Tuesday, February 23, 2010

50 of your closest friends

A federal court in New York recently dismissed a lawsuit brought by cyclists who challenged a New York City law requiring groups of 50 or more cyclists to obtain a "parade" permit before legally taking to the roads. The city passed the law in response to critical mass rides, particularly the one that took place during the 2004 Republican National Convention. The law also presumably applies to any group ride that exceeds 50 riders, even if the riders are not on fixies and wearing skinny jeans.

The full opinion is here.

I'm not surprised that the judge found no reason to consider striking down the law under federal law. It's a pretty high standard.

What is ironic is the fact that the supposed apolitical nature of critical mass probably hurt the cyclists' case the most. Laws that interfere with protected speech under the First Amendment receive heightened judicial scrutiny. The judge in this case failed to really apply this scrutiny because the testimony did not support the fact that these rides are political.

But, for the most part, they are, and everyone knows it. But not for everyone who takes part. And those with a point to make often have different messages (right to the road, cycling safety, conservation, anti-car, etc.), even if these points are all variations of a common theme.

So, in an effort to welcome all by refusing to adopt some monolithic "message," critical mass has actually given itself less Constitutional protections than if it had classified itself as a weekly pro-bicycle political demonstration.

And now you also can't schedule a 50+ person group hammerfest starting at Times Square without a permit. If you do, don't bother arguing that the ride is a political statement. Unless you want to argue that you are celebrating your right to wear tacky lycra.

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