City Tries Again to Require Permit for Critical Mass Bike Ride
The New York Times
November 16, 2004
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
A struggle between the city and a group of bicyclists intensified yesterday, as the city asked a federal judge, for the second time in three weeks, to stop the cyclists from riding in a large group without a permit.
Lawyers for the city asked Judge William H. Pauley III of United States District Court in Manhattan to halt the Nov. 26 group bike ride, known as Critical Mass, unless the riders obtain a permit. The filing came just two weeks after Judge Pauley denied a similar request by the city and allowed cyclists to proceed with an Oct. 29 ride.
But that denial was based largely on timing. The city had not given the court or the plainpngs, five bicyclists, adequate time to respond to the request, Judge Pauley wrote. The city’s lawyers filed it just four days before the ride was to take place.
A complaint by the five cyclists, filed in October, contended that their constitutional rights and rights to due process were violated when their bicycles were seized.
The city also asked that Judge Pauley require the bikers to obtain a separate permit from the Parks and Recreation Department to gather at their usual starting point, Union Square Park in Manhattan.
Lawyers for the cyclists say they should not need a permit for the rides, which promote nonpolluting transportation and take place on the last Friday of each month. Bicycles, they say, have as much legal right to the road as cars. Participants in the rides say that they have no formal organization and that the routes are not planned.
“They’re not just saying you need a permit to ride in the street,” said Norman Siegel, one of the cyclists’ lawyers. “They are now saying you now need a permit to even meet before riding in the street.”
But lawyers for the city argue that the rides pose a safety hazard, in part because of the large numbers of riders who attend. In October, they numbered more than 1,000. The city’s lawyers said that the riders have run red lights, ignored traffic rules and clogged roads.
In October, the police arrested more than 30 riders, a move cyclists have criticized.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly wrote in The Daily News last month that the cyclists used to obey traffic rules, but that around the time of the Republican National Convention, Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, the rides became disruptive.
The cyclists’ behavior on the rides is “typically what occurs in a parade,” said Gabriel Taussig, a lawyer for the city. “We’re not saying they shouldn’t be able to do that, but rather do it in a way that ensures everyone’s safety is protected.”
In yesterday’s filing, a lawyer for the city, Sheryl R. Neufeld, wrote that if the request was too late to stop the Nov. 26 ride, the filing would apply to the group’s December ride. The October ride, she wrote, made it “clear that the city is going to continue to face serious public safety problems during the upcoming Critical Mass rides.”
The cyclists’ lawyers have until Nov. 30 to respond to the city’s filing, which would be too late to affect the November ride. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 8, Mr. Siegel said.