reverse the balance of power from what is usual, where the car predominates in space by making it dangerous for bicycles and pedestrians. The idea is to show that the bicycle is a means of movement as such and to make it safe in the city.”

Franziska Meinherz also believes that the Critical Mass are not demonstrations. “The bikes that participate are traffic, it’s part of the means of transport that exist in Switzerland. We don’t cause traffic, we are traffic, we want to show that we are there, that we exist. Nobody is going to say that commuters who drive home from work on Friday night and form a traffic jam have to apply for a permit to demonstrate by car because they are blocking all the road space.”

Interview by Renaud Malik/asch

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