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Motorcyclists Rev Up For “Canceled” Event

Wheelie_standing_720_639_88_sha-100 By Sam Gurwitt New Haven Indpendent.jpg
Sam Gurwitt
New Haven Independent
“Controlled chaos” at 2020 version of the EastCoastin' motorcycle event.

New Haven declared a motorcycle event planned for this coming Saturday “canceled.”

Someone forgot to tell the thousands of hog riders and fans still expected to converge on the city, or the hotels that have run out of available rooms.

The event is called EastCoastin’. It draws stunt riders and cycling enthusiasts to city streets from early afternoon until dusk. They tear up the road, have some fun.

The event has taken place around this time every year since 2016. It grew from 300 to 600 to 1,500 participants, with 3,000 expected this year, according to organizer Gabe Canestri Jr., a High School in the Community grad who works with the EastCoastin’ group.

In some years, the organizers developed an understanding, sometimes tacit, sometimes spelled out, with the police: They’d contain their activity to little-traveled industrial streets in the Annex. They’d keep it safe and nonviolent; police would show up to coordinate checkpoints, keep traffic flowing, enforce laws. Officers ended up posing for photos with the bikers, who in turn praised the police.

Click here for a story about how that deal was first struck. Click here and here to read about two previous gatherings.

This year the Elicker administration and police brass made it clear that there will be confrontation, not cooperation, if the motorcyclists proceed with their plans.

At a recent press conference with the mayor, Police Chief Renee Dominguez reiterated the message. “That event is canceled. There is not a permit for that. It is canceled. We will have a detail that day to make sure of the safety of the residents in case individuals do gather. We will be enforcing” laws at the event, she vowed. (Her comments on the subject begin at the 17:15 point in this video.)

The group plans to gather, as it has in past years, by the Hole in the Wall motorcycle club on Forbes Avenue and rev up their engines on the industrial streets nearby.

So the city is planning a large police presence ready to make mass arrests.

The event was originally scheduled for the first weekend in September. Canestri said that at the city’s unofficial request he moved it to this coming weekend, so as not to conflict with the Labor Day Road Race.

“We’re going to have some kind of party. We’re off the grid. People are still coming,” Canestri said. He predicted the activities would run through the afternoon until sundown.

Another person close to the planning process conveyed a message to the Independent that the Hell’s Angels and the affiliated Red Devils have committed to have members “from several states” provide “tight security” at the event in the absence of police cooperation: “They will hold people off of Forbes Avenue. They’re asking for the back roads where the [New Haven] Terminal is,” and tanker trucks “can use the road where the bridge goes in and out.” Companies along the harbor have been complaining for years about both the annual event as well as cyclists tearing up and down the streets at other times to practice stunts.

“We’re clear that this group does not collaborate with the police and does not follow the law,” Elicker maintained.

He characterized the city’s approach to this year’s planned gathering as part of an ongoing safe-streets campaign.

In “every neighborhood, I hear from people who are concerned about this activity,” Elicker said.

“We have worked hard to confront drag racing that was a major problem last year, dirt bike and ATV riding. These are very difficult challenges to address. We have made progress on them. We often have to use creative solutions to respond.”

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