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: ##
Last month's Critical Mass. Photo: ##

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.

  • Ross Hirsch

    Not sure it was stated clear enough in the article, but let me clarify for anyone that might be riding on Friday:

    Riders, beware of running red lights. Last month LAPD gave out plenty of citations for red-light running (regardless of the confusion presented by LAPD’s sometimes-corking intersections). The unofficial tally was somewhere between 30-50. So, if you choose to run red lights, watch out for cars–and watch out for LAPD.

  • Marcotico

    On an unrelated note, there were about 15-20 riders wearing matching LA Police t-shirts on MS100 Bay to Bay (Irvine to San Diego) charity ride on Oct. 15th. I spoke to a couple of them, and they didn’t come from any one particular department or division, but rather seemed to just be recreational riders who happened to be police people. The two guys I talked to were not aware of the Critical Mass / Police connection or knew Sgt. Krumer (it is a big force).

    Both of them spoke very highly of Chief Beck, and said he is well respected by the beat officers. One of them said, Bratton was a really smart guy, but didn’t have the connection with the force, whereas Beck is both smart and really earns the police’s respect. Good to hear, that what he says reconates.

  • Anyone want to take estimates at the crowd on Friday?

    My bet, if it rains, about 500 people.

  • Ross Hirsch

    Riding in the rain is wonderful.

    Fenders and any any old raincoat will do the trick. Wider tires is also a bonus. Sure, you’ll get wet, and so will your bike, but it all dries. Trust me on that.

  • I attended an Emergency meeting with the LAPD last month about a week before the September Critical Mass.

    The LAPD reps in the room Sgt. Krumer and Commander Viegas spoke candidly to a few invited members of the cycling community that they thought could be influential in communicating some important messages to the mass.

    They said that LAPD was intent on cracking down on double yellow violations and corking.

    Most of us in the room considered those to be reasonable requests. But more importantly we all felt very strongly that whatever LAPD was planning to do the Mass should be well informed.

    We offered the suggestion of making a spoke-card for the ride to communicate those goals. LAPD generously offered to print the spokecard, if we designed it and some of our people would handle the cutting & lamination (thanks MOM Ridaz).

    I would say that the bike community went way out of its way to try and get the majority of LACM riders on the same page as LAPD in terms of what to expect for the ride.

    Needless to say it was a great disappointment to many of us that LAPD ticketed lots of riders for violations other than 2x yellow violations such as red light tickets after LAPD had been facilitating red-light running at many intersections throughout the ride. (We have been waiting about 3 weeks weeks to get an official breakdown of the various citations).

    In addition LAPD intentionally and aggressively broke up the ride by posting cruisers at red lights and driving into intersections with the light cycle to force oncoming bike traffic to stop for fresh reds. (Call it reverse-corking)

    All in all, at least from my perspective LAPDs actions were quite different than what they broadcast to us days prior.

    And for the record.
    Nobody who has taken initiative to liaison with police considers them-self to be a “leader” of critical mass (much to the dismay of LAPD who would love to deal with a “leader”)

    In the culture of critical mass “leader” is actually a pejorative referring to somebody who is trying to “lead” a leaderless, non-hierarchical, happening.

    Many people, including myself, who have been involved with communicating directly with the police are not even hard core LACM riders. What we are, are people who love and appreciate critical mass as an important community asset and want to make sure that the people who come out on this ride understand what to expect from the police, who have decided to insert themselves into the ride.
    We also want the police understand that this is not a mob of angry protesters but by and large a group of citizens who love LA and want to exercise their right to safely ride these streets with out being terrorized by aggressive drivers or hassled by the police (and hopefully want have a little fun out there while we are at it. This is LA after all).

    LAPD built up some community capital this summer by helping to “host” some of the funnest Critical Masses in recent memory. But much of that good will was squandered last month by heavier handed enforcement and control of the ride than many of us considered to be necessary (wether by design, happenstance, or failure).

    We will have to see how they continue adapt to monitoring and trying to control a cultural virus, that from its very inception, was structured as a free speech outlet that is very difficult for governments to monitor, change, or control.

  • Patrick,

    Great comment. I hope I haven’t tried to imply that CM has any leader, in fact its leaderlessness is one of the things that make it such a great outlet for a civil protest of the way Los Angeles.

  • patrick

    Sgt Krumer told me that 51 tickets were issued and suggested that that was not a big number considering there were 1500+ riders (that works out to about 3%).

    Imagine if everyone faced a 3% chance of a ticket for every twentyfive miles you drove or rode. Within months every licence in the state would be revoked because of too many DMV points.

    I remasin convinced that LACM riders were baited and then trapped by the LAPD behavior last month. I would stay away this month if I didn’t think that that was exactly what the LAPD wanted.

  • It’s a neat tactic, to act like a leader, talk like a leader, and then deny that you are a leader. I am not sure it really matters, but it is really funny.

  • Will Campbell

    StreetsblogLA wrote: “After all, judgment call or not, bicycles are vehicles…”

    Technically (and perhaps semantically) bicycles are not considered vehicles in the state of California. A bicycle is classified in the vehicle code as a “device,” which many consider a bureaucratic term for “toy.”


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