Volume 74, Number 35 | January 05 - 11, 2005


Villager photo by Lincoln Anderson

At the end of last Friday’s Critical Mass, cyclists held their rides aloft in a show of bike power.

Celebrating New Year’s with bikes, and only 1 arrest

By Lincoln Anderson

Apparently the police had more on their minds than the Critical Mass bike ride on New Year’s Eve, because they didn’t do much to try to stop it, ending up making only one arrest.

Before Christmas, federal Judge William Pauley III had denied the city’s request for an injunction barring the ride unless someone gets a permit for it. During last Friday’s Critical Mass ride, one woman who gave her name as Ellen rode with Judge Pauley’s decision pinned to her shoulder, its pages fluttering in the wind.

However, as the approximately 200 cyclists gathered at Union Sq. N. around 7 p.m. last Friday evening, police handed out fliers warning that arrests would be made and bicycles confiscated if the bikers rode in a procession without a permit.

As a police inspector in a black Chevy Suburban drove along at the front of the ride, the bikers, whooping “Happy New Year!” headed across 17th St. to Sixth Ave., the presence of the Suburban causing them to stop at red lights.

Pedestrians were equally enthusiastic, one young reveler shouting at the bikers, “You guys are my heroes!”

This Critical Mass saw the bikers donate winter coats to Chelsea’s 10th Police Precinct. With a small escort of cyclists, Peter Meitzler, founder of ManhattanRickshaw.com, pedaled a bicycle taxi with 20 coats over to the precinct on W. 20th St. Leah Rorvig, a volunteer with Time’s Up!, the environmental group that publicizes the rides, said of the 10th Precinct, “They were a precinct that were friendly to receiving coats. Others weren’t that friendly.”

The Suburban then headed Uptown as the bikers hung a right at 31st St. and pedaled over to Third Ave. At Third Ave., Bill Di Paolo, director of Time’s Up!, asked the group whether they wanted to go Uptown or Downtown. Most yelled “Uptown!” The ride streamed up Third Ave., taking up its entire width, and started flowing through red lights.

Shortly afterwards, an ambulance with lights flashing and siren blaring came up fast behind the riders. Shouting “Ambulance! Pull over to the side!” the bikers quickly cleared a path in the middle of the avenue. Passing through the bikers, the ambulance, from Cabrini, abruptly pulled over to the curb in front of an office building between 40th and 41st Sts., in which Governor Pataki’s offices are located.

In the court case, the city made an issue of Critical Mass allegedly blocking ambulances, leading some to wonder if the ambulance run last Friday night was possibly set up by police.

“I have it on videotape,” Di Paolo said afterwards, noting no one had seen anyone rush out of the ambulance after it parked.

At 60th St., the bikers turned left and went to Fifth Ave., then down Fifth to 34th St., across to Ninth Ave., down to 31st St., then down Seventh Ave. — where they were rejoined by the inspector in the black Suburban — and back to Union Sq.

The bicyclists then had hot cocoa during an intermission at Time’s Up!’s E. Houston St. headquarters, before embarking on another ride to Central Park’s Belvedere Castle for a New Year’s celebration. A police car cruised by slowly as some of the bikers, standing in the parking lane, set up a loud speaker for the group’s sound bike.

Despite the dropping temperature, a smaller group of hardy bike cyclists then headed out to Washington Sq., from which they were trailed by police on motor scooters and a paddy wagon as they made their way up to Central Park. Police had no reports of additional arrests on the ride to Central Park.

The one arrest during the Critical Mass ride was at 31st St. and Park Ave. for obstructing traffic, according to a police spokesperson. Asked why police didn’t make more arrests after handing out the warning fliers, the spokesperson said, “They obeyed the laws and stopped for traffic lights.” According to a source, police were set to make arrests, but because of the ride’s small numbers decided to let it happen.

During the intermission, Di Paolo said, “It was a great victory in court and a great victory on the streets. And it was for biking — not for Critical Mass — for people biking to work, everyday commuters, for people biking on trips or just to the store. And for the environment. What a great way to do something for New Year’s, by celebrating out in the streets in a positive celebration.”

Said Rorvig, “We still feel one arrest is too much, but it’s certainly better than in recent rides. This certainly went over well, and we hope the next one goes the same way.”

As to why police handed out the warning fliers before last Friday’s Critical Mass, despite Judge Pauley’s decision not grant an injunction against the ride, city Law Department spokesperson Kate Ahlers O’Brien forwarded a statement by Gabriel Taussig, chief of the Law Department’s administrative law division:

“Judge Pauley’s ruling did not address the merits of the city’s position that the Critical Mass ride was required to get a parade permit and a Parks Department permit [to gather at Union Sq.]. Rather, Judge Pauley ruled that the city’s request for an injunction should be heard in state rather than federal court. Nothing in Judge Pauley’s opinion precludes the city’s enforcement of its permitting laws and we intend to continue to enforce those requirements. A decision has not yet been made as to whether or not we will appeal Judge Pauley’s decision.”

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