Cops’ chain reaction is bad for our city

[[image:smcm_mini.jpg::inline:1]]On September 7th the riders of Santa Monica Critical Mass (SMCM) voted to remain as one large group rather than break up, with full awareness that this could lead to citation by the SMPD.

Published September 19, 2007 by C.I.C.L.E.
Contributed by Alex Thompson :: Originally published by Santa Monica Daily News

On September 7th the riders of Santa Monica Critical Mass (SMCM) voted to remain as one large group rather than break up, with full awareness that this could lead to citation by the SMPD. Immediately a rider blocking traffic for the safety of other riders was cited and searched. We headed south to Los Angeles, with SMPD around and amongst the ride – making it clear that return to Santa Monica was not a good option. So we did not return, but still SMCM was a huge success, including an epic pillow fight on the Venice Boardwalk and impromptu race in a Venice park.

[[image:sm_cm_insidewtmk.jpg::inline:1]]SMPD and other opposition to SMCM seem to view the ride as an isolated monthly event. Hence, they take a flawed strategy for dealing with it; each month they drive the ride out of Santa Monica into Los Angeles. Apparently SMPD has assumed that this will either force the ride to comply with their requests, or decrease ridership until the ride is small enough to be of no bother.

SMCM is not an isolated event. It is one manifestation of a large social bike riding movement in Los Angeles. Formerly the largest community of cyclists was mountain and road cyclists who rode their bikes for individual recreational enjoyment. However, in 2004 in Echopark a ride called Midnight Ridazz catalyzed the explosive growth of a new group in the cycling community. These cyclists, social bike riders, use their bicycles for daily transportation and participate in rides like SMCM on their Friday and Saturday nights. They now comprise the largest segment of the cycling community in Los Angeles & Santa Monica.

In a certain sense disrupting SMCM is like trying to get rid of that pesky bubble underneath the wall paper. Push it down and it pops up somewhere else. This new group of social bike riders feel persecuted by a car culture which treats them as second class citizens. SM cyclists are routinely endangered by motorists who tailgate, cut off, and narrowly pass them. When SMPD drives out SMCM instead of focusing attention on motorists who endanger bicycle commuters, it confirms the social bike riders view that we are unwanted outsiders. SMCM is a time during the month when they can enjoy cycling and feel safe in the city streets. Social bike riders want a ride like SMCM, and if SM succeeds in destroying SMCM, social bike riders will probably create another ride in it's place.

Those interested in being rid of CM might pursue a long term strategy of lessening the identification of one bike rider with another. Enforce the laws. Cite motorists who harass cyclists. Police officers need only spend a few minutes daily commuting by bicycle in plainclothes to discover just how dangerously motorists operate around cyclists. Give cyclists adequate road space by engineering roads reasonably. Inform citizens (and police officers) of a cyclist's right to the road. In essence – strive to make cycling safe and accepted by motorists.

Finally, rather than distancing themselves from CM local politicians should recognize the wealth of young leadership that SMCM and other rides have attracted. Many future progressive leaders are simply pedaling about on these rides. One could build quite a political legacy from these young leaders, but only if one first acknowledges the validity of their concerns, and the positive intent of their participation in SMCM.

Alex Thompson