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Friday, July 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tense mood may prevail at downtown bike event

Seattle Times staff reporter

Bicycle riders will gather in downtown Seattle streets during today's evening commute for the first Critical Mass bicycle event since two cyclists were arrested by King County sheriff's deputies during last month's demonstration.

Cyclists, many of whom were enraged by the arrests, are predicting the largest demonstration in years. And while most are pleased with the recent decision by the King County prosecutor's office not to press felony charges against cyclist Zachary Treisman, emotions among bike enthusiasts are still running high.

Many are still worried Treisman could face misdemeanor prosecution — the case was referred to the Seattle City Attorney's Office, which is reviewing the incident. Some cyclists say the recent spotlight on Critical Mass increases awareness about the rights of cyclists; others are angrier than ever at police and drivers for what they say is a pervasive lack of road respect.

Some cyclists also worry that given the situation, unwanted, anti-cop rebel riders could create an anarchist mood at tonight's event, something more often seen at larger Critical Mass events in cities like San Francisco.

"I bet that this is the biggest Mass in years," said Joby Lafky, a software engineer and longtime Critical Mass rider. "I just hope riders approach it with the right attitude, peacefully. I hope there isn't unnecessary confrontation."

Seattle Police Department spokeswoman Deb Brown said the department would have additional officers on duty tonight to monitor the Critical Mass ride because of the expected increase in turnout. Critical Mass is held in Seattle on the last Friday of every month, usually starting at 5:30 p.m. at Westlake Center.

Treisman, 30, and another rider, 18-year-old Jason Brien, both of Seattle, were arrested on June 30 by sheriff's detectives after Brien blocked a downtown intersection to allow hundreds of bikers to stick together through changing traffic signals. The move, called "corking," is common. But it often infuriates drivers.

Brien was not charged in connection with the incident.

Critical Mass participants said the detectives, wearing plain clothes and driving an unmarked van, appeared to be motorists with a case of "road rage" over the traffic delay. A sheriff's spokesman said the four detectives, who were working as Metro Transit police, identified themselves as law-enforcement officers before arresting the men.

The Sheriff's Office contends Treisman continued to physically fight with the deputies after they identified themselves. Treisman said he stopped fighting as soon as the detectives identified themselves. Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said the department has not been asked to investigate the incident internally.

Since the arrests, bicycle blogs and Internet message boards around the region have been buzzing.

On one message board, cyclists debated whether to wear fake sheriff's badges to tonight's event to protest last month's clash. Some, though, worried the move would be interpreted as a mockery of all law enforcement, including Seattle police — who many cyclists say are supportive.

The recent arrests also ignited a long-simmering debate about whether the mass bike demonstrations are a good way for cyclists' to pursue greater respect on the road.

"CM events create hate," one person wrote on a popular cyclist site.

Charles Redell, a Critical Mass rider, said he sees last month's arrests as a civil-rights issue, not as a problem between cyclists and cops or cyclists and drivers.

"The prosecutors weighed the evidence and made the right decision, and that makes me feel good and safe in my city."

He has reconsidered how drivers perceive him since the incident, though. "I've been more aware of how I hold myself when I'm riding, making sure my hand signals are really clear," Redell said.

For other cyclists, bad feelings brought up by last month's ride still fester.

"It's kind of scary. People are arrested every single time. The cops will follow you, harass you, pick people off and give them tickets," said April Holmquist, a Capitol Hill bike-shop employee and Critical Mass rider. "There's always been tension, but this was over the top. It's just getting worse and worse."

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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