Wednesday 23 May 2012

Homage to Auto*Mat

Beauty and the Bike's screening in Prague in 2011 coincided with a critical mass ride organised by local NGO Auto*Mat. Here we celebrate the great work of that organisation, and meet some of their enthusiastic young members.

Prague is one of the most car-oriented cities we visited on our tour of the continent, in many ways even more of a nightmare than the UK. Auto*Mat combine engagement with local authorities through the production of cycling-friendly urban development proposals for the municipality, with direct action and participatory events like these monthly critical mass rides. Thousands regularly attend, making them an incredible celebration of a few hours of cycling/skateboarding/scootering on car-free streets. Amazingly, the majority of those take part will bring their bikes in a car or by public transport, rather than risk cycling in ones or twos. It's that dangerous.

One feature of the Critical Mass Ride that really caught our eye was the presence of a number of young people from Danish Embassy. Unlike officialdom and their many hangers-on in the UK, who look down on such street actions as an obstruction to traffic and generally the preserve of the unwashed hooligan, the Danes celebrated the bicycle alongside their Auto*Mat friends by joining in with an official presence, both on the ride and later by joining in the speeches at the ride's destination venue.

Visit Auto*Mat's English-language web presence, at to get an idea of their work. Or if your Czech is up to it, try for the latest news from Prague. Auto*Mat are part of a thriving movement for change in Prague. If you ever visit the city, try ditching the usual tourist crap and instead explore some of the great local projects in and around the lesser-known urban areas. For a useful overview of such initiatives, check out the Urban Garden website.