100 Cyclists Are Arrested as Thousands Ride in Protest
The New York Times
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
August 28, 2004
Thousands of cyclists rode through the streets of Manhattan last night in an anti-Republican, pro-environment display of bike power that ended in more than 100 arrests by the police after the ride blocked some streets.
Despite tension over police warnings to obey traffic laws against blocking traffic and running red lights, the cyclists – numbering 5,000, the police say – did just that in a meandering course that started at Union Square and wound its way to the West Side, Central Park, Midtown and the East Village.
As of 11 p.m., Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman, said that officers were still processing people who were detained, but that he expected more than 100 people to face charges, mainly for disorderly conduct.
The arrests, two days before the convention starts, seemed to herald a busy period for the police, who must patrol a stream of demonstrations large and small, several each day. The police on Thursday made 22-convention related arrests, more than three times the number during the entire Democratic National Convention in Boston.
The police apprehended riders in several spots, including more than 50 on Seventh Avenue at 36th Street near Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention will be next week. Riders had chanted “No more Bush” as they passed, and participants in the ride, a monthly fixture for several years, said that many more people than usual took part, out of animosity toward the convention.
The two-hour ride began about 7:15 p.m. in Union Square with a cacophony of bells, whistles, hooting and howling, and the police seemed to tolerate it.
An hour and a half into the ride, the police patience appeared to grow thin, as helmeted officers dragged netting across Seventh Avenue and 14th Street to block the ride.
Hundred of cyclists at first gathered by the net and then most turned west on 14th Street and south on Greenwich Street and kept riding toward the East Village.
As the ride backed up, the police arrested dozens of people on Seventh Avenue near the Garden on charges of blocking streets, saying some riders had stopped traffic on side streets to let the larger mass through.
More arrests took place at the end of the ride in the East Village, including along Second Avenue outside St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church, where cyclists gathered for a celebration of the ride and shouted abuse at the police who were arresting their companions.
“Ninety-five percent of the ride was beautiful,” said Bill DiPaola, executive director of Time’s Up!, an environmental group that participates in and promotes the monthly ride. “People were cheering us on the streets, but at the end it was difficult to funnel people off and it was very clear the police were upset at how well the ride went.”
The ride is known as a Critical Mass, a bike ride that claims no organizers and simply materializes, thanks to leaflets and Internet messages, on the last Friday of every month. The rides have been held in New York for the last several years, and are usually tolerated by the police, who in the past have cited only a few riders for traffic violations and have sometimes even escorted the group.
The rides are meant to protest cars and their pollution, but the ride last night was advertised as the R.N.C. Critical Mass, and scores of riders wore clothes or carried signs with messages against the convention and President Bush . Others wore fanciful attire, like a woman who rode in a peach wedding dress. One woman pushed her friend in a shopping cart.
Abby Lublin, a 28-year-old schoolteacher from Brooklyn, decorated her bike with a bust of Mr. Bush, hanging by a rope and attached to a milk crate.
Dick Camacho, a photographer, wore a rainbow cape with the message, “We the people say no to the Bush agenda.” But like most riders, he emphasized the desire to send a message to motorists.
“Its a rush to see bikes take over the streets,” he said.
Before the ride began, police officers distributed fliers outlining traffic laws related to biking, and a commander had sent a letter this week to a leading bicycling advocacy group expressing concern about the growing size of the ride and increasing violations of traffic laws.
Several police officers trailed riders in the front of the pack, which broke up into at least three masses shortly after the ride began. .
Bicycles could form a pivotal part of the coming protests.
Apart from the ride last night, Time’s Up! has called for a Bike Bloc tomorrow in solidarity with the large Midtown antiwar march organized by United for Peace and Justice. The group suggests riders meet at Union Square before the march for details.
The group also plans to ride around ground zero tonight during Ring Out the Republicans, a protest expected to draw people ringing bells, and on Tuesday, a day expected to be devoted to civil disobedience.
Time’s Up! has also prepared several bikes to be used by “street medics,” legal observers and food servers during convention protests.
“The main thing we are pushing is that bikes need to be thought of as an integral part of how people get around,” said Brandon Neubauer, an organizer with the group. “We are just trying to raise awareness in the city that bikes need to be looked at and respected.”
In the past few weeks the group has been operating a makeshift workshop in a storefront at 49 East Houston Street, strewn with bicycle parts, fast-food containers, anti-convention posters and leaflets and T-shirts with messages like “One Less Car.”
Mr. Neubauer said he did not believe bicycles block traffic, “because we are traffic.”
“We are reclaiming public space,” he said.
The Police Department warned yesterday that it was illegal to ride in a procession on public streets without a permit, or to ride outside of designated bike lanes.
Earlier in the week, Michael Scagnelli, chief of transportation at the department, sent a letter to Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group promoting bicycling, walking and public transit, warning that the police would not tolerate lawbreaking.
But organizers of the rides said that most people were law-abiding, and suggested that the police chose to crack down because the ride last night was expected to be larger than usual.
Critical Mass rides began 12 years ago in San Francisco and have since spread to more than 300 cities around the world, organizers say. Rides have been organized for the last eight years in New York, and only occasionally have riders received tickets, participants said.
“Most of the time the police accommodate us,” Mr. DiPaola said.
Paul Steely White, of Transportation Alternatives, said he believed the growing size of the rides had aroused police concern because of the blocked traffic.
“We saw it coming as the rides have been growing,” Mr. White said, adding that he found it paradoxical that any crackdown on riders would come at a time when the city’s Transportation Department has advised people to use bikes as an alternative because of the heavy traffic expected near convention sites.
Colin Moynihan, William K. Rashbaum and Judy Tong contributed reporting for this article.