On April 20th, dozens of NYPD officers were deployed to Lower Manhattan to confiscate four bikes without bells and arrest the leader of a bike messenger race on an open container warrant from 2015. Today, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill explained that the enforcement action was a necessary "tool" to stop the race.
"There's a backstory here—we do not give out a lot of summonses for no bells on bikes," O'Neill told reporters on Thursday afternoon. "This was a group that, they meet periodically, and there's videos out there, you gotta take a look at what these bike groups do. They ride in group, en masse, the wrong way up major avenues, they play chicken with buses and trucks. This was a tool that the officers from Manhattan South to prevent this behavior from happening that day."
Addressing the Gothamist story that published photos of him riding bikes without bells, O'Neill added, "And I will be happy to report to New York City that I do have a bell on my bike now."
No cyclists were cited for riding recklessly during the crackdown; four were ticketed for not having bells, and their bikes were confiscated.
Bike messenger Shardy Nieves, who has organized the 4/20 Race and Bake event for six years and who was arrested that Saturday for an open container warrant from 2015 (it was later dismissed), said that O'Neill was confusing his group with the younger "wheelie guys" who organize more impromptu rideouts.
"It's not a mob of people taking over First Avenue, these are all bike messengers," Nieves told Gothamist. "It's like, we replicate the working day for a messenger. This is all older people, you know? Working class people that on the weekend, they wanna ride with their coworkers and have a good time."
Here's a video of the first Race and Bake from 2013. One rider is seen smoking marijuana.
Here is video of a rideout in the Bronx in 2018.
"I think their rides can get a little larger," Nieves said of the rideouts. "Still, when you have cops and police helicopters rushing these kids, it doesn't make them want to ride better. It makes them want to evade the police. We're just out here riding bikes and you're trying to take our bikes and arrest us?"
Nieves pointed out that large groups of cyclists ride in Central Park frequently without police harassment.
"You see a bunch of older road cyclists in large groups as well, cops aren't stopping them. They're running reds in Central Park, the cops aren't stopping them," he said.
When Nieves arrived at the race's starting point in Tompkins Square Park, an officer approached him with printed copies of his social media, before informing him he was under arrest for the four-year-old warrant.
Streetsblog reporter Julianne Cuba asked Commissioner O'Neill if surveying New Yorkers' social media for a non-violent open container warrant is something the NYPD typically does.
"I dunno the case that you're talking about," the commissioner replied. Cuba then made it clear that is what happened in Nieves' case.
"Did they explain to you what the group does every time they go out?" the commissioner snapped. "Did they give you that part of the equation? Maybe you should go back and ask them about their behavior."
Nieves responded, "It's kinda creepy but what can you do? My page is public, I don't really have anything to hide. My events are for the community, they're meant to bring people together."
Nieves added, "This is what we do, we ride bikes. This is how we stay out of trouble. Now you're bringing trouble to the thing we do to stay out of it?"
Later in the press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked about the fact that traffic fatalities are up 30 percent this year compared to the same period of 2018; cycling fatalities have increased ten percent. Would he commit to building 100 miles of new bike lanes, as some in the City Council want him to do?
"We have a plan out already to aggressively continue to build out bike lanes, and it's a very costly plan, but it's a right thing," de Blasio said. "When it comes to Vision Zero, it's five years of driving down fatalities...We intend to have a sixth year."