Crimanimal Mass challenges car culture
By Daniel Archuleta
I-10 Freeway With cameras firmly secured to their handlebars and helmets, a band of bicycle enthusiasts made a bee line toward the Bundy Drive on-ramp to the Santa Monica Freeway, hoping to make a statement and not get caught by the California Highway Patrol in the process.
Crimanimal Mass — an aggressive offshoot of Critical Mass — collectively decided to perform the stunt on Friday at the peak of rush hour traffic to colorfully illustrate how much faster commuters can zip through gridlock on a bicycle than by sitting, bumper to bumper, in their cars.
A group estimated to be nearly 30 riders strong rode onto the I-10 Freeway heading eastbound to the I-405 Freeway, where they took the overpass and headed northbound to the Santa Monica Boulevard exit. This was the third freeway ride the group has participated in during the past few weeks and organizers vow to continue their mobile protest for months to come.
CHP officers spotted the group as they exited the freeway and proceeded to give chase. Two riders were stopped, but were not issued citations. “They just repeated over and over to not get on the freeway. They were very cool about it,” Paul Bringetto, 36, said. “They just told us not to do it again.”
Aside from disobeying the law, Crimanimal Mass riders hope to spread the bike gospel. “I just wanted to raise questions about the transportation infrastructure,” said Morgan Strauss, 29, one of the group’s organizers. “In a city ruled by cars, why is it that you can get places faster on bikes?”
The first time the group took to the freeways was on April 18. They recorded their trek and later posted the video on YouTube where it has been viewed 32,150 times as of Friday afternoon. The clip titled “The Freeway Ride - On Bicycles” was posted by a participating rider who goes by the handle Richtotheie and has generated a considerable stir among the local biking community.
“There was so much talk that (the ride) was going to ruin (the local bike scene),” Richtotheie, 22, said. “People can take their own view.”
Most of the criticism the group has received has been posted on the popular Midnight Ridazz Web site. The site includes a number of blog threads about the rides and has featured a fairly robust discourse regarding the rides. Thus far, there have been equal amounts of both criticism and support for the group’s controversial activities.
Most of the participants in the Crimanimal Mass rides met while taking part in Critical Mass, a popular ride that occurs the first Friday of each month in Santa Monica.
Those rides begin at the Santa Monica Pier and take impromptu, serpentine routes through the city and often veer into Venice.
Groups of up to 200 riders have participated in the ride since its inception two years ago.
Critical Mass is a national phenomenon that takes place in a number of cities across the globe and reportedly got its start in San Francisco more than a decade ago.
The rides had been relatively incident free for the most part until late last year when the Santa Monica Police Department began a crackdown because officials felt it was becoming unruly.
Some 30 tickets were handed out during the November ride and another seven were issued during December. Those actions led a small contingent of Critical Mass riders to splinter off and create what would become Crimanimal Mass.
“The initial reason we came together was to create a second ride in Santa Monica,” said Alex Cantarero, 28, one of the group’s creators. “We figured that if the police didn’t like one ride, what would they do about two?” SMPD’s Lt. Alex Padilla said that the department stepped up enforcement of Critical Mass following a number of complaints from the community alleging that participating riders weren’t following the rules of the road and snarling traffic during rush hour.
“We had people on their own stopping traffic arbitrarily and it became a safety issue,” Padilla said. “We’re still monitoring it.
It just depends on the type of complaints we are getting, but we’re not getting as many as in the past.” While the freeway rides do not fall under the jurisdiction of the SMPD, it does tread on CHP territory.
“This is the first I’m hearing about (the rides),” said Ana Markey, the public information officer at the CHP’s Culver City station.
“If we know about these rides in advance, we’d block off on-ramps to keep them from getting on the freeway.” Markey said that riders may be cited if they were caught in the act, but said the ultimate decision would rest on the shoulders of the officers at the scene. “We don’t want to arrest anyone,” she said. “We just don’t want anybody to get hit by a car. This is more of a safety issue than anything else.”
California Vehicle Code 21960 (a) states, “The Department of Transportation and local authorities ... may prohibit or restrict the use of the freeways.” In this case, the CHP would ultimately be responsible during any incident that involves the non-authorized use of a bicycle.
Markey recalled an incident in March of 2007 during which a group of Los Angeles Unified School District students marched onto the Harbor and Hollywood freeways to protest an immigration bill being voted on by Congress. She didn’t remember anybody being cited, but the CHP was forced to stop traffic on both freeways to allow the students to exit safely.
“It is more for their safety,” Markey said. “(Riding on the freeway) is just not a safe thing to do.”
Kevin Herrera contributed to this report.