Cross-Bronx Ride Out Participant: “Kids Just Want to Ride Bikes”

Participants in Sunday's "ride out" biking down Broadway. Photo: Instagram/ricelifebmx75
Participants in Sunday's "ride out" biking down Broadway. Photo: Instagram/ricelifebmx75

A mass bike ride planned through social media on Sunday came to an abrupt end when NYPD set up a roadblock and arrested more than a dozen kids, in some cases causing physical harm. The police response was excessive and uncalled-for, according to one older participant, who’s looking into getting permits for future rides.

The “ride out” attracted hundreds of participants, mostly young men of color, who rode through the Bronx and Manhattan. Inside Edition called the event “startling,” “craziness,” and “complete mayhem.” CBS New York called it “bike bedlam,” and Mayor de Blasio told reporters that the rides are “not acceptable.” He promised “vigorous” NYPD enforcement.

Ronald Foster, 42, one of a handful of older participants, rejects those characterizations. While he occasionally sees younger riders engaging in bad behavior, he said the vast majority just want to bike with their friends. Many of them started biking as a way to distance themselves from crime and violence, he said.

“I don’t know how to explain it, kids just want to ride bikes,” Foster said. “It’s just the adrenaline of it.”

On Sunday, participants gathered in Crotona Park in the Bronx before heading onto the Cross-Bronx Expressway and then into Manhattan. Officers tailed them in vehicles on and off from the start, including on the highway, Foster said, but didn’t start confronting riders until the group was in Harlem.

“The orders came to corral us in Harlem, and they really were doing it,” he said. “They were kicking kids off, they rammed a dude off [his bike] with a moped.”

Ride outs like this have been happening for at least seven years, but Foster thinks Sunday’s was the biggest one yet. While the starting location is announced only about two hours before a ride begins, NYPD is typically aware of the rides ahead of time because they are promoted heavily on social media, Foster said, and police have been known to contact some of the more well-known participants before rides start.

The rides used to begin in Rucker Park in Harlem, but now start further north in the Bronx. “We can’t meet up in Harlem because the cops will automatically start arresting you,” Foster said.

On Sunday, after passing through Harlem, the group went down Broadway, stopping in Lower Manhattan by the FDR Drive before heading back north through Midtown. That’s when police really cracked down.

Overall, police arrested 16 participants, mostly for “disorderly conduct,” according to the New York Post. One video filmed at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue showed a young man whom police had thrown to the ground.

The whole scene made Foster furious. “It’s a fucking pedal bike,” he said.

Foster said NYPD’s response to Sunday’s ride typifies the relationship between the police and young people who bike, especially young people of color.

When Foster bikes in his neighborhood in the southwest Bronx, he’s routinely tailed by officers from the 44th Precinct, he said, who have arrested him twice after stopping him for riding in a park after midnight.

Even with the constant threat of police harassment, more young people are riding bikes in his community, Foster said. “You’re always going to have elements getting in the way,” he said of biking in the city. “Our element is the cops.”

Now Foster is looking into getting the larger ride-outs permitted. His goal would be a ride like Transportation Alternatives’ annual Century Bike Tour, which mostly does not use a car-free route but shares streets with car traffic. A car-free route would diminish the appeal of the ride out for young people.

“A Century tour-[style] ride would be good because the cars are still going to be on the road,” he said.

With or without a permit, ride outs aren’t going to stop. There’s one scheduled for Halloween. Next time, instead of aggressively arresting kids, why doesn’t NYPD put some thought and effort into helping the ride go safely.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Come on!
    If a kid pulls that move in front of a motor vehicle, should it jam on the breaks just in case the kid made a mistake? Even of bus standees would be sent flying and perhaps injured themselves?

    I’d have to say yes, because otherwise swervers will be killed sooner or later. But that doesn’t seem to be what happened in the video.

  • Vooch

    larry,

    what does the data show ? you are a data driven man.

    i’ll agree swerving and wheelie popping on Fifth Ave during rush hour drives me nutso, but it’s a nuisance not a danger

  • cjstephens

    Right. I don’t want people riding bikes on highways any more than I want drivers motoring down a bike path (or parking in the bike lanes, dammit). And I don’t want either bikes or cars on sidewalks. Is it so reactionary to think that different modes of transportation merit different engineering to keep everyone safe? And, yes, I want more infrastructure built for bike and pedestrian safety, but that’s not incompatible with disapproving of riding bikes on highways.

  • cjstephens

    For all of those in this conversation who are admiring what these children are doing – how about organizing something safer that can capture that “youthful exuberance” you’re praising? Is the Tour de Bronx still a thing? Or a how about an uptown equivalent to Summer Streets? Wouldn’t that be better for everyone involved?

  • Larry Littlefield

    You didn’t answer my question. If a bicycle swerves in front of a bus/truck/car, should the motor vehicle jam on the brakes?
    The MTA shuts down subway lines for cats.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The intimidate the drivers who don’t want to run someone over. They don’t intimidate those who don’t give a damn.

  • Vooch

    let me rephrase your question;

    if children are playing stickball in the street, should operators of dangerous machines stop ?

    Obviously – YES

    streets are for people

  • Joe R.

    What these kids really need isn’t something a few times a year, but rather safe, pleasant places where they can ride their bikes on a daily basis. Maybe if the city started building more greenways throughout the five boroughs, these kids would get it all out of their system in a more appropriate environment.

    While it’s certainly good we’ve taken baby steps to make utility cycling a reality, we’ve mostly neglected recreational riders. Recreational riders need long, non-stop routes which don’t necessarily have to pass near many points of commerce like utility bike lanes. NYC largely doesn’t have such routes outside of a few greenways along the city perimeter. Those don’t help people who might have to ride 5 or 8 miles through dangerous, traffic-clogged streets to reach them.

  • Joe R.

    I have to say while I can’t condone this type of behavior in the least I’m in awe of both the skills and balls these kids have to do such a thing. The fact none have died so far is a testament to their bike-handling skills. Maybe we need to find a more appropriate venue where they can show off these skills because to me it looks like that’s all they really want to do. If I recall, for a long time skateboarders were “grinding” in all kinds of inappropriate places. When we built skateboard parks, a lot of this behavior stopped. Let’s build something similar for cyclists.

  • Joe R.

    Those of us who might be saying let’s allow bikes on highways are doing so more to force the city’s hand to build much needed equivalent infrastructure for bikes than for the sake of actually riding on car highways. In fact, I doubt all that many cyclists would want to ride on highways even if it were legal. It might be more a case where a few hundred occasionally tie up highways to protest the lack of something equivalent for bikes. Obviously bikes on car highways isn’t any kind of rational solution. I just want a place where I can ride non-stop for miles the same way cars on highways drive non-stop for miles.

  • cjstephens

    Do you have any suggestions about where these might get built? It seems to me that the most obvious locations already have what you’re describing (though I’m always hoping for upgrades).

  • cjstephens

    Maybe when you say “let’s put bikes on highways” what you’re really thinking is “let’s take an extreme stand to push the city to build something better”. However, what most people will hear is “I’m taking an extreme stand” and then ignore you as a crazy person.

  • Joe R.

    Parallel to all major highways for starters. And then perhaps infill between major highways. The idea is to have a grid of such greenways with 1 to 2 mile spacing. The present locations where such things exist represent the places where it’s easy to put them (i.e. mostly along shore lines). Obviously we’ll need a lot of grade separation (viaducts or tunnels) to build such things elsewhere. The most logical places to start are where such grade separation already exists for other modes. For example, you could hang a bike lane on an existing railway viaduct or on an el.

  • cjstephens

    OK, not disagreeing, but I think you’ll find that’s where we already have most of our greenways, because the same geography that makes it easy to build a highway makes it easy to build a greenway. I’m also not that keen on keeping bike “highways” close to regular highways. The least pleasant parts of the East River greenway are where it is directly next to the traffic of the FDR.

  • Joe R.

    I’d prefer that they not be near highways myself, although that logistically makes things a bit harder.

  • AnoNYC

    The skateparks in the Bronx are packed, and so are any public spaces that make for good tricks. The Bronx could use more in the way of dedicated bike infrastructure like protected lanes and waterfront greenways with solid connections. There’s a serious undercount of the number of riders up here by the city.

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