The Five Boro Bike Tour, New York City's annual single-day celebration of cycling, says it could go bankrupt if the NYPD forces organizers to fork over nearly $1 million for traffic control. The tour, now in its 35th year, is America's biggest cycling event, drawing 32,000-plus riders every spring for a 40-mile, car-free group ride over some of the city's most iconic thoroughfares—Sixth Avenue, FDR Drive, the Queensborough and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
This year's ride is slated for Sunday, May 5, but organizers are worried they might have to cancel. For the first time in its history, the bike tour is being classified by the city as a "non-charitable event" and thus liable for $967,534 in traffic and crowd control costs incurred by the New York Police Department.
Bike New York, the nonprofit that organizes the 5BBT, sued the city at the start of this week, alleging that it's misinterpreting a statute that governs parades and other large street events like running races and bike rides. The city says the ride is non-charitable because the proceeds are going to the same nonprofit that organizes it.
"It is difficult to understand how Bike NY, which runs a purely recreational event for those who pay to participate, can argue that the event's purpose is to raise money for charitable donations," said Gabriel Taussig, a city lawyer.
Bike New York expects to raise much of its $3.7 million annual budget—which goes towards education programs, bike riding classes and summer camp and after school programs—through the $86 entry fees collected for the Bike Tour. In 2011, the nonprofit's net income was only $589,837. To shell out for the 5BBT, it would have to drastically cut back on its programming and could potentially go bankrupt.
For now, Bike New York is hoping to pull off this year's event—just four weeks from Sunday—by suing the city to issue a permit without charging for traffic management while the case is settled in court.