Harkening back to an era of conflict and anger between the city’s bicycling advocates and law enforcement, the City of Los Angeles has pulled support for the popular Marathon Crash Race, held in the early morning before the L.A. City Marathon along the already blocked-off route. The above letter, sent to Don “Roadblock” Ward, confirmed that any attempt to continue to organize the Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash race would result in arrests, both for Ward personally and cyclists that showed up to the event.
Ward saw no alternative. Yesterday he announced that L.A.’s second most popular open streets event would be cancelled.
This marks an abrupt turnaround for the city. In recent years, the city tacitly supported the Hustle’s Crash Race, providing a police escort and a pat on the back. However, earlier this week that all changed when Ward received a phone call from Gary Harris, Chief of Investigation and Enforcement for the Bureau of Street Services. Harris told Ward to cease and desist from promotion and planning immediately unless he obtained a permit, to the tune of approximately $100,000. The promise of a police escort was pulled.
In an email interview, Ward emphasized repeatedly that the LAPD is not to blame for the city’s change of heart. “The LAPD was great, they were put in a tough spot,” he writes.
So what’s the big deal? I mean, the BSS and the rest of city enforcement are correct. This is an unpermitted event, right?
Well, sort of.
Traditionally, the organizers of the L.A. Marathon held their own bicycle event in the early morning before the marathon. After the Marathon organizers cancelled the bicycle portion of the event, cyclists showed up anyway to ride the route as both a protest and because it was safe and fun. Seeing the crowds getting too big to ride the route safely, Ward used the banner of Wolfpack Hustle to organize the “Marathon Crash Race.”
The Wolfpack was the perfect organization to take a leadership role. Its outlaw roots in Midnight Ridazz gave it credibility with the thousands of riders who were already showing up. Its professional contacts as a racing organization and Ward’s contacts with LAPD made it a good fit to work with the city.
For a couple of bucks, riders would get a ride card and police escort to insure a safe and legal way to ride the route. An estimated 5,000 riders showed up for the 26-mile race last year. There were no reports of serious injury or road rage incidents. A success.
The event helps raise the Wolfpack Hustle’s profile. More than that, organizing the “Crash Race” was about taking something unsafe for bicyclists, the rebel ride that was happening already, and making it safe.
“The risks [of an unorganized ride] not just to the riders but uninvolved drivers and pedestrians is huge,” writes Ward. “These are folks who are not expecting a mob of cyclists to be coming through an intersection.”
For a city claiming that it’s trying to make the streets of Los Angeles safe by cracking down on pedestrians safely crossing the street against a flashing red signal, the decision to threaten legal action against Ward makes little sense. Given Ward’s history–he had to basically solve his own hit-and-run crash when the city threw up its hands–being threatened legal action for organizing a race that all involved agree was making the streets safer must be especially frustrating.
Some are wondering why the city provided an escort for Critical Mass for three years and balks at this once-a-year event.
“Nothing against Critical Mass, but how the hell does the city allow CM to go on when it obstructs automotive traffic for a large section of the city during rush hour for like 4 hours, but they are against a ~1 hour event where people ride on empty streets at fucking 4am in the morning when half the city is asleep,” wrote an anonymous commenter on Facebook.
It also sends a message that is constantly reinforced when streets are closed for special events and film screenings but are only opened for non-motorized users a couple of times a year at CicLAvia. Councilmember Garcetti might have claimed that these our “our streets” at open streets events such as Art Cycle, but even under Mayor Garcetti the streets are still up for sale. An attempt to co-opt them for non-motorized use, even on a closed course, is met with legal retaliation.
The only question remaining is whether or not instead of a well-organized race the city will be faced with an unorganized mob. Some of L.A.’s more rebellious cyclists are loudly proclaiming their intent to ride anyway. All the city did was remove the organizing to make the ride safe.