West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 5 | July 4 - 10, 2007

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

While other Critical Mass riders sat on the ground, Zelda, 6, and Bram, 4, at left, waited for their father, Ben Cherner, not shown, to attach their trailer to his bike, as Paul Sobel and his son also waited, at right.

In latest turn, Critical Mass first sits, then rides

By Jefferson Siegel

A large police presence awaited June’s Critical Mass bicycle ride last Friday night. As cyclists gathered in the summer twilight, police vans and motor scooters lined both ends of Union Square Park. Reverend Billy, the performance-artist preacher, stood at the edge of the square, decrying the vice of overconsumption to a line of people across the street waiting to purchase iPhones at an AT&T store.

As at the previous month’s ride, recently enacted regulations allowing police to arrest any group of 50 or more people without a permit again created a palpable tension. Preaching about the right of assembly and free speech through a large, white, paper megaphone, Reverend Billy approached a group of police commanders. A lieutenant asked him to stop. Billy continued. Several community affairs officers then asked him to stop. When he continued preaching, Billy was arrested and charged with harassment.

“He wasn’t doing anything illegal,” said Norman Siegel, the civil rights attorney, as he stood watching, adding, “I think what the N.Y.P.D. did is illegal.”

Billy was charged with harassment and held in jail overnight.

Ben Cherner, an East Village architect, came to ride in the Critical Mass with his children, Zelda, 6, and Bram, 4, in tow in a bike trailer.

“I think it’s the most important thing a New Yorker can do,” Cherner said of the monthly bike ride. “It says you’re for civil rights, it says you’re for alternative transportation.”

At 8 p.m., when cyclists usually sally forth from the park for the ride, they instead held their bikes over their heads while cheering, then sat down. Chanting, “More bikes, less cars,” they sat on the ground for an hour.

Paul Sobel, another East Villager, stood by his bike with his 6-year-old son.

“I think it’s a citizen’s duty. You have to defend your citizenship,” Sobel said of why he was riding, as his son ate french fries while waiting.

Cyclists then started walking and biking out of the park in groups of twos and fours. A short time later, the Critical Mass ride reassembled inside Tompkins Square Park where cyclists rode inside in a circle several times. Once everyone had arrived, as night fell and fireflies blinked in the darkness, they pedaled down Avenue A, turned east on Fourth St. and rode off.

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