PRAGUE / NEW YORK - January 25 - World Carfree Network will send a team of internationally recognized legal observers to monitor the Critical Mass bicycle ride in New York City on Friday, January 27. The team will observe the event and compile reports on interactions between the public and the New York police. The legal observers are being deployed in Manhattan in response to an ongoing police crackdown on cyclists in the city, which has resulted in the arrests of almost 700 bicyclists since August 2004.
The legal observer team is an expansion of the network's monitoring program of the past two months. Last month, a WCN monitor was arrested by the New York Police Department and charged with participating in a "parade" without a special permit. In response, World Carfree Network has stepped up its legal observer training program, formed a larger and better equipped team and taken steps to inform the NYPD about the monitoring mission and international status of the legal observers.
The network's monitor, Madeline Nelson, describes the December 30 bicycle ride thus: "My first impression was that the police were letting bicyclists begin the ride unmolested. There was no announcement indicating that riders were to disperse. The cyclists were stopping for lights and so was I.. Suddenly, when I saw that police had set up a roadblock, I stepped off my bike and was walking it to the curb to observe the situation on foot. That's when I was told I was under arrest. I was held for about three hours. Along with confiscating my bicycle, police held my legal observer identification as evidence."
The network's all-volunteer legal observers have been trained in monitoring and reporting methods accepted in the United States. The team's mandate is to monitor, record and report the events surrounding the NYC Critical Mass, particularly with regard to interactions between the public and the city police. The mandate does not include negotiation, direct participation or interference of any kind.
"Our first goal here is to secure independent information about what is happening in New York," says Arie Farnam from the World Carfree Network international secretariat in Prague. "We also hope to support a cooperative resolution to the tense situation in New York, so that community bicycle rides in the city can get back to a normal, fun and healthy routine."
Critical Mass is a monthly, worldwide bike ride that celebrates bicycling and urban quality of life. The community ride has been under duress in New York City since August 2004 when it coincided with the Republican National Convention in that city.
World Carfree Network is an international organization with member organizations on every continent dedicated to promoting sustainable transportation and livable cities. The international legal observer mission to New York City is part of the network's efforts to protect the rights of people around the world who use non-motorized transportation and public transport. The network seeks to uphold the right to freedom of movement and the freedom of peaceful assembly, which are both protected by the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.