Monday, September 03, 2007

Zoobomb in Portland, Critical Mass in Minnesota

Zoobombers: Crackdown by cops is over the top
Cyclists who fly down Portland's West Hills plan to talk with police
August 3, 2007
Joseph Rose
The Portland Oregonian

Nearly 50 bicyclists gathered in a forest clearing in Portland's West Hills, waiting in the twilight for someone to announce the start of last Sunday's Zoobomb ride. Instead, they heard this: "The cops are waiting for us!"

Rather than starting their weekly daredevil ride at the usual spot---a paved road near the Oregon Zoo where a scouting party reported seeing squad cars waiting---the bikers braved a curvy, gravel-patched route where some edges drop 20 feet or more into the darkness. They call it "back door."

But the Zoobombers, a group with a storied history of run-ins with Portland police, have grown weary of such cat-and-mouse games this summer. Next week, some of the cyclists plan to hold a Zoo-summit with the city's traffic commander, hoping to end what they see as excessive enforcement of stop signs and red lights in recent weeks.

"The pepper is showing up and just waiting for us in the dark," said Morgan "Turbo" Nielsen, using Zoobomb code for the police. "Basically, on this ride, it's pretty tough to stop every time you're supposed to. It's like someone wants to shut us down."

Portland police Lt. Mark Kruger, however, said there is no conspiracy to defuse the Zoobomb. The interim Traffic Division commander said the stepped-up patrols are a response to complaints about the late-night cyclists barreling past traffic flaggers in construction zones along West Burnside Street and zigzagging across lanes on U.S. 26.

And a $30,000 Oregon Department of Transportation grant has helped pay for the stings. More than anything, Kruger said, he sees the effort as a way to make this fixture of the local bicycle culture safer.

Police in unmarked patrol cars and on motorcycles cornered and ticketed 14 Zoobombers, including Nielsen, on July 15 after they allegedly rolled through a stop sign en masse near a U.S. 26 on-ramp. Last Sunday, police handed out 10 more citations---with $242 fines---along residential streets in the hills.

This week, Kruger sat behind a computer monitor in his Southeast Portland office, showing video footage taken from police cruisers during Zoobombs. On the screen at one point, about a dozen riders, many without helmets and lights, weaved in and out of highway traffic. "The shoulder of the road is perfectly legal," Kruger said. "But this lane-surfing, when they go all the way to the center lane, is dangerous. And it's unacceptable."

Reluctant to stop the riders on the busy highway, especially since many Zoobombers openly admit trying to elude police who attempt to pull them over, Kruger said his officers try to nab them for stop-sign violations on their way to the off-ramps.

Every Sunday after sunset for the past five years, the Zoobombers have piled onto MAX trains that take them to the Oregon Zoo station. After taking an elevator to the parking lot, they walk or ride their bikes to the top of a nearby hill, waiting for waves of riders to show up. About 10 p.m., following a countdown and a shout of "Zoobomb!" the pack zooms en masse into the city. Several runs down the hill typically end about 1 a.m. Occasionally, they take U.S. 26 between the zoo and Jefferson Street exits, a run they call "Hellway."

Similar run-ins with police last summer, when the highway was completely closed to bike traffic due to construction, led to a meeting with police at which the bombers agreed to stop running the highway for a while.

If the bombers need to know why the police have started cracking down again, Kruger said, they should take a look at bicycle-fatality statistics. Riders running stop signs and red lights are among the leading causes of deadly collisions with vehicles, he said. Another: Drunk drivers hitting cyclists from behind---which Kruger says is his primary concern with the lane-surfing down the Sunset Highway.

"All the 'Keep Portland Weird' bumper stickers in town aren't going to save the Zoobombers from themselves," Kruger said. The fact that the group didn't ride U.S. 26 last Sunday and now wants a meeting with police, he added, shows "the message has been sent and received."

Portland attorney Mark Ginsberg, who specializes in representing bicyclists, will host the meeting---still in the final planning stages---at his downtown office. "The enforcement level is greater than in the past," Ginsberg said. "I think this (meeting) will relieve some of the pressure."

Last Sunday, many regular Zoobombers were ready to ditch the "Hellway" route altogether, saying it isn't worth the constant run-ins with traffic cops. "It's fun," said one rider, "but it's dangerous and someone's eventually going to die. And if someone dies, the Zoobomb's over."

Thomas "T-Mass" Dealmeida, however, said he would argue against abandoning the run. "I'd end it to save Zoobomb," he said, "but we're all part of a phenomenon. And Hellway gives people driving out there a chance to see us doing crazy speeds like 35 or 40 mph---and to realize that, in fact, we're in complete control."


19 bicyclists arrested after rally turns into melee
Officers watching the event in downtown Minneapolis say they were attacked, escalating the confrontation.
By
Joy Powell
Minneapolis Star Tribune
September 01, 2007

Police arrested 19 bicyclists, including three juveniles, after a protest ride took an ugly turn in downtown Minneapolis Friday night.

About 200 bicyclists were riding on La Salle Avenue, with two officers monitoring the protest that called for reduced reliance on automobile transportation. The ride was also linked with weekend protests of next year's Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities.

When officers tried to arrest a rider they felt had been trying to provoke them, a scuffle broke out, said Minneapolis Police Lt. Marie Przynski.

"When the officer went to arrest him, his buddy came up, and they started to struggle with the officer," Przynski said.

A group surrounded the officers, and begin to chant "Let them go!"Then several people tried to prevent the officers from arresting these individuals," she said, and a skirmish ensued.

Soon, the two officers were surrounded by about 30 people, and they issued the call "officer needs help."

That brought 48 officers from six different law enforcement agencies racing to the scene, where the situation escalated and the officers used chemical Mace in an attempt to control the crowd, Przynski said.

Police then called in medics to examine people who were sprayed. Some officers had minor injuries, such as scrapes, but nobody was seriously injured, said Przynski, the night watch commander.

It was unclear, Przynski said, if the first people arrested were affiliated with the convention protest group. The lieutenant also said that a State Patrol helicopter had videotaped part of the event, and that documentation would be included in what police are now reviewing.

Police said they have had little trouble with recent rallies staged by Critical Mass, a loosely organized group that opposes society's heavy use of motor vehicles.

"We've never had a problem with Critical Mass, the rally," she said. "We agree with them that we need to lessen our dependence on the automobile. Apparently, they had some infiltrators or outsiders who joined the rally tonight. And these outsiders were trying to provoke the officers."

The adults were arrested on suspicion of rioting, a gross misdemeanor.

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