Bicyclists Jailed in Protest of Vetoed Bill

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Waving flags and denouncing automobile culture, Berkeley bicyclists cruised over the Bay Bridge yesterday, only to be carted off to jail when they got to San Francisco.

Of seven cyclists, five were held in San Francisco jail and two, who were picked up by the California Highway Patrol before they could get across, were held in Oakland jail.

Gov. Gray Davis' veto last Friday of a bill, which would have required every new or modified highway to include pathways for pedestrians and bike lanes, prompted the bike aficionados to take off for the bridge early yesterday morning.

"I want the ability to ride my bike to work," said Lez Badich, a Berkeley resident, from San Francisco jail.

Badich, who works at a biotechnology firm in San Francisco, said this was his first bridge ride but that he would ride the bridge every day if he could.

"The ride was fantastic," he said. "It was a beautiful day. I would recommend it to everyone. There's nothing better you can do with your bike. Up until the motorcycle cops started pointing pepper spray (canisters) in our face, it was great."

The bicyclists, engaged in a "peaceful protest," were charged with an infraction of biking on the bridge, and two misdemeanors of trespassing and failure to obey a lawful order, said San Francisco Highway Patrol Officer Mike Kent. He said he did not know if they would be out of jail by today.

"It's so criminal that they won't let us cross that bridge," said Jason Meggs, a Berkeley bicycle activist, from jail. "We weren't there to block traffic - we were there to be traffic."

Meggs said the bicyclists stayed to the right hand side of the bridge, enjoying a magnificent view, and made it across in 20 minutes - much faster, he noted, than taking BART.

He said that police confiscated their bikes, handcuffed them for hours and also charged them with a felony conspiracy charge - "symbolic of the injustice in this society." They should have been simply cited and released for a mere infraction, Meggs said.

Davis defended his veto of the bike lane bill by saying, in a statement, that he supported pedestrians and bicyclists in other bills.

"By imposing a mandate upon local governments, the bill would impose a substantial new burden upon these entities in the form of increased design and construction costs," he said.

Davis vetoed another bill that would have allocated more funds for bike trails because, he said, "the need for additional funding has not been established."

But the Bike the Bridge! Coalition, which organized yesterday's ride, said that facilities for automobiles are always given preference in government funding, even though, through air pollution and consumption of fossil fuels, cars destroy the environment.

"The right to travel under one's own power is an inalienable right which shall not be abridged," the bicyclists said in a statement. "The Bay Area should be focusing on building sustainable cities, in the form of car-free communities well served by transit."

Meggs, the East Bay coordinator for the group, said he has biked across the bridge six times, but has never been convicted of any charges. He said the last major bridge ride happened in September of 1998.

Although they sat in a "dank cell" with "crappy" food and no water, Meggs encouraged others to make the trip and said that, whether it becomes legal or not, there will be more Berkeley bicyclists crossing the bridge in the future.


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