October 30, 2004
33 Arrested in Mass Cyclist Demonstration
By THOMAS J. LUECK
A day after a federal judge denied the city’s request to block a monthly Critical Mass bicycle protest ride in Manhattan, more than 1,000 people took part in the ride last night. When it was over, tensions with the city had hardly subsided, as 33 of the participants were arrested for running red lights and other violations.
The demonstration, held on the last Friday of every month and intended to promote nonpolluting transportation, has been a focus of criticism by the city since Aug. 27, just before the Republican National Convention, when thousands of riders took part and more than 250 were arrested. A smaller ride on Sept. 24 led to nine arrests.
On Thursday, in a ruling that appeared to buttress the riders’ claims of overzealous police enforcement, Judge William H. Pauley III of the Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled that the city could not stand in the way of last night’s ride although no police permit had been issued for it.
The judge also granted a request by lawyers for the riders that prohibited the police from seizing bicycles as long as the owners were not charged with anything and the unattended bikes did not block traffic.
But last night, after most of the arrests took place along 11th Avenue, 42nd Street and elsewhere in Midtown, the police issued a statement condemning many of the riders for a “breach of faith.”
“Whatever the court’s expectation, Critical Mass demonstrated a breach of faith that posed unacceptable safety hazards,” said Paul J. Browne, deputy police commissioner.
Bill DiPaola, executive director of Time’s Up, an environmental group that promotes the monthly ride, responded last night, saying he was surprised by the arrests. “Given the victory in court, we were shocked at the police presence,” he said.
Witnesses said that at least four more people were arrested early this morning after about 200 of the cyclists gathered for a post-ride party at the storefront office of Time’s Up on Houston Street.
Although the circumstances remained unclear, the witnesses said that a large contingent of police officers suddenly arrived at the storefront, apparently responding to a report of overcrowding.
As it has in the past, the ride began from Union Square, where many of the participants turned out in festive Halloween costumes. They were met immediately by a large contingent of police officers, police vehicles and loudspeakers warning them that arrests would be made if riders violated traffic laws.
The police also distributed fliers indicating a route they had approved for the event leading north from Union Square. But less than 30 minutes after the huge column of participants, which included skaters and bicyclists, set off from Union Square, it appeared to spontaneously break into smaller groups of 10 to 100 or more riders, moving in directions not prescribed by the police.