Friday, August 03, 2007

Peace On Wheels

(click on image to enlarge)

Melody Hanatani, a writer for the Santa Monica Daily Press did a little investigative report on what the Santa Monica Police have been thinking about the Santa Monica critical mass ride, and the reasons for their actions. (Link to PDF)

Apparently the Santa Monica Police Department have been seeking ways to help the riders have a pleasent and safe experience riding en masse in Santa Monica.

They have offered to, if they are given a route the mass riders are taking, to provide policing for the ride.

As I have pointed out in prior reports, the San Francisco critical mass has had police assistance in corking intersection, at least for a couple miles or so. After a couple miles, the riders often beging to thin out and branch off in their scattered direction.

Should the Santa Monica Police provide support for the critical mass ride? Would having bike patrol and motorcycle officer on hand to cork interestions and provide public safety support be a good thing? Any other thoughts?

Police offer up ways in which to ensure safety for bicyclists
August 3, 2007

CITYWIDE Participants in tonight’s Critical Mass bicycle ride and members of the Santa Monica Police Department will be watching one another closely after the two sides met last week in attempts to arrive at an understanding.

A celebration for the love and benefits of bicycling, Critical Mass takes to the streets of Santa Monica on the first Friday of each month, with hundreds of enthusiastic cyclists cheering throughout their improvised ride.

However, a number of motorists caughtt up in the ever-increasing procession aren’t always singing the group’s praises. The joyriders in Santa Monica Critical Mass, like their peers in cities across the country, have also had their share of runins with law enforcement authorities. Following the arrest of a cyclist during the June ride and an alleged disruption by Santa Monica Police officers during the July ride, four frequent riders with Critical Mass met with traffic enforcement authorities last week to try and come to an understanding.

The cyclist arrested in June was asked to pull over for allegedly failing to ride to the right side of the road.When an officer attempted to cite the cyclist, the individual rode away, said Lt. Kathy Keane, the traffic commander for special enforcement for the SMPD. The cyclist, who wasn’t carrying identification, was subsequently arrested and released later that evening.

It was after the most recent ride when several Critical Mass riders sought a meeting with the Santa Monica Police Department, Keane said. Following their July ride, several cyclists have alleged that the SMPD officers were targeting Critical Mass riders in an effort to disrupt the gathering.

Several prominent participants with Critical Mass did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

For the Santa Monica Police Department, while its leadership supports the ride in principle, there is a concern when the ride grows to include a massive number of bicyclists, which could pose a problem for city traffic flow.

“What drew to our attention was the notion where they’re taking up entire lanes of streets, but violating rules of the road — not stopping for stop signs and red light signals,” Keane said. “From a public safety aspect, our perspective is not only are we concerned about pedestrians and drivers on the road, but also participants of the group.”

The police department has been aware of the monthly ride for some time, but decided to monitor it closely starting in June, when it noticed that the number of riders was growing to several hundred per outing. Some of the issues raised by frustrated motorists is the ride is disorganized, with several participants zooming through red lights and stop signs.

Critical Mass is not an organization and, therefore, does not have a designated leader.

During the meeting last week, Keane suggested a leader come forward to organize the group in order to make the ride flow safely for all parties involved. Because there are up to 300 riders at any one time and the group tries to stay together — which results in some cyclists running a red light when the signal changes amid a flow of riders — Keane suggested breaking up the group into smaller sub-sections.

There have been some glitches in Critical Mass rides nationwide, as well as issues between cyclists and law enforcement agencies and motorists, particularly in cities where the participants can number in the thousands.

In New York City, there are arrests made in nearly every Critical Mass ride, which fall on the last Friday of the month, according to a NYPD spokesman who asked to remain anonymous.

The issue in New York City is the Critical Mass riders will not provide police officers with a route in which they will follow. “They will gather and go wherever they want to go,” the officer said. “If we have a route to work with, we’re more than happy to police it so the traffic will flow more smoothly.”

In San Francisco, where Critical Mass originated in September 1992, there was an incident where several cyclists began circling a minivan carrying children, said Sgt. Steve Mannina of the San Francisco Police Department. The driver didn’t yield and the cyclists scratched the minivan and broke a window, he said.

But Andy Thornley, who has ridden with San Francisco Critical Mass occasionally since its inception, said the driver had hit and knocked down one of the cyclists and attempted to drive away. Thornley wasn’t a part of the ride during the incident, which took place in the spring.

The San Francisco Critical Mass attracts thousands of riders every month and, in anticipation, the San Francisco police Department deploys about 30 to 40 officers to monitor the event, some riding alongside on motorcycles, others on bikes themselves. The Bay Area ride is also held on the last Friday of the month.

“Officers have discretion to take whatever enforcement action deemed necessary, but we don’t see a lot of citations,”

Mannina said. “If we had a mission as far as the monitoring the bike event goes, we are there to make sure things go smoothly.”

For the most part, the Critical Mass riders, the police, pedestrians and drivers coexist peacefully, Thornley said.

There’s a misperception that the Critical Mass ride is done to make a point, to protest against an issue. But everyone that participates does it for their own reason, Thornley said.

“It’s not against cars, it’s not in favor of clean air, it’s not any sort of political message,”

Thornley said. “If anything, it’s a celebration. We talk about how we ride daily and celebrate monthly.”

Recommended Links:
- Santa-Monica/Venice/West-L.A. critical mass community forum
- Cycle Santa Monica! community formum