Critical Mass gets ‘free ride’ in B’klyn

Cyclists who pedal into Union Square for Friday's Critical Mass ride will likely be met by a large force of police officers in squad cars and on motor scooters.

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Published January 26, 2007 by AM New York
By Justin Rocket Silverman

Cyclists who pedal into Union Square for Friday's Critical Mass ride will likely be met by a large force of police officers in squad cars and on motor scooters. And If the ride is like others over the last three years, some riders will be arrested and ticketed for taking part in a monthly event the city has deemed illegal and dangerous.

Yet just two weeks ago, a similar group of cyclists gathered outside Prospect Park for the Brooklyn Critical Mass ride. A similar force of police were also on hand. But that is where the similarities end.

"We're not going to go with you guys tonight," a police officer said as the ride got underway on Jan. 12. "Have a good time."

And with that the bikers rode off in a pack, running red lights and blocking traffic in the way Critical Mass rides worldwide do. The way that has resulted in hundreds of arrests in the Manhattan rides.

"The police have a very different attitude in Brooklyn," says Barbara Ross, a volunteer with Time's Up, a bicycle advocacy group. "The police in Brooklyn tell us they are there to support us. They are always joking with us, and telling us to be careful if we do the Manhattan ride."

Indeed, participants in this month's Brooklyn Critical Mass said officers sometimes even ride alongside the cyclists, helping them block traffic and keeping the bikers safe. Tickets and arrests are virtually unheard of in the Brooklyn ride, even though the traffic laws are the same in both boroughs.

"Cyclists in Brooklyn work in cooperation with the police," said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne. "We have said many times that if the organizers in Manhattan cooperated with us — for example advised us of the route — we would accommodate the rides by safely closing intersections as they passed."

Cyclists disagree with Browne's assertion, pointing out that since there is never any pre-determined route for the Critical Mass rides, it would be impossible to advise police of the route.

Other cyclists offered another rationale for the difference in law enforcement styles between the two rides.

"Manhattan is much more politicized," said the rider, who asked his name be withheld. "There you have the whole legacy of the RNC protests. You also have more traffic. Basically, what it comes down to, is that no one gives a damn what happens in Brooklyn."

Neither the NYPD nor Time's Up were able to provide exact figures on the number of those arrested or ticketed during Manhattan Critical Mass rides.

But both noted that the number of arrests has declined significantly in recent months.