A funny thing happened to me on the way home on Friday. I was racing home to my wife who had gotten sick and needed me to pick her up a heating pad. I had gotten off work from a video shoot in a Lowe’s hotel on 61st and Park. I decided to go down 5th Ave. because I thought it would be fun to immerse myself into the chaos of the holiday traffic jam with lots of gawking to see the recently lit tree and Sak’s window displays. What a mess, luckily I was on the most efficient form of transportation…you guessed it…the bicycle. It was around 6:30pm. I knew it was the night of critical mass but I wasn’t going. Besides my wife needing attention, you sort of have to be in the tactical mood to deal with the police and their childish grudge against bike riding. I wasn’t. I got to Broadway, crossed 23rd and was heading down to Union Square. I began to see the tell tail signs of the excessive waste of our police resources which has continued since the Republican National Convention. The rows of police cruisers, SUVs, arrest bread trucks…all part of an event that has fallen into the radar of the NYPD’s list of “terrorist attacks.” A cop pulled me over right in front of Paragon sports, 17th and Broadway. I was issued a summons for, get this, â€œnot riding in the bike lane.â€ I instantly knew what was up. How could I have been so stupid. This was part of the NYPD’s bicycle harassment campaign. I knew these things existed but it completely slipped my mind and I thought, “why would they be doing this before the ride even started?” Silly me. So this is how it works. The cops begin to harass cyclists the last Friday of every month as punishment for daring to ride your bike in during critical mass, which gathers in Union Square North around 7:00pm. Every month, they move the sting operation to different points around Union Square. There is a sergeant in charge who commands a group of about 5-7 officers to pull over as many cyclists as they can and issue them tickets for things that are technically illegal but never enforced. If you don’t believe in selective enforcement or think the cops only do this to the participants of critical mass…think again. Now I understand the situation. Believe me. I’ve been going to critical mass on and off for 7 years. But please, can anyone justify this type of activity? So a uniform cop pulls me over and scolds me for not riding in the bike lane. WHAT?? I guess since I had a helmet (not wearing one is illegal only if under 14 years of age) and a front light and a rear light, the only thing they could get me on was this bike lane bs. Freewheels has a lot of information on getting tickets at critical mass. Check out the link that says tickets for: The Freewheels Guide to Critical Mass Tickets.
My new friends:
Meanwhile, I remained calm. I was asked for my id. I reached in my back pocket and realized I had forgotten my wallet. Luckily I had my passport…don’t ask me why. It is not illegal to not have id, but in this limitless environment of harassment, the NYPD may would have no problem in taking you in to central booking, a far worse experience than just a summons. Some people prescribe to caring a passport so that these kind of offenses stay off the driving record. Others carry an expired passport or a student id and use that. Something to think about…nuff said.
Anyway. I am very pissed about this whole experience. Its one thing to get a ticket during critical mass, the new punishment for riding and playing cat and mouse with the cops, but it is another when the police go out of their way to intimidate bikers. It should come as no surprise because this is part of a long list of police activities which I have been reporting on in almost 4 years of blogging. Things like clocking the speed of cyclists on bridges, telling people its illegal to not have a helmet, ticketing cyclists for running the red lights in central park. The list goes on and on. I think the biggest offense for me was knowing how much we have to put up with just to ride a bike in NYC, that goes unpunished. The day to day parking in bike lanes, the hit and runs, the dooring. And I’m getting a ticket for “NOT RIDING in the bike lane. Oh but wait…NYC is supposed to be a “GREEN CITY.” Yeah Green as in the color of money and finding new ways to tax its citizenry.
I think we need to get more focused on stopping the harassment. I know a lot of work has already been done and I have a few mores suggestions of what we can do.
1) we need to stop the harassment before critical mass. We know how effective our video cameras are and we need to get people dispatched to these sting operations. We may also want to set up people ahead of them and warn cyclists to go a different route. Remember, most of these operations happen a half hour before 7:00, a few blocks North of Union Square, probably to catch people coming downtown. I know this takes continual commitment but its worth it and I intend to be at the next ride, armed with a video camera for documentation.
+++I noticed someone was video taping the group that I was in. If that person has footage, please get in touch with me.+++
2) I’d like to create a survey asking fellow cyclists and citizens of NYC to report on how they have been harassed and if they think this is responsible or necessary actions of our valued police force. I will set this up on line and use the information to report to our city council. If anyone wants to help out, please let me know.
So now I’ll be losing time and money dealing with my ticket. I’m pleading â€œnot-guiltyâ€ and will keep you informed of my progress.
BTW, I heard there was a lot of ticketing at the critical mass. I applaud all those who rode.
After being stopped I rode to Union Square and chatted with a few people who had a similar experience. I got the heating pad, thanks Brandon for the borrowed cash. I also lost my 70.00 lock in all the confusion. I rode home, down 2nd Ave, trying to hold back my anger and avoiding all the cars parked in the bike lane.
Here are some good resources to carry on the struggle:
Time’s Up, get involved with video taping.
Look Campaign awareness of cyclists.
Freewheels, great resource with what is the law, and how to deal with tickets.
Critical Mass Tickets mapping where people get tickets. If you got a ticket this Friday, go here and report it.