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Car-Free Protest Heats Up In New York City

International protest campaign heats up after 48 more arrests in NYC

NEW YORK / PRAGUE – On Friday, another 48 cyclists were arrested in New York City for participating in a group bicycle ride known as "Critical Mass," bringing the total arrests of cyclists in the city in one year to 566. Meanwhile, community groups, environmental organizations and cycling clubs around the world are organizing film screenings and letter-writing campaigns to protest the arrests.

World Carfree Network, an international coalition of sustainable transportation and urban development groups, is pursuing a worldwide campaign to convince New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to end the repression of group bicycle rides and develop policies to support cycling in the city. Letters from network supporters from Australia to Brazil and Spain and from numerous other countries have begun arriving in the offices of city officials by fax, e-mail and post.

"I am shocked and astonished," writes Ton Daggers, a traffic consultant from the Netherlands. "As a professional working with the authorities in megacities all over the world, such as Rio de Janeiro and Bogota, to solve traffic and congestion problems, I simply can not comprehend the actions New York City has taken against cyclists. It is time for New York to take its place among world-class cities by improving its sustainable transport, safe bicycle lanes and pedestrian areas."

Network correspondents in New York City reported that Friday’s community ride started out peacefully from Union Square with only minimal police presence, but within a few blocks police converged on the group of cyclists, dragging riders from their bicycles, handcuffing them and confiscating their vehicles. Crowds quickly gathered protesting the arrests and shouting, “Shame, shame, shame.” Most of the several hundred participants in the ride managed to escape. Forty-six of the arrestees were released early on Saturday morning, although their bicycles will be held indefinitely. Some bicycles have been held for over a year, regardless of national laws protecting private property from unjustified seizure.

Most of the cyclists arrested on Friday were charged with "parading with out a permit," "disorderly conduct" and "obstructing traffic." Three other cyclists were given fines for not having lights on their bicycles. At 3:00 a.m. on Saturday, the community group Free Wheels provided food to released arrestees and loaned bicycles to replace those confiscated by police.

World Carfree Network advocates equal rights for cyclists and pedestrians, including the right to use public streets and the right to an equal share of public funds. Given that 78 percent of Manhattan households do not even own or lease a car, the issue of criminalizing cycling raises significant concerns about equal treatment of citizens. The network has declared the mass arrests and systematic abuse of cyclists in New York City to be a human rights problem worthy of international attention.

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