Friday's Critical Mass ride

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Anonymous's picture

A judge is about to rule whether it's legal to ride in city streets en masse without a permit. Whether you agree with the context or the sponsoring org of this Friday's bike ride, I urge cyclists to put aside their differences and show their support. Power is in numbers, if you want a more pro-bike environment! We had a lively discussion at the last club meeting, let's carry on those concerns into the streets.

7 pm Union Square. October 29.

Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)

> A judge is about to rule whether it's legal to ride in
> city streets en masse without a permit.

Actually, Judge Pauley is very likely to remand that issue to the state courts, if he addresses it at all, given the weakness of the City countersuit.

And while I agree wholeheartedly with injoining the police from seizing bicycles at will, and support in principle the idea that bicycles are traffic like any other, I still think that Critical Mass causes far more harm than good to cyclists. And that people who run red lights should be ticketed and fined appropriately.

So, I'll stay home.

- Christian

Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)

"And I quote:

""This Court declines the City's invitation to wander into a Serbonian bog before a state court has had an opportunity to illuminate the path.""

So the permit issue will be decided by a state court in the future.

- Christian
Who agrees with the judgement, but still feels that CM causes harm to cyclists' cause, due to the flagrant traffic law breaking of a substantial minority of CM riders."

Anonymous's picture
Peter Storey (not verified)
Handwriting on the wall . . .?

As Carol Wood helpfully posted on the ""Stealing Bikes"" thread, you can read the decision on

Based on a very quick read, I tend to think the most significant portion of the decision may be the dicta in the conclusion (also helpfully provided by Carol):

""Both sides in this litigation need to overcome their preoccupation with the formalism of the parade permit process. In the end, Critical Mass is people, not an event, and they need to take responsibility. Given the fluidity of this matter, the best way to ensure the safety of law-abiding Critical Mass participants is for cyclists and the police to agree each month on the route that the Friday evening bike ride will take.""

To me, the message is clear: the judge ain't buying the ""purist"" position that CM is merely autonomous citizens making individual decisions to ride their bikes on a given day and time and are therefore nothing more than ordinary traffic.

The NYPD claims, of course, to have sought negotiating partners among the leaders/organizers/sponsors of CM only to be told there are none. I think the judge is saying he damned well expects some to come forward, and soon.

Am I reading things between the lines that aren't there? Maybe. But triumphalism would be even more misplaced. You can't read this decision as saying the City has no legitimate issue. Stay tuned."

Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)


my assessment is that the judgement rested almost solely on the due process argument.

If the cops ticket or arrest a cyclist for breaking a traffic regulation (say, running a red light), they can still seize the bicycle.

I think the permit issue, hopefully to be heard in state court, is the more interesting and fundamental issue. I can't wait to see how that one goes.

- Christian

Anonymous's picture
Tom Hayes (not verified)
Equal treatment

I will gladly comply with the law against running red lights when the police ticket those cars, trucks, and busses that do not yield to bikers. When I ride my bike in England, Italy, and France I am treated with respect. Cars, trucks, and busses do not blow their horns at me and try to drive me off the road. There are severe penalities in these countries for not yielding to bike riders. Similarly bike riders must yield to pedestrians. In France if a car hits a bike no matter what the circumstances the driver of the car is severely punished. If the police in this country would enforce the law against cars, trucks, and busses treating bikers as though they have no right to ride the streets of New York I will stop running red lights.

Anonymous's picture
Peter Storey (not verified)
Maybe . . .

Well, the climate could be better. But (and I don't think you addressed this) does CM advance us in that direction?

At present, the rights and privileges of cyclists in NYC, including the, er, privilege of running red lights without consequence, are some mixture of legal rights, police indulgence, plausibly wise use of resources and even some common sense. I'm worried that if CM continues to escalate as a public issue, that mix could change -- and probably not for the better.

Anonymous's picture
Peter Storey (not verified)
Agreed, I think . . .

Between cleaning up dinner, and screaming at two children to do their homework, I haven't had a chance to re-read it thoughtfully, but I think that's right.

Frankly, the seized bikes issue always seemed to me to be a sideshow (the police didn't need to do it, so now they can stop doing it) to the larger issue: how is society to treat a recurring phenomenon that affects others in much the same manner as a parade, claims (and perhaps requires) much the same suspension or indulgence of law enforcement as a parade and yet claims to be too amorphous to be a parade and/or in some other way entitled not to be a parade. But if it's not a parade, then what is it? Because it's clearly not nothing.

We'll see.

Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)

Well, it's either a parade, or it's just traffic.

If CM by and large followed traffic laws, and did not cork and run red lights, I think they'd have a very strong argument that they're the latter.

As it stands, I think it could go either way. I wish that weren't the case, because if it becomes case law in NY state that group rides require a parade permit, lots of rides (not just CM) would be affected. Yet again, an example of the unintended consequences for other cyclists of the scofflaw behavior of CM.

- Christian

- Christian

Anonymous's picture
Peter Storey (not verified)
Which is Why a Worthy Waffle Would Be Wise


You've put your finger on why the two sides should do what I understand the judge to be urging on them: Go work something out so that no judge has to rule on the matter; otherwise you'll just create a precedent that is bound to blindside some other group that presents none of the same issues.

Aspiring to sound Presidential, I do declare this to be the wrong case at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.


Anonymous's picture
Ed Ravin (not verified)
Leaders of CM: De Facto vs. De Jure

The judge's suggestion that the two parties work out a route of the Critical Mass is a good one. In fact, my understanding is
that is exactly what happened on the September Mass, where the
cops and a bunch of bikers who weren't leaders of the ride
agreed in advance what the route would be. With any luck that
will continue to happen.

Anonymous's picture
Jym Dyer (not verified)
Leaders of CM: Dee-Lightful and Dee-Lovely

"=v= Verily, the only ""leaders"" are whoever's at the front of the pack (or one of the packs) at a given point in time. The police know this and even sent undercover cops to the front of the ride during the RNC, trying to lead everyone into traps (e.g. the wrong way down One Way streets). So let's not fool ourselves when it comes to comments from the NYPD's public relations staff.

What happened in the September ride is that Chris Dunn from the NYCLU relayed messages from whoever was near the front of the ride to the NYPD."

Anonymous's picture
Tom Hayes (not verified)
Misplaced reply

Oops. I posted my comment on the current controversy concerning running red lights under the wrong venue. It should have been posted under the entries on the ticketing of riders in Central Park. Sorry!

Anonymous's picture
Charles Lam (not verified)

Right now at 10:50 am on 820 AM

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
What unintended consequences?

"Christian wrote: ""...if it becomes case law in NY state that group rides require a parade permit, lots of rides (not just CM) would be affected. Yet again, an example of the unintended consequences for other cyclists of the scofflaw behavior of CM.""

Christian, you're getting ahead of yourself. First, you speculate on the outcome of the parade permit issue. Then you conclude that that supposed outcome will harm everyone. You finish by passing negative judgment everyone associated with Critical Mass, whose now-recognized First Amendment speech rights you tarnish as ""scofflaw behavior."" This line of argument would not succeed before Judge Pauley.

Let's back up a bit. First, I keep hearing over and over about how Critical Mass is making the streets less safe for everyone, is making trouble for those content to keep their heads down and their noses clean. In short, these folks say, Critical Mass is not in ""our"" interests--as if they had the authority to represent the true interests of every cyclist in New York City.

But the conclusion drawn is based on a fallacy: the unproven assertion that CM is making the streets less safe. For the dozens of times this canard has been uttered recently, not once has a speaker pointed to a specific instance in which this appeared to be the case.

My daily commuting experience suggests that the contrary is taking place--that drivers are becoming more aware of the presence of cyclists and our right to use the streets. (Which Judge Pauley did us the favor of enshrining in his decision--a very positive precedent.)

For instance, in the last two days that the CM issue has been in the news, I have had cabbies apologize to me twice--one who was slowly nosing onto a crowded street from a parking garage in Times Square, almost blocking my way, and another last night who was picking up a fare in the bike lane by the Kmart on Fourth Ave. As drivers who are more closely regulated than private cars, cabbies are a leading indicator of what is deemed acceptable behavior on the NYC streets.

In terms of incendiary actions that inflame the public's attitude toward cyclists, it's hard to beat Commissioner Kelly's opinion page in yesterday's Daily News. Yesterday morning, a car swerved angrily around me as I passed a double-parked truck; I could see the passenger clucking her tongue in approbation. Coincidence? (BTW, I appreciated the articulate and principled letter to the editor that you sent in response to Kelly's column.)

In short, the “making the streets unsafe” argument so far is speculative and unsubstantiated. (Alas, what its partisans lack in concrete evidence, they often make up for in vehemence.) It’s used as a kind of “moral injunction” that seeks to prevent people from participating in or even supporting Critical Mass.

However, as Judge Pauley wrote in his decision, a speculative wrong is insufficient evidence to enjoin people from engaging in protected First Amendment activity.

Are there other problems that need to be ironed out with respect to the Critical Mass rides? Sure. Is everyone who participates in them is a selfish, uneducated scofflaw? Please. There are all kinds of people, from accomplished lawyers and authors to students, dedicated activists, and regular working people, even corporate drones like me.

Judge Pauley’s decision indicates some of the problems that exist and conflicting interests that need to be worked out--in the courts and on the streets. But the most important victory for cyclists was the judge’s acknowledgement of the public import of the concept of Critical Mass, and cyclists’ fundamental right to “expressive association” and to use of city streets.

7pm TONIGHT, Union Square Park.


Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)


We agree and disagree, as I think you know.

We agree that Critical Mass has a right to exist, that cyclists have every right to participate in a common bike ride without a parade permit, and that the police recklessly disregarded due process when they seized bikes during the September Mass. We also agree that participation in Critical Mass is a First Amendment issue, and I stand behind every cyclists right to join.

We disagree on whether Critical Mass benefits cyclists. You think it empowers cyclists and informs non-cyclists.
I think it presents cyclists in a bad light and annoys non-cyclists.

De gustibus non disputandum est. I think we agree on the important issues and principles.

Off to Florida,
- Christian

Anonymous's picture
Steve Faust (not verified)


I was at the court hearing Wed, and Judge Pauley bought the argument that a large group of people can go to the same place, at the same time, and still not be a parade or procession requiring a prior permit. The lawyers used the example of the participants in his court room deciding to go to a restaurant (to celebrate their anticipated victory) from the court. A large group, from the same place to the same place. If we used cars would we need a permit? Also used as an example, do drivers all coming to the Yankee game need a parade permit? The judge said no. He was concerned that large numbers of cyclists could create problems that the police ought to be aware of before, but definitely felt that in his court, they would not require prior parade permits.

This is an issue that will possibly be addressed in state court - but only if the city continues to press the case. They may well drop it.

Why? Because much of the noise from the NYPD is a defensive reaction to their over control of all protests during the RNC. The police were closing streets, arresting alleged protestors and confiscating anything on two wheels that moved in certain sector of Manhattan that week - whether protestor or just traveling traffic. They do not want to have to apologize for their over reaction.

Further, the police confiscation of bicycles in August would be analogous to arresting protest marchers and keeping their shoes and jackets when releasing them - for evidence apparently. Keeping the bikes after releasing the cyclists was purely harassment and the Judge could see that.

As the RNC recedes into the past, and the law suits from the arrests are settled, the NYPD may return to its low key approach to the Crit Mass ride. I trust a few remember the resolution of the Koch midtown bike ban? How the city lost the case on a ""technicality"", the failure to post the rule in the City Register on the proper date - but the judge (Justice Edward H. Lehner of State Supreme Court) made clear that the rule would not stand if they reimposed it. After some reflection by Koch, the city dropped the rule and the case at that point.

It's possible that the pressure has been imposed by NYPD Deputy Chief Smolka. He recently took charge of Manhattan South in May 2004 and he may be changing the rules to match his tastes. In his court brief he specifically complains about not having control over the September ride.

Read the Smolka's brief about what happened last month at 36th st. see Chief Smolka's paper - paragraphs 11 and 12. Supposedly the tour was stopped at 34th for cross traffic, and a group of riders turned off onto 36th, so he ordered cops to cut them off.

Given how immobile the cops are, the only way they could ""cut them off at the pass"" was to pre-set an ambush at 36th and 5th. The cops also had the lock cutting tools ready at that site. Was the delay at 34th a pretext to force some cyclists off the route and then arrest them?

But if you have left the ""procession"", how can you be arrested for still being ""in"" the allegedly illegal procession?

Smolka put all out front in paragraph 6: was extremely difficult for the Department to maneuver around the mass to CONTROL the event. (emphasis added.)

It's all about police control.

Cutting bicycle locks from any and every bike on the block is hardly in cyclists interest. The case did not raise the issue that some of the 40 bikes had been parked there by local residents and not by Crit Mass riders. If a car is stopped and ticketed for speeding, is the car confiscated, and is every other car on the block towed away as well? What kind of legal theory is that? I wish the case had addressed the unequal treatment of cyclists versus car drivers stopped for traffic violations. With rare exceptions (drunk driving - sometimes) drivers are given a traffic ticket - a non criminal citation to appear at a late"

Anonymous's picture
xxx (not verified)
you're right

At 5:30 pm the police are massed by Union Square as never previously for CM ride, armed with the orange netting and lots of city buses (presumably to carry away expected arrestees).

The police relationship with the whole CM thing changed when CM decided to make the August ride a polictical demonstration having nothing to do with cycling in NYC. It's hard to see how it will ever go back to the way it was (whether one thinks that was a good thing or not).

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
Police presence

"I don't know about ""never before,"" but I did see about six paddy wagons lined up on Fourth Ave., dozens of cops on 13th St., and more at Union Square. Any arrests they do make will have to be for cause, and the judge will be expecting a written explanation of what goes wrong as why.

So, it's not for the faint of heart. But I'll be there, on my best behavior and dressed in bubble wrap.

Happy Halloween!"

Anonymous's picture
evan (not verified)

this ride has been going on for a long time with no problems. if you have ridden it than you would know that. only now with the sudden deluge of press and controversy does it give the city an oppurtunity to enact policy which achieves no long term goals nor provides a platfrom for progress for either side.

critical mass is a monthly expression. can the traffic of NYC not tolerate it once a month?

Anonymous's picture
Jym Dyer (not verified)
"""Can the traffic of NYC not tolerate it once a month?"""

=v= Damn good question. If San Francisco's Finest can handle much larger rides in a much smaller city, couldn't New York's Finest do the same? If bicyclists in Moscow are free to have a Critical Mass, shouldn't we be?

Charles Komanoff ran a model based on a hypothetical Critical Mass of 2,000. He found that the incremental effect on traffic was seven hundredths of one percent. I think that would be the very definition of tolerable.

Anonymous's picture
John Z (not verified)

Until you are caught in one...

Anonymous's picture
Paul (not verified)
What's more disruptive, cyclists of police?

I just came back from Union Square Park. There are lots of cops. The cops blocking traffic, running red lights, standing en masse on the sidewalks are wreaking far more havoc than any group of cyclists could ever hope to.

Anonymous's picture
Nathan (not verified)

Went down to check it out. Rode in it up to where they turned around then left. Seemed to be mostly obnixious jerks yelling rude and obscene things. Not people I would want to say represent most cyclist.

OK OK I'm sure 90% of the people were cool and friendly. But sadly those aren't the ones you remember.

Good thing is I got back in time for the Outlaws of COunrty!!!

Anonymous's picture
evan (not verified)

"very judgemental

rode CM as always tonight. not sure what ones idea is of ""representing cyclists"" though think that all people who ride bicycles are ""cyclists""; those who take the time to join in a group ride, who commute to work, who ride centuries or deliver packages are all ""cyclists"", if a group must be defined.

CM is a fantastic snapshot of all those who enjoy riding a bike.

as far as people screaming, yeah, it happens at every CM ride. never have i heard people being overtly rude. to the contrary pedastrians were cheering from the streets, from out windows, and even from cars. we appreciate it.

of course there were those who are opposed the ride. called a ""transportational terrorist"" by a gentlemen in a silver Volvo. but you cant please everyone.

it would appear that this discussion is very much between people who have not participated in the ride to date, or have only recently tagged along since all the police escorts have arrived. some open mindedness and experience might help. isnt that one of the reasons that we all ride bikes anyway?"

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
Agree and disagree


I agree with your assessment of the Critical Mass as ""fantastic snapshot""--it really is a vibrant event. But I think your response to Nate is a little off key. For one thing, I know Nate personally to be a thoughtful and open-minded person.

Based on what Nate wrote, it seems that he went to the Mass to see what it was like for himself, and is simply being honest in describing the behavior of people he saw. (As a more involved participant, I'd be inclined to intervene and tell the kids to stifle it--which I did on one occasion.) It's not just screaming that bothers him, it's the obscenities. His observation about how the human mind operates--that the bad stuff tends to stick out most sorely in our memories--is all too true.

But he doesn't generalize about all Critical Mass participants on that basis--he even allows that most people there could be totally cool. Nor does he draw any negative inferences about the ride as a whole.

There are plenty of other people voicing opinions about CM without any direct knowledge of the event or its history, or awareness of the reactionary politics by which it is currently being swallowed. But Nate isn't one of them.

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
My view of the Mass

"It was another memorable, largely positive Critical Mass. The fuzz was out in force at Union Square when I arrived, but many police officers looked me in the eye with pretty friendly expressions. In fact, the skirt of my bubble wrap dress got caught on some tape holding more bubble wrap to my fender, and one of the cops helped me separate them. I am certain that most if not all of the rank-and-file would prefer a genial Mass to a hateful one.

Riding up Park Ave. many of the cops looked rather amused. I was at the very front, where we kept slowing down to let more people catch up with us. At intersections where the police clearly didn't want the Mass to go, like the 33rd St. viaduct, they stationed a dozen or so scooters and stood there with arms folded. The route through Midtown was pretty well under police control, and the drivers behaved. But oddly, the group became attenuated somewhere around Seventh Ave. and no cops were to be seen at any of the intersections. Considering the hundreds massed at Union Square, and their imperative that we strictly follow their route, where were they?

At some intersections, riders were confused as to where they should go. On Park Ave., the riders I was with actually stopped and waited for more people to catch up in order to figure out what the “correct” route was before proceeding; a few people peeled off at around 49th Street, but no one followed them. Riders were trying to do the right thing; I’ve heard of a couple of instances of riders being led OFF the route by scooter cops and then arrested.

At the unattended intersections on Seventh Ave., cyclists were corking, and in some of them drivers became impatient and busted through. Now THAT was getting out of control. And since I was then pretty close to the front of the ride, they couldn't have been waiting more than a couple of minutes.

Judge Pauley needs to be made aware that out-of-control DRIVERS are the biggest hazard on Critical Masses. Just as they are every other hour of the day.

So it was mostly a pretty mellow ride that I enjoyed. Some of my favorite costumes included two clowns on a tandem; a kid wearing handcuffs and gag; a guy in prisoner's stripes; pedicab phenom Peter Meitzler's groooovy velvet suit with ruffled shirt and oversized Austin Powers eyeglasses; some cool pirates; a Bush/Pinocchio getup; a Stingray-type bike with a boom box set between the handlebars, blaring punk rock; a lovely young girl with horrific buck teeth; variously disfigured young men screaming at women on the sidewalk, who squealed with excitement. People really liked my bubble wrap, and everyone wanted to pop it. I got a lot of surreptitious hugs.

At about 8:40, I was coming down Seventh Ave. when people started riding in the opposite direction. ""Turn back, turn back!"" they called. The same thing happened to me in September on 36th St., where the arrests were made. People now are afraid of being trapped and netted by the police, so they fragment when they see something suspicious ahead. I followed a splinter group over to Sixth and headed north. I stopped to ask some cyclists in the bike lane what happened, when a black car approached with lights flashing and siren wailing, so we moved ahead. (What were we doing wrong, exactly?) It was a weird, tense breakup to what had been a pretty relaxed ride beforehand.

At 11pm I headed over to the afterparty on Houston Street, where the biggest crime I could see was people dancing and having huge amounts of fun without spending huge amounts of money. Around midnight, a group of people in skeleton costumes were dancing in the street—near the curb, behind a parked car, NOT blocking the roadway. Shortly afterward, the cops came screeching up and blocked the roadway SWAT-style. I heard they tried to force their way into the Time’s Up building, where people blockaded the door. I went downstairs to listen to the hysterical Billionaires for Bush perform. At"

Anonymous's picture
doggie (not verified)
I musta been near you

I think I was at the front as well.
Things were going fine until...we went down 23rd to the west side HWY. At that point, I rode on the bike path, then just past christopher st, a scooter cop led us on to COBBLE STONE to the groans of all. Then we went up 6th ave.
I don't know what happened to the big mass, but my group was down to less than 100 when we got on 6th ave.
Here's where there was a problem with the POLICE.
They wanted this group I was in to go R on 14th street, I think they were trying to get people back to union sqaure, but the scooters got there after the line changed and people were already going through. The (the cops) just turned right into the traffic of cyclists, nearly hitting me and others. At that point, I had the green light and was not in the middle of traffic, I was off to the left where I would normally ride. The the scooters zoomed passed our group when the cut off was not sucessful At that point, I bowed out, thinking they were going to gather up my group and make arrests.
I have no idea how the group got so split.

I think all of this attention has gotten people to NOTICE that people do ride bikes, for many reasons, in this city. And we need to acknowledge that about each other.

Anonymous's picture
B. Dale (not verified)
NY Times article on Friday's ride


33 Arrested in Mass Cyclist Demonstration

Published: October 30, 2004

A day after a federal judge denied the city's request to block a monthly Critical Mass bicycle protest ride in Manhattan, more than 1,000 people took part in the ride last night. When it was over, tensions with the city had hardly subsided, as 33 of the participants were arrested for running red lights and other violations.

The demonstration, held on the last Friday of every month and intended to promote nonpolluting transportation, has been a focus of criticism by the city since Aug. 27, just before the Republican National Convention, when thousands of riders took part and more than 250 were arrested. A smaller ride on Sept. 24 led to nine arrests.

On Thursday, in a ruling that appeared to buttress the riders' claims of overzealous police enforcement, Judge William H. Pauley III of the Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled that the city could not stand in the way of last night's ride although no police permit had been issued for it.

The judge also granted a request by lawyers for the riders that prohibited the police from seizing bicycles as long as the owners were not charged with anything and the unattended bikes did not block traffic.

But last night, after most of the arrests took place along 11th Avenue, 42nd Street and elsewhere in Midtown, the police issued a statement condemning many of the riders for a ""breach of faith.""

""Whatever the court's expectation, Critical Mass demonstrated a breach of faith that posed unacceptable safety hazards,"" said Paul J. Browne, deputy police commissioner.

Bill DiPaola, executive director of Time's Up, an environmental group that promotes the monthly ride, responded last night, saying he was surprised by the arrests. ""Given the victory in court, we were shocked at the police presence,"" he said.

Witnesses said that at least four more people were arrested early this morning after about 200 of the cyclists gathered for a post-ride party at the storefront office of Time's Up on Houston Street.

Although the circumstances remained unclear, the witnesses said that a large contingent of police officers suddenly arrived at the storefront, apparently responding to a report of overcrowding.

As it has in the past, the ride began from Union Square, where many of the participants turned out in festive Halloween costumes. They were met immediately by a large contingent of police officers, police vehicles and loudspeakers warning them that arrests would be made if riders violated traffic laws.

The police also distributed fliers indicating a route they had approved for the event leading north from Union Square. But less than 30 minutes after the huge column of participants, which included skaters and bicyclists, set off from Union Square, it appeared to spontaneously break into smaller groups of 10 to 100 or more riders, moving in directions not prescribed by the police.


Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
Intelligent Villager article

While the Times's Polgreen falls back on lazy cliches (with the exception of the Komanoff and Faust quotations), the Villager comes through with actual reporting and interviewing.

Anonymous's picture
xxx (not verified)
re Lt. Fanale's policing style


August 11, 2004

Policing the City

To the Editor:

Re ''Policing a City Where Streets Are Less Mean'' (front page, Aug. 8):

New York's Fifth Precinct may be less rough and tumble lately, but it's not reflected in Lt. Carolyn Fanale's policing approach in Chinatown.

The article recounts that she handled the heinous crime of selling frozen fish on the sidewalk by taunting the merchant: ''You don't speak English? O.K., then I'll stop talking.'' Then she made her point by heaving the fish, ice and all, back into the shop to the fright of those inside.

Contrary to popular belief, English is no more comprehensible to people whose English is limited when it is shouted. But some things about policing never seem to change.

Christopher Ho
Director, Language Rights Project
Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center
San Francisco, Aug. 8, 2004

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
Norman Siegel speaks

Q&A: Norman Siegel

Civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel spoke to the Daily News Editorial Board about the conflict between police and bike-riding demonstrators.

Question: More than 1,000 cyclists take part in bike rides, called Critical Mass, on the last Friday of every month. That has led to police enforcement, including riders arrested and bicycles confiscated. What’s the point of the rides?

Answer: The rides celebrate cycling and the environmental benefits of a growing number of people using bicycles rather than cars. The Critical Mass rides have occurred in the city for six years without incident. Since the Republican convention, that has changed. The NYPD now seems to be overreacting to the rides. There is an increasing clash of cultures.

Q: Police say they need to work out the route with group leaders for public safety reasons. What’s the problem?

A: First, there are no leaders. Second, there is no predetermined route. Last month, the police unilaterally suggested a route, but imposing a unilateral route will not resolve the issues. The police and the Bloomberg administration also seem to be arguing that you need a permit to ride bikes in the street.

Q: The ride looks like a protest. Why not get a permit, so police could clear a safe path for the riders and traffic could flow?

A: If you have a right to ride in the street, you do not need government permission. Of course, you must follow vehicular rules, regulations and laws. If pedestrians want to march in the street, they need a permit. Bicycles are defined in the law as vehicular. You cannot ride your bike on the sidewalk but you can ride your bike on the street. So if you deviate from the police’s unilaterally suggested route, that’s not a crime. You can deviate if you follow all the rules.

Q: Some cyclists have run red lights, ridden against traffic and blocked side streets. You say they should be ticketed. Why shouldn’t they be arrested?

A: If a car runs a red light or makes a wrong turn, it gets a ticket. For people riding in Critical Mass, even assuming they go through a red light, the appropriate remedy is a ticket, not arrest. There’s selective enforcement of the law. That fuels tension.

Q: You represent five cyclists whose bikes were confiscated at the Sept. 24 ride. They got an injunction to stop police from seizing bicycles at the Oct. 29 ride, yet more bikes were taken. Why?

A: To chill people, deter them from riding in Critical Mass and/or to punish people for riding. This is fueling already too-high tension between the police and the bike community.

Q: The mayor and the police commissioner need to provide visible leadership to let people in the NYPD know they’re wrong. A federal judge told them they’re wrong. You have to report back to the judge today. What will you do?

A: I’ll be talking with people and will outline to the judge problems with how and why bikes were seized last Friday night. The issue is still alive.

Q: How can the tension be defused?

A: Riders and the Bloomberg administration must talk to each other to find ways for New Yorkers to ride bikes in the street free of harassment and hostility and in ways that guarantee public safety. For the previous year before August, in good weather they averaged about 1,000 bike riders each ride. So the argument police are making that all of a sudden this got large in number and they have to crack down is not accurate. For the Republican convention, thousands of people rode because of the international attention. But the Republicans have left, and the question becomes why is this crackdown, hostility, targeting of bike riders continuing.

Originally published on November 4, 2004

Anonymous's picture
Judith Tripp (not verified)
Another article . . .

On the front page of today's amNewYork (free paper).

Anonymous's picture
Richard Rosenthal (not verified)
Cars don't run red lights or speed; drivers do.

"Norman Siegel used an expression we all use but it masks the real responsibility for errant conduct. He answered a question, above, "" If a car runs a red light or makes a wrong turn, it gets a ticket.""

The car doesn't run a red light any more than a bicycle runs a red light. People are always careful to say, ""a cyclist ran a red light."" Why don't they say, using the example out of Siegel's mouth, ""If a DRIVER runs a red light..."" instead of ""If a CAR runs a red light...

Worse yet, are accident reports, ""Hit by a car that ran a red light."" Again, let's use the word to assign proper responsibility: ""Hit by a car whose driver ran a red light."" Or, if a bit less precisely, ""Hit by a driver who ran a red light...."""

Anonymous's picture
Carol Wood (not verified)
NY Press, moral authority

"Finally, some humor.


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