Time's Up! for Critical Mass rides in New York

Police win court battle over permits

A federal judge has ruled that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) can now require bike groups, such as Critical Mass, to apply for a parade permit before taking to the city’s streets.

The ruling by Judge Lewis A Kaplan has caused upset among cycling advocates like Time's Up!, who believe it is another case of NYPD harassment against cycling groups – as famously caught on video during a Critical Mass ride in 2008.

“Time’s Up! is very troubled by this ruling, but this is one loss in a string of victories over the past five years in the courts and on the streets,” said communication officer Barbara Ross.

“The vast majority of the cases against the NYPD’s harassment campaign have ended in favour of the cyclists. Time’s Up! will not make any changes in our 20-year mission to offer fun group rides that allow cyclists to ride together in a safe environment and join a community interested in greener, safer streets.”

Campaigners feel that the ruling violates the constitutional rights of cyclists and that there is no justification to have to ask the city's permission to ride their bikes. “We strongly dispute this claim by the NYPD that any size group ride needs a permit,” Ross said. “As long as the cyclists are following traffic laws there is no reason for a permit.”

Vehicle and Traffic Law 1231, grants the same rights to cyclists as it does to cars and states that:

Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates. Every person riding a bicycle or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this title, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to those provisions of this title which by their nature can have no application.

There is a long history of conflict between the NYPD and cycling group rides, including a two-year period (2004-6) when police arrested hundreds of cyclists for parading without a permit. According to Ross, the vast majority of those arrests were overturned in court. In 2007, city rules were amended to include a specific number, 50 people or more, involved in a group ride that would required a permit.

“The NYPD was responsible in getting this rule amended,” Ross said. “No other organisation or politician showed any interested or concern in having the rule changed. The NYPD basically enacted these rules when the majority of arrests and tickets given out at Critical Mass rides were reversed in court.

“Our concern is that the NYPD will continue to enforce the rule indiscriminately for the group rides that they are trying to stop, like the Critical Mass ride. The NYPD consistently target group rides that are either political or organised by bike activist groups.”

Mark Muschenheim, senior counsel of the city’s Administrative Law Division, told the New York Times that the need for permits "was not based on any attempt to infringe First Amendment rights, but rather stemmed from Critical Mass bicyclists’ lawless behaviour".

Cyclists on Critical Mass rides travel in large groups, temporarily blocking roads and reclaiming the streets from motor traffic.

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