Big Apple Smackdown

By Chris Henry Cyclists and pedestrians in New York City could be facing a long, inhospitable road...

New York Police Department tightens screws on cyclists

By Chris Henry

Cyclists and pedestrians in New York City could be facing a long, inhospitable road ahead if the New York Police Department gets its way on August 23. A proposed change to the city's parade permit regulations, spearheaded by the NYPD and up for public hearing on the 23rd, would amend the definition of "parade" to require any group of 20 or more cyclists (or 35 or more pedestrians) to obtain a permit and an approved route on local streets. Moreover, two or more cyclists or pedestrians who violate any traffic law, rule or regulation on a public street could be arrested for parading without a permit.

The potential ramifications of the proposed changes have raised the ire of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, as well as local racing and recreational cycling clubs in the city, who are urging their members to fight the proposal at the upcoming hearing or through contact with elected officials.

Cyclists are already facing new limitations on speed and park usage in Central Park by the police and New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Now the prospects of being arrested for riding in groups, or worse yet, fears of guilt by association when riding in proximity to other cyclists who may violate traffic laws or regulations (including not having bells on bikes or riding in bike lanes), have recreational and competitive cyclists alike fearing for the future of two wheeled transport and training in the Big Apple.

The NYPD's proposal, in its Statement of Basis and Purpose, claims that "Each of these types of activities has the likelihood to significantly disrupt vehicular and pedestrian traffic and adversely affect public health and safety, unless subject to regulatory control via the permitting process. The amendments to the rules will permit the Police Department to adequately preserve the public peace and prevent obstructions of public streets and sidewalks."

Tensions between police and some cyclists have mounted in the past year as the NYPD has sought to increasingly thwart activist movements such as Critical Mass. With municipal tolerance of controversial Critical Mass rides at a low ebb, and police arrests of participants on the rise, the New York State Supreme Court nonetheless ruled recently that the city's parade permit rules were too broad to warrant widespread suppression [of Critical Mass] by the NYPD. The proposed amendments to the parade permit rules would offer the police a strong stick and the legal upper hand against all cyclists, who as a group do not command the same respect as motorists in the city administration.

A public hearing will be held on August 23rd at 6pm at One Police Plaza in Manhattan. Written comments, or requests to offer testimony at the hearing, may be sent to Assistant Deputy Commissioner Thomas P. Doepfner, New York City Police Department, 1 Police Plaza, Room 1406, New York, New York 10038. Transportation Alternatives has also created an online form to fax Mayor Michael Bloomberg, accessible at the following address: www.transalt.org/e-bulletin/2006/Aug/0802.html#efax. More information, including suggestions for contacting Mayor Bloomberg and other officials, is available on Transportation Alternatives' website: www.transalt.org.

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