yawen chen

Critical Mass Brooklyn – A Trap?

Light bust at Prospect Park

Although I’ve been bicycling for many years now, I’ve come a long way from bike-friendly small-town Davis, California. Cycling in New York City now is more than just a ten minute commute to class. We cyclists navigate busy (and many times overwhelming) traffic, battling for the road with not just the cars, but pedestrians, and less obviously, the police? Just because there are many miles of bike lanes laid out, it does not mean that we cyclists are recognized and accommodated for on the streets. I’ve ditched my monthly metrocard a few months ago and become a serious bike commuter from Brooklyn to Manhattan five days a week. So it would make sense I’d attend my first Critical Mass in my city of Brooklyn. (FYI: Critical Mass is group bike riding around the city in an effort to make it more prominent and legitimized. For more info, check out Time’s Up.)

I wouldn’t say this one in Brooklyn was a complete let-down, but it definitely wasn’t what I expected. First, there weren’t too many people. 25 max. Second, there was a distinct tension between the cyclists & the police. Apparently, October had always been a stressful month for cyclists. I researched for any recent cyclist-cop clashes but couldn’t find any. Hmm. It was definitely a strange setup: there were way too many police to cyclists. While I see that they could facilitate our ride by blocking the streets, we didn’t need that many. The trail of them was quite intimidating. The feeling “whooo, it’s like we’re being escorted”, faded quickly. During the ride, which was in and around Prospect Park, one of the cyclists commented, “Let’s confuse the cops!”  I didn’t necessarily think it was an amazing idea to piss them off. We followed anyway because it was just a bike ride. It was a lovely night. Light breeze, mid-high 60s. We rode through a marching band parade. Confused street onlookers. Then after our final ride through the park, to our starting point, the Grand Army Plaza entrance, we saw blinking lights — LOTS of them. At first I had no idea what was going on. The row of cops were pointing and shouting instructions: You pass through, you turn right. I was one who made it through. My friend wasn’t so lucky. We found out it was a “light bust.” Cyclists without lights were ticketed. According to another, Brooklyn cops have always been lenient toward the cyclists, and kept out of our way. Manhattan was the stricter place. Now that Friday night, at least 20 cops were waiting for us knowing there would be lots of cyclists at that point. What a set-up. In the end, lots were busted for not having headlights. One was arrested for not having an ID [Edited: He was detained. Thanks, Jabir!]. My friend had handed me my bike light not knowing it mattered. Well, it was either him or me. It was also his first Critical Mass experience.

Well, there you go. I’m not certain I’ll participate again. Even if I avoided a citation, I didn’t want it to be a play between cyclists and cops. I just want to ride and show our existence to not just the cops, but to everyone. Critical Mass just isn’t the way to go about it, at least not in Brooklyn.

Photo is from my phone. Sorry, it’s a quick blurry snapshot. Here’s the larger version — maybe you can see the cops better.

(Thanks StreetsBlog and NY Times City Room for citing me as a source.)

12 Responses to “Critical Mass Brooklyn – A Trap?”

  1. Dave says:

    NYPD: You are pathetic. Is this really where your resources need to be in Brooklyn on a Friday night?

    Meanwhile, motorists are slaughtering each other and bystanders on a nearly daily basis and walking away from these horrific and completely avoidable crashes without even a summons.

  2. SteveL says:

    Get some helmet lights so bright they hurt the eyes of passing vehicles and police when you turn your head in that direction. Let them know pain, as you ride out of the trap.

  3. Billy Gray says:

    > One was arrested for not having an ID.

    That’s pretty heinous. Were charges pressed, too?

  4. Jabir says:

    I was on the same ride. Technically I think he wasn’t actually arrested; only “detained” until the cops could verify his i.d./address. His buddy biked to his apartment and brought back a utility bill to the precinct house, at which point the cops let him go with the same summons they gave to the others.

    We theorize they wanted to shut the ride home early so they could get back and watch the exciting Yankees game on TV. Some of us waited in front of the station house for the “detainee”, and we could hear all the cops inside roaring over the game.

    At any rate Yawen, next month you might want to try the W’burg starting point for the BK CM — it is cop-free and a lot funner than starting from GAP!

  5. Noah says:

    It’s certainly a rediculous use of resources for the cops to do this, but I have to say (and I’m a cyclist) more cyclists need to start using lights. I’m not just a cyclist but also a pedestrian and I’ve had many close encounters with cyclists, both walking and biking, without lights. Also these people tend to be the least thoughtful riders who are most likely to be going the wrong way. I highly recommend TA’s biking rules campaign. We cyclists need to learn that it isn’t a one way street for us that we are a part of society. Oh and the law should be changed to giving cyclists right of way over cars.

  6. johnson says:

    It’s not that hard to foil the cops. Get lights it is the law.

  7. NattyB says:

    Hey I was there too. I’m guessing based on your name that you were the girl with the European guy with the slight accent.

    Don’t quit on Critical Mass please. Just know your rights, the law and everything will be ok. You must have on your bike (i) a noisemaker (bell, whistle, horn), and after “dusk”(ii) front lights; (iii) and rear lights.

    I’m pretty sure it’s not a crime to not have identification. Joe got arrested
    (I highly doubt he’ll be charged, let alone convicted or have to take a plea) because (i) he was being a smart ass; and (ii) I’m pretty sure we antagonized the cops by having them follow us through the traffic circle and by having them follow us through the marching band parade (which was real real cool!); but really (iii) this was the cops fault for following us around all evening and we ourselves should not feel bad for State misfeasance. We must not be intimidated by this shit, because, let’s face it, we’re trying to promote biking as an alternative form of transportation.

    I don’t mean to get all sanctimonious, but, let’s be real, what you and I, and others are trying to do, is perhaps the purest form of free expression, that is protected under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. When people see us doing circles in a traffic circle, with 8 cops literally doing circles around us, yes, we look like buffoons, but we also draw a lot of attention, and it was clear that we were having tons of fun; and if just one kid, teenager, young adult, soccer mom, UESider old jewish lady, or whoever, see’s us and thinks “that looks cool, why don’t I bike,” then, I’ll be content.

    It was about 5 years ago that I saw a sizeable Critical Mass ride in DC which got me to adopt cycling as my primary form of transportation. The more people we can get on to bikes, the greater the movement will be for more biking infrastructure (protected bike lanes, better lock up spots), which will make our cycling experience even better. I don’t mind the riding in the City has a certain urban adventure feel to it, but I’m all about bringing it to the masses. And I don’t like to dance with the Cops myself either, but we can’t honestly let that be a reason in of itself not to attend in BK, especially if you’re within the law. (cf.It’s excusable in Manhattan, where they’ll just tackle and arrest you for no reason.)

    I hope to see you at Grand Army Plaza the 2nd Friday of November!



  8. Kaja says:

    You should be riding with headlights. Otherwise, nobody else can see you, and cars will kill you accidentally. Riding without headlights is retarded and you deserve the ticket.

    Also, cops are pigs; they’re basically a criminal street gang, and you should avoid them like a hive of bees. It is /their job to arrest you/. And there are so many laws, that everyone’s guilty of something, at any given time.

    Don’t talk to the police, don’t go near the police, don’t call the police, don’t have anything to do with the police, ever, for any reason. Then, you won’t get arrested.

    And go buy some goddamned headlights.

  9. Liam says:

    Just get some lights.

  10. AC says:

    The cops aren’t pathetic. They’re violent liars who do not obey the law. It’s easy to say “lesson learned” in reference to carrying ID and having a light on your bike. But the real lesson learned here is that you seem to be doubtful that you will ever ride Critical Mass again. And that’s why they came and ticketed people. Cops have an endless list of bullshit offenses they regularly pull out of their asses. And more often than not, they just ticket or arrest you anyway. And guess what, they never get in trouble for it.

    “Cops lie,” I said. A 60 year old woman told me after we both were found guilty at traffic court, “well that one certainly does. He’s the one who told me to come down here in the first place. You just can’t win in New York.”

    No, but you can certainly feel free to keep paying taxes.

  11. Liam says:

    Kaja, you’re an asshole. “Dont call the police”? Really? When my friend gets mugged, pick up a piece and go hunting right?

  12. yawen says:

    @Billy, being arrested for not having an ID is not as uncommon as one would hope here in NYC. The same friend mentioned above had also been put in jail for not having any form of ID on him in an unrelated incident.

    @NattyB, yes I was ” the girl with the European guy with the slight accent.” I’m not necessarily intimidated by the cops, since it’s true, I know they won’t get me for anything. Yet I prefer not to deal with them. Critical Mass is a particularly targeted event by them and I don’t want I want another run-in like that… Especially if the cyclists also antagonize the cops, which I don’t like either. I do enjoy a pleasant ride around the park, the streets, and even riding around in circles that you mentioned since it makes our presence known. But I could do that during other times when I ride. That said, I am willing to give this another try. I just hope next time we will not piss off the cops and that they would not waste so much resources on us.

    to everyone else, I do agree about the lights issue. I admit I didn’t know it was the law. I got them for my own and others’ safety! Sometimes I am afraid I’d ride right into another cyclist because I cannot see them. Maybe the Critical Mass participants deserve to be ticketed for not having lights, but the cops ending the ride by stationing themselves over at GAP is pretty unfair.

    Lesson to all: carry ID and have bike lights!!!

Leave a Reply