2004-10-29 Judge Refuses to Halt Mass Ride - NY Times

Judge Refuses to Halt Mass Ride and Forbids Police to Seize Bicycles
The New York Times
October 29, 2004

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By COLIN MOYNIHAN

A federal judge in Manhattan denied a request yesterday by the City of New York to block a mass bicycle ride scheduled for tonight without a permit.

The judge also granted a request by bicyclists to prohibit the police from seizing bicycles as long as the owners have not been charged with anything and unattended bikes do not block vehicles or pedestrians.

The bicyclists had filed suit in response to events the night of Sept. 24, when the previous monthly ride, known as Critical Mass, was held. That night, the police cut the locks of 30 to 40 bicycles secured to lampposts and parking meters at West 36th Street near Fifth Avenue and confiscated them. The bikes had been locked there by some ride participants who dispersed on foot when the police began making arrests.

Last week, two lawyers, Norman Siegel and Steven J. Hyman, filed a complaint in Federal District Court on behalf of five cyclists contending that their constitutional rights and rights to due process were violated when their bicycles were seized.

On Monday the city responded by asking the judge, William H. Pauley III, to enjoin cyclists from participating in a group procession without a permit.

In partly ruling for the cyclists, Judge Pauley wrote: ''A preliminary injunction is warranted to prevent a reoccurrence of bicycle seizures as they occurred on Sept. 24.''

He wrote that the police had violated due process by seizing the bicycles without notice. The judge ordered the police not to seize bicycles without issuing charges or providing notice, but added that his order would not bar the police from seizing unattended bicycles that block vehicles or pedestrians.

Judge Pauley acknowledged that recent rides had been turbulent, but he also noted that the mass rides were nothing new.

''With only two days to respond to the city's application, the plainpngs are prejudiced and the court is short-changed,'' he wrote, adding that ''the city's delay is one of the equities that argues strongly against granting its application.''

The Critical Mass rides, which promote nonpolluting transportation, are held on the last Friday of every month. Participants say that the rides have no planned routes and that they have no formal organization or leaders.

The rides have taken place in New York City for about 10 years but have grown in size recently and commonly include a thousand riders or more. At times the police have arrested riders for blocking traffic or disobeying signals. At other times, though, officers have escorted the ride through red lights and halted traffic to allow the procession to pass.

The ride received widespread attention shortly before the Republican National Convention, when thousands of cyclists turned out for the Aug. 27 ride, in what was said to be a demonstration against the convention. More than 250 riders were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct.

City lawyers said in their papers that on some rides, bicyclists had engaged in dangerous activity; for example, bicyclists at a July ride were said to have swarmed onto Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.

In his conclusion, Judge Pauley urged the bicyclists and the police to agree on routes during future rides. ''Critical Mass appears to be a surging phenomenon in New York,'' he wrote. ''However, the event's success is spawning potential dangers.''

Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Siegel, Mr. Hyman and three bicyclists left the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl Street, where they said they had spent two hours talking with Judge Pauley and with city officials.

''We are pleased with the judge's decision,'' Mr. Siegel said. ''We were very concerned with the city's extraordinary request for a preliminary injunction to enjoin the Critical Mass ride.''

Sheryl Neufeld, a lawyer for the city, said in a statement: ''We are disappointed by the ruling.'' The statement added: ''The city is considering all its legal options, including if appeal is warranted.''

After the ruling, the police issued a statement emphasizing that the injunction from Judge Pauley did not restrain officers from enforcing the law or seizing unattended bicycles that obstruct people or vehicles.