Take Our Bikes... Please!

(Distributed May 4, 2005, at a conference in NYC of the League of American Bicyclists, where our own Charlie Komanoff also made a presentation.)

A lot of us who live and ride in New York City aren’t too happy with the LAB. What were you thinking of when you invited NYPD Chief of Transportation Michael Scagnelli to speak? It’s like the Birmingham NAACP inviting Bull Connor.

Aren’t you aware that in this town, the last eight months have seen the most ferocious persecution of bicycle activists in memory? The NYPD has mobilized hundreds of troops, with scooters, motorcycles, paddy-wagons, power saws, and even helicopters, in a heavy-handed attempt to suppress the Critical Mass rides on the last Friday of every month.

It all began during the Republican convention last summer, with a letter from your guest, Chief Scagnelli, to a local lobbying group, Transportation Alternatives (TA). (TA has nothing to do with Critical Mass and doesn’t even like it, but presumably Scagnelli had to send the letter somewhere.)

After applying a base coat of gooey compliments to TA, Scagnelli wrote that Critical Mass riders “are breaking numerous traffic laws and violations of law that have escalated to levels of Disorderly Conduct and Obstructing Governmental Administration [sic] .... The Police Department must take actions.”

Scagnelli was blowing smoke about the nonexistent “escalation,” but he was serious about the “actions.” Starting with the next Critical Mass ride, the NYPD ended years of peaceful coexistence with the Mass. Hundreds of riders have been arrested just for showing up at the start, and hundreds of bicycles have been sawn away from lampposts and street signs and confiscated. (See the Web site of Time’s Up, the leading bike activist group in NYC, for more detail on the persecution of Critical Mass, including an amazing lawsuit by the City seeking to suppress information about the rides.)

Scagnelli has gotten a lot of media and bureaucratic credit for a drop in pedestrian fatalities in recent years. (Maybe that’s why you invited him?) We think his rep is undeserved.

There’s no reason to believe that better traffic enforcement — particularly, enforcement of pedestrian rights — has much to do with it; NYPD won’t make public any data about how many tickets they’ve issued over the years for offenses like not yielding to a pedestrian in a crosswalk (the most common cause of pedestrian death in NYC). And if they’ve ever, since cars were invented, issued even one ticket to a driver for aggressive passing or intimidating a cyclist, we’ve never heard about it. Ask Scagnelli for some numbers after his speech, and watch him squirm.

We don’t know what Scagnelli has really done for cyclist or pedestrian safety, but we do know that he is the public face of an organization which is conducting the most hysterical repression of bike activism we’ve ever seen or heard of.

So, fellow cyclists — what the hell is he doing HERE?

Right Of Way