Critical Mass Brooklyn – A Trap?
Although I’ve been bicycling for many years now, I’ve come a long way from bike-friendly small-town Davis, California. Biking 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, cops? Just because there are many miles of bike lanes laid out, it does not mean that we cyclists are recognized. 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)
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 cops. 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 cops to cyclists. While I see that cops could facilitate our ride by blocking the streets, we didn’t need that many. The trail of cops was quite intimidating. The feeling “whooo, it’s like we’re being escorted”, faded quickly. So during the ride, which was in and around Prospect Park, one of the cyclists commented, “Let’s confuse the cops!” Though I’m not the biggest fan of cops, I didn’t 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. Oh dear, it was a TRAP. I didn’t believe it. 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, ride, ride, 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.