2006-07-19 NYPD Tough on Bikers - NY Post

New York Post
David Seifman
July 19, 2006

Rebuffed in court from blocking massive bicycle gatherings at Union Square Park, the Police Department is moving to amend its rules so cops can arrest cyclists in groups as small as two if they violate traffic laws, The Post has learned.

The proposed rules - which would crack down on Critical Mass, a bike group whose members swarm through city streets - would also give the NYPD the power to haul in 20 or more cyclists even if they obey traffic regulations but don't have a permit.

Also targeted would be groups of 35 or more pedestrians "proceeding together along a sidewalk" without pre-approval.

"Each of these types of activity has the likelihood to significantly disrupt vehicular and pedestrian traffic and adversely affect public health and safety, unless subject to regulatory control via the permitting process," the Police Department said in a statement.

Peter Vallone Jr., chairman of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, agreed, saying that strict enforcement of activities that might block emergency vehicles is prudent in the aftermath of 9/11.

"Anything that impedes emergency vehicles has to be regulated in this day and age, and that's exactly what the PD is doing here," said Vallone, a longtime champion of the NYPD.

During the Critical Mass rides, hundreds of cyclists pedal en masse through city streets, often disregarding traffic signals and blocking traffic.

Civil-rights lawyer Norman Siegel charged that the revised regulations are so sweeping, they would make it tough to stage any spontaneous demonstration or get-together.

"It radically changes expressive activity and the right to protest in the City of New York," he said.

Siegel was one of the lawyers who beat back repeated attempts by the NYPD to reign in hundreds of bicyclists who've been gathering the last Friday of the month at Union Square Park for Critical Mass rides.

The new rules were published in the City Record on Monday and a public hearing on them is scheduled for Aug. 23 at Police Headquarters.

In February, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman rejected efforts by the city to block the Critical Mass rides and to punish Time's Up, an environmental group, for publicizing them.

The judge noted that the city's regulations don't make clear what constitutes a "parade or procession," and suggested it would "be sensible" to specify how large a group has to be to fall into that category.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the revised rules would allow paradegoers who obtain permits to engage in activities "that would otherwise be illegal, such as disregarding traffic signals . . . with the police making accommodations, such as the rerouting of pedestrian or vehicular traffic."

Disputing Siegel, Browne said cops "always had the authority to make arrests, and continue to have that authority."

The Critical Mass rides have taken place here for more than a decade. Until the summer of 2004 - when the Republican National Convention came to town - there was little interaction with cops.

But that August, police arrested 264 people during a group ride.

david.seifman@nypost.com