A motorist sped through a crowd of cyclists in Porto Alegre, Brazil last Friday evening, injuring at least 15 people and sending several others to the hospital. The victims were participating in a monthly Critical Mass event to raise awareness about cycling on city streets.
According to local news reports, the driver of the black Volkswagen Golf, 47-year-old Ricardo Neis, fled the scene with his 15-year-old son, who was also in the car. Police found the abandoned vehicle over the weekend and arrested Neis, who testified on Monday. His lawyer said he was acting in self-defense because he felt threatened by cyclists who were hitting his car. Today he was charged with attempted murder.
A protest march will be held this evening. For updates and reactions from Porto Alegre’s cycling activists and other Critical Mass supporters, check out the “Massa Critica” blog. You can also follow conversations on Twitter.
The tragedy has sparked debate about whether Critical Mass is the most appropriate way to demand equal rights for cyclists. The event draws dozens—if not hundreds—of cyclists to take over city streets for an evening, as a way to demonstrate that bicycles are a legitimate part of traffic. There are other events like Critical Manners and RideCivil, where cyclists obey all traffic laws and try not to block the street to other users of the road, including car drivers and pedestrians. But Friday’s tragedy is inexcusable. As The Guardian writes:
…many people question whether deliberately bringing traffic to a standstill is the best way to make a statement, or if it risks antagonising and alienating drivers.
But whether or not Critical Mass is the right way to go about promoting rights for cyclists is largely beside the point – anyone who appears to display such disregard for human life should never be let behind the wheel of a car.
There are several video accounts of the incident, showing bikes flying through the air, leaving behind bloodied cyclists and traumatized eyewitnesses. (Warning: these videos are graphic and may upset some viewers.)
Here’s one personal account of the aftermath, showing injured riders and their mangled bicycles:
A YouTube commenter provides an English translation of the video:
“I am here at the Critical Mass ride. A car just ran over with the entire critical mass ride. At full speed! A black VW Golf. He hit everybody!! Are you seeing this?!
What a horrible thing… oh my GOD. Someone call the police, call the ambulance
Police! Call the Police!! The Ambulance!
Everyone is scared, son.
A car hit the whole, entire Critical Mass ride!! At full speed.
Voice: What’s going on?
This is the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen! I cannot believe”
Here’s an aerial view of the attack, as reported in a local news broadcast: