Volume 74, Number 27 | November 03 - 09, 2004



Critical Mass is at a critical point

If there was any question that Mayor Bloomberg and the Police Department have decided to take on the monthly Critical Mass bike ride, the events of last week left no doubts.

First, the city — in a counterclaim to a lawsuit filed the previous week by five bikers seeking to stop the police from confiscating locked bikes — argued in federal court that the mass bike ride, which occurs the last Friday of each month, needs a parade permit or else should be barred from happening. Judge William Pauley III ruled that the city had filed the counterclaim for the injunction and permit too late, but did approve the injunction on the lock clippings.

Although police asked the 1,000 or more bikers who participated in last Friday night’s ride to follow a set route, coming down the West Side they broke into four groups, some diverging from the route. Police made 33 arrests. Later on, police aggressively closed down an after-party thrown at the E. Houston St. storefront space of Time’s Up!, the pro-bicycling, nonprofit, environmental group that publicizes Critical Mass.

Some will say the city has “a vendetta” against the bikers. However, it’s clear the bikers have also done things to bring the city’s wrath upon themselves. As Judge Pauley said in his ruling last Thursday, the bikers simply cannot go “‘wherever their wheels take them’ month after month.” In short, while it is empowering and great fun for bikers to block automobile traffic and take over the streets with nonpolluting bikes, it’s also dangerous. Fortunately, to our knowledge, no one has been seriously hurt in the Critical Mass rides. However, most would say it’s an accident waiting to happen. Pedestrians, bikers and car drivers alike are at risk when people disobey traffic laws.

It sounds like the bikers may now be considering consenting to stop at red lights. That would be a step in the right direction. They claim that under law they don’t have to ride at maximum two abreast and can take up the whole street. That’s for the courts to decide. However, Judge Pauley — while denying the city’s demand that Critical Mass get a parade permit for last Friday — did advise that the police and Critical Mass, for everyone’s safety, should work out a route for each month’s ride.

It’s simply a fact that whereas only five years ago, when they were led by Transportation Alternatives, Critical Masses in New York City struggled to draw 50 cyclists, today they attract thousands. There were 5,000 bikers during the August ride before the Republican Convention.

Yes, Critical Mass is an exhilarating event for those riding in it. No one wants to be a party pooper. But it has become a victim of its own popularity. It has literally reached a critical mass in terms of sheer numbers.

We overwhelmingly support more bikes, mass transit and less cars. The city must do more — much more — to create more and bigger bike lanes and make the city more bike friendly. Though the Critical Mass rides should drop in numbers now in colder weather, for everyone’s safety, the bikers and city should sit down and work out some rules of the road.

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