On April 25, four cyclists each spent 17 hours in jail after Pittsburgh Police arrested them on misdemeanor charges during a mass pro-bike ride in Oakland, organized as Critical Mass ("Wheels of Justice?" May 21). By the cyclists' July 23 hearing, the judge looked bemused, their arresting officer was just trying to finish the case and their charges had been reduced to one violation of the vehicle code: "Riding more than two abreast," a charge written so long ago that it referred to "pedalcycles."
"Did Ben Franklin write this one?" joked their lawyer, Erika Kreisman, who was given a bicycle as her only payment for taking the case. "Look how petty it is -- the maximum fine is $10. You can't even buy lunch here for $10."
The four riders had agreed to plead guilty (and pay no fine) if the other charges -- disorderly conduct, obstructing traffic, failure to disperse -- were dropped.
"You really don't want to know this story," police officer Ray Kain told District Justice Nancy Longo. "Just say yes [to the deal] and we're out of here."
Longo said "yes" -- although she charged each cyclist court costs of $39 each.
Kreisman held up a Post-Gazette headline and read it to the court afterwards: "'Can Pittsburgh learn to love bikes?'"
"No," Kain joked. "If they want bikes, buy a Harley."
"I do feel like it was a wrongful arrest," said one of the arrested cyclists, CMU student Carolyn Lambert, after the proceedings, "but it seems like, given the situation, I'm pleased with the outcome."
"It's nice to have it over," said another former cycling outlaw, Devon Yates. "It would have been ideal for the city to apologize."
The city did -- sort of. When the four went to pay their court costs they learned that the judge had dropped even that penalty. Defendant Zach Voltas said he was already planning to ride in the next Critical Mass event. Lawyer Kreisman was happy with her payment, which Yates manufactured from spare parts. But does Kreisman ride?
"No comment," she said. "I'm going to try to learn now."