Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa believes Critical Mass has become a "critical mess," warning reporters this morning that "anarchists" had ruined the popular monthly ride and that kids without helmets, beer vendors on bikes, and widespread civil disobedience were creating dangerous situations downtown. Orosa wants cyclists to plan with cops in advance and warned that anyone linked to organizing it could be held "liable."
"We want Critical Mass to come to the table so we can have some organized events," Orosa said, "not a surprise 'let's go party and ride together.'"
It's not clear yet whether this month's ride will go forward as usual on Friday or whether Orosa's officers will begin ticketing and fining riders if it does.
"It's a surprise. Maybe, maybe not," Orosa said when asked whether police would try to crack down this week.
Critical Mass began in the early '90s in San Francisco as a way to draw attention to making streets more bike-friendly. The rides have since spread across the nation and began in Miami in 2007. In the past four years, they've exploded in popularity, with celebs such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade joining in and crowds of 4,000 riders regularly pedaling through the streets.
But the rides are technically "spontaneous" and by their nature don't obtain permits or permission from the city. Streams of cyclists block traffic and roll through red lights. That has angered cops like Orosa.
Orosa cited multiple accidents in other cities as the reason why the cyclists need the police on their side. In 2011 a driver ran over 30 cyclists in a Brazil Critical Mass ride.
"When you don't plan things right, people get hurt," Orosa said.
He told reporters this morning that while he supports bicycle activism, he believes Miami's iteration of Critical Mass has been taken over by aggressive and unsafe cyclists. His force has been barraged with complaints from drivers, he says, and widespread drinking and lack of helmets are creating dangerous conditions.
Orosa has sent two certified letters now to Rydel Deed, founder of the Miami Bike Scene, a website that posts the routes for Miami's Critical Mass. The letters call Deed a "de facto organizer" and warn that he should "obtain all necessary permits" and that "failure to act in a reasonable and responsible manner may subject [him] to liability in the future."
Deed's attorney responded to the chief yesterday with a letter disputing that Deed organizes the rides and noting that "Critical Mass details are also posted on several blogs" other than the Miami Bike Scene.
Stalwart Critical Mass riders say Miami Police are missing the point. If riders stopped at every red light, the mass would take hours to pass through downtown and create infinitely more chaos, and getting permits for every ride would change the civil disobedience mission of the ride.
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"When you have 2,000 people stopping at every traffic light, instead of a 30-minute wait, it would be a two-hour wait," longtime rider Andres Duque told reporters before Orosa's conference. "Critical Mass is a movement of free spirits and free will. Some people think of it as a party and some as a movement."
After Orosa's conference, some riders pointed out to the chief that Florida is among the deadliest states in the nation for cyclists, suggesting that the awareness sparked by Critical Mass is particularly needed.
"People like you are needed in Critical Mass," Orosa responded to one cyclist, "but what we don't want is the anarchists trying to take over the streets."