(There’s been some great coverage of both Critical Mass and the Blood In & Hit and Run protests. Check out Alex de Cordoba’s blog – the Engaged Observer – for Critical Mass coverage, as well as this Midnight Ridazz thread for a deluge of videos, and the photo gallery. WeHo Daily covered the ride and protests, as did SoCal Soft Pedal, among many others. Post your links in the comments!)
On Friday, at 7:45 pm, a thousand cyclists turned the bend and confronted a mean red sun, low in the horizon, melting West LA. The crowd slacked and quieted, drawing a deep breath while fixie punks, bike commuters, and LAPD bike patrol took in the reds.
The cyclists of Los Angeles Critical Mass paused at the corner of Venice and Crenshaw, and then turned north, heading for Beverly Hills, and a protest at the Beverly Hills Courthouse. When they entered Beverly Hills the LAPD escort peeled off, respecting the BHPD jurisdiction. 1300 cyclists, according to BHPD estimates, arrived to the sight of riot police arrayed on the courthouse steps.
The riot police wore smiles. I shook Sgt Ceja’s hand, and he reminded me that we had met on Tuesday. “We know you guys are good, we’re just here to dissuade any of the troublemakers who sometimes take advantage of large groups,” Sgt Ceja explained.
Tuesday cyclists stood on the same steps, many covered in fake blood, to protest the plague of hit and runs which afflicts this city, and which has taken down so many in the cycling community. Oddly enough, though cyclists are the first to take this issue on in recent years, they are less likely to be the victim of a hit and run. At least, according to reported collisions – 38% of all collisions in Los Angeles are hit and run whereas 23% bike involved collisions end as hit and run. Either number is obscene but it’s clear that the pain is shared – motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians can all expect to be victimized by hit and run.
With Sgt Ceja’s input we set up a PA, and speakers took to the mic. Only a hundred or so of the 1300 cyclists approached our impromptu stage, so I walked into the crowd to explain our purpose. I found out that many, maybe most, of the cyclists present are not tuned into the greater movement in Los Angeles. I gave them a crude introduction. I asked crowds of 30 or 50 cyclists if they had ever been hit, if they had been left afterward? I asked them if when they had been hit, if it hadn’t been taken seriously by the motorist or law enforcement? With each group, each time, their were nods and shouts – most everyone had been hit or had a friend who had.
It’s the sort of conversation we ought to be having in neighborhood councils and community meetings. Who has been the victim of a hit and run? What was the outcome? We can go broader – who has been the victim of a serious crash? Who feels safe on the streets when driving, walking or biking? Or broader still – who is happy with LA’s street-life?
We can ask next – do you want to do something about it? Many cyclists who I asked this question gave me puzzled looks. In talking with cyclists, and non-cyclists, I find most people haven’t considered that we could change LA’s streets. It’s taken as a given by most that our streets are unsafe, unfriendly, and dysfunctional.
The speakers argued that night that we can change our streets. They are our streets: the condition of our streets is a product of every citizen’s relationship to them. Changing them is a simple matter of changing how citizen’s use them, and that is only a matter of changing how citizen’s think of them. Readers, aren’t we all persuasive people? Can’t we change hearts and minds?
Cyclists ask for bike lanes because it offers a (perceived) safe place on the roads for cyclists. We’re told there’s no room, that our streets are built out. I don’t agree, but all we really want is safety and respect. If we have the respect of motorists, we don’t need the space. Our interest is getting safety and respect, and if we can’t get space from LADOT, we can work with LAPD to get respect.
LAPD asks for more officers because they feel it is needed to police the streets better. They’re told that there isn’t the budget for it, that we don’t have the money. What LAPD leadership wants, as I perceive it, is to be able to better police these streets. Ultimately they want a safe streetlife for Los Angelinos. If a positive relationship with cyclists, who provide another set of eyes and ears on the streets, is a way toward safer streets LAPD will pursue it.
Cyclists and LAPD have discovered a common interest in safe & respectful streetlife The next step is for motorists & pedestrians to join the cabal. Once we all make great streetlife a priority, it will become a reality.
(Dr. Alex Thompson is the President of BikesideLA.org, a cyclist advocacy organization, and the Treasure and Community Director of Mar Vista Community Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)