Ticketing of Ovarian Psyco Sparks Questions About How Group Rides Should Manage Safety

A ride marshal from Clitoral Mass is ticketed for running a red light. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA
A ride marshal from Clitoral Mass is ticketed for running a red light. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

On Saturday’s Clitoral Mass ride with the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles, one of the ride marshals had a run-in with the police.

I did not witness the event, but was told by multiple sources (including one of the officers) that the Ovas had blocked traffic so that riders could continue through a red light on 7th St. in the Skid Row section of downtown. When the officers moved into the intersection to stem the flow of riders, one of the marshals went around the car. She was subsequently pulled over and cited.

Witnesses felt the officers had been a little overzealous, with the female officer nearly knocking the rider over with her door, and both preferring to hand the rider a full-fledged ticket rather than the warning she asked for.

By the time I arrived a few minutes later, the female officer was already writing the ticket out.

The exchanges between the officers and the riders were calm and courteous, with the male officer freely offering his name and badge number to those who requested it and neither officer seeming to be perturbed by the fact that they were being recorded by several people with cellphones.

That doesn’t mean the organizers and supporters of the ride weren’t frustrated, of course.

While the officers had likely felt obligated to do something about the blocking of traffic because it happened right in front of them, they could have just given the ride marshal a warning. But they made it explicit that they were choosing not to do so in this case.

I finally approached one of the officers and asked what the solution to this kind of situation was.

When ride marshals are working to keep riders together through intersections, I argued, safety is the primary concern.

A number of the women on Saturday’s ride were inexperienced and/or did not feel safe riding independently. Keeping them together helped them feel more confident and made it easier for the marshals to ensure that everyone was safe and accounted for. It also prevented dangerous situations where drivers could get between groups of riders, increasing the risk of a collision.

The officer acknowledged that the ride was well-organized and praised the group for having support cars and mechanics so people were not left to their own devices by the side of the road. But none of that meant that blocking traffic was OK.

Still pushing the safety issue, I asked about the ride I was going to go on the next day, with the East Side Riders and Los Ryderz. Those groups move through intersections like a well-oiled machine. They keep riders in one lane, keep them moving in a compact pack, and often joke and talk with drivers at intersections to explain what they are doing and build good will with the community. And because there are so few such events in South L.A. in general, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. People honk, wave, and smile at intersections, happy to see multi-generational African-American and Latino groups from the community riding together.

Nope, still not OK, I was told.

So, I turn it over to you, dear readers.

How does your group handle intersections on larger group rides? Does it vary from ride to ride? From area of the city to area of the city? Based on the composition of the group (i.e. more families/small children)? I know that certain groups do not cork intersections as a matter of policy. How is safety managed on those rides where intersections are not corked? Which kinds of rides feel safer to you?

The officer suggested rides looking to cork intersections get a parade permit and an escort, but acknowledged that might not be the most comfortable fit for groups whose communities have not had a particularly comfortable relationship with law enforcement.

Are permits and escorts the answer? Or should we be looking at lobbying for some sort of specific exemption/permit/legislation for group rides, where groups of a certain size (say, between 30 – 200?) could block traffic, but larger rides might need an escort? Should there be requirements and/or trainings for those who seek to cork intersections so it is done safely and in a timely way (i.e. stragglers two blocks back are not holding up traffic)?

Let us know your thoughts below.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I was surprised at the cavalier way that the police seemed to cork intersections when I did the rides with Tom LaBonge last summer. I think that had been the first ride I was ever on where corking happened (though I did make it to Critical Mass once).

  • westculvermonicaside

    I wonder what “authority” funeral escourts operate under when stopping traffic for a funeral procession. This is essentially the same operational model under which a group ride would cork an intersection, just without the motorcyles.

  • traal

    A parade permit and escort seems fair for when it’s needed.

    Or maybe each bicyclist should stop whenever the bicyclist behind them falls behind. Then there would be much less of a temptation to run red lights.

  • Joe B

    The drivers who illegally and dangerously force their way into the middle of a ride…do they get citations too? Why not?

    Your suggestion of a specific group ride permit is a good one, but I doubt it will ever happen. The real solution is for the police to enforce the law against dangerous drivers; once that happens, the need for corking and other lane/intersection control techniques will be greatly reduced.

    I’d like to chip in $5 towards the cost of the rider’s ticket, if it comes to that. I imagine others would too; does somebody know how to set that up?

  • Elbatmanuel

    I’ve been doing group rides in LA since 06, sometime in 08 LAPD really started to crack down and thats when they started the CriticalMass escort. For a single ride leader its always hard to manage a huge group and keep everyone together. Corking helps keep everyone together, but it is not the only way to safely manage a group ride. Having a big ride really requires many leaders, if they can break up and ride throughout the group when they separated or are held back at lights they can take over and lead that smaller group safely. Everyone regroups when they hit their scheduled stops. CriticalMass cant really do that since there is no pre planned route, but an organized ride such as ClitoralMass should have a pre planned route and organizers who can corral riders along the way. Corking isn’t always a safe practice, I’ve seen cars and corkers get into some really hairy situations, cars and the public at large generally have no idea whats going on, we are suppose to be sharing the road not taking it by force. Corking along with running red lights are the types activities that give cyclist a bad rep when the rest of the public watches us take over the road seemingly with little regard for anyone else. If you want corking get a permit and an escort, it’s not hard, it keeps riders and motorists safe, but more importantly it keep everyone equal, everyone should follow the rules.

  • Jonathan Weiss

    This is a good idea and precedent. I wish I knew the whole answer. I think there used to be a state law giving local jurisdictions power to create regulations for funeral processions and escorts. Some passed with drop-dead dates (sorry) (http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/97-98/bill/asm/ab_2501-2550/ab_2509_bill_19980914_chaptered.html) (http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billHistoryClient.xhtml). And some jurisdictions do have regulations (e.g., Turlock http://www.codepublishing.com/CA/turlock/html/Turlock04/Turlock0418.html) – although I didn’t easily find Los Angeles city or county’s.

    So, I don’t know what laws these private companies that provide funeral escorts operate under. Maybe they do and someone wants to find out. See, e.g., http://www.thefuneralsite.com/Local/Los-Angeles/Funeral-Processions.html

  • Carlos Morales

    Carlos Morales with the Eastside Bike Club, We have hosted weekly, Tuesday Night Bike Rides for over 6 years now along with numerous group rides on the weekends. The number of participants vary from a dozen people to 60 to hundreds peeps on any given week. More riders during the Summer Months, or a special occasion ride, like the “Riff Raff Ride”, “Feeder Rides to Ciclavia”, “Dodgertown Rides”, amongst others, less riders when the temperature drops.

    We cork intersections at times in all neighborhoods or LAPD Divisions across the city, as well as in the San Gabriel Valley, communities of Alhambra, San Gabriel, Tempe City, South Pasadena, Pasadena, Monterey Park, El Monte, South El Monte, Duarte, Monrovia, Sierra Madre, Covina, West Covina, Walnut, La Puente, the Southeast communities of South Gate, Bell, Huntington Park, Vernon, Bell Gardens and beyond.

    We have never encountered any resistance from Law Enforcement Officials while corking, in fact there have been times in various communities, where Law Enforcement Patrol Officers have stepped in and cork for us at busy intersections to get us across safely. We have encountered LAPD Officers as well as CHP and LA County Sheriffs and cops from each city mentioned above.

    The key word I used above was “At Times” -We do it at Dangerous intersections. Since ALL of our rides are “NO DROP RIDES” meaning No one is left behind, our group rides operate like a “Slinky” – Meaning it expands, stretches out and regroups often. If your a faster rider, you may trek up stream and circle around the group to get your workout if thats what you are up to do.

    Our rides do concentrate on SAFETY, we all wear helmets, and have lights on our bikes as many of our rides are at night. I believe when cops see that, they tend to relax a little more. If they see peeps riding with a disregard for their safety and others thats when things will become ugly and I presume cyclists will get cited.

    On the other hand there have been several occasions over the past six years, when cops pull us over because we are not in a single file, or for taking up the right lane of a two or three lane street or boulevard. Those are the times we all get our cameras and document the conversation, contact the Watch Commander and get the attention right away.

    There has been times that I personally have gone to a Police Station to talk to the Watch Commander at 11pm or 1am to discuss what the hell the officer(s) were thinking when we got harassed (We have NEVER been Cited, just Harassed over the past 6 years).

    We try to build relationships with Law Enforcement agencies, and at the same time do not hesitate to question their actions. It is a fine line to crank across. I believe our reputation of hosting SAFE GROUP RIDES speak for itself. No Major accidents, (We have had peeps fall over because they did not unclip on time -lol) We have experienced a couple of Road Rage incidents, and we try to document that as well and report those incidents to the authorities.

    Overall our experience on group rides are GREAT!

    If anyone wants to come along and experience it, you are welcomed, just bring your helmet, lights, money (because our group Rides and Eat), a cell phone, and most of all a good attitude – Expect to see lots of smiles on our rides.

    Look us up on Facebook or Meetup.com “EASTSIDE BIKE CLUB”

    -El Presidente

  • dave

    No legal authority at all. But the escorts are in many cases retired cops, and unfortunately the LAPD allows them to do whatever they want.

    Same deal with the ‘cops’ doing security for film shoots. They aren’t cops, they’re retirees, despite the uniforms and motorcycles. Legally I think are committing a felony by impersonating officers, but cops never act against their own.

  • wongwongway

    When leading a group ride my general rule is to plan regroup points and plan ride marshals that know the route within the group to become ride leaders as groups yo-yos along the route. Following the traffic laws along the way.

    I also have felt safe with police escort at least as cars go. The group itself must react to the PD’s direction. Most unrealistic after all in most instances, a bike ride is NOT a parade.

    The weekly peloton group ride of experienced riders follows basic traffic principals stopping at lights but if the light turns red the entire group continues through. Whoever is at the front of the group dictates if the group stops making sure it is clear to go. So the group acts off the front’s decisions. It is dangerous to the group to randomly stop so again the front controls the group.

    I’ve been on a lot of community rides with a variety of riders where corking is used and aside from signaled intersections thinks this works well.
    Signals can be dangerous for the bicyclists to go through without stopping even with a marshal standing there since the cars might be looking at the light not the riders. Though I have never seen a problem when marshals help the group through intersections as most cars slow or stop when a lot of riders go through thus seems to work for larger community group rides.

    So really these ways all work to some capacity and current vehicle laws do not really adapt to the nuances of bicycling in groups. Perhaps some vehicle code laws.rules need to change to support group riding.

    Let the discussion roll on!

  • Far cry from Riverside, where the mayor is a big fan of ‘corking’ on his monthly Ride with the Mayor and even wants more people trained to do it.

  • mackthefinger

    i’m just going to say it…so f*cking what? you commit a traffic violation and got a ticket, just like someone driving a car would if they ran a red. the implication that this is some sort of event akin to people getting shot by the police is laughable and frankly self-involved. pay the fine and go home. i’ll be out riding my bike according to traffic laws.

  • sahra

    The piece isn’t really about the getting of a ticket…it’s a genuine question about what the best option for group rides are with regard to safety. When you’re riding with people who are not used to being on the road or small kids, keeping everyone together seems like the best option (to me) for the riders and drivers. I can’t imagine anything more nerve-wracking as a driver than being stuck between two groups of cyclists — one behind me and one in front of me.

  • Enzo

    I think a permit would just invite more harassment for the smaller or regular rides that wouldn’t be able to afford it. Let’s just set up a legal fund and either help the rider pay the ticket or help them fight it in court every time.

  • Bob Patterson

    If safety is tantamount, then they should have obtained a permit for the event so that stopping traffic would be legal and safely performed by individuals who are properly trained/uniformed. Random citizens in orange vests holding up traffic at a signal is NOT safe.

  • Alex Brideau III

    This might sound odd, but how do funerals handle their processions? Funeral escorts do stop and hold traffic, but they appear to be private security and not active LAPD officers. Perhaps organized rides could follow a similar model (with professional bike-based escorts instead)?

  • jennix

    Take the ticket, go to court, and demand a jury trial FOR EVERY SINGLE TICKET THEY WRITE.

  • jennix

    The D.A will put a stop to that ticket writing in a heartbeat.