Condition critical

Police halt the ride to cite Ryan Salisbury, the first of many icyclists who got busted during the September 7 Critical Mass event.

Police halt the ride to cite Ryan Salisbury, the first of many icyclists who got busted during the September 7 Critical Mass event.

Photo by Steven T. Jones

As alternative transportation advocates take to the streets of Sacramento on bicycles again on October 5 for the monthly Critical Mass ride, organizers hope to avoid contentious clashes with police that have characterized the last two monthly rides (see “Intimidation with a Smile,” Capital Bites, SN&R, September 13).

The ride, which is designed to highlight the need to create a transportation system that encourages cycling and other non-polluting means of transportation, follows a 5:30 p.m. rally at the Capitol.

Event organizer Jason Meggs of the Bicycle Civil Liberties Union said the Critical Mass rides in Sacramento have developed into a battle over civil rights. He said the numerous citations handed out by Sacramento Police Department officers on September 7 amounts to harassment.

Meggs’ assurance that bicyclists in Critical Mass rides always do their best to follow the rules of the road is accompanied by a demand that the police “do their part by not giving us incredibly excessive, intolerant treatment.”

Such attention has included citations for not having bike lights (“It was before dark,” Meggs said), and not riding in the bike lane (“There’s no bike lane on that street,” he counters). While most of the citations for the August 3 ride were thrown out of court, there are 12 “impeding the flow of traffic” citations still pending from the September 7 ride, which police don’t expect to have thrown out.

“We don’t mind them protesting,” Sergeant Daniel Hahn insisted, “but bikes are like cars, and if you run a red light or block traffic, you’ll be cited.”

Police want Critical Mass riders to get a parade permit, which would allow officers to control traffic along the ride. But Meggs thinks that is unfair treatment.

“When rush hour traffic gets a parade permit,” he said, “then they can come and ask us.”

Are bikes like cars? According to the BCLU, that’s an oversimplification. “How bikes use the streets is different from the way cars use them,” Meggs said. And if they are the same, he wonders why the state doesn’t give more than the pittance it does to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

“If you design for bikes,” he explained, “you’re designing for a lot of other things,” like less congestion, less sprawl, less reliance on fossil fuels, and healthier citizens.

Bikes should have as much right to the road as cars, he said, and if convincing the Sacramento Police Department of that requires filing a police harassment lawsuit against the city—something Meggs says he’s pursuing—so be it.