NY [heart] Critical Mass?

Categories: Cycling

Given all the venom—not to mention all the tax dollars expended by the NYPD to suppress Critical Mass bike rides, it was something of a surprise to open the glossy new Bike Month NYC calendar and find a listing for this month's cycle showdown in Union Square.

The calendar was funded by the Department of Transportation (DOT), as part of the City's yearly effort to promote biking in the Big Apple.

Available at bike shops and cafes as well as online, the calendar includes everything from bike repair workshops and the Bicycle Film Festival to this Saturday's Ninth Annual Blessing of the Bicycles at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Willyburg's own Bicycle Fetish Day.

But there's also a plug for the next Critical Mass gathering on May 25 in Union Square, featuring the standard CM line: “We are traffic: riding daily, celebrating monthly, in Manhattan and beyond. There are no leaders. Bicyclists, rollerbladers, skateboarders and all muscle-powered transportation is [sic] welcome."

There are posters for Bike Month on city buses and subways and a prominent link on the DOT's website directing you to the calendar, which includes some 35 events organized by Times Up—the group the City was suing for promoting Critical Mass bike rides.

There's even a plug for the Brooklyn Critical Mass this Friday.

So does this mean that at least a part of the City doesn’t mind these monthly demonstrations against “car culture”?

Not really. A spokesperson for the DOT was quick to point out that the calendar was compiled by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, which allows any group to submit a bike-related event.

"The city subsidizes the printing of the calendar and other Bike Month promotional materials," explained DOT rep Chris Gilbride, who was unaware of the Critical Mass listing until the Voice pointed it out.

“There are more than 175 events during Bike Month and while they're not all DOT events, Bike Month offers New Yorkers a number of opportunities to discover the benefits of cycling in the city," Gilbride added, diplomatically.

Perhaps a better question to ask is, why are the Times Up folks even raising the issue? If the City is giving you free advertising for your "Bike Lane Liberation Clown Ride," why complain?

"It's a major contradiction," responds Times Up founder Bill DiPaolo. “In the city's lawsuit against Times Up, they said we could not advertise an event without a permit, and now the city is doing the same thing.”

In fact, says DiPaolo, “Most of the group rides in this calendar don’t have permits. It just shows the ridiculousness of it,” he says of the NYPD’s new parade rule, which requires a permit for any “human-powered” procession of 50 or more people.

Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, said his group initially sought to get a blanket permit from the NYPD to ensure that all the Bike Month events complied with the new rule. But the NYPD nixed that idea, so TA left it to the cycling groups to make arrangements for themselves.

While a few of the larger rides have applied for permits, others say if their events draw more than 50 people, they'll simply split up into smaller groups of faster and slower cyclists.

“No one's really worried about it," says Budnick. "There's a strong consensus in the biking community that the police are only going to enforce the parade permit rule once a month, and that's the last Friday of the month at 7 pm in Union Square."

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