Bikes Wait for Their Day in Court


Of the over 1,600 protesters arrested this week, 400 were bicyclists, says Matthew Roth, a volunteer organizer of Time’s Up! “They’re punishing protesting, speaking out, and celebrating bikes, a non-polluting form of transportation, which to me is ludicrous.”

The confrontations at the end of Friday’s Critical Mass ride set the tone for a zero-tolerance bicycle policy throughout the week. According to Roth, people were being arrested for riding through red lights and riding two abreast, technical violations that are standard procedure most of the time in New York. Commuters, delivery people, and working bicycle messengers were among those who cooled their heels in detention at Pier 57 for 24 hours or more. On Sunday, many bicyclists reported being forced to dismount and told to walk their bikes west of Sixth Avenue between 39th and 54th streets, but the police department denies that such an order was in effect.

Just as the possession of Nextel and other cell phones seemed to make protesters targets for arrests at the RNC in Philadelphia in 2000, so this rather more low-tech instrument of freedom, mobility and swift communication became dangerous to its owners now.

Roth himself was netted in and arrested on Sunday as part of a “Bike Bloc” traveling at 37th Street and 7th Avenue. He was charged with the full gamut: parading without a permit, disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration, and running a red light. Roth is currently helping Time’s Up! coordinate legal defense for bicyclists and other protesters arrested. The first order of business: a letter to the police commissioner to demand back the bikes, which are currently being held as “arrest evidence” in a warehouse in
Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

The upshot of all this, interestingly, may be a major infusion of spirit for New York’s alternative transportation community. After all, they put on what may have been the largest Critical Mass ride in world history, with at least 5,000 riders, and they’ve gotten even more of a taste for freedom. “When I got out of jail I was that much more convinced that our focus is right,” Roth said. “The energy is really high right now.”