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NYPD cuts through locks as security measure before arrival of presidential motorcade

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has come under criticism from cycling campaigners and local politicians after cutting through locks and removing bicycles from a street on the route of President Obama’s motorcade when he visited the city last month.

Footage posted on the video-sharing website YouTube by New York-based direct action environmental organisation Time's Up shows officers sawing through locks on bicycles, including some parked on bike stands, on Manhattan’s East Houston Street, and putting them on to a lorry.

A spokesman for the NYPD, speaking on Saturday – before the discovery of a bomb in Times Square in which the vehicle used was a sports utility vehicle, not a bicycle – was quoted on the website of local TV channel NY1 as saying that the bicycles had been removed as a security measure.

The spokesman added that the NYPD had removed the bikes due to incidents of bicycle bombings around the world. Motor cars were also told away, and the spokesman said that signs had been put up in advance giving notice of the removals.

However, Peter Vallone, chair of New York City Council’s Public Safety Committee, believed that process of removing bicycles and cars alike could have been handled better by the NYPD.

Mr Vallone said: "Let's look at the way notice was given here. Obviously it could have been done better because there a lot of cars and bikes that were still there. Let's look at some alternatives like bomb sniffing dogs, and let's get some notice out to the people in the future. Is this going to happen every time a president comes to town? So we can work with the NYPD to make this better."

According to The New York Times’ City Room Blog, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne said in an email: “All vehicles, including 165 cars and 30 bikes were removed as a precaution in advance of the presidential motorcade. Notices were posted two days in advance, on Tuesday.”

The Deputy Commissioner attached a note detailing the history of the use of bicycle bombs in places such as Afghanistan, Germany, Iraq, India, Northern Ireland, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Local cyclists, however, dispute that adequate notice was given of the removal of the bicycles. One, 64-year-old Nat Zirata, said that a bicycle with a frame he had built himself had been removed from a signpost on East Houston, close to second avenue. “If I knew the police were coming, I would’ve moved my bike,” he said. “They should’ve given us a warning.”

Another, David Jaffe, aged 24, said that when he returned on Friday to get his bike, which he had locked to an official bike stand, he discovered it was gone, and was told by the doorman of a nearby building that the police had cut through the lock and cable and taken it away.

“The lock’s gone, the bike’s gone, no signs taped up, no warnings beforehand, no directions on where to get my bike,” Mr Jaffe said. “It was handled terribly.”

The New York Times said that while notices had gone up on East Houston warning that cars would be removed, these made no mention of bicycles, and the only sign that the bicycles could be picked up were handwritten notes saying “Retrieve Bikes from 7th Pct., [precinct]” which gave no address.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.