Volume 19 • Issue 21 | October 6 - 12, 2006
Downtown Express photos by Jefferson Siegel
Above: A man who claimed he was not part of the Critical Mass ride is issued a ticket for riding a bike without a headlight at 18th St. and Park Ave. S. Below: a woman is stopped and issued a ticket for riding without a headlight, while the food deliveryman on the bike behind her, with no headlight, was allowed to proceed without being issued a ticket.
Police initiative targets bicycle headlights
By Jefferson Siegel
Participating in last Friday’s Critical Mass wasn’t a bright idea if your bicycle didn’t have a headlight, as police collared anyone riding solely by the glow cast by streetlights.
Several hundred cyclists, including several small children in child seats, gathered in Union Square in the dusk on Sept. 29 for the monthly ride.
One person watching in amazement was rider Renata Falzoni. Falzoni, who produces and hosts an outdoor show for ESPN/Brazil, was filming the evening for a segment of her show. She has participated in Critical Mass rides in her hometown of Sao Paulo, although she says they are much smaller, usually with only 40 to 50 riders.
“When you meet, making an effort for political rides of bikes, you get very few people in my town, unfortunately,” she lamented as she watched the sizeable crowd of bicyclists leave Union Square. “Everything is for cars” in Brazil, she added, “including respect.”
The ride, which usually kicks off around 7 p.m., has started later the past few months as police have tried to stop the procession just outside the park’s boundaries. In July, several riders were stopped right outside the north plaza. On the August ride, their progress was stopped a block away at Fifth Ave.
There was a palpable hesitancy last Friday night, and the ride didn’t start until just before 8 p.m. Several cyclists began pedaling south on Park Ave. S., only to be called back by other anxious riders and told of the crane collapse earlier on nearby Third Ave. and 13th St. The area had been closed to traffic and several cyclists voiced concern about proceeding into the area.
Instead, the ride turned up Park Ave. S. One block north, at 18th St., about 20 cyclists at the front of the ride just beat a line of motor-scooter police, who rode across 18th St., blocking the rest of the ride. Orders were given to stop any cyclists riding without a headlight. Immediately, 10 cyclists were stopped. As officers wrote out tickets, several advised the riders that the ticket was equivalent to one issued to a car with a broken headlight or taillight. Cyclists were told if they added a headlight to their bikes within 24 hours, they could apply to have the ticket dismissed.
Meanwhile, those at the back of the Mass saw the blockade and diverted to riding west on 17th St. A dozen were stopped at Broadway. Police sorted out the group, eventually telling those with headlights they could proceed while writing tickets to those without headlights.
Parsons student Robin Hastings stood by her bike as she waited to be issued a ticket.
“I got off the bike,” she recounted, “and started walking it onto the sidewalk to get out of traffic.” Nevertheless, Hastings was cited for riding without a headlight.
As is often the case, the ride splintered into several smaller groups that took different routes. Many concluded the ride at an after-party at the McCarren Park Pool in Williamsburg.