New York

Update: Critical Mass vs. ‘Daily News’

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Just as the NYPD appears to be scaling back its iron-fisted crackdown on Critical Mass, the New York Daily News is pushing to crank up enforcement again.

“Cuff ’em when they don’t ride on the right, stop at the light or respect the niceties of one-way signs,” wrote the News in its lead editorial Saturday–never mind that it is not illegal in New York City to ride on the left-hand side, or to ride more than two abreast, for that matter.

The News goes on to blame an “an anarchic CMer” for January’s scooter crash, when two police officers collided while trying to head off the ride and were briefly hospitalized.

Everyone agrees that these monthly road rallies have gotten scary. But firsthand reports from cyclists paint a very different picture of who’s responsible for that nasty crash.

“A scooter officer came up behind a female cyclist as she was riding and grabbed her arm,” recounts Chris Morgan, a 24-year-old photography assistant from Brooklyn who says he was riding directly behind the woman during the January 27 ride. “She swerved a bit and he did too, and he put his right hand back on the handlebar to regain control, but he hit the gas or something because his scooter shot right out and he ran into the scooter in front, which was still turning to head off the ride.

“I couldn’t believe he took his hand off the wheel like that,” adds Morgan, who wrote in to PowerPlays to let us know his side of the story. “I ride a motorcycle, so when you see a trained police officer do something like this, it baffles the mind.”

Police officials have declined to comment on the January crash, other than to say it was “provoked” by bicyclists “breaking the law.” But rather than put the blame on the cyclists, NYPD brass might question officers’ use of scooters to apprehend moving bikers. Another pair of scooter cops collided, albeit less seriously, during the Critical Mass ride in December, and cyclists on previous rides have reported that police on scooters drove into them in order to make arrests.

That the cops are so intent on chasing people down makes you wonder why anyone would want to take part in what one rider described as a monthly “pigeon shoot.”

True, the cops wouldn’t be out there if the Critical Mass folks weren’t pushing the envelope, but the News‘ apparent ignorance of cycling rights illustrates one reason why riders keep on riding.

Thursday morning: NYPD headquarters just got back to us. Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne, the NYPD’s top spokesperson, weighed in on the allegation of reckless scooter driving. “There’s a surfeit of self-serving statements by critics intent on rationalizing unlawful conduct,” he wrote in an e-mail. “This appears to be yet another.”