(Hal receives a ticket from the Santa Monica Police Department at Santa Monica Critical Mass)
Whether Santa Monica wants it or not, whether it’s true or not, the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) is perpetuating the message “cyclists aren’t welcome in Santa Monica.” Probably the only people ignoring them are the participants in Santa Monica Critical Mass (SMCM.)
Pictured above is Hal, receiving a ticket for initially positioning himself to make a left turn, and then not making it. Is it a legitimate ticket? Maybe it is, but as commenters on LAist have pointed out, this is a ridiculously minor infraction, committed by Metro Los Angeles motorists on an almost mile by mile basis. If police were ticketing motorists for this kind of infraction, the SMPD traffic division would be richer than Homeland Security, and just as ridiculous. As it is, they’re just ridiculous.
Check out this photo, shot a moment later:
You’ll note a young hottie exiting her swanky SUV (please God, let it be an Escalade.) Now what do you think she thought? Do you think she thought “that anarchist no good scum from the immensely evil public safety hazard Critical Mass is getting just what he deserves”? Or did she think “a cyclist is getting ticketed by three cops?”
See, I think she thought the latter. I don’t think people really have the information to differentiate between the righteously just Captain America ticketing of evil Mass riders, and the frivolous ticketing of normal cyclists (“is there such a thing as a normal cyclist?” asks SUV hottie.) I think they see cops ticketing cyclists left and right, and I think they say “man, cops sure ticket cyclists a lot – that $6 trillion a gallon is looking affordable.”
Effectively, the City of Santa Monica is fighting itself. The Planning Department is promoting cycling in order to reduce car trips, while the Police Department is spending $3000 a month to issue nine or ten highly visible tickets on shaky legal grounds. It’s an expensive and effective campaign to promote not cycling.
And while this is going on, the participants in Santa Monica Critical Mass are discovering creative tactics to keep riding and the individual riders are becoming extremely wily. When SMPD brought out ten cops in November 2007 and issued 32 citations, they were ticketing a group that wasn’t intimately familiar with the California Vehicle Code, and not the best at always having lights on their bike. Now, most of the group can recite some portion of the vehicle code, and they know exactly what kind of lights they need on their bike.
When SMPD began citing people en masse at the November 2007 ride, the group fell to pieces, and only 50% of them ended up reuniting at Windward Circle in Venice. Now, SMCM riders are using flyers to establish rendezvous points in well known locations. Thus, when people do get tickets, the group still manages to regroup. Furthermore, the group last year was loose knit, so when they were split up, cell phones weren’t always much help in reuniting the group.
Not anymore. Between June 2007, when cops start hassling SMCM, and now, the whole community around SMCM has changed. Once we were a loose knit bunch, carefree and not that sharp in sticking together or handling tickets. Now, we’re a tight knit crew of sharks who turn adversity into FUN, and are hardly shaken by police presence. Where once it was 10 cops and 32 tickets, now it’s 16 cops and less than 10 tickets. SMPD has hardened the riders of SMCM, to the point where Santa Monica’s future bike activists are an alienated, hostile, and educated team fueled by comradery, hustle, and CRANK MOB. They will be tough to appease.
You know Santa Monica, that wasn’t so bright.