Easy Riders: Brooklyn Critical Mass Rolls With the NYPD

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Here is a nice piece of correspondence from Streetsblog reader and Brooklyn Critical Mass rider Rich Krollman. If you have a photo or story that you’d like to see published on the blog, we really appreciate reader submissions. Send yours along by clicking "Eyes on the Street" in the upper left corner. We’ll be improving our content submission functionality in the coming months, so keep an eye on that as well.

Ever since August 2004’s epic, 5,000-member Critical Mass ride around the Republican National Convention, the New York City Police Department and the Mayor’s office have worked hard to thwart the monthly Critical Mass bike ride in Manhattan. This circus has cost millions of dollars, countless police man hours, and even a few injuries to both cyclists and officers.

Yet, as police and cyclists have been battling it out in Manhattan, another Critical Mass ride has emerged on the other side of the East River and it is a completely different scene. Brooklyn Critical Mass got rolling in the summer of 2004 and continues to takes place on the second Friday of each month. In Brooklyn the relationship between bike riders and police is highly cooperative and productive and guided by a set of clear but unwritten rules, similar to the way things were before the Republican Convention in Manhattan. 

For example, when the front of the Brooklyn ride gets to a red light, the cyclists will stop. If the light changes while the ride is going through, the police will cork the intersection. For those of you not in the know, corking is when a person will situate themselves in front of stopped cars to let them know that there is a ride coming through. Corking makes the ride safer and, believe it or not, helps car traffic run more smoothly as well.

In Brooklyn, the relationship between the riders and police has become so friendly that when cyclists asked the police officers if they would ride bikes instead of their scooters, the police happily obliged. Once when a motorist asked what was going on a police officer replied, "It’s Critical Mass, they are riding to demonstrate their right to the road." That same officer is just as baffled as we are about why City Hall treats the Brooklyn and Manhattan Critical Mass rides so differently.

Last month, on August 11, over 100 cyclists rode out to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Riders generally meet at the entrance to Prospect Park or near the Williamsburg Bridge. There we made a memorial for Shamar Porter, a 10-year-old who was killed by a truck while riding his bike home from his Little League baseball game a few weeks ago. In an alarmingly similar incident, another child, 11-year-old Jose Mora was killed by a car on Monday, September 4 at 7:30 pm crossing North Conduit Blvd near Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Critical Mass may or may not make it out to East New York on its next ride, Friday September 8. There is never a planned route and there are no leaders. But when enough people hear about Jose’s death, I expect that momentum will carry us there.

Photo: Hi-Lo on Flickr

  • moxieb

    I rode with the Brooklyn Critical Mass on August 11th to cheer on Shamar Porter’s Little League team. It was really touching to overhear a policeman tell a rider “thank you for saying thank you.” Can’t imagine I’d overhear that in Manhattan.

  • andrew

    perhaps a bit of conspiracy theory.
    Perhaps Bloomburg doesnt want any disruption to his fortune 500 filled Manhattan. Where the sign of a good economy is traffic choked streets. I mean is he the mayor of the outer boroughs anyway?

  • drewo

    Wow. Please tell me how I can find this mythical “Brooklyn” place where the police demonstrate courtesy, professionalism and respect.

  • rich

    thanks for posting this but there are a few errors i would like to comment on.

    first the aug 2004 ride saw more than 5000 riders. at least that was the police estimate, which is usually the lowest estimate.

    second, one hundred riders did not meet at grand army plaza. there are two meeting points for brooklyn critical mass. one in grand army plaza, and one on the brooklyn side of the williamsburg bridge. when both groups met up at parkside ave, there were over one hundred riders.

    numbers have never been that important to me, but i just thought id put that out there.

    thanks for the article. . . and thanks for the wonderful blog

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    If you want to see Brooklyn cops parking on the sidewalk indiscriminately try Union and Henry precinct house.

  • What a great post! Brooklyn is where it’s at! The city should stop making Manhattan cops chase bikers around every month. This shows that it can work out peacefully.

  • galvoguy

    this video is about 4 minutes long, the last 2 minutes show quite a bit of police cooperation along the ride including corking and traffic control.

  • galvoguy
  • Nicolo —

    What if I want to see a police station without cars parked all over the sidewalk? Now that’s a tall order.

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