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Critical Mass ruling in NYC could travel west

The San Francisco Examiner: Critical Mass ruling in NYC could travel west

By: MIKE ALDAX
February 17, 2010

A court decision in New York City that may create strict restrictions on the Critical Mass bicycle event raises questions as to whether San Francisco could do the same.

A judge ruled Tuesday that New York City can force groups of 50 people or more on bicycles to get a parade permit, a process known to be cumbersome.

The legal battle stemmed from a clash between cyclists and police in 2004 during the Republican National Convention in which hundreds of bicyclists were arrested for alleged unruly behavior.

After the incident, the New York City Police Department sought stricter enforcement on Critical Mass, a group cycling event that clogs up busy city roadways on the last Friday evening of every month. The event started in San Francisco in 1992 and is now mimicked in cities around the world.

Participants argued restrictions infringed upon their First Amendment constitutional rights. However, the judge wrote in his ruling that “their lack of predictability and their tendency to try to stay together in a moving column, even if this means going through a red light … endanger other travelers and disrupt orderly traffic flow.”

Supporters of The City’s Critical Mass say they are wary that the legal decision in New York will inspire a similar push for restrictions here.

“There is always a chance that somebody is going to try to crack down,” said Chris Carlsson, a longtime San Francisco participant who co-authors a blog about Critical Mass.

Last month, police Chief George Gascón expressed dissatisfaction with the bike protest, saying he had been fielding complaints from drivers and bicyclists since becoming chief in August. The Police Department launched a review of the event, he said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has repeatedly cautioned that the potential backlash from a major crackdown would not be worth the hassle.

The Mayor’s Office “hasn’t had a chance to review the [New York City] ruling to decide if it would apply here or whether we would even want it to,” Newsom press secretary Tony Winnicker said Tuesday.

Hugh d’Andrade, co-author with Carlsson and a longtime event participant, said new crackdown efforts would ultimately fail.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/Critical-Mass-ruling-in-NYC-could-travel-west-84540237.html#ixzz0fmSxnq3k