Bike Rally Controversy

Rowdy bicycle rally through Houston's streets draws police attention: Is bike freedom in jeopardy?

Rowdy bicycle rally through Houston's streets draws police attention

Critical Mass Bicyclists Bike riders
Known for flooding city streets with cyclists, the monthly Critical Mass bike ride has caught the attention of HPD. Photo by Jamie Salinas Courtesy of Facebook

Houston Critical Mass — the monthly bicycle rally known for overwhelming city streets — will get some extra attention from area law enforcement during its crosstown ride on Friday night, marking what could be a new chapter for the popular event.

The Houston Police Department tells CultureMap that, after receiving numerous complaints, officers have reached out to the group to negotiate common ground between free speech and the rules of the road.

In recent years, the bike happening has reached a critical mass of its own with hundreds if not thousands of regular participants. Traffic lights and stop signs become irrelevant as riders crowd major thoroughfares.

"W e feel it's important that they remain aware of the rights of others . . . And by that we mean traffic laws."

"We appreciate and encourage the group's First Amendment rights," says HPD spokesperson Victor Senties. "At the same time, we feel it's important that they remain aware of the rights of others . . . And by that we mean traffic laws."

Critical Mass groups — which have been established in more than 300 cities since the movement began in San Francisco in the early 1990s — tend to maintain a leaderless and highly-democratic structure with bike routes typically planned the day of the ride. On its website, the Houston branch encouraging cyclists to "simply bring your bike and come ready to ride."

But according to longtime participant Kyle Nielsen, those days of organic, last-minute plans could be coming to an end as Critical Mass organizers continue talks with city officials to ensure public safety. Houston police have come to view the rides as organized "public protests," requesting that the group submit all plans in advance.

"Organizers are optimistic that a reasonable compromise can be worked out between the rights of cyclists to engage in free expression and the rights of motorists," Nielsen tells CultureMap. "The City has been sent this month's route."

Senites says HPD hopes for "voluntary compliance" from participants at Friday's event, which has been dubbed Critical Massacre for Halloween. (Riders are encouraged to wear costumes.)

Houston Critical Mass meets the last Friday of every month at the Market Square Park between 6:30 and 7 p.m. Rides cover roughly 20 miles and end around 9 p.m.

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