by Jefferson Siegel
April 4 – 10, 2007
Tension was palpable among cyclists ready to start the Critical Mass ride as they gathered at Union Square before the monthly event last Friday evening.
Last weekâ€™s Critical Mass ride was the first held under a new police regulation requiring a permit for any gathering of 50 or more cyclists.
Ultimately, however, police did not break out the orange bike-catching mesh nets: They didnâ€™t enforce the new rule, although the riders were swamped by almost 50 traffic tickets and five arrests.
Before setting off, the riders held a press conference and rally.
Councilmember Rosie Mendez planned to challenge the new regulation by risking arrest with other bicyclists.
â€œWhen our constitutional rights are being threatened, I will stand with you anywhere in this city to protest that,â€ Mendez said to cheers. As almost 200 cyclists chanted, â€œRide, Rosie, Ride,â€ Mendez climbed into a pedicab operated by Revolution Rickshaws.
Ian Dutton, a newly appointed member of Community Board 2, was on his first Critical Mass ride.
â€œItâ€™s not about cycling. Itâ€™s about police taking more authority than they need to protect public safety,â€ he said of the new regulation.
After speeches by cycling advocates from Assemble for Rights, Timeâ€™s Up! and the 5 Boro Bike Club criticizing the new regulation, riders tentatively pedaled out of the plaza. One of the lead cyclists, Julian Bush, was stopped moments later and handcuffed just across the street from Union Square. He was charged with disorderly conduct, taken to the First Precinct in Tribeca and released about midnight with his bike returned to him. Exactly what he did to warrant arrest wasnâ€™t clear.
A block away, Kim Kalesti, a Lower East Side resident, was stopped by police as she approached 18th St. A swarm of media surrounded Kalesti and several police officers.
â€œI donâ€™t know why youâ€™re bothering me, because I was being a law-abiding citizen,â€ Kalesti told an officer who asked her for ID. Cyclists dismounted and chanted, â€œLet her go!â€
Kalesti did not have any identification. As the crowd grew agitated, Lieutenant Daniel Albano of the Police Departmentâ€™s legal division and other officers walked her to a police car, which took her to the Seventh Precinct on the Lower East Side. Kalesti said she was given a traffic ticket â€” reportedly for riding in the middle of the road â€” and was released after 15 minutes and reunited with her bike. Some bicyclists speculate Kalesti was targeted for arrest because she frequently visits Steve Stollman at Timeâ€™s Up!â€™s E. Houston St. headquarters space, which Stollman owns and allows the group to use for their activities.
Many cyclists were ticketed for various traffic infractions along Park Ave. S. up to 23rd St., including citations for having no front light or signaling device. The ride splintered off in several directions.
Several groups of riders later converged at Columbus Circle and rode down Broadway. At 8:30 p.m. a group of 20 cyclists arrived in Times Square. Police stopped them, examined their bikes and ticketed half a dozen for traffic infractions. Word spread that a larger group was approaching.
Two pedicabs not associated with Critical Mass made an illegal right turn onto 44th St. and were stopped by police. As Jordan Groh, a volunteer photographer for Timeâ€™s Up!, took pictures of the stop, police warned him twice to step back, and both times he complied. However when Groh approached a third time, he was arrested and charged with obstruction of governmental administration.
Almost an hour later, a larger wave of about 50 cyclists came down Broadway. At 43rd St. police ran into the street, ordering riders to stop and grabbing several as they passed.
Richard Vazquez, 54, a carpenter from Long Island, slowed as a police officer reached out and grabbed him. His bike flew out from under him and Vazquez took a bad fall onto the pavement. He was pushed against a garbage can and handcuffed.
â€œI was a little stunned,â€ Vazquez recalled. â€œI just wanted to get into an area where there was no traffic.â€
Vazquez, an active member of the 5 Boro Bike Club, was brought to the police substation across the street. Police gave him three tickets for disorderly conduct for blocking an intersection, reckless operation of a bicycle and disobeying a red light. He was advised to go to the Midtown South police station and retrieve his bike.
â€œItâ€™s not good,â€ Vazquez said of his experience. â€œThis is out of proportion. There are more important things for this city to be concerned about.â€
Also in Times Square, Christian Gutierrez, a member of the video group Glass Bead Collective, was walking his bike. Gutierrez had been riding the collectiveâ€™s â€œ360-degree bikeâ€ with a vertical pole and a video camera attached pointing up at a rounded mirror, giving the camera a 360-degree view of events. A police officer grabbed the pole and pushed Gutierrez and the bike toward the Nasdaq building. Gutierrez was charged with obstruction of governmental administration and held overnight. A video provided by the group showed police removing the camera battery and dropping the bike onto the ground.
Several feet from Vazquez and Gutierrez, Joyce Lin was also walking her bike on the sidewalk. Lin, a photographer and earring designer from Los Angeles, had recently arrived in the city after a series of environmental-related stops: She had visited a bike co-operative in Memphis, the Mountain Justice Spring Break â€” an environmental training camp in West Virginia â€” and the Climate Crisis Action Day in Washington, D.C.
As the tumult erupted in front of the Nasdaq windows on Broadway at 43rd St., Lin held up her camera and took a photo. A female officer approached and paused, looking at the camera. Lin took a photo of the officer. The officer then asked Lin, â€œDo you have any ID on you?â€ Without responding, Lin started walking away. The officer grabbed her jacket.
Tourists watched as Lin yelled, â€œLet go of me,â€ and continued walking. As a second officer grabbed her, Lin screamed. Two more officers grabbed Lin as she continued screaming, wrestling her to the ground. She struggled as police tried to handcuff her. One officer held up a small folding knife found after a search. A friend who was on the ride said Lin traveled with two small knives, fearing for her safety.
Lin was charged with felony assault, resisting arrest and possession of an illegal weapon. She was held overnight and released late Saturday.
Councilmember Mendez watched as the arrests took place. Riding down Broadway afterwards, Mendez voiced her disagreement with the new police regulation and said some councilmembers share her views.
â€œI think itâ€™s wrong,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™ve spoken to some of my colleagues, and some people are having issues with it. After tonight Iâ€™m hoping it will raise the consciousness a little bit more of my colleagues and we can move forward with trying to pass some legislation that makes sense.â€
As cyclists surrounded her pedicab, chanting â€œLess cars, more bikes,â€ Mendez said the Council can pass legislation to change or amend regulations enforced by any city agency.
Last Fridayâ€™s ride was preceded by a wave of developments affecting the status of pedal power in the city. Recently the city quietly dropped a two-year-old lawsuit against four Timeâ€™s Up! volunteers. The suit charged the group with promoting the monthly ride; but the members claim the ride has no leaders.
Earlier Friday morning Mayor Bloomberg said he would veto legislation passed by the City Council limiting the number of pedicabs allowed to operate in the city. The legislation would have capped the number of pedicabs at 350, down from about 500 now, and would have banned use of small electric-assist motors by the pedicabs. Bloomberg said he opposed a cap, in general, but that if there is one, it should be at least at the current level of 500 pedicabs.
On March 27 the 5 Boro Bike Club filed a lawsuit in federal court, asking a judge to â€œstop the N.Y.P.D.â€™s new rules that would let the N.Y.P.D. ticket or arrest any â€˜recognizable groupâ€™ of 50 or more cyclists that ride together without first obtaining a parade permit from the Police Department.â€
The court has indicated it will decide before next monthâ€™s Critical Mass ride â€” Fri., April 27 â€” whether to preliminarily enjoin the enforcement of the cityâ€™s new parade rules.