Critical Mass of cash for 83 arrested bicyclists


By Albert Amateau

Eighty-three cyclists arrested between 2004 and 2006 during Critical Mass rides won a $965,000 settlement of a federal lawsuit last week.

The settlement of the civil wrongful arrest action, which did not include riders arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention, means the 83 cyclists will receive awards of from $500 to $35,000. Their lawyers, David B. Rankin and his firm, Rankin & Taylor, along with Gideon Oliver and Rose Weber, will share $550,000.

Although Time’s Up!, the environmental direct action group that publicizes Critical Mass rides, hailed the settlement as a victory, Barbara Ross, a plaintiff and Time’s Up! spokesperson, said the Police Department continues to show up in disproportionate numbers at the monthly rides that start at Union Square.

“In October 2004 over 700 police were assigned to just one Critical Mass ride,” Ross said. “The pattern continues even though they haven’t been making arrests recently. The number of officers intimidating riders — including scooters, unmarked cars and police making videos — often exceed the number of riders.”

Ross said Critical Mass cyclists obey regulations on lights and front and rear reflectors on their bikes, and stop at red lights.

“Police persist in mischaracterizing us as law breakers,” she said.

The rides that take place the last Friday of each month currently attract 20 to 40 cyclists depending on weather. The rides have no leaders or set route and generally last no more than an hour and a half, Ross said.

This Friday’s Halloween Critical Mass ride could attract as many as 60 cyclists, weather permitting, Ross said. Ross was arrested in a February 2005 ride and made 11 court appearances before all charges against her were dismissed in April 2006.

“Mayor Bloomberg’s tacit endorsement of Ray Kelly’s anti-biking policing is out of step with the mayor’s stated support for a safe environment for cyclists,” added Brandon Neubauer, another plaintiff.

Nevertheless, Bill DiPaola, Time’s Up! director, said the settlement, signed by federal Judge P. Kevin Castel, was “a victory for a wide range of cyclists who realize the potential for a safer, more bicycle-friendly city and who keep on riding in the face of years of unjustified harassment and arrests by N.Y.P.D.”

In a prepared statement, a city Law Department spokesperson said the settlement “is in the best interest of all parties.” The statement noted the arrests occurred before parading-without-a-permit regulations were amended to define a parade as 50 or more persons.

“Since that amendment, a federal district judge has resolutely rejected a broad-based challenge to the Police Department’s effort to police Critical Mass bike rides, ruling that the parade regulation is constitutional and that the city does not improperly or selectively enforce that regulation, and any other bicycle-related offenses, against Critical Mass riders,” the Law Department statement said.