Cyclists deflated after latest ruling on group permits
February 24, 2010
By Albert Amateau
A Manhattan federal judge last week ruled that the New York Police Department’s policing of the monthly Critical Mass bicycle rides doesn’t violate the cyclists’ rights, and dismissed the lawsuit that seeks to block police from requiring bicycle groups of 50 or more riders to obtain parade permits.
Judge Lewis A. Kaplan on Wed., Feb. 16, dismissed the lawsuit filed three years ago by the Five Borough Bicycle Club and six individual bike riders after police began the policy of requiring parade permits with predetermined routes for large groups of riders.
Since the Republican National Convention protests in Manhattan in 2004, the Critical Mass rides starting at Union Square on the last Friday evening of each month have resulted in numerous police confrontations and arrests. However, the events, which at times have attracted about 100 riders and double the number of police, have dwindled since April 2007 shortly after the suit was filed. But the rides still continue with between 10 and 49 riders, averaging 15 per ride over a year.
Barbara Ross, who speaks for Time’s Up, which organizes the Manhattan Critical Mass rides, said on Friday that she was expecting an adverse ruling because Kaplan had denied an earlier temporary injunction against the parade permit requirement. But she was surprised and disappointed that Kaplan dismissed the charge that police selectively enforced bicycle traffic rules against the Critical Mass rides.
“There was tons of testimony by police that they follow riders wearing Time’s Up hats,” Ross said. She mocked police contentions that Critical Mass enforcement once a month was for the safety of cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. “If they’re so concerned with safety, let them come out and ticket riders who violate the rules every day,” she said. “It would be a better use of resources.”
Mark Muschenheim, the city’s lead attorney in the case that Kaplan heard in a three-day, nonjury trial in May last year, said the city was pleased with the ruling.
“The court recognized that that policing Critical Mass rides was not based on any attempt to infringe First Amendment rights but rather stemmed from Critical Mass bicyclists’ lawless behavior, intentionally blocking traffic, riding through red lights and cycling the wrong way on both one-way and two-way streets,” Muschenheim said.
Ross, who goes on the monthly Critical Mass rides, said that police still follow the riders and have given tickets for things like running red lights and for failing to keep far enough to the right side of the street, a charge that is usually dismissed.
“People join Critical Mass for different reasons,” Ross said. “It’s not about breaking the law or blocking traffic. It’s about riding together once a month and promoting bicycle riding and having fun. I hope the plainpngs appeal. With this decision the police will continue to harass cyclists,” Ross added.
The plainpngs have until the middle of March to appeal Kaplan’s decision. The Five Borough Bicycle Club, in a statement on its Web site, said it was disappointed in Kaplan’s 54-page decision.
“The club will respond further after we and the other plainpngs have had a chance to study it,” the statement says.
Five of the individual plainpngs, Sharon Blythe (a daughter of the late Village Gate impresario Art D’Lugoff), Josh Gosciak, Madeline Nelson, Elizabeth Sura and Luke Son, have ridden with Critical Mass. Another plainpng, Kenneth T. Jackson — a New York City historian, Columbia University professor and editor of “The Encyclopedia of New York City” — has never joined Critical Mass, but conducts nighttime bicycle rides for his students and others.