Ruling Due in Effort By City to Restrict Mass Bicycle Rides
The New York Times
October 28, 2004
By COLIN MOYNIHAN
A federal judge said yesterday that he would rule this morning on the city’s request for an injunction to bar the monthly Critical Mass bicycle ride from taking place in Manhattan on Friday night. The city also wants to require police permits for all future rides.
The city’s motion was a response to a lawsuit filed last week by two civil rights lawyers, Norman Siegel and Steven J. Hyman. They are representing five plainpngs whose bicycles were seized during a Critical Mass ride on Sept. 24. The suit had asked the judge, William H. Pauley III of Federal District Court in Manhattan, to prohibit the police from seizing bicycles belonging to people who are not charged with crimes or violations.
The lawyers for the bicyclists argued in court yesterday that the seizing of the bicycles violated the constitutional rights of the owners and said that permits were not necessary because state law gives bicyclists an automatic right to the road.
”The bikes have a right to ride the streets just as vehicles do,” Mr. Siegel said. ”When cars go through the street, they don’t need a permit.”
The seized bikes had been locked to lampposts and parking meters at West 36th Street and Fifth Avenue by Critical Mass participants who ran away as the police began to make arrests. Officers sawed off the locks and took 30 to 40 bikes to the Seventh Precinct station house on the Lower East Side, but returned most of them later.
Participants say the rides, which are held on the last Friday of every month to promote nonpolluting transportation, have no preplanned routes, and the riders claim no formal organization or leaders.
A lawyer for the city, Sheryl Neufeld, argued that the rides were unpermitted processions, which are illegal. She said that the rides have grown to include 1,000 or more bicyclists who fill the entire road and sometimes disobey traffic laws, posing a public safety threat. The city contends that the law requires bicyclists to ride no more than two abreast and to obey traffic signals.
Ms. Neufeld added that the police did not want to stop the riders on Sept. 24, but simply wanted to know their route.
Judge Pauley questioned some aspects of the city’s argument.
”It’s nothing new, is it?” he asked, noting that thousands of riders had participated in a mass ride in the summer of 2003.
”We’re not aware,” Ms. Neufeld responded.
”Well, you cite it,” the judge said, consulting the city’s papers. ”At least since July of 2003, at least a thousand people have participated in good weather.”
And after Ms. Neufeld said that leaving a movable object unattended on a sidewalk was against the law, the judge asked, ”How often do the police seize bicycles that are chained to a parking meter or light posts?”
She said they do so occasionally; for example, when a motorcade for a dignitary is scheduled to pass down the street.
When Judge Pauley asked if the police planned to seize more locked bicycles in the future, she said that she could not rule it out. Yesterday, the Police Department issued a warning that it might seize bicycles and arrest riders if they participated in a procession without a permit.