Wolfpack Hustled: City Pulls Support for Marathon Crash, Threatens Legal Action

Notice of Violation Wolfpack by Damien Newton

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.

  • ubrayj02

    Please, somebody, anybody, please mention the yet another baby boomer termed-out former member of the state legislature is taking a huge dump on bicycling in Los Angeles.

    Nobody? Okay I will then.

    Add City Attorney Mike Feuer to the list that includes Koretz (Yay cars, boo Westwood bike lanes!), Curren Price (Bye bye MyFigueroa), Cedillo (Making CD1 1st in 0 bike lane projects), Herb Wesson (Here have some socks), and whoever else will run for office as a “progressive” former assembly or senate member while implementing retrograde policies from the 1950’s on our streets.

    There is a reason why groups like Bikeside were started. It is a shame we don’t have anything close to that level of organization now. All these electronic petitions I’ve been signing for the Hyperion bridge, MyFigueroa, Lankershim Blvd, the bike groups across the county – it sure is a shame that there is no clearing house for all that contact information that can be leveraged for a kick-ass grass roots “Bike the Vote” campaign in the City of LA.

    None of that can happen because … wait, why can’t it happen?

    Oh well, let’s let Mike Feuer wipe his bum with the bike plan too while he’s at it. Here, Assemblyman, I mean Senator, I mean City Attorney, I mean “You big jerk!” have another piece of the future of LA to clean up your self image with.

  • Joe Linton

    I curious what happens when a city officially cancels an unofficial event and nobody shows up (which is really to say – nobody doesn’t show – everybody shows anyway.) Will it resemble the early marathon route crashing?

  • Patrick

    At a recent appearance at the Los Feliz Improvement Assoc. meeting Feuer agreed with capt. Bert that riding on the sidewalk was illegal and neither could explain to a questioner what sharrows denoted. So much for ignorance not being an excuse to break the law!

  • rakdaddy

    I’m really torn by all this. On the one hand, I love the hell out of this event. On the other, it’s gotten so big that I can’t blame the city for bringing down the permit hammer. On the other other hand, that CM gets sanction and the Crash doesn’t is bullshit. On the other other other hand, I wish that goatfucker McCourt would just work with Wolfpack and make the Crash an official part of the Marathon. On the other other other other hand, 5,000 riders at $20 a pop means you’ve got, at least, the permit fee.

    And now I’m all out of hands.

  • Angelica

    Were there actually 5,000 riders willing to pay $20? I paid it for insurance, not for a permit.

  • Bob P

    Approximated attendance last year was 2,000 — they could cover the permit fee with a $50 registration ($20 insurance additional). Before anyone starts screaming about how outrageous that would be, consider that is costs $150 to run in the marathon.

  • mr. rollers

    The number of riders paying $20 (and getting a timing chip) was capped at 500. Riders not officially racing could pay $5 to get insurance coverage and a bib.

  • rickrise

    Critical Mass is political speech, protected under the First Amendment; even anti-CM politicians (Tom LaBonge, in my hearing at a public meeting!) have stated that they cannot legally suppress it. The whole history of CM supports this; the Marathon race has always been for fun, so it would be hard to make the argument. Even though it was traditionally part of the Marathon.

    Ubrayj02, I’ll help you with the clearinghouse idea (see his comment below), but can’t do it alone.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I thought I had heard that the LAPD was pulling support for Critical Mass as well, and being replaced by some sort of private organization?

  • davistrain

    Maybe I’m showing my age, but “Wolfpack” used to mean a group of German submarines aiming to send Allied ships to the bottom during World War II–not the sort of image calculated to win public support. And “Hustle” has both positive and negative connotations–it can mean a heads-up, aggressive attitude, especially in the world of baseball. On the other hand, it can be a synonym for a scheme of questionable legality or even prostitution. Consider that “Hustler” magazine is not something that most guys would have on display in their abodes when mother or girlfriend is visiting. And the term “Crash Race” could conjure up visions of a demolition derby for bicycles to the outside world.

  • Jose H.

    Bike advocacy groups should always have voter registration ballots at all events. Sign up cyclists to vote by mail. Next election tag a picture of your ballot with #bikeLAvotes. Show the politicians that cyclists vote.

    Cyclists may be a small percentage of Angelenos. But so few Angelenos vote, especially during City Council elections, that even a small minority can can sway an election. Why do you think so many candidates pandered to bike issues during the last election? Now holding elected officials to their campaign promises is the tough part.

  • You are showing your age. “Ceci n’est pas un pipe”

  • commentatorbot_0432

    The imperial owners of the L.A. Marathon has his finger up the Mayor’s @zz,
    just like the mayors before. Apparently L.A. Marathon wiggled that finger and got Street Services on the issue.

    I’ve been a cyclist since the 1980’s and born and raised Angeleno. Despite many, many more riders out now, Bureau of Street Services is still at it killing cyclists, and promoting cars.

    Those elected officials would tell you “You should be happy we acknowledge the existence of an official, yet powerless and budgetless cycling committee.”

    Meanwhile, I’ve registered bikethevote.org. Please come over and register and let’s see if we can coordinate a voting effort to improve bicycling in greater Los Angeles.

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