On Wednesday in front of a throng of reporters, Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa declared the monthly bike event unsafe, and unsanctioned.
“When you have three thousand people riding bicycles you would think you would want control over it. This is why Critical Mass has turned into a Critical Mess,” said the chief.
“There is no order, there is no control,” said Orosa.
Critical Mass is a monthly bike event held on the last Friday of the month in hundreds of cities around the world. It is generally believed the biking is meant to draw attention to existing laws, or the lack of them, that establish a safe sharing of the road between bicycles and automobiles. Because of this, the event can become a moment of activism for some, and the rules of the road are purposely ignored.
“For bicyclists the same rules as a vehicle apply when you are on the road,” said Orosa. “Critical mass runs red lights, runs stop signs, and basically makes everyone wait for them.”
To some, that’s the point.
“Critical Mass is slight civil disobedience,” said Chauncey O’Connor a bicycle enthusiast who attended the press conference. He believes civil disobedience is the most powerful tool for change.
The Miami PD sees the event as a multitude of infractions they must respond to: children riding without helmets, unlicensed beer vending, confrontations between cyclists and motorists, and the impeding of the right of way.
Orosa referenced numerous reports where people were waiting to get to the hospital, pick up kids, even rushing to a dying family member-only to be stuck in traffic by the bicycles.
“Sharing the road has become taking over the road,” said Orosa.
The Miami PD used a little bit of mystery on how they would deal with the problems of the massive bike ride.
Orosa announced that from now on violations would be cited, but would not say when it would start.
“It’s a surprise,” he said.
The Miami PD also used scare tactics on Wednesday. As part of a press package, they circulated a video where a man in Brazil rammed twenty-odd cyclists with his car during the local Critical Mass. (The footage is shown multiple times in the press release package, once in slow motion.) Orosa hoped out loud that such a similar incident wouldn’t also happen in Miami. He also wondered how Fire Rescue could possibly navigate into the swarm of cyclists if one of them needed serious medical attention.
And to the parents: “If your taking your children out there, you are putting them at risk,” said Orosa.
Perhaps the biggest scare tactic was reserved for one man: Raydel Baluja-Herrera.
Baluja-Herrera runs a bicyclist blog on local bike scene. The blog promotes events like Critical Mass, but also bike hack-atons, city government meetings, and even look outs for stolen bikes.
This is the man who Miami Police have identified as the “de facto organizer” of Critical Mass.
The Miami PD has sent two communications to Baluja-Herrera, one of them certified.
In it police say the event causes “chaos” on the streets and hold motorists captive, and impedes emergency responders seeking to render aid.
The letter even mentions Orosa’s Brazilian-Dooms-Day scenario where “angry motorists” will “release their frustrations on the participants” by ramming their cars into the cyclists.
According to the communication, the Miami PD has seemingly evaluated Critical Mass, and has determined a violent incident is highly likely: “ the potential for motor vehicle crashes and “road rage” incidents is very high at your events.”
The end of the letter is full of viciously-threatening legalese: “The Miami Police Department is placing you on notice that you should take all appropriate steps to ensure that your future events are conducted in a safe and appropriate manner, and that you should obtain all necessary permits.”
“Govern yourself accordingly,” it concludes.
The liability implication is thick.
As of printing, Baluja-Herrera has not reached out to the Miami PD. Orosa says he just wants the owners of Critical Mass to “come to the table.”
The Chief also says he doesn’t want to see the event disappear, just become safer.
O’Connor says the Miami PD is angling for some money to come their way. He claims uniformed officers have suggested the event hire the department.
“I know that the police want to be paid to transport us around,” said O’Connor. “The chief himself did not give an answer to how to resolve it because they want the money. That’s my belief.”
When asked on this Orosa said those officers don’t speak for the department. If the incident happened he asked for their names, and would investigate.
Critical Mass in Miami is still set for this Friday, as it has been for all final Fridays.
O’Connor was asked if he would not be mindful of lights with the new scrutiny: “I myself will be going through the lights, because it’s civil disobedience.”