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Police, cyclists wrangle over rides

Today's Critical Mass event has the potential for more unrest

Cyclists and police are again at odds about whether there will be a city permit obtained for the monthly Critical Mass ride this afternoon.

They've had two meetings in the past two weeks with representatives from the mayor's office and members of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. The nonprofit group is not officially involved in the ride but works with city officials to advocate for cyclists.

Yet, as of Thursday noon, the issue still hadn't been resolved. The police bureau issued a press release stating that 'officers will take enforcement action if they observe crimes occurring and/or violations of traffic laws.'

Police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz added, 'The problem is that the people at the table believe they have the right to violate traffic laws and are unwilling to negotiate in terms of getting a permit or provide police with a route so we can assist them.'

Cyclists refused to budge. 'With a permit you need a map (of the route), and with Critical Mass being what it is, that's hard to guarantee,' said Sara Stout, a longtime participant.

It's possible that the conflict could lead to a repeat of what happened at last month's Critical Mass ride, which resulted in nine arrests, 47 traffic citations and numerous complaints about police response.

Police fired pepper spray into the crowd and used nonlethal munitions on people who were being 'combative' toward the more than two dozen officers on patrol, Schmautz said. Police said they responded as they did because in recent months complaints of vandalism to cars, harassment and assault to drivers have increased. Traffic and mass transit also have been tied up for long periods of time as hundreds of cyclists block intersections.

Both city officials and police said part of the problem in preparing for the event is that there is no representative of the cyclists who participate in Critical Mass, which is held the last Friday of each month as part of a worldwide event to promote cycling. Portland has had rides for nine years.

Each month, the dozens Ñ sometimes hundreds Ñ of cyclists often have different agendas: Some just want to ride, while others are more confrontational and engage in civil disobedience.

Stout said there may be a smaller turnout today than the several hundred who attended last month's event because many local cyclists are heading to San Francisco for the event's 10-year anniversary celebration. Today's ride is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. under the Burnside Bridge at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park.