2004-12-29 New Year's Eve Face-off - NY Newsday

Cyclists, City Set for New Year's Eve Face-Off
Newsday

December 29th, 2004

By Graham Rayman and Daryl Khan

The running duel in and out of court between Critical Mass cyclists and police officials will receive yet another airing on New Year's Eve.

Critical Mass is typically held on the last Friday of each month. And this month it falls on New Year's Eve. The ride, a fixture in the city for the past decade, starts at Union Square and roams around Manhattan.

"Is there going to be a Critical Mass bike ride on Friday night -- just what we need," an irritated Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday.

"The police have insisted that we need a permit, but we are not a parade," said Leah Rorvig, a volunteer with Times Up, the bicycle advocacy group. "We are simply part of traffic."

Rorvig said as part of Friday's ride, cyclists will donate coats to a police precinct as a show of good faith.

"We would like to go back to a time when there was no police aggression involved in Critical Mass," she said.

The dustup dates back to the Republican National Convention, when Police Commissioner Ray Kelly ordered a crackdown on Critical Mass for the first time.

The decision led to hundreds of arrests, which in turn have sparked a raft of lawsuits and court battles that promise to extend well into next year.

Kelly has continued to try to block or rein in the ride since then, but his strategy has suffered several setbacks.

On Dec. 23, for example, a federal judge dismissed the city's effort to force cyclists to obtain permits before the ride. Noting that the city had not required permits for a decade and even helped riders through intersections in the past, the judge ordered the dispute transferred to state court.

Kelly said yesterday that despite the federal court ruling, nothing has changed.

"We are going to enforce the traffic laws," he said. "If you ride a bicycle in New York City you have to obey the traffic laws. We will enforce those laws on Friday evening."

Numerous cases from the convention protest have been dismissed. Earlier this month, Manhattan prosecutors dropped charges against protester Dennis Kyne after it turned out that the arresting officer of record did not in fact arrest him, Kyne's attorney, Gideon Oliver, said.

On Dec. 1, prosecutors dropped charges against a bystander who was arrested Aug. 27 after buying matzo ball soup at the Second Avenue Deli.

In each of the past two Critical Mass rides, police have tried slightly different tactics to discourage cyclists. In October, the police proposed a preset route, but according to Oliver, officers diverted riders off the route and then arrested them.

In November, police handed out fliers, which said it was dangerous and illegal to ride without a permit. Police have also tried enforcing a state law that says cyclists cannot ride two abreast, but there is some question as to whether that applies in the city, Oliver said.

Tomorrow, a police source said, officers plan to detain cyclists who violate traffic laws, like running a red light, rather than simply issuing a ticket. Rorvig called that practice outrageous.

"If they arrested every motorist who ran a red light and took their car, there would be riots in the streets," she said. "If police do want to intervene with cyclists, they should just give them a ticket."

Whatever happens, Friday's ride is likely to be well-attended. In its Dec. 15 issue, New York magazine chose the Critical Mass ride as one of the top 25 ways to celebrate New Year's.

Copyright 2004, Newsday