by Jefferson Siegel
May 4 -10, 2007
Critical Mass riders made use of their wheels, ingenuity and MetroCards to avoid their usual police escort Friday night.
After several dozen cyclists assembled in Union Sq., many wearing copies of the U.S. Constitution with the words â€œMy/Our Permit,â€ they quietly marched down the stairs of the Union Sq. subway station. There was a frenzy of MetroCard swiping as cyclists lifted their bikes over turnstiles. Transit Police stopped several riders, claiming they had entered without paying the fare. Ultimately, only one cyclist was given a summons for non-payment of fare and allowed to proceed.
Walking their bikes the three-block length of the station, they descended onto the Lexington Ave. platform and took the first train Downtown. Several got off the train at the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station, then got back on, prompting the train conductor to announce over the loudspeaker, â€œYou got to make up your mind where you want to go.â€ Their minds made up, they got off at the next stop, Fulton St.
The riders walked a block up to St. Paulâ€™s Chapel on Broadway, near the World Trade Center site. Mounting their bikes, the Critical Mass ride began in earnest as cyclists pedaled down Broadway to Battery Park, up the West Side Highway and through the West and East Village.
With riders starting to pedal farther Downtown, they did not have police chasing or escorting them â€” a first in recent memory. The monthly demonstration ride by cycling and environmental advocates used to occur with police cooperation until 2004, when security concerns related to the Republican Nation Convention prompted a police crackdown and many arrests during the Friday night rides. This year, police imposed new rules requiring a permit if more than 50 cyclists join the ride.
Times Up!, which promotes Critical Mass and opposes the permit rules, reported that about 70 riders participated last Friday and police were observed circling the Union Square area in an apparent search for cyclists. The ride used to attract about 1,000, but dwindled more recently after the arrests.
The only incident last Friday occurred before the ride started as cyclist Jamie Favaro was riding up 4th Ave. on her way to Union Sq. While pedaling up the bike lane, she was sideswiped by a car. Favaro said the driver lowered her window and asked, â€œWhy arenâ€™t you in the bike lane?â€ and continued without stopping. Favaro was not injured. â€œItâ€™s one of those things that happens to bikes every day,â€ Favaro said.