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Old 01-11-06, 05:11 PM   #1
sggoodri
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NY Judge: Group cyclists guilty of impeding traffic

A copy of the January 9, 2006 Decision in People v. Bezjak is available online at: http://www.oliverandoliverlaw.com/ORAM.pdf .

After reading the entire ruling, I am quite concerned about the following part:

Quote:
The Charge of Obstructing Vehicular and Pedestrian Traffic (PL 240.20(5))...Bicycles are vehicles entitled to the use of the public roads. However, from a practical perspective, they differ in important respects from motorized vehicles. They generally move at a slower speed than cars, and bicyclists are more vulnerable to injury. These distinctions are recognized in the traffic rules that provide special lanes for bicycles and, in the absence of such lanes, require that they travel at the margins of the highway. These regulations serve the dual purpose of affording bicyclists a measure of protection at the same time that they structure a traffic flow less likely to be impeded by slower moving vehicles.
...
Here, the evidence established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that each of the eight defendants were participants in a group of at least fifty bicyclists and, as part of that group, rode their bikes in a manner which obstructed the flow of vehicular traffic. Accordingly, each of the defendants is found guilty of violating Penal Law Section 240.20(5).

So in other words, the judge has decided that cyclists can be ticketed for slowing down traffic. This has serious implications for any group of cyclists.

-Steve Goodridge
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Old 01-11-06, 05:27 PM   #2
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From New York State DOT's bicycle and pedestrian page

Section 1234. Riding on roadways, shoulders, bicycle lanes and bicycle paths.
(a) Upon all roadways, any bicycle shall be driven either on a usable bicycle lane or, if a usable bicycle lane has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right- hand shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic except when preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge. Conditions to be taken into consideration include, but are not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or traffic lanes too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side-by-side within the lane.
(b) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast. Persons riding bicycles upon a shoulder, bicycle lane or bicycle path intended for the use of bicycles may ride two or more abreast if sufficient space is available, except when passing a vehicle, bicycle or pedestrian standing or proceeding along such shoulder, lane or path, persons riding bicycles shall ride single file. Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall ride single file when being overtaken by another vehicle.
(c) Any person operating a bicycle who is entering the roadway from a private road, driveway, alley or over a curb shall come to a full stop before entering the roadway.
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Old 01-11-06, 05:58 PM   #3
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The judge did nothing of the sort. The judge ruled that the defendents and indeed the entire group of cyclists were riding in a manner designed to block traffic and provoke public disorder - and I agree with his ruling. Having a right to the road is far different than having any right to purposely impede traffic and provoke public disorder. If a group of peds, or indeed motorists, had exhibited the same behavior, the result would have been the same. Remember, there was no permit issued, which would have made the imposition to traffic legal.

You also failed to mention how the judge did cyclists and everyone a favor by dismissing the charges concerning NYC's parade permitting scheme.

This is the problem I have with so-called advocates of cycling or any other bent - your spinning of facts in order to evoke emotional responses in support of your cause makes you no better than any other politician. People are capable of honest debate on issues and making their own decisions without attempted manipulation by dishonest advocates.

Cyclists are subject to the same laws as anyone else, no matter which way to try to spin it. I'm becoming more and more convinced that CM is doing more to hurt cyclists than to help.
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Old 01-11-06, 06:05 PM   #4
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I think you may be trying to push the slippery slope argument. And I agree, except against what you're probably thinking.
This is more about making sure these idiots don't block traffic for no good reason.
Take the lane if you have to, hell stay in the lane if you can't move over (I usually point out bad road conditions so drivers know the reason why I'm blocking the one and only lane of traffic for an extended period of time), but for the love of god don't block the whole road and make every vehicle wait behind you at 15mph.
Hell I'd be pissed too if I were on my BIKE and a bunch of idiots decided to go 15mph and block the entire road.
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Old 01-11-06, 06:07 PM   #5
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There goes CM in NJ.
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Old 01-11-06, 06:10 PM   #6
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Isn't this a moot point anyways, since bicyclist have to follow the same laws as cars, isn't there a law that allows the police to ticket cagers if they slow down traffic as well which means they can already ticket cyclist from doing the same thing?
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Old 01-11-06, 06:35 PM   #7
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Wouldn't it be a funny CM if everyone rode no more than two abreast?
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Old 01-11-06, 06:49 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hawkear
Wouldn't it be a funny CM if everyone rode no more than two abreast?
Oh yeah, nothing can go wrong with this brilliant plan of yours. Yeah, the authorities won't mind at all, just like they didn't mind CM at the RNC last summer. Brilliant...
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Old 01-11-06, 06:59 PM   #9
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I'm just saying it might be funny. I'm not trying to make any sarcastic remarks or anything. I realize that no matter what, the NYPD will probably be hassling and/or arresting people at CM.
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Old 01-11-06, 07:13 PM   #10
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I just went through the manual for biking in PA., they say we are to be considered another car on the road. We are to ride in the correct lanes. To put us off to the sides of the road is just dangerous! I know I've almost been hit. This ruling really burns me up! If the courts and the law won't respect us and our rights to be on the roads, how can we expect the cars on the road to!
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Old 01-11-06, 07:19 PM   #11
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I went to one critical mass. It consisted of blocking rush hour traffic on a friday afternoon,ignoring traffic signals ,spitting on cars and calling the cops pigs.

That was real frigging productive Calling the same people who are protecting you from 10,000 pissed off SUV drivers "Pigs"
I didn't stick around for the end.

For sure not all the Critical Mass rides have that behavior but one was enough to turn me off.
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Old 01-11-06, 07:22 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chipcom
The judge did nothing of the sort. The judge ruled that the defendents and indeed the entire group of cyclists were riding in a manner designed to block traffic and provoke public disorder - and I agree with his ruling.

You also failed to mention how the judge did cyclists and everyone a favor by dismissing the charges concerning NYC's parade permitting scheme.
I don't think Steve is trying to take things out of context by quoting that one paragraph. Rather, I see it as a warning that a future court case could use this paragraph and apply it out of context to non-Critical Mass cyclists.
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Old 01-11-06, 07:31 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 531phile
There goes CM in NJ.
I am wondering...have all CM rides been based in urban areas? Have they ever do rides in rural areas, perhaps on roads that would be great roads for cycling, but have a reputation for being dangerous? I know the most pressing commuting problems are in the cities, so would not be surprised at an urban focus.

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Old 01-11-06, 07:43 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LCI_Brian
I don't think Steve is trying to take things out of context by quoting that one paragraph. Rather, I see it as a warning that a future court case could use this paragraph and apply it out of context to non-Critical Mass cyclists.
Reading the entire decision I don't see that. This is a NY court interpreting NY law and the statement Steve cited was not the reason they were found guilty, but merely an affirmation of current NY law (already cited by Hartmann) leading to the crux of the issue - that the cyclists were blocking the entire road, not paying heed to traffic signs/signals and doing so to provoke public disorder. The current law already applies to future NY cases and doubt a court in another state is going to cite another state's law in contradiction to it's own. Come guys, I know you are smart enough to know that a rain drop is not grounds to sound the alarm that the sky is falling.
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Old 01-11-06, 07:46 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spikenride55
I just went through the manual for biking in PA., they say we are to be considered another car on the road. We are to ride in the correct lanes. To put us off to the sides of the road is just dangerous! I know I've almost been hit. This ruling really burns me up! If the courts and the law won't respect us and our rights to be on the roads, how can we expect the cars on the road to!
This is NY, not PA. A PA judge is not going to base a decision on NY law in contradiction to the laws of PA. Take a breath, nobody is threatening your right to the road here and the issue is moot in NY where the law is already on the books. Of course you could send cash to a NY advocacy group with the intent to fund an effort to rewrite their current law.
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Old 01-11-06, 08:11 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spikenride55
I just went through the manual for biking in PA., they say we are to be considered another car on the road. We are to ride in the correct lanes. To put us off to the sides of the road is just dangerous! I know I've almost been hit. This ruling really burns me up! If the courts and the law won't respect us and our rights to be on the roads, how can we expect the cars on the road to!
Did you miss this paragraph?

Summary :IF you can keep up with traffic you can take the lane , if not you keep right.


"(c) Slower than prevailing speeds.-- A pedalcycle operated at slower than prevailing speed shall be operated in accordance with the provisions of Section 3301(b), unless it is unsafe to do so.

[3301(b). Vehicle proceeding at less than normal speed.
Upon all roadways, any vehicles proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place under the conditions than existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into an alley, private road or driveway. This subsection does not apply to a driver who must necessarily drive in a lane other than the right-hand lane to continue on his intended route.

Comment: Taken together, 3505 (c) and 3301 (b) state that slower vehicles should keep to the right, which is the normal expectation of all road users, while permitting bicyclists to make movements consistent with their intended route.
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Old 01-11-06, 08:15 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LCI_Brian
I don't think Steve is trying to take things out of context by quoting that one paragraph. Rather, I see it as a warning that a future court case could use this paragraph and apply it out of context to non-Critical Mass cyclists.
Right; the judge opined that the side-of-the-road requirements and development of bike lanes were evidence that the traffic law is intended to prevent bicyclists from delaying motorists, and that if cyclists operate such that motor traffic is delayed, they violate the ordinance. The judge cited operating with a large group of cyclists as one way that the cyclist could be cited, since in that case the group delays the motorists. But the judge or another reading his opinion might also conclude that cycling alone on a narrow two-lane road would also be a violation, since the same effect - slowing motor traffic - occurs.

I find it ironic that the judge did such a good job of identifying the practical and constitutional problems with NYC's parade ordinance based first amendment grounds - including the fact that cyclists who join the ride could not be assumed to know that no permit was obtained and that joining the ride would be a violation - and yet, he did not apply the same logic to the impeding traffic charge. He finds the individual cyclists guilty of impeding traffic simply for being on the road at the same time as the rest of the group. If the parade permit ordinance is believed to have a "chilling" effect on cyclists wishing to join the other cyclists and exercise their first amendment rights as the judge states, doesn't his interpretation of the impeding traffic law do the exact same thing? If the other cyclists have a parade permit, then the impeding traffic ordinance does not apply, so why should the law make me fear an impeding traffic ticket by not knowing the status of their permit? And why should I be prohibited from following the same path as the other cyclists just because I am on a bike, when a motorist would not be charged for the same action?

It seems to me that the judge has ruled that cyclists are not really legitimate "traffic", i.e. the presence of other bicycles on the road makes it a crime to ride near them. Rather, he has ruled that CM is a parade, and that while the NYC parade ordinance is overbearing and too vague, cyclists who ride together will still be in violation if they affect the convenience of motorists. This is a violation that motorists have never been charged with, even when their numbers cause other road users inconvenience.

Last edited by sggoodri; 01-11-06 at 08:21 PM.
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Old 01-11-06, 08:17 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chipcom
This is a NY court interpreting NY law and the statement Steve cited was not the reason they were found guilty, but merely an affirmation of current NY law (already cited by Hartmann) leading to the crux of the issue - that the cyclists were blocking the entire road, not paying heed to traffic signs/signals and doing so to provoke public disorder. The current law already applies to future NY cases and doubt a court in another state is going to cite another state's law in contradiction to it's own. Come guys, I know you are smart enough to know that a rain drop is not grounds to sound the alarm that the sky is falling.
But NY already has a law on the books prohibiting two abreast. Why couldn't the court simply reference the two abreast law, rather than go on about "special lanes" and the "margins of the highway", which are clearly not relevant here? That's what I find disturbing.

(Edit: I posted this before reading Steve's reply.)
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Old 01-11-06, 08:21 PM   #19
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Keep in mind that New York has the nation's most restrictive anti-cycling laws. It is one of six states that mandate bike lane use, and has a unusual clause in its law saying bicycles must be ridden "in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic." In addition, local jurisdictions have the right to "order signs or markings to identify the portion of the highway to be used for bicycle travel."

This page http://www.geocities.com/fredoswald/law-reform.html grades the bicycling laws of various states. New York got an F-.

On the bright side, on an absolute scale New York's law is still not that restrictive. I would imagine that most people who are not regulars here believe such a law is the norm nationwide.
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Old 01-11-06, 08:40 PM   #20
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Maybe in other states, unfortunately, CM really did a number between cyclist-police relations last year, I'd prefer to stay out of it.
Pissing off motorists I'm used to. Pissing off cops I'd rather not, yet, anyway.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hawkear
I'm just saying it might be funny. I'm not trying to make any sarcastic remarks or anything. I realize that no matter what, the NYPD will probably be hassling and/or arresting people at CM.
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Old 01-11-06, 09:12 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hartmann
From New York State DOT's bicycle and pedestrian page

Section 1234. Riding on roadways, shoulders, bicycle lanes and bicycle paths.
(a) Upon all roadways, any bicycle shall be driven either on a usable bicycle lane or, if a usable bicycle lane has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right- hand shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic except when preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge. Conditions to be taken into consideration include, but are not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or traffic lanes too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side-by-side within the lane.
(b) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast. Persons riding bicycles upon a shoulder, bicycle lane or bicycle path intended for the use of bicycles may ride two or more abreast if sufficient space is available, except when passing a vehicle, bicycle or pedestrian standing or proceeding along such shoulder, lane or path, persons riding bicycles shall ride single file. Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall ride single file when being overtaken by another vehicle.
(c) Any person operating a bicycle who is entering the roadway from a private road, driveway, alley or over a curb shall come to a full stop before entering the roadway.
Doesn't apply in NYC, not even a little:

NYC DOT traffic rules, section 4-02, paragraph (e):
Quote:
State law provisions superceded. Pursuant to authority provided by section 1642 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, the following provisions of such law shall not be effective in the City of New York: sections 1112... 1234
Study after study after study has shown that Critical Mass in NYC, in terms of real driver hours added to congestion, has a traffic-inducing effect so minor as to be effectively nil - so low, in fact, that the traffic congestion added by CM could be more than negated by enforcing the law against mobile billboards in the city. Removing just two mobile billboards (or two semi trucks, or four panel trucks, or six SUVs) operating duing rush hour on weekdays over the course of the month would reduce traffic load more than eliminating Critical Mass. Even the most extreme of the City's experts have testified to Critical Mass having an impact less than 30% higher than that in the mobile-billboard example cited.

At any rate, this decision looks to me like a real victory for the CM legal defense team. IANAL, but I think there's plenty of reason to believe the one charge on which they were found guilty will not stand on appeal.
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Old 01-11-06, 10:46 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hartmann
From New York State DOT's bicycle and pedestrian page

Section 1234. Riding on roadways, shoulders, bicycle lanes and bicycle paths.
(a) Upon all roadways, any bicycle shall be driven either on a usable bicycle lane or, if a usable bicycle lane has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right- hand shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic except when preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge. Conditions to be taken into consideration include, but are not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or traffic lanes too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side-by-side within the lane.
(b) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast. Persons riding bicycles upon a shoulder, bicycle lane or bicycle path intended for the use of bicycles may ride two or more abreast if sufficient space is available, except when passing a vehicle, bicycle or pedestrian standing or proceeding along such shoulder, lane or path, persons riding bicycles shall ride single file. Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall ride single file when being overtaken by another vehicle.
(c) Any person operating a bicycle who is entering the roadway from a private road, driveway, alley or over a curb shall come to a full stop before entering the roadway.
this is superceded by city law, which permits more than two abreast.
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Old 01-11-06, 11:10 PM   #23
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VTL 1234 has no applicability in the City of New York, which is the very first thing the City admitted in the first hearing in the Bray lawsuit.

Its closest local analogue is Section 4-12(p) of the DOT Rules, which is much more permissive in terms of cyclists' freedom of movement, recognizing the unique traffic hazards that face them in New York City. In Bray, we submitted evidence that the intent of the Rule was to keep cars out of substandard bike lanes, not to confine bikes within easy range of dooring. How does the Rule read to you alongside the more restrictive State law requirement?

I believe we mounted a strong defense to the disorderly conduct charges. The "voluminous" papers we submitted are here if folks are interested in reviewing them.
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Old 01-11-06, 11:39 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chipcom
Reading the entire decision I don't see that. This is a NY court interpreting NY law and the statement Steve cited was not the reason they were found guilty, but merely an affirmation of current NY law (already cited by Hartmann) leading to the crux of the issue - that the cyclists were blocking the entire road, not paying heed to traffic signs/signals and doing so to provoke public disorder. The current law already applies to future NY cases and doubt a court in another state is going to cite another state's law in contradiction to it's own. Come guys, I know you are smart enough to know that a rain drop is not grounds to sound the alarm that the sky is falling.
Precedent is precedent, and this is new precedent.

Not only is this ruling alarming, your lack of alarm is alarming too.

Read this again, forgetting the context. When judges make general statements like this, they have general applicability outside of the specific context in which they are made:
Quote:
[Bicycles] generally move at a slower speed than cars, and bicyclists are more vulnerable to injury. These distinctions are recognized in the traffic rules that provide special lanes for bicycles and, in the absence of such lanes, require that they travel at the margins of the highway. These regulations serve the dual purpose of affording bicyclists a measure of protection at the same time that they structure a traffic flow less likely to be impeded by slower moving vehicles.
The assertion that bicyclists are safer in the bike lanes or "at the margins" has no factual basis, ignores the overwhelming factor of intersections in cyclist safety, and in fact, is contradicted by every study I'm aware of.

The attitude here is eerily reminiscent of the CHP officer who said that cyclists have an obligation to stay out of the way of cars.

The sky might not be falling, but these drips from the ceiling indicate the roof is leaking, and if we just ignore it, it's only to get worse and worse.
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Old 01-11-06, 11:43 PM   #25
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These distinctions are recognized in the traffic rules that provide special lanes for bicycles and, in the absence of such lanes, require that they travel at the margins of the highway.
Once again, (this time cited in a legal decision), the mere existence of bike lanes functions to reinforce the notion that cycling outside of the bike lanes is unsafe and/or inappropriate.

The mere existence of bike lanes is obviously a major factor behind this decision. Drip, drip...

Last edited by Helmet Head; 01-11-06 at 11:53 PM.
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