Critical Mess

Denver bicyclists get taken for a ride.

He was right. By the time he got to the Brown Palace, the police were pulling riders over. "They were waiting for them like salmon coming up the stream," he says. A motorcycle cop told him to "pull over," then rode up on the sidewalk and ran into Kumar's bike. Kumar fell and cut his knee. "I was in shock that it actually happened," he says. "I was really stunned that he did that."

Denver has a reputation for being one of the best cities in the country for bicycles. But you're not going to prove it by the riders in Critical Mass. "I think they hate us," Cary says of the cops. "I think the term 'cowtown' fits."

"We tried to persuade them into using more moderate procedures used in cities where police departments seem to accommodate the ride," the ACLU's Mark Silverstein says. "I don't think we were successful."

A Critical Mass participant gets a ticket to ride.
Bryce Green
A Critical Mass participant gets a ticket to ride.

But according to DPD spokesman Sonny Jackson, the riders themselves failed to follow the rules. "The individuals riding the bikes didn't obey the traffic laws," he says. "Commander Dilley had warned them, but they didn't follow. For public-safety reasons, they stopped them." And then issued seventy citations ranging from disobedience to a traffic signal, to making prohibited turns, to impeding traffic.

But at least the police didn't take any bikes this time. Then again, they didn't confiscate Chief Gerry Whitman's car after photo radar captured him speeding in it, either.

The ACLU has yet to get the rundown on all the tickets issued April 28, so the attorneys there aren't sure of the group's next move. On CriticalMassDenver, people are comparing notes and throwing around legal strategies, and there's already talk of a benefit at Bar Bar (that's the Carioca Cafe, for those not in the know) on June 11 to raise money for legal fees.

Before that, though, there will be the ride on May 26. "I think we're willing to do whatever we can to make this work," Jackson says. "But disobedience to the law is disobedience to the law." Except in San Francisco, perhaps. There, after Critical Mass grew to 5,000 riders, "the mayor just said, 'Look, let it go,' Jackson reports. "We truly don't see that we can do that here."

But the non-leaders of Critical Mass think Denver can. "The route is tiny, and, realistically, people in their cars would maybe be delayed three to five minutes," Kumar says. "By the time the light changes, the riders would be gone."

He understands police frustration with the event -- but not the DPD's inability to find a solution. "I see their point," he says. "But the point of Critical Mass is that we are traffic, too, and we need to be recognized as much as other vehicles."

In the meantime, he's recognized a few things about Denver: "One, policemen here are conservative, and two, it's not a bike-friendly town. But I will say this: Critical Mass has grown exponentially since the price of gas started going up."

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