Previewing Friday’s (Rainy?) Critical Mass

This Friday at 7:30 P.M. riders and their police escort will pedal out of the Wilshire/Western starting point for the next chapter in the “new” Critical Mass.  Ever since the LAPD was caught on tape violently “policing” Critical Mass in May, police bicycle riders (and some using motorized vehicles) have joined the Mass to help make the protest ride as safe and smooth flowing as possible.  As word has gotten out that Critical Mass is now the safest bike ride in North America, the number of riders has swelled from a couple of hundred to an estimated 2,000 last month.

Last month's Critical Mass.  Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltarrrrr/5067169988/##Waltarr/Flickr##

Last month's Critical Mass. Photo: Waltarr/Flickr

Of course, as the ride grows it also becomes harder to police.  Last month, as police tried to maintain order, the Mass was broken up into several smaller groups criss-crossing Downtown.  Also, because the police sometimes blocked automobile traffic at intersections, a practice known as corking, and then sometimes ticketed riders for continuing through red signals; there were cries that the uneven enforcement was causing more problems than it was fixing.

Sgt. David Krumer has been the Department’s liaison between the Critical Massers and the LAPD.  I asked Krumer if there were any plans to change the way the event will be policed this month.  The answer: sort of.  LAPD officers are only allowed to cork intersections if there is a safety concern or if they are escorting a parade along a set route.  For that reason, the LAPD has tried to get ride leaders to file a permit request with a route, but the leaderless culture of Critical Mass has made it impossible to do so.

So, it looks as though Massers will again have some intersections “corked” by police and others not.  Krumer says the Department doesn’t want to give tickets to riders confused as to whether or not they should be stopping or are continuing through an intersection for safety reasons.  For those of you that have never been on a group ride, there are times where riders need to make a judgment call on whether or not they trust the riders immediately behind them to stop if the riders in the front do.

However, Krumer couldn’t guarantee that officers wouldn’t hand out tickets to red light runners.  After all, judgment call or not, bicycles are vehicles and it is illegal for any vehicle to run a red light.  In short, Krumer is promising more patience and understanding from the LAPD, but individual officers make their own decisions on when to ticket and when not to.

Of course, many of these issues may be solved by the cyclical nature of Critical Mass.  Last month, when nearly 2,000 cyclists took to the streets for Critical Mass it was warm and dry.  This Friday?  Cold, and potentially wet.  If the mass shrinks, as it has every fall in recent memory, then the ride could end up being very manageably escorted and policed without tickets even being an issue.