Saturday, February 25, 2006

CRITICAL MASS: AN EDITORIAL. Looking over today's Daily News editorial about Critical Mass, I thought it could use some editing. It didn't take long to make the improvements.

It's only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt, if not killed, because of the determined recklessness of drivers in New York City. Such events occur on a daily basis in Manhattan.

Critical Mass participants gather on the last Friday of every month - yesterday evening was on their calendar - for group cycling from Union Square to wherever the spirit takes them as a statement of the virtues of pedaling over motorized transportation. Their numbers have ranged from a few score to well over a thousand.

New York City is well-equipped to handle this type of demonstration - provided that demonstrators behave lawfully and safely while police officers, pedestrians, and drivers observe the rules of the road, too.

Critical Massers say they gather by word of mouth and they have no formal leaders, and they object in high dudgeon to needing a permit to ride bicycles on city streets. As is the case of with motor vehicles, some Critical Massers block intersections, go the wrong way on one-way streets, and take life-threatening actions. Once, they rode up onto the FDR Drive. They also complain that cops are targeting them unfairly and recklessly using motor vehicles as weapons against them. Last month, two officers on glorified mopeds collided while engaging in one such ill-advised maneuver. The officers wound up briefly hospitalized.

This insanity must stop. The cops have got to get their priorities straight and focus on improving daily traffic behavior, especially among drivers. On any given day, it’s easy to spot drivers who are speeding, blocking intersections, running red lights, using cell phones illegally, and changing lanes or turning corners without signaling. Cyclists, whose lives are endangered by such violations, point out that the NYPD would be doing a real public service by holding drivers accountable for such practices.

Anyone able to differentiate between a monthly bike ride and Manhattan’s daily traffic problems can see that the NYPD has gone off course in fixating on Critical Mass. The contrast between the recent years of police harassment of Critical Mass in Manhattan and the successful police cooperation with Critical Mass everywhere else (including Brooklyn and pre-convention Manhattan) suggests that Manhattan law enforcement officials have chosen counter-productive tactics, with a mystifying fixation on getting the bicyclists to obtain parade permits.

Asked to enjoin a group of CMers from riding without a permit, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman reasonably concluded that the rides were not a parade or a procession or a march or a caravan or any "similar event of any kind upon any public street or roadway" that would require a permit. That makes sense. The drivers who clog city streets (and cause the vast majority of traffic-related injuries and deaths) don’t need parade permits…pedestrians don’t need parade permits…and Critical Mass bicyclists don’t need parade permits either.

Safe traffic practices should be observed by everyone in the city, with law enforcement giving priority to making safe practices standard for everybody every day. The focus on Critical Mass is counterproductive in light of the real and ongoing traffic problems experienced by New Yorkers on a daily basis.

No comments: