2004-06-23 Bike National Convention - NY Newsday

Bike National Convention - Pedals to political mettle;
An environmental group tries to make inroads with rides through the city to protest GOP event

Newsday (New York)


News Section Pg. A19


June 23, 2004


By Joshua Robin

They will claim the war was all for oil and offer plenty of anti-Bush
invective - all while balancing on two wheels.

Putting the bicycle to political use, thousands of demonstrators plan to
swarm the city during the Republican National Convention, blocking
streets and flouting traffic laws as they spin through midtown.

"We don't necessarily follow traffic patterns," said Ludmila Svoboda,
32, an East Village nurse who will be among the mobile provocateurs.
"The ride has a life of its own."

This summer, riders will convene a "Bike National Convention" from Aug.
20-28, with subsequent rides during the GOP gathering Aug. 30 through
Sept. 2. For those without wheels, a bike lending library is growing at
the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The message: Conventioneers "are not welcome here," said Brandon
Neubauer, 26, an East Village cinematographer who is lead organizer of
Time's UP!, an environmental group organizing the bike protests.

The group has not applied for a permit for the rides and doesn't plan
to, he said.

One recent Friday evening, preview of what could happen in August, more
than 1,000 bicyclists pedaled from Union Square to the South Bronx in a
monthly ride called "Critical Mass."

They gathered before dusk near the Greenmarket, perched on a motley
collection of bikes, including some jury-rigged with oversized
handlebars and audio speakers. Suddenly, a stream of bicycles gushed
onto Park Avenue - the riders ignoring changing traffic lights and
cheering sporadic horn blasts.

Not many motorists appeared angry. Most seemed startled.

"It's a movement for peace," said Bronx maintenance worker Toto Ramos
when told about the ride as he idled at the corner of Park Avenue near
16th Street.

Cabbie Al Sandresy of Astoria had a different take.

"They have to get some police around them to make the road easy," he said.

In fact, there were no police officers in sight. Organizers say the
police once helped guide traffic, but stopped about two years ago.

"[Police] want to let the ride run its course, and that's the fastest,
easiest way to deal with it," said Noah Budnick, project coordinator for
Transportation Alternatives, a pedestrian and bicyclist group that used
to sponsor rides a decade ago.

The Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. The city
Department of Transportation referred calls to the Police Department.

There are several reasons why a bike saddle makes a fine soapbox,
protesters say.

Bicycling softens protesters' image, and conveys an environmental
message without a placard. Riders also acknowledge the tactical
advantage of two wheels during confrontations with cops.

Alex S. Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College who studies
how police respond to demonstrations, said, "There's a greater
possibility of a certain cat-and-mouse with the police."

GRAPHIC: Newsday Photo / Robert Mecea - Brandon Neubauer, right, an
organizer from the environmental group Time’s UP!, with fellow members
in Union Square in Manhattan last month, prior to the group’s Critical
Mass ride.

Copyright 2004 Newsday, Inc.