Critical Mass Riders Win Lawsuit Against the City

Bicyclists who were wrongfully detained and arrested while participating in "Critical Mass" rides won a $965,000 lawsuit against the city. The 83 cyclists will receive $500 each for getting a minor citation and one plaintiff who was arrested multiple times and injured in the process could receive up to $35,000.

The civil rights lawsuit, filed in 2007, claimed police were out of line in targeting the cyclists, who say they were riding in a group for safety.

This settlement does not include lawsuits filed by some of the reported 264 people arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention while on a Critical Mass bike ride. Before the 2004 Republican National Convention, the NYPD had escorted the riders through the city, blocking traffic for up to a thousand riders. But when the convention came to town Attorney Gideon Oliver said police began ticketing and arresting cyclists.

“It was only because so many people who were arrested went and fought the charges,” Oliver said, "that the police department shifted it's policy from making mass arrests to issuing mass summonses on the rides.”

Ken Coughlin, a plaintiff in the case, said that even with multiple wins in the courts the heavy police presence during the rides has reduced turnout. “A joyous event celebrating green transportation that takes place in hundreds of cities around the world is, for some reason, intolerable in this city,” Coughlin said. “The questions we all should be asking is why."

The police say cyclists on the Critical Mass rides violate traffic laws. They have used police on scooters, a mobile command unit and helicopters to follow the riders throughout the city.

The city said the settlement was in the best interest of all the parties.

CORRECTION: Plaintiffs awards ranged from $500 to $35,000 with an average award of around $5,000. While some of the awards were for minor citations, many of the plaintiffs were arrested, spent time in jail and had to make multiple court appearances. Also, people at an event covered in the course of reporting this story said the police crackdown led to fewer participants in Critical Mass rides, but Mr. Coughlin did not say this.