Volume 76, Number 15 | August 30 -September 5, 2006

Riding high after police back down on rule changes

By Jefferson Siegel

The August Critical Mass ride marked a dual anniversary. It was two years after the Republican National Convention ride when 264 cyclists were arrested and it marked a year since Hurricane Katrina wreaked its vengence on the Gulf Coast. Several dozen rides around the country participated in a Critical Mass for Climate Justice ride to commemorate the latter.

The ride came a week after the Police Department announced it would revise planned regulations that would have required groups of two or more cyclists not following traffic laws to obtain a permit. The regulations also would have required groups of 20 or more cyclists or vehicles to get a permit.

Three hundred riders gathered in Union Square as anticonsumerism activist Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping Choir preached of the dangers facing the First Amendment. Using an electric bullhorn to spread his gospel to the farthest reaches of the bike-filled plaza, Billy was eventually approached by two police community affairs officers who reminded him of the prohibition of using amplified sound without a permit. None too pleased, Billy, aka Bill Talen, turned off the megaphone and raised his voice as his choir sang, accompanied by an unamplified but very audible Hungry Marching Band.

Just before 8 p.m., the familiar whoops and yells rose into the late summer air as cyclists began converging on the northwest corner of the park. However, there was at least one false start as the riders warily eyed some police scooters nearby. The ride then started, proceeding west on 17th St. It didn’t get far, before a phalanx of scooter police immediately cut the ride off at Fifth Ave. Though a dozen cyclists managed to get through and raced away down the avenue, the rest of the Mass did a quick 180, with many dismounting as they turned and retreated back toward Union Square. They rode to 14th St. and then west.

Not so lucky were the first six riders stopped and ticketed for “failure to keep right.” Among these half-dozen was Reverend Billy’s wife, Savitri D.

“I feel annoyed and agitated,” she said as an officer wrote out her ticket. “I feel it’s a waste of my tax dollars and resources. We’re not bothering anybody,” she added, biting into a piece of fruit as she waited. Reverend Billy also reportedly got a ticket.

Minutes later, a band of 12 cyclists rode east on 12th St, followed by 14 motorcycle police. By now the Mass had splintered and taken several routes throughout the city. Three cyclists were stopped and ticketed on 40th St. near Second Ave. One cyclist, Joe Koenig, an East Villager, was riding a unicycle when he was stopped and ticketed for riding a “bicycle” without a bell.

By the end of the night, police reported issuing 65 Class B summonses for moving violations. In addition, 2 Class C summonses, which were issued for serious violations in lieu of arrest, were also handed out. There was one arrest for reckless endangerment.

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