Critical Mass: Cool Idea, Bad Times in NYC

From today’s Village Voice sad news about a really cool idea.

“Minutes into last month’s Critical Mass bike ride in Manhattan, two cops on scooter patrol collided as they moved to head off the cyclists. One officer reportedly lost control while trying to grab a biker and slammed into the scooter in front, launching that officer several feet forward and onto the pavement.

The officers were briefly hospitalized for what turned out to be minor neck and back injuries.

But the scene, with the cops being carried away on stretchers under the glare of a police chopper’s spotlight and 14 riders arrested that night for various offenses, signaled a new low in the crazy, two-year war between the police and Critical Mass.

The next skirmish is set for Friday, when the monthly demonstration for cycling rights takes to the avenues again. What was once a festive, liberating event that enjoyed the tacit cooperation of New York’s Finest and attracted thousands of riders—including parents with children—has devolved into an ugly cat-and-mouse chase between pissed-off cops and adrenaline-jacked activists determined to hold their ground.

The NYPD declined to comment on last month’s accident or on the high-speed chases that bikers say followed in midtown. But from the bikers’ descriptions, the cops and cyclists responded with stunts worthy of The French Connection. “There were two [undercover] black SUVs gunning it on the heels of 15 or 20 riders,” reports Mark Read, a 38-year-old filmmaker and adjunct professor at New York University. “We took a left just to get away and went the wrong way down a one-way street, and the SUVs followed us into oncoming traffic and drove up on the sidewalk. It was fucking berserk.”

Activists say police are escalating their tactics in an effort to break the ride. “They’ve been playing with fire,” says Ryan Kuonen, a volunteer with Time’s Up, the grassroots environmental group that is being sued by the city for promoting Critical Mass.