• ×

    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.

    Published on Jan 1, 2006


    In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.