Monday, February 22, 2010

New York Critical Mass loses in court

It was an implausible---even outrageous---argument on the face of it, that requiring Critical Mass demonstrators to get a parade permit somehow violated their First Amendment rights.The judge surely made the right decision (story below). Even here in Progressive Land, the birthplace of Critical Mass, I've never heard anyone argue that the monthly demo is legal. It's fair to say that, for its infantile participants, it's primary charm is that Critical Mass is a mass flouting of the law.

The Examiner quotes Newsom's office on the decision:
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.
Of course the mayor, not to mention the Board of Supervisors, doesn't want the decision to apply to San Francisco. Mayor Newsom has no stomach for doing anything that might be unpopular with city progressives, especially the bike people, who he has courted slavishly over the years, even though they seem to have nothng but contempt for him. With the important exception of Care Not Cash and the homeless issue, Newsom has always been safely within the SF political consensus. The gay marriage initiative was always a safe bet, since it was sure to popular here, though not necessarily in the state's hinterland. One of the things that will be interesting to see if Newsom runs for lieutenant governor is how that issue plays in the rest of the state.

Interesting that Police Chief Gascon saw fit to criticize Critical Mass in public, the only city leader since Willie Brown to do so. I suspect that Gascon is a little shocked at how San Francisco's political leadershlip has allowed it to go on for so many years.

Judge Rules Bike Groups Must Get Parade Permits
by Michael S. Schmidt
Feb. 16, 2010

A federal judge in Manhattan on Tuesday dealt a blow to organizers of group bicycle protests, ruling that the City of New York did not violate the constitutional rights of cyclists by requiring them to get parade permits.

The judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, said he was sympathetic to the cyclists. However, Judge Kaplan said, parade regulations and their enforcement by the New York Police Department did not violate their constitutional rights, in particular their freedom of speech.

The ruling will affect protests known as Critical Mass, in which large groups of cyclists congregate in the city and take random paths through the streets. It will also affect the Five Borough Bike Club, which filed a lawsuit against the city in 2007 after the Police Department amended its parade rules, saying it would ticket or arrest any group of 50 cyclists or more that did not have a parade permit.

Before the Republican National Convention in 2004, more than 100 cyclists were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after a group of about 5,000 rode past Madison Square Garden, protesting President Bush.

Mark Muschenheim, the senior counsel of the city’s Administrative Law Division, said, “We are pleased with today’s decision.”

“The court,” he added, “recognized that the policing of Critical Mass rides was not based on any attempt to infringe First Amendment rights, but rather stemmed from Critical Mass bicyclists’ lawless behavior, which included intentionally blocking traffic, riding through red lights, and cycling the wrong way on both one-way and two-way streets.”

The Five Borough Bike Club said in a statement on its Web site that the group was “disappointed by Judge Kaplan’s 54-page decision and will respond further after we and the other plaintiffs have had a chance to study it.”



At 6:07 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

What law does Critical Mass break such that you claim it is illegal?? NYC passed a new law - now upheld - that effectively makes CM illegal there unless they get a permit. That law does not apply here.

Just curious.

At 8:04 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Why would a new law be necessary in SF? Based only on my reading of the articles on the decision and not the decision itself, sounds like CM New York was arguing that requiring them to get a parade permit was a violation of their First Amendment rights. Hard to see how/what SF Critical Mass would argue in their defense, since it seems pretty clear that it's reasonable to require a parade permit for the event. I've never seen a legal argument made on behalf of Critical Mass in SF, and I suppose that's only because the city hasn't tried to bust it like NYC did in 2004. Once you're faced with charges, you have to either make a defense or plead guilty.

At 9:15 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"CM New York was arguing that requiring them to get a parade permit was a violation of their First Amendment rights."

New York City passed a new "rule/law" defining any group of 50 or more cyclists to be a parade and thus needing a parade permit. "CM New York" is not an organization and thus was not filing a suit contending that the new law was unconstitutional - the Five Borough Bike Club filed suit. That's just a recreational bike club that might have informal group rides exceeding 50 riders just like we frequently see all over the Bay Area.

There is no such law in San Francisco, so CM is not defined as a parade, and thus doesn't need a permit, and is not in violation of anything in and of itself. There's nothing to charge "Critical Mass" with. The cops in NYC wanted to crack down on CM, had no law to utilize, so they got one passed.

It will be interesting to see it play out. If NYC Critical Mass goes - who do they arrest? What is the penalty?

Amusingly, my knowledge is that at any given time during commute hours, there are far more than 50 cyclists crossing the Williamsburg Bridge just going to work. Theoretically they now will need a permit. Market St from 10th to 4th has well over 100 cyclists at a time during rush hour, simply going to work, not up to any mischief.

It would be a lot more straightforward just to enforce the stop signs/lights. The problem being that Critical Mass has enough people to gridlock Market if they stop at the lights - the Mass takes up over 2 city blocks. That's the "argument" for running the lights, I'm neither here nor there but I for one would be very amused to see the result of CM not running the lights.

At 10:39 AM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

murph: your arguments are so lame it's downright embarrassing.
You are trying to pretend that 50 or so cyclists going to work in the morning riding down market street is the SAME as the organized Critical Mass chaos on a friday nite. that's ridiculous and you know it.

They should be required to get a permit, period..or get the hell off the streets.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Murph is also saying that large, traffic-disrupting demos don't need a permit in SF, which is a stupid claim. No new laws are needed to require a permit for Critical Mass, but they could never get one because they famously have no organization to take responsibility and no planned route so that the city can make reasonable plans about how to deal with it. Instead, all the city does now is provide a police escort to babysit the cyclists, which costs taxpayers $10,000 a month for police overtime.

At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is nothing illegal about critical mass except for running of the red lights/stop signs. There are no laws limiting the number of cyclists that can be on the road - that would be stupid. @murphstahoe is right about the ridiculous situation of NYC commuter groups now theoretically needing permits -- I don't expect the NY decision to last long. And if you don't like taxpayer dollars being spent on police escorts for the monthly ride then petition your representatives. I'll bet most CM participants would agree it's a waste of money and the City should stop doing it.

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

After getting these comments on the decision, I read the whole decision, and you're simply wrong. New York City assumed correctly it had the right under state traffic laws to require a parade permit and advance knowledge of the route of the demo. The folks who sued NY over the issue hurled several wild claims against the NYPD during the trial, including the notion that their Constitutional right to free speech was infringed by requiring a parade permit, that the city's enforcement of the traffic laws was only due to the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004 and thus was also a violation of their free speech rights!

The judge compared the conduct of the Manhattan Critical Mass to that of other, smaller organized bike rides in New York and found that MCM's behavior was uniquely egregious and unacceptable, in large part due to the sheer number of participants in the MCM rides. You don't think SF has similar laws or that they don't have the right to enforce them if they so choose? Ridiculous. The only reason SF isn't enforcing traffic laws during Critical Mass is that it lacks the political spine to do so, which is probably what surprised Chief Gascon when he came to the city.

The decision was issued by a Federal court, and there seems to be little that's appealable in it. Only a True Believer can think that a higher Federal court is going to reverse a decision that simply allows a major American city to enforce state traffic laws on its streets to prevent a bunch of assholes from snarling traffic on a regular basis.

The police escort for Critical Mass in SF was only instituted after a series of violent incidents during which cyclists attacked motorists, remember? No, I don't like the expense involved or Critical Mass itself. The city would be perfectly justified in following New York's example and begin strict enforcement of the law during Critical Mass, a demo that's a huge imposition on everyone else using city streets.

At 4:03 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

How is Critical Mass any different than the march from the Castro to City Hall down Market St every time there is an adverse ruling on Prop 8?

The difference is that a bicycle is a vehicle and is allowed to be on the road. Every person involved in a march down Market St is on the road illegally.

Any one person in Critical Mass is not doing anything illegal simply by being there. Running a stoplight - illegal. Fine - ticket them for running a stoplight. But you can't (or IMHO you should not be able to) ticket them just for being on the road at the same time as a bunch of other vehicles which have a right to be on the road. The city is allowed to enforce those laws already.

Every weekend in Sonoma County I am treated to 100's of Harley Riders in procession (and don't think they don't break the speed limit by substantial amounts on Skaggs Springs. We wipe a couple of them off the road with a mop every year). Where's there permit? Corvette Clubs? Same deal. They aren't going to work - they're just driving around.

At 8:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that any large group of pedestrians or vehicles who are walking, riding or driving as a group, and doing so in such a manner as to impede other traffic for an extended period (this includes, but is not limited to, occupying the entire road, blocking cross-traffic through multiple traffic signal cycles, etc.) -- that's a parade, or a procession, which SHOULD require a permit.

Yes, the occasional marches from City Hall to the Castro which have occurred fall into the same category; the difference is that those events are rare and sometimes even spontaneous, while Critical Mass is regularly scheduled and planned. But I'd support a permit requirement for both sort of events.

That group of hundreds of Harley riders -- whole different scenario. I've seen those groups many times. So far as I know, they stop at signals and stop signs and do not impede cross traffic. It's not a crime to be on the road and to use it in a legal fashion, but it IS a crime to take over the road and block intersections and cause gridlock, and I hope the SFPD will start enforcing the law.

Doesn't SF have an anti-gridlock ordinance? The one that prohibits any vehicle from entering an intersection if the traffic is backed up such that the vehicle can't get completely through the intersection? Seems like that's another law being ignored.

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, the anti-gridlock law is a state law, in place since 1987. It reads, in part:

22526. (a) Notwithstanding any official traffic control signal indication to proceed, a driver of a vehicle shall not enter an intersection or marked crosswalk unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the intersection or marked crosswalk to accommodate the vehicle driven without obstructing the through passage of vehicles from either side.

(b) A driver of a vehicle which is making a turn at an intersection who is facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow signal shall not enter the intersection or marked crosswalk unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the intersection or marked crosswalk to accommodate the vehicle driven without obstructing the through passage of vehicles from either side.

At 10:26 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Anon - that's a reasoned statement. I disagree on some points, but reasonable people disagree, frequently.

One nit...

"So far as I know, they stop at signals and stop signs and do not impede cross traffic." - I think you missed the part where "we wipe a couple of them off the road with a mop". Driving 85 MPH plus on a 35 MPH rural road is worse than gridlocking Market St. Flight for life ain't cheap, and isn't always repaid. Granted the 100's of Harley riders tend to ride at a slower pace than their Rice-Rocket brethren - but they also tend to have a few Bud Lights mid-ride.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

Absolutely CM should be required to secure a permit for their monthly, organized takeover (I mean bike ride) of the downtown streets.

They are a legitimate group with leaders. They have a website. They need to abide by ALL of the traffic laws.

Marchers down Market St. from The Castro don't harrass drivers and break laws. The Harley riders don't either.

But the children of Critical Mass do...once a month on schedule.

At 11:13 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"Marchers down Market St. from The Castro don't harrass drivers and break laws. The Harley riders don't either."

Dammit Rocky you are buying me a new keyboard, I spit Pepsi all over it....

At 12:24 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

Glad somebody made you sit up and listen..for once.

At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it would be great if CM stopped at all red lights and stop signs this month. The resulting chaos of many smaller masses riding around would be a sight to behold.

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think CM should start obeying ALL the traffic laws ALL the time. Yes, it might be chaotic the first time or too, but most of the CMers would quickly realize that the event isn't nearly as much fun when they have to obey the same rules as all other vehicles and pedestrians, and they'd stop participating.

Of course, I think that ALL cyclists should obey the rules ALL the time. I stop at all the signals and wait for all the red lights when I ride, it isn't a major inconvenience and it's the safe and responsible thing to do.

Murph - I didn't miss your comment about the speeding Harley riders, I just didn't think it was that germane since we weren't discussing speeding. But yes, speed kills, and if you're riding a motorcycle at twice the speed limit, you deserve to be spanked pretty hard. I don't really care if people are riding/driving 5 miles over the limit, but if you're driving 20—or 45—miles over the limit, enforcement is certainly appropriate.

At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why have cities across the united states been forced to install cameras at intersections as a way to convince car drivers not to run red lights. Can't drivers police themselves? Why do they think that it is okay to run red lights?

At 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anybody who says Critical Mass isn't breaking any laws is delusional. It's great that bikers want to ride their bikes, nothing wrong with that, but by the same logic that cars must share the roads with bikes because bikes are vehicles, bikes must obey traffic laws.

I was driving one night and had to wait 25 minutes to make it across a single street block. You're telling me that's legal? The bikers must have run at least 20 red lights while I sat in my car. I had a child in the car who needed to use the restroom and just barely avoiding soiling her pants. All this for something that is emphatically described as "not a protest"?

It should be OBVIOUS why they would need a parade permit. Why is there even any controversy over this decision?

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

They do it just because they can. Mayor Brown tried to stop Critical Mass years ago, but gave it up when they rioted downtown. It's typical arrogance by the bike/anti-car movement.


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