NYC bicycle abuse

critical mass in times squareIf you’ve ever been in New York on the last Friday of any month, you’ve probably come into contact with the NYC Critical Mass bike ride wherein hundreds of bicyclists “spontaneously come together to ride the ordinarily car-clogged streets of their cities.” I’ve seen this spectacle twice completely by chance, and it’s awesome.

Tension has been rising between these peaceful bikers and police, who claim their actions to be a dangerous act. This dispute reached its apex during the RNC when the NYC office of transportation declared Critical Mass to be “Disorderly Conduct and Obstructing Governmental Administration.” Since then numerous bikers have been harassed and sometimes even arrested on charges of traffic violations. Yesterday I recieved this email from my friend Jamie:

Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005 12:26:45 -0500 (EST)
From: Jamie Rollins
Subject: biking is a crime
So you guys might be interested to hear that I was arrested Friday night for riding my bicycle here in New York City. Yes, you heard me right; I was arrested for riding my bike, IN A BIKE LANE, in Manhattan on Friday night. I was riding during the monthly Critical Mass bike rally, which the city of New York seems to have deemed a criminal activity.

As a bit of background, the city of New York has been launching quite an assult on bicyclists, specifically those that ride in Critical Mass. Recent Masses have been subject to severe police intimidation, including plain cloths officers filming every one participating in the ride. Because of the cold, there weren’t that many riders, so the Mass was not quite critical enough. With absolutely no blocking of any traffic the mass took off from Union Square. I made it about 4 blocks before I was swarmed by cops on scooters who grabbed me off my bike and put me in handcuffs. Let me make one point particularly clear: I WAS RIDING IN THE BIKE LANE at the time of my arrest. The mass was small so we it wasn’t taking up the whole road and everyone was riding off to the side. Not that it mattered. A small woman who was riding behind me was forcibly pulled from her bike and thrown to the ground with a knee in the back of her neck.After sitting in the back of a paddy wagon for about an hour, the other 7 riders and I who were arrested in the same block were taken to the police station where we were processed, pictured with our “weapons” (read bicycles) and put in holding cells where we stayed for a couple of hours before being released.Those who know me well will not be surprised to learn that I was not shy about expressing my anger and indignation at the incredible injustice.

My bicycle has also been confiscated by the police, completely illegally as it turns out. Not that any of this is particularly legal anyway. I was charged with a violation of “parading without a permit and disorderly conduct”. Lawyers from the Nation Lawyers Guild have taken to accompanying the Critical Mass to document the abuses by the police. The lawyer who has contacted me likened the situation to “being arrested and having your car inbounded for running a red light”. It’s unclear how and when I will be able to recover my bike.

My court date is set for February 23rd. I plan on fighting every charge they throw at me.

To get a sense of how bad it is in New York right now, a city council woman recently tried to pass a bill that would make it illegal to ride a bicycle in the city at all without a permit, punishable by fines and jail time. Luckily it didn’t pass. Meanwhile, some car plowed over two pedestrians trying to cross the street at the corner outside our apartment a couple of weeks ago. And the night before the Mass, a gang of hoodlums shot and killed a woman walking home from a club in the lower east side. But apparently the New York City police is so overstaffed that they can send 50 police officers to arrest people riding their bikes down the street.

Update: I apologize for the problem with the comments. It’s been fixed, and all of the comments should be public now.

90 thoughts on “NYC bicycle abuse

  1. Critical Massholes can go screw themselves. Dirty drum-beaating hippies out to raise hell and fuck with the cops. They have NO respect for pedestrians, drivers, or people who live along the route they choose to invade once every month.

    Had these idiots not tied themselves together with anti-Bush protest during the convention in NYC, the NYPD would likely not be cracking down. The fears of Chicago ’68 were justified (back when a bunch of out-of-town dirty hippies got the shit kicked out of them by local cops).

    Quit yer whining.

  2. boo hoo, sounds like your case is sound, but hey, it’s illegal to block traffic. i’ve seen these masses in dc and ny. i almost killed one of these riders because he just decided to “be over there now” guess what if i’m driving and you swerve into the road and i break your leg, it’s your fault. the bike lanes are there for a reason. use them, i don’t give a poo how many of you guys are in the lanes, but please please stay in them. agree totally on the police issue here, but for christ sakes stay outta the designated car lanes if you’re with that many people.

  3. I feel that the comments made by the likes of ‘growler’ simply prove the suggestion made by ‘A resident of Airstrip One’ that the dominant mindset in the USA is that of ‘Fascism’ is fundamentally correct.

    Rather than claim that it is ‘Critical Massholes’ who have a lack of respect for others and the law perhaps ‘growler’ might take time out to ponder just how much respect drivers show to the residents whose streets they ‘invade’ and pollute day in and day out, or just how much respect many drivers have for the law and the safety of others when it comes to speed limits, drink driving and so on.

  4. growler, are you suggesting that the NYPD is only cracking down on Critical Mass because of the political inclinations (anti-Bush, anti-RNC) of the bulk of its participants? This might be true, but it is a pretty blatant violation of the First Amendment if it is.

    And phallic moron, they aren’t “designated car lanes”. They are actually “traffic lanes”. and as much as you might dislike bicycles, they are traffic and have as much a right to the traffic lane as cars do. The purpose of bicycle lanes is not to provide a road-ghetto to contain all bikes, but rather to provide a place for bicyclists to ride where (in theory) they won’t have to worry as much about being run down by cars.

    In practice, of course, it is much more common for an auto to illegally encroach on a bike lane than it is for a bicycle rider to decide to use a general traffic lane when a bike lane is present and unobstructed. Examples of what cyclists in the bike lane have to deal with are:

    taxis cutting in to pick up passengers
    delivery vehicles
    car doors opening suddenly (being “doored” is the leading cause of serious injury to bikers)
    road cuts and other construction (much more common at the side of the street, where the bike lane tends to be, and much more dangerous to cyclists than to autos)
    double parkers
    drivers idling “out of the way”

    And we do willingly deal with all these things when a bike lane is present because it is usually even more dangerous to share the general traffic lane with the typical automobile driver.

    Under circumstances when the general traffic lane is safe for cyclists (sadly, critical mass is one of the only times this is the case), you can bet that some of us will take it, even on streets where a bike lane does exist.

  5. =v= To all of you writing about Critical Mass “blocking,” “disrupting,” “snarling,” or otherwise exacerbating traffic, some advice: don’t believe everything you read or watch on teevee. A traffic expert has shown that a hypothetical (worse than real life) Critical Mass in Manhattan adds about as much incremental congestion as a billboard truck. Bike traffic is legal in Manhattan, but those trucks are not. If this was *really* about traffic and safety, the NYPD would do something about things like that, instead of attacking CM.

    mobius: Unfortunately the federal court ruling mentioned in that article is very narrow and the final decision is up to state court. But last night the police did blatantly violate the federal court ruling by seizing locked bikes that didn’t belong to anyone who was being arrested.

    doviende: Over 400 cities have achieved Critical Mass:

    Mark Atwood: Critical Mass has never blocked an ambulance. The NYPD has been running fire engines and ambulances through Critical Mass for the last few months, with videotape rolling, trying to stage an incident. Bicycles get out of the way of emergency vehicles much faster than car-dominated traffic could ever hope to. (Also, a Google Groups search reveals more about you than about Critical Mass.)

    Cowicide: “New Yorkers” aren’t the ones attacking Critical Mass, so it’s specious to write about how “New Yorkers” are getting tired of it. New Yorkers are more carfree than any other city in the U.S. and are generally savvy about the fact that cars, not bikes, create traffic jams.

    Drew: I agree that bicyclists shouldn’t menace pedestrians. Your perception that they are as dangerous as cars, though, is not supported by statistics. Not in San Francisco, New York, or even Amsterdam and China.

    SF Markie: Word. Motorist whininess is the result of an overarching sense of entitlement. Here’s an activity that destroys more of the environment and society than anything else done by everyday individuals, and is subsidized out the wazoo, yet its practitioners take umbrage at a 5-second delay or a 25-cent parking meter.

    Anon: Critical Mass is traffic. It has no marketing director.

    growler: You write as if you watch Faux News or read tabloids AND ACTUALLY BELIEVE THEM. Amazing. The fears you refer to were not justified. Not one single alarmist press release from the police (even the ones not tabloidized) turned out to be true.

  6. 1. Bicyclists _are_ traffic. There’s no reason they should be arrested if they’re following the rules of the road. I agree. The problem with most critical mass riders here in NYC is that they do not follow the rules of the road. Running lights en masse, blocking the box, illegal turns, all constitute breaking the law. As a 3/4 time commuter who rides from Brooklyn to the Bronx, I witness mass amounts of cycling idiocy. I really wish that CM riders would understand that by breaking traffic laws, they are hurting, and not helping all cyclist in NYC.

  7. Jym: “New Yorkers” aren’t the ones attacking Critical Mass, so it’s specious to write about how “New Yorkers” are getting tired of it. New Yorkers are more carfree than any other city in the U.S. and are generally savvy about the fact that cars, not bikes, create traffic jams.

    Cow: First of all, I never specified New Yorkers so I’m not sure why you think I’m focusing only on them. But now that you’ve brought them up, I can assure you many New Yorkers are indeed ready to kick some CM ass at this point. Don’t take my word for it, watch them during a CM event… There are some ANGRY New Yorkers behind the CM bikers. Talk to New Yorkers, they’ll tell you CM is a pain in their ass. You may also note some of the CM detractors on this message board are New Yorkers. BTW, I’m not against the overall cause, I just don’t think CM is effective.

  8. growler: I lived on a very frequent CM route for four years (34th and Park.) I bet you don’t. They never bothered me in the least. Traffic in midtown Manhattan is outrageously awful Friday nights that the bikers were a pleasant diversion. Like when the circus comes to town — it is fun to see people making their own fun. AND living where I lived made me so anti-car that I enjoyed seeing them frustrated. Cars suck.

  9. oh dear. i hope there really is a god or else we really will be phaarked. see i thought that so long as americans don’t hurt their own people it’d be ok. but now they are arresting critical mass riders. phaaark. they’ll be arresting the working class soon cause they’re asking for too much money. bastards.

  10. Seems to be 2 kinds of people. Those who bike and those who bitch. And I’ve just read a lot of bitching. Just get out and bike hard. Don’t join the mob/demonstration/rally/riot/CM whatever you call it. Bike the other way or suffer the justice of the mob’s reduction upon you. If you’re in CM you are CM. if you are arrested in CM, CM is being arrested not You. Don’t go snapping back to poor Individual status and play woe is you just because you got busted in the mob. Just bike, be doored, be veered into the trash cans by the bus…It is unfair yet charming and always up-hill; and you know it. So if you are going to bike anyway where the car always wins, (think Detroit, think Physics), like Nike says “just do it” without pretension, without entitlement, without politics, without bitching.

  11. Hi People
    I live in London UK. I watch the TV news every day an hour or two at the least. I also read the news online every day. And today October 2005 is the first I’ve heard of this New York situation banning bike riding and arresting bicyclists. I have just read in a UK online paper today (Guardian) that they have now banned bike riding here in London, if it goes near the Houses of Parliament, the supposed home of democracy.. A big ride is planned for the end of October as a protest.

  12. OK, here’s something to mosh over during this transit strike: You can ride your bike from any burough into Manhattan but you cannot take your bike on the Path train during commuting hours. MTA has no way for people to get to work. Bikers who live in NY but work in NJ are apparently second class citizens. Thanks Port Authority.

  13. I also am a regular bike rider in NYC. I rode one time with Critical Mass, and would never ride with those people again. I expected, as the name implies, that there would be a mass of people riding, and that because of the sheer volume of riders, it would be shown that NYC needs to do more to accomodate bike riding. But that is not what happened. First of all, there were very few riders, no more then twenty, and the weather was perfect. At the time,the ride started in the east village, near the Cube. When we started out we cut thru Thomkins Square Park, which is not even big enough to handle bike traffic. Needless to say, we didnt encounter any cars, only women with baby carriages, who had to get out of our way. My fellow bikers then went out of their way to ride on a major highway ( FDR Drive !!!), putting us and every other vehicle in danger.This was ironic, since, if there is one place in Manhattan where car traffic should be, its the FDR. It is doubly ironic, when you consider that, a half block further, is probably the best bikelane in all of Manhattan, completely traffic free, which they avoided.So here we are, biking on one of the busiest highways in the city, and bringing traffic almost to a standstill. The bicyclists are shouting obsenities and giving the finger at the car drivers , most of whom just want to get to wherever they are going. Further back, in the traffic pileup, most people dont even know what is going on, so horns start blaring. There is not a cop in sight. This is really reckless, I think.This could lead to a really bad accident. When we finally returned to regular streets, they rode in the center of the street, purposefully blocking traffic, all the while shouting obscenities at the car drivers behind us, as if anyone in a car were ‘the enemy’. The most shocking thing is that they also shouted obscenities at PEDESTRIANS!. You got it, the people WALKING on sidewalks, were also the target of angry abuse. The ride ended where it began, with someone picking a fight with …some oil company exec sitting in a limo? No. Someone driving a Hummer? No. An SUV? No! How about a cabbie? Yes, of course. They pick a fight with some poor shmuck out trying to make ends meet. At the end , I attempted a discussion about their tactics with one of these angry jerks, and he rudely suggested they were just too ‘radical’ for me, and perhaps I might want to try something more ‘mellow’. As I said, I have never been back. My critical mass experience started in disappointment, grew in disillusionment, and ended in disgust.

  14. hey there, i have to interject with the point made above where the gentleman talks about that instead of taking part in these demostrations we should be going to school and getting an education in such matters.what utter rubbish. just because someone makes a stand for a belief that they hold close doesnt mean that they are uneducated. i ride bmx bikes, and have done for ten years, yet i am a doctor.does this mean tat i should not take part in such =rallies. though not on the same level as the race protest walks held by martin luthor king jr there is a similarality in the way that both are non violent, demonstrations that show that without these people alot of society would be lacking ordeteriating in struture and size. As i have discussed with many before about america’s act now, think later strategies in general life and law this seems to just be a continuatiion of this autrocity you call a government. I have a degree in law as well as my degree in medicine and what the police did was utterly illegal.from what i made out of the riders stort and the “confiscation” of property this is verging on theft,yet because of the sham of a police force in newyork it is allowed to continue. Question the law and get a good lawyer to fight this all the way. Don’t just settle for compensation,continue to fight against the law and make your voice heard, the struggle may be arduous but persevere and you can go along way. good luck and i hop to find out how it goes. Oh,also,i hope these rides arent full of the types of people descrivbed above because, if you want to move forward, these things must be done in a sensible,mature way
    Stuart Wyllie

  15. i live and ride in the south of the uk and we have no laws like that its a bit confusing 2 me will sumone explain how riding a bike is criminal activities? also will sumone plase build a skatepark in luton or bedford!!!
    LU3BMX forever…..

  16. Hey, I have been biking for a little while now and i live in taber alberta canada, i cant believe the kinda shit that is going on, if my bike got impounded for something stupid i would be furious. i dont know how you guys put up with it.

    I use to skatboard and in my town it is like the same thing, no worse before you even think about sk8ing a spot the cops know it happening.

    peace and hope things get better.

  17. oi oi god coppers these days how a rider ment to do his thing if all these dick’s keep stoping us ay were the cuffs needed lol ha BMX FOR LIFE F.I.T RULES ! X x X x X

  18. I don’t see CM winning anymore bike rights at all. If im right this disscussion was about someone getting arressted and bike takin away, because of CM. sounds like it is creating more opposition.

  19. everytime these people cause traffic delays, round them up and fine them for the LOSS OF PRODUCTIVITY caused by their behavior.

    the roads are for all to use. their “holier-than-thou” approach is utterly sickening.

    by the way, everytime i almost got run over by a vehicle in Manhattan, it’s ALWAYS a bike going in the wrong direction.

    they don’t get my sympathy whenever one gets turned into roadkill.

  20. this is so messed up.. i ride a bike and have been arrested for it but this is too much i can see being arrested for riding bmx on private property but this is ridiculous

  21. bmw m3, your fucking ignorant. I can say the same thing about you, i wont give a fuck or feel any sympathy when you end up in a three car pile up. fuck you. BMX FOREVER!

  22. My local park does not allow bikes either. Only one of has had any type of punishment for rining there and he got kicked out and banned from the park. I think this is bullshit. You shouldnt get arrested for riging your bike at a skate park.

  23. Urgh…I am all for biking and the environment but CM riders are the worst of the worst of bikers. Yes cars are big and dirty, and yes some drivers are unsafe. But a CM ride has kept me waiting at ONE traffic light for over 10 minutes without moving. I can also attest to the traffic being a nightmare when we finally did start moving again. They have cursed at me, spit at me and once attacked the car I was in while waiting patiently for them all to pass. Oddly enough, standing on the hood of a car isn’t the way to get the driver to convert to your cause. Since then I have noticed more and more bikers ignoring traffic laws while whining about their “right to ride”. Go ahead and ride…but not against the light, the wrong way down a 1-way street or on MY sidewalk.


  25. Wow. That is an extremely one-sided version of the “Critical Mass” story. Has “Critical Mass” ever tried to deal with the city to get a permit to hold such demonstrations? I seem to doubt it. Sometimes if you work with the city, it works back with you. Public demonstration is a protected first amendment right, but without the proper planning and permits yes, they will throw you off your bicycle.

  26. BLT,

    what a silly comment. i’m no fan of CM, necessarily, but you seem to be confusing two very critical distinctions. what the cops “do” (throw you off your bikes” is important only to your kneecaps and other symptoms of being “attacked”. thugs and police can/will do proper/improper things all the time . what the police can do, lawfully, is the only issue. police have one job alone: the enforce the law. what law were they enforcing?

    where is the requirement for a permit? simply because others choose to buy into a certain protocol does not require the next person/ group to as well. the requirement if for the city/police to demonstrate a permit is required (a whole other issue to be dealt with).

    finally, CM is a demonstration or a protest of sorts. getting into bed with the city of ny is hardly a way to protest. it’s time to step outside of the mindless thinking of this post 911 city.

  27. I’d love to see more NYC cyclists obeying traffic laws. Pedestrians have to be extremely careful while crossing the streets in NY because you never know when you’re going to be struck by a cyclist going the wrong way on a one way street or blowing through a red light.

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