How can BikeNYC pressure NYPD to stop killer drivers?

Friday, February 26, 2010

MCM Feb 2010: Police pay taxes too

Well massive it was not, with 3 riders. 47 short of needing a permit.

Weather followed the same pattern as it has the last 8 months, a very menacing forecast followed by a downright pleasant evening, slushy streets excepted. Cool but clear, the snow let up but participants stayed away. Maybe the permit ruling scared them off.

NYPD have totally taken over this community party, with a strong prescense including 2 unmarked sedans (1 officer each), 1 unmarked minivan (2 officers), 1 unmarked SUV (2+ officers), 6 patrol cars (1-2 officers each) and 1 interceptor (1, duh). I guess the scooter brigade was also intimidated by the weather. 4-6 uniformed and less-than-uniformed (not naked, but sporting a NYPD beanies or ski-masks) milled about. So that is 11 vehicles and minimun 17 officers mobilized.

Riders and an accompanying documenting party took photos and video of the scene (coming soon!), and had some discussion with the cops. As usual a few classic verbal police maneuvers were put into force against the aural attack from the marauding cyclists (hopefully some video will verify the authenticity of these soon):

One cop asked riders if they would be participating in the 5 Boro bike tour. A CM participant told him about another ride to be held sooner. Mutual disinterest was palpable. Later in the conversation another officer asked him if he was still riding to work. I appreciate that some NYPD officers ride to work. Its a pity that they can't ride at work, especially when their assignment appears to be to police a bike ride. I am certain bikes cost less to fuel and maintain than cars.

When congratulated on the recent judicial ruling in their favor, cops got a bit defensive, stating "its not our law" or something.

Cops were questioned about the wastefulness of tax dollars sending dozens of vehicles and officers out to focus on keeping a small number of cyclists from commiting minor traffic infractions. Two responses were given. First, cops explained that they paid taxes too (on their salary), and made a big deal about paying each others salaries. I suspect the standing around chatting was worth their while nonetheless. The second response was that they were not actually gathered there in mass because Critical Mass was there, but could not offer an alternative explanation for their presence. I find it hard to believe in that coincidence.

There was a distinct sense that they did not care to be there, and this was confirmed when the most talkative of the officers admitted that this was his first mass. One rider asked if he'd be out again next month. He replied that he hope'd not! I hope not too. Not to go all tea-bagger, but this is a waste of precious money that could be used to subsidize epic development projects like the Atlantic Yards!

Police showed great restraint, refusing to follow the 3 riders after a few laps around Union Square. Easy pay-day!

In hopes of making a more massive ride as they proceeded up Park Avenue, CM participants chased savvy and insane fast-food delivery-men who busted reds and salmoned when completely un-called for just to shake the "mass." The ride got within about 20 feet of a 5 cyclist group. This critical fail was followed by some pretty tight lane-occupation up 6th Avenue. Many a large gas-guzzling NYPD vehicle were encountered along the way, but the operating officers seemed higly unconcerned with the rider's complete lack of using the snow-covered bikelane, or even keeping to the right. Hitting Central Park, riders headed to Columbus Circle for some epic snowballing against imperialist monuments situated amongst the swirling car traffic. The words honoring the noble aristocrat who led pale-skinned people to the American continent (and its vast gold and slave stocks) were never so illegible.

Some might say that a Critical Mass of 3 people in New York City is pathetic. That might be accurate, but I hope they had fun doing whatever they did tonight too.

Oh shit I just realized that nobody needs to ride CM anymore, as they can just read about it on this blog. Maybe we can ride on some other Fridays?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Everyday critical mass AKA Rush Hour AKA kill me now

I had a new experience yesterday which has opened my eyes to some of the reality of transportation in NYC. I was traveling in a rental van from the Flatiron district to Bed-Stuy, then Park Slope, to move some furniture and plants. I'll add that I was responsible for making sure that the semi-precious cargo which was only semi-secured did not get completely ruined, a task that involved a bit of physical strain and some mental stress as well. The main feeling was an urgency for the task to be over.

Now I am no stranger to stress; I typically embrace a physical challenge and pride myself on my patience. This attitude might be both the cause and effect of urban bicycle commuting. But let me tell you: it is no preparation for the nightmare which is New York Rush Hour on four motor-driven wheels.

It sucks so hard! You can't move very fast. You can't avoid the potholes. You have difficulty changing lanes, or turning. The streets are locked down! It took us over two hours of driving to deliver the goods. Brooklyn was no better. The visual space was filled with boxy vehicles and blinking lights. I guess all this stress is why cars need such luxurious amenities to be comfortable, and probably why many drivers are so agitated.

Dear reader, I am sorry, I just had to bitch about this. I feel so sorry for the fools. Of course sometimes cars are necessary for moving things and people around. But anyone who chooses to drive in NYC when they could exercise by walking, biking, or enjoy the smooth and predictable rides of trains and buses is a poor, poor sucker. Drivers, do yourself a favor and try an alternative mode of transport before you get behind the wheel again. Your wallet and your sanity are at stake, not to mention our lives.

I look forward to being chased around by the cops when I join Critical Mass, cause it is not as much of a pain. A bike traffic jam is fun! Say goodbye to stress and keep it mellow. See you out in the slush tomorrow night!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Just Ice in the Streets

If you are reading this blog, you probably have already been made aware of the recent judicial ruling regarding the parade regulation created by the NYPD in their attempts to control Critical Mass in New York City since 2004. The plaintiffs of the case also attempt to call foul on the police's alleged profiling and selective enforcement activities against suspected Critical Mass participants.

Here is a round-up of some of the media coverage. Be sure to check out the numerous and contentious comments which accompany these:

5BBC, Streetsblog, Gothamist, NY Times, Bike Snob NYC, Bike Blog NYC

Here's a taste of some of the testimony given by police officers at the Federal Courthouse last May, through the eyes of a court-room sketch-artist:

"Chief Tuller believes that cyclists must ride about 3 feet from parked cars, but can't recall why he believes that!"

"Deputy Inspector DeQuatro believes the NYPD is protecting the free speech of cyclists and keeping pedestrians safe."

Of course there are many tedious transcripts of the case on the 5BBC website to wade through. The casual reader of all this information might agree there is a legitimate argument for requiring a parade permit. But who organizes Critical Mass? Who will apply for a permit? Who is willing to be liable for the actions of autonomous individuals who happen to use the same mode of transport? And why is this "law" only applicable on a few nights of the month?

The reality of Critical Mass in NYC , especially in these colder months, is that more than 10 people is a huge turnout. Yet, as this video demonstrates, Bloomberg seems to insist on throwing away tax-payer dollars in order to degrade and humiliate people who chose to ride a bike. NYPD doesn't need the approval of a federal court to stop Critical Mass.

Police officers who show up to Critical Mass have to tow the line that they are doing it for the safety of cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.

Is it really safe (or constitutional) to ride scooters against the flow of traffic in order to follow a few people walking with bicycles on the sidewalk?
Does blocking up two lanes of the street in order to crowd a group of cyclists onto the sidewalk keep traffic flowing safely?

Is it a wise use of tax-dollars to pay for the salaries of officers and the fuel for motor vehicles in this way?
Maybe consistent enforcement of actual traffic laws the other 29 days of the month would make the streets of New York safer for everyone. Maybe the facilitation of a spontaneous traffic event would keep the streets moving. Maybe tax dollars could be spent on bombs to kill people in other places, instead of ensuring that cars keep killing people here.

I hope Judge Kaplan will come out and see how it feels to ride a bike in NYC on the last Friday of the month, or any day for that matter. I hope you will come out this Friday to see what is going on for yourself.

Maybe together we can do something healthy, safe, and fun. Mmmmmaybe.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Four cyclists came out to Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn on the second Friday of February. None of the several cyclists passing by could be recruited for the ride. The four riders were approached by the lone NYPD SUV on the scene, containing four officers, which had arrived shortly after 7pm. A cordial conversation ensued with Deputy Inspector John A. Argenziano of the 78th precinct who is typically assigned to be at that location at that time. One rider remarked upon the dramatically-reduced police presence. The inspector proceeded to gesture to his oak leaf pin and explain how his rank meant he could easily summon many more police forces if need be. The four riders agreed that to be a fact. He asked where the ride was going, and the consensus was that the ride would go around the main loop of Prospect Park. Apparently eager to safely escort the ride, the inspector asked if the ride would be proceeding at that moment. A negative reply was given, and the riders waited a few more minutes for nobody else to join them.

After one and a half laps of the park, the ride exited the park at the traffic circle off Prospect Park West. Police SUV followed about half the ice-covered distance from the main loop to the gated exit, but ended pursuit, satisfied that the ride would proceed safely on the city streets. The riders then proceeded to a warm house to enjoy hot coffee and day-old muffins.

I commend the 78th precinct on adjusting to the smaller number of riders, on what is traditionally known as "Brooklyn Critical Mass." Numbers for this allegedly-spontaneous monthly group bike ride have been about 5 riders since November, while police presence has typically been 15 motor vehicles and appoximately 20-25 officers. The savings to the tax-payer are no doubt substantial.

New Rules

two wheels cut paths
slow submission to quiet
cold bright joyful streets

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Changing the Game with a critical mass of snow

Perhaps it is an addictive personality that drives a bicyclist to ride on days with terrible weather. Meteorological chaos disrupts the overly-oiled machine of that is New York City's motor infrastructure.

The snow on the streets at the massive quantities seen recently changes the whole game of riding.

A sinking feeling as the swiftly falling flurries become the sediment upon which your wheel rests and spins when you give the pedal the usual push, yet traction is evasive in the front as well you soon discover through the reduced visibility in the street that now leaves both wheels flopping about like so many fish-tales, swimming through the new medium.

Everyone who is not in a car has a smile as the small challenges presented to bi-pedal mobility are off-set by the beauty and the playful feelings surrounding all the potential snowballs in a softer world.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How many is massive?

Due to the overwhelming demand of my one know follower I feel compelled to post immediately. I am starting to obtain a sliver of understanding of "Web 2.0". Perhaps it is a virtual critical mass: once enough people demand action, it occurs! Clearly my personal threshold for this is quite low. Usually I don't call it massive until I have to count on more than one hand. This image is from a Brooklyn Critical Mass several months ago. A massive gathering of hearty cyclists, to be sure, but really drops in the bucket compared to the raw tonnage of NYPD vehicles, flesh-filled uniforms and greenhouse-gas emissions! Don't forget to pay your taxes in the coming months, lest we lose the ability to keep our courteous public servants available to keep us safe!

I'll wax poetic on blizzard biking soon, cuz it is just the best. Hope you had some fun in the snow yesterday too.

Ride Safe!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Can you handle the CHAOS!?!?

How quickly I abandon any rhyme or reason to the order of posting for the pure and simple purpose of getting the feeling of producing something. This picture shows Lt. Dan Albano of NYPD legal. Rumor has it that he's staked his reputation on stopping Critical Mass. He may or may not be responsible for determining how the police on the streets can exploit the ambiguity of laws to curb cyclists 1st amendment rights on certain Fridays. With him on the scooter is a mustachioed officer who can frequently be seen leading the "scooter brigade" on their VERY SAFE following and ticketing of Critical Mass participants. The motors in the scooters assure that they can attain SAFE speeds. Admittedly, in general this particular officer is pretty mellow and accomodating. I even once saw him attempt to influence a private auto vehicle to make way for vulnerable cyclists when the road conditions made it dangerous for them to proceed!

Many more pics from this Mass last summer, but those will have to wait. Stay Tuned and Ride Safe!

Riding Backwards in Time

Ultimately, this blog will likely serve only to illuminate a few things:

- An irrational obsession with Critical Mass
- A need for attention
- A deep love of riding bicycles
- A love/hate relationship with the police
- A fascination with the behavior of swarms of bicycles

Hopefully writing a personal history of my own experiences with CM will lead to deeper reflection, understanding, wisdom of myself and this organism called "society." I will start by mentioning some highlights from masses past.

My very first Critical Mass was a huge one, San Francisco's Halloween Mass in 2001 or 2002. I can't remember. What I do recall is that someone actually had created a route map to get the ride the "fuck out of downtown". We went down to Bayview/Hunter's Point as the warm Indian summer sun set. It was a great ride, somebody was giving away little magnetic LEDs and selling bike bells for a $1. I bought one, and it served me for a very long time. See the exploded diagram. This bell was stolen along with my bike in stupid Bushwick last November. It totally prevented me from participating in NYC "critical mass" that night. Ugh.

Thanks for reading! Ride Safe!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chronicles of the Massive movement

This blog is an overdue attempt to humorously chronicle some of the inane attempts by the state to maintain the status quo of car culture. Specifically, by examining the (international) movement known as Critical Mass in New York City, I hope to entertain, inform, and encourage individuals to examine their own choices, attitudes and actions. Critical Mass is a flashpoint for the clash of cultures that occurs every day in the streets around the world, and as such is often misunderstood, both vilified and glorified. The bias of this blog will most often be towards the latter, but I welcome all viewpoints, as a diversity is strength and critique can be constructive.

I hope you enjoy, and ride safe!