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Posts from the "Critical Mass" Category

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NYPD Sends Law-Abiding Vietnam Vet Cyclist to the Tombs

What is it about riding a bike that makes someone such a tempting target for police harassment?

The scene last Friday night, as reported in Gothamist, was the perfect magnet for NYPD misconduct: a Critical Mass ride headed to Union Square to participate in an Occupy Wall Street action. The department’s public safety priorities were on clear display, with 40 officers escorting 30 cyclists.

It seemed to be shaping up as an uneventful ride, until the group hit Lafayette Street. As cyclists rode in the bike lane, they encountered an obstacle: a limousine, caught on camera, parked in the bike lane. After maneuvering around it, the ride turned right onto Astor Place.

For that, the police stopped Robert Nash, a veteran of the Vietnam War. The charge wasn’t clear — on video, the arresting officer stumbled over what he’d just cited Nash for — but according to Gothamist, the police cited 34 RCNY § 4-12(p). The law requires cyclists to stay in a bike lane when the infrastructure is provided, but provides two big exceptions. Cyclists may leave the bike lane to avoid unsafe conditions, like a stretch limo parked in the bike lane, or to make a turn, like the Critical Mass participants did after encountering the limo.

The charges didn’t stand up for long — Nash was released the following morning after the DA’s office opted against prosecuting — but it was enough time for him to spend a night in the Tombs, Manhattan’s downtown jail. According to Gothamist, Nash chose to go to jail rather than provide the police with his address.

None of the 40 police on Critical Mass/OWS detail ticketed the illegally parked limousine that forced the cyclists to leave the bike lane in the first place.

StreetFilms 8 Comments

Critical Mass Is Alive and Well at Guadalajara’s Paseo de Todos

Walking and bicycling in Guadalajara, Mexico can be dangerous in many parts of the city, but there’s a movement afoot among many citizens to change that. GDL en Bici is a group of local advocates who have been organizing regular bike rides for years, and nothing is more impressive than their ride on the first Thursday of the month – the Paseo de Todos – which regularly draws up to 5,000 riders to celebrate and demand safer cycling conditions.

People just have a lot of fun. You’ll see families, students, and older residents throughout the crowd. Drivers who usually fill the city’s congested roads mostly seem to tolerate the inconvenience. The police largely ignore the whole thing. An added twist is that each of the rides has a theme. One month it might be to celebrate Mexico’s Independence. Another it could be comic books. Luckily we got to ride along in October, when it’s all about celebrating the Day of the Dead.

Streetfilms would like to thank Guadalajara 2020, for sponsoring the film and enabling Streetfilms to make the journey to document this wonderful event, and Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of 8-80 Cites, for organizing the details.

Streetsblog LA 27 Comments

Crazed Driver Plows Through Critical Mass in Brazil

(There’s a graphic video of the actual attack available here.)

A lot of critics of group bicycle rides, especially Critical Mass, like to claim that they’d like nothing more than to drive through it in their SUVs. Apparently one maniac in Brazil decided to give that a try.

At last Friday’s Porto Alegre Critical Mass, the driver of a Black Volkswagen Golf plowed through a group of 130 cyclists. Fifty of them were hit. Two were in critical condition as of Saturday night. Following the assault, the driver of the Golf ditched the weapon and fled on foot from the unmarked car. The police identified Ricardo José Neis as the lead suspect.

The above video shows the aftermath of the attack. The narration has been translated as:

“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”

2 Comments

Records From Critical Mass Court Case Spell Out NYPD Overkill

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An excerpt from then-Assistant Police Chief Bruce Smolka's detail request for the October 29, 2004 Manhattan Critical Mass ride. Image: City Room/Scribd

David Goodman at the Times’ City Room blog has an excellent piece up this afternoon about the resources NYPD spent to police Critical Mass bike rides in the two-year wake of the 2004 Republican National Convention. A federal lawsuit stemming from those police actions reached its conclusion this week, with the city paying out nearly $1 million in settlements to Critical Mass cyclists who claimed they were wrongfully detained during that period. Goodman got a hold of internal police records that surfaced during the case — check out the overkill:

They show that from 2004 to 2006, the department regularly authorized overtime for hundreds of officers, gathered scores of scooters and sent up helicopters on several occasions over the streets of downtown Manhattan “to combat illegal activity associated with the Critical Mass bicycle ride from Union Square Park.”

Two days before a ride in October 2004, for instance, the response plan included 547 officers, 81 sergeants, 29 lieutenants and a dozen captains. To track the fast-moving ride, the department employed a helicopter and more than 100 scooters and bicycles. Some of the officers were organized into arrest teams, according to the documents, which outline preparations for mass arrests that included 20 buses “to transport prisoners and property.”

The documents — known as detail requests, signed by Assistant Chief Bruce H. Smolka and corresponding to rides from October 2004 to February 2006 — show that the department also sought the involvement of its organized crime unit and advice from its deputy commissioner for counterterrorism.

In an analysis unveiled at a City Hall rally in 2006, Streetsblog contributor Charles Komanoff estimated that over these two years, “the city spent twice as much suppressing two dozen bicycle rides as it spent creating a safe bicycling infrastructure that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers could be using every day.”

At the same rally, Marquez Claxton, a retired NYPD detective and co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, called the Critical Mass crackdown a “personal campaign” by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly: “When you see such illogical allocation of police resources, you have to conclude that the impetus is personal vindictiveness rather than dispassionate analysis.”

41 Comments

Judge’s Decision on NYPD Parade Rules Tinted By Windshield Perspective

A federal judge yesterday upheld NYPD rules which effectively outlaw bicycle rides with 50 or more cyclists that proceed without a permit. The case is closely associated with police crackdowns on Critical Mass but affects any group ride of sufficient size.

In his 54-page decision in favor of NYPD and the city of New York [PDF], District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan, a Staten Island native who holds a JD from Harvard Law (Class of 1969), dismissed the case put forward by the Five Borough Bicycle Club, Columbia history professor Kenneth T. Jackson (who organizes educational nighttime rides for students), and several Critical Mass participants. The cyclists' attorneys argued that the NYPD permit rules violate First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, and that police have selectively issued citations to cyclists who have not broken any traffic laws.

Judge Kaplan rejected these claims across the board. One of the more fascinating aspects of Kaplan's ruling is his application of local traffic law to cyclists' behavior, and the way his judgments about traffic safety influence his judicial opinion. In concluding that NYPD's 50-person limit on group rides justifiably advances public safety, for instance, Kaplan writes:

Large groups of cyclists may well be more visible than individual cyclists and may take up less space than large groups of vehicles, but countervailing factors such as their lack of predictability and their tendency to try to stay together in a moving column, even if this means going through a red light, nevertheless endanger other travelers and disrupt orderly traffic flow. Their presence may add traffic volume that otherwise would be absent.

This reality was borne out by a video clip of the September 2007 Manhattan Critical Mass ride shown... at trial. As the Court noted at the time, the clip shows a cyclist engaging in dangerous behavior by pulling out and to the right of a motor vehicle that itself was in the process of pulling out of the bike lane to its right. The biker comes up from the motor vehicle driver’s blind spot and passes the motor vehicle on the right just as the motor vehicle begins to pull to the right and out of the bike lane. I find that the video demonstrates the danger of the cyclist's actions.

According to a court transcript obtained by Streetsblog, Kaplan is in fact referring to video shot in July, 2007, which appears beginning at the :37 mark in the above YouTube clip. It depicts a cyclist traveling south in the Broadway bike lane at 19th Street. When he encounters a BMW SUV partially obstructing his path, he bikes into car traffic and passes the SUV.

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Cops on Scooters Trail Greenway Cyclists

May's Bike Month Critical Mass reportedly drew more participants than usual, and NYPD responded by handing out a passel of trumped-up summonses. No surprise there, but as this video (from glassbeadian via Gothamist) shows, officers on scooters went so far as to follow riders down the Hudson River Greenway.

Barbara Ross of Time's Up thinks police may have been acting in retaliation to recent movement on the long-standing Five Borough Bike Club lawsuit to overturn the parade permit requirement for bike rides of 50 or more cyclists. Check the Gothamist post for another vid that features scooter cops picking out which cyclists to harass.

2 Comments

Streetfilms: Halloween Mass in San Francisco

This week's events make Halloween seem like a long time ago, but it was only last Friday when Clarence Eckerson, on a west coast jaunt for Streetfilms, shot this video of Critical Mass in San Francisco. Some think it was the city's biggest mass ride ever. Clarence offers a possible explanation:

With monthly rides under attack in some cities, it is interesting to see the tactic that San Francisco takes. The police department is practically hands off, and the ride is very peaceful and non-confrontational. Even drivers and spectators don't seem to mind the action.

"So," Clarence wonders, "why can't it be the same in NYC?"

2 Comments

Upright Citizens: Bikes and Walking Next Best Thing to Teleportation

From a Q&A with comedian Amy Poehler and her improv-mates in the Upright Citizens Brigade, spotted in the current issue of Time Out New York:

What’s the future of New York? What are your hopes, and what needs to happen?

ucb.jpgMatt Besser: I want them to get rid of that law that inhibits Critical Mass. It’s a great human event -- especially in a city filled with buildings and concrete.
Amy Poehler: I wish we had those shared-bike programs.
Ian Roberts: Yeah. I’d get all those bikes. And I’d take them to my apartment.
Amy Poehler: I want to be able to teleport to other neighborhoods. I’ve been waiting for that to happen for a while.

And, when asked what the L.A. transplants miss about New York:

Matt Walsh: Walking around everywhere, the food...
Ian Roberts: In L.A., you go straight from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car to your air-conditioned office. Walking around in New York, it's refreshing to know that you're part of humanity.

Next press stop for these guys? How about Streetsblog LA.

7 Comments

Charges Dropped Against Mass Cyclist Assaulted by Cop

On Friday, charges were officially dismissed against Christopher Long, the Critical Mass cyclist who was slammed to the ground by NYPD Officer Patrick Pogan in July. After he was knocked off his bike, Long was charged with attempted assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The official account of the incident, which was witnessed by dozens of people, would almost certainly have gone unchallenged if not for a video that surfaced on YouTube, drawing over a million views and making news across the country. Said Long's attorney, David B. Rankin:

"We're just very lucky this videotape surfaced, and we're very thankful the DA's office did the right thing in dropping these charges."

"This was a case where the officer's sworn testimony was contradicted by the videotape," Rankin said. "It raises serious questions about other cases that don't have the luxury of a videotape."

Times Up! noted the disparity between police treatment of mass rides in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and called for an end to the city's schizoid behavior toward cycling in general:

"Time's Up! is thrilled by this victory in court and we remain positive that this decision will convince the Mayor and the NYPD to treat the Manhattan Critical Mass ride in non-violent and sensible matter similar to how they currently treat the monthly Critical Mass Ride in Brooklyn," said Judy Ross, Time's Up! spokesperson. "Time's Up! also demands that Mayor Bloomberg immediately instruct the NYPD that bicyclists are part of every day traffic and that the increase of bicycling is a positive trend that the city recognizes and is accommodating."

Rankin said Long has not decided whether he will sue the city. Meanwhile, the Daily News says the PD is "still investigating" the incident. Pogan was placed on desk duty.

11 Comments

Bicycles (Sort of) Banned From the Democratic Convention

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This is a threat to Barack Obama's security?

You can just see the planning meeting for what organizers are calling the "greenest" national political convention ever. Special perks for hybrids? Check. Biofuel powered buses? Check. Solar powered green area? Check. Bike racks? Nope. Sorry, the Secret Service says they're too dangerous.

The Colorado Independent reports that there will be no bikes allowed within the DNC perimeter of the Pepsi Center, nor at Invesco Field, where Barack Obama will deliver his acceptance speech. Convention organizers cite the Secret Service and the Denver Police Department as making all security-related mandates.

Meanwhile, national advocacy group Bikes Belong has arranged for 1,000 bicycles to be available during the convention week for free to anyone with I.D. and a credit card.

One can't help but wonder if the crackdown on Critical Mass at the 2004 Republican National Convention had anything to do with the Secret Service's view that bicycles represent a security threat. Before the last RNC, officials tried and failed to get Critical Mass banned during the convention. When the ride took place and attracted 5,000 riders, 250 of them ended up in jail.

Photo: blkmarket/Flickr