Santa Monica Critical Mass RANT

By Alex Thompson

Santa Monica Critical Mass - October 03, 2008 - DSC_5736

(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:

Santa Monica Critical Mass - October 03, 2008 - DSC_5752

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.

Santa Monica Critical Mass - October 03, 2008 - DSC_5836

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.

Something Else Ride - October 03, 2008 - DSC_6071

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11 Responses to “Santa Monica Critical Mass RANT”

  1. That SUV is definitely a Ford (or a Chevy).

  2. Being fairly new, I really appreciate how you’ve defined the evolution of SMCM. Thanx!

    Also, how did you come up with the number of the SMPD spending $3000 a month?

  3. @Kryxtanicole

    LAist editor Zach Behrens did SMCM a mitzvah by requesting the information under the Freedom of Information Act:

    http://laist.com/2008/09/05/smpd_vs_critical_mass.php

    @E-Rock

    I think it’s a Ford = I think you’re right.

  4. I still find it amazing that the SMPD wastes everyone’s time with this. When I do SMCM, I usually stick towards the back and wait near people as they get tickets so they don’t feel isolated when they’re being harassed for no reason by Santa Monica’s Finest.

    My favorite ticket from last month was a young woman, who must have been younger than 18, who was ticketed for not having a helmet on. The officer took over 20 minutes to write the ticket, and while he was stalling (and checking out her bike for any other minor infraction) I observed cars double parking in front of the restaurant less than 10 feet from where the ticket was being handed out with no movement from the police.

    Restaurant customers asked me what was going on as they left the restaurant and we had a variation of this conversation everytime.

    Patron: What’s going on?
    Me: The police are harassing a cyclist?
    Patron: Why? Shouldn’t they be encouraging people to ride bikes?
    Me: Santa Monica only wants people to bike if they are well to do and dress a certain way.

    And what did the young lady that was ticketed learn? She learned that there is a big difference between the law and justice.

  5. I’m glad that you stay behind like that. I think I worry most that people feel abandoned. I’d be mad as hell if I got a ticket and no one stayed behind.

  6. The city of Newport Beach and NBPD is a similar scenario to Santa Monica and the SMPD pursuing bicyclists. Bicycles making left-turns on red arrows with no traffic are the strongest revenue generator with the little effort because the NBPD earns a pseudo-vehicle citation. The state of California has Law AB-1581 for the first placement or replacement of traffic-activated signals to detect bicyclists. But I have only found one left-turn signal in Newport that detects bicycles, and it is using older technology rather than the new embedded wire loops and quadruples. For many years, a left-turn traffic signal to a nature preserve used by hundreds of bicyclists on weekends detected bicycles upon entering the left lane. Newport Beach Principal Civil Engineer Tony Brine and Traffic Engineer George Bernard sent me an e-mail that the traffic signal to a heavily ridden bicycling preserve had been set back to not detect bicycles. A concern could be safety or perhaps another revenue opportunity with the preserve being nearby the police headquarters. Officer David Darling chased my dilapidated mountain bike on a Christmas weekend with no traffic and a green through light. He apparently chases so many bicycles that his procedure is decisively efficient. His opening question was whether I owned a car despite my being middle-aged. He never told me what the violation was. He put his head down to my bicycle seat tool-bag as if to search for a driver’s license. He interrogated why I could not remember my car’s license plate number. He was going for the vehicle citation to a bicyclist. He encircled “medium traffic” on the ticket possibly because his motorcycle qualified to be mid-heavy when there is no traffic. Despite California Law AB-1581 for bicycle signal detection, Sergeant Mike James told me in a telephone call that motorcycle police enforce state laws and chase bicyclists on left-turn arrows regardless of signal detection, no traffic, and a green through light. Traffic Services Commander Lieutenant Steve Shulman sent me a letter advocating that bicycles should dismount to use crosswalks after testing the traffic signal. In a telephone call with Lt. Shulman, he asked me where I lived. He laughed at my reply, probably because I did not appear to be an upscale Newport land baron. I have tried his method of using crosswalks, but drivers are making gestures of disapproval. And Newport is a family and fitness-oriented city with car drivers being bicycle-friendly. Mayor Pro Tem Ed Selich who drives a motorcycle agreed that Newport signals are not detecting two-wheelers, but he ignored involvement. The city continues the business model for generating revenue from bicycle citations.

  7. Ford Explorer SUV… SMCM 5th anniversary in 4 hours, hope the rain dies down.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Mama said there’d be days like this, too. « BikingInLA - October 8th, 2008

    [...] tells the story of S.M.P.D.’s hassling of Critical Mass riders, and offer’s his heartfelt opinion at the end. (Welcome back, dude – we’ve missed you.) Bike [...]

  2. An apology: Santa Monica gets bicycling right, and this writer got it wrong | Streetsblog Los Angeles - January 4th, 2013

    [...] Santa Monica certainly had its issues, like a heavy-handed crackdown on the city’s nascent — and now dead — Critical Mass, which included ticketing cyclists for things that weren’t even illegal. Not to mention a [...]

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