Freedom to Ride

Rebecca Heinegg isn’t waiting for graduation to take on giants.
Heinegg was one of a dozen bikers arrested last February at a
Critical Mass, an anarchic bike ride that takes place in some 400
cities worldwide on the last Friday of every month. Now the
23-year-old law student, bike enthusiast, and co-founder of
Freewheels Bicycle Defense Fund is up against the legal muscle of
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s New York City.

An ‘organized coincidence,’ the ride has no central leaders and
no preplanned route. New York authorities have battled the bikers
since just before the 2004 Republican National Convention, when
visitors swelled the Manhattan event from its typical few hundred
cyclists to nearly 5,000. Police arrested more than 250 and seized
their bicycles. Four months later, a federal judge rejected the
city’s request for an injunction declaring Critical Mass illegal,
stating that cyclists have just as much right to the road as their
four-wheeled friends.

Unbowed, the police have continued making mass arrests and
confiscating bicycles every month. And last March, the city’s
attorneys filed suit in state court against Time’s Up!, a local
environmental group that promotes the ride, charging that the
organization can’t inform the public about an event the city deems

When Heinegg and some law school friends were caught in the net
last winter, they launched their effort to provide funds and legal
support — as well as loaner bikes — to arrestees. ‘Not a single
cyclist has been convicted in connection with Critical Mass,’ she
says, adding that the city drops most charges on the courthouse

The Time’s Up! case, which was awaiting trial as we went to
press, raises serious First Amendment concerns. According to the
city’s game plan, merely contemplating civil disobedience would be
a crime.

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