Raising Awareness or Undermining Credibility?

Startsandfits.com strongly supports the encouragment of bicycling in New York City for about a million reasons. But I am unsure whether the monthly Critical Mass ride, which consists of hundreds of riders who operate against the wishes of the NYPD, is the most effective way to advocate for a better cycling environment. On the one hand, it draws attention to cycling as a mode of transportation. This is no doubt an enormous benefit. On the other hand, it has irritated a lot of people who want good things to happen for New York, including Mayor Bloomberg and members of his administration, the editorial boards of The Daily News and The New York Post, and a city councilwoman from the Bronx who proposed a bill that would have required cyclists to register their bikes with the Department of Transportation.

Things are looking better for bicyclists lately. We have access to all the East River bridges, bike lanes all around the city, new car free nights in Central Park. Officials and the public are starting to take increased notice of bicycles as a viable mode of transportation, especially now that the war in Iraq is drawing attention to U.S. dependency on foreign oil. Is the attention bicycling receives from the Critical Mass demonstration worth the ill will it generates with those who control public policy and help to frame the issue in the public mind? Maybe it does. Maybe not. I’m seriously wondering. Please comment.

But first, here is a chronology of the events surrounding the five most recent rides, culled from a Lexis-Nexis search of news reports in The New York Times, The Daily News, Newsday, The New York Sun and The New York Post and by Associated Press. The ride begins on the last Friday of every month at the north end of Union Square. (Note: To access the links you’ll need a paid Lexis-Nexis subscription. Sorry. It’s the best I could do. None of the editorials are available on their newspaper’s homepages.)

  • July 30 – Some cyclists ride on the FDR Drive, where cycling is prohibited. It is the first instance of conflict for a ride that had been happening peacefully for some six years at least.
  • August 27 – About 5,000 ride as Republican National Convention nears and the city is packed with anti-Republican protesters. Police arrest 264 riders and seize many bikes, which are not returned for weeks.
  • Sept. 23 – Police warn cyclists not to break any traffic laws.
  • Sept. 24 – Media attention is high after what happened at the RNC ride. Helicopters follow the route. The ride starts uptown on Park Avenue, takes a left on 57th Street and heads downtown on Broadway. Everything is fine until 33rd Street, where officers briefly block the road with scooters, causing confusion among some riders. Some try to escape on foot. Some bikes are locked to street furniture. Police saw through locks to seize bikes. In total, about 1,000 people ride. Nine are arrested. Police seize 40 bikes.
  • Oct. 20 – Five cyclists, represented by Norman Siegel and Stephen J. Hyman, sue the police over the seizure of their cycles at the Sept. 24 ride.
  • Oct. 28 – Federal Judge William H. Pauley III rejects the city’s request to block the ride and grants cyclists’ request to disallow police seizures of bikes in instances where the bike’s owner has not been arrested.
  • Oct. 29 – Thrilled with the ruling and many in festive Halloween costumes, about 1,000 people ride and expect a hassle-free event. But 33 are arrested. For the first time, police set a route ahead of time. It is similar to the September route: Uptown on Park Avenue, west at 55th Street, downtown on Broadway. Arrests start when groups of 10 to 100 leave the proscribed route at various spots. Most arrests happen at 42nd Street and Eleventh Avenue. Another guy is arrested at Tenth and 26th. Further arrests occur after the ride at the East Houston Street headquarters of Time’s Up.
  • Oct. 31 – Time’s Up holds a press conference to criticize the police department for heavy enforcement. They had thought the Oct. 28 ruling had cleared the way for an arrest-free ride.
  • Nov. 5 – The Daily News publishes an editorial harshly critical of the rides. The left-leaning News could have been expected to support the ride.
  • Nov. 7 – The New York Post publishes an editorial critical of the rides. This is to be expected from The Post.
  • Nov. 26 – On a colder day and without a holiday nearby, about 300 people ride. 17 are arrested on charges of parading without a permit and disorderly conduct. The police approach riders at Union Square and hand out fliers saying the riders will be arrested simply for riding “as part of a procession.”
  • Dec. 5 – The New York Times publishes an editorial critical of the police opposition to the rides.
  • Dec. 23 – Judge Pauley rejects the city’s request to require the cyclists to have a permit to ride, saying the city hadn’t required such a permit for a decade of riding, and anyway, the matter should be resolved in state court.
  • Dec. 30 – The New York Sun publishes an Op-Ed piece that praises cycling but criticizes the riders.
  • Dec. 31 – The next scheduled ride. What will happen? Unlike in October, this time the ride falls on an actual holiday.

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    One Response to Raising Awareness or Undermining Credibility?

    1. Anonymous says:

      A long winded response is on my site