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Police Crack Down on Critical Mass

By Jorge Casuso

November 7 -- Santa Monica’s Critical Mass could be in critical condition after police cracked down on more than 30 cyclists who took part in the rolling celebration of bicycle culture last Friday.

The 32 citations -- which included tickets for failing to have taillights or helmets -- far exceeded the total number of tickets handed out since Santa Monica police began enforcing traffic laws during Critical Mass rides this spring.

Riders said the unprecedented crackdown splintered the group and resulted in only a third of the participants -- who usually number in the hundreds -- finishing the last leg of the ride to the Venice Pier.

“The Santa Monica P.D. succeeded in breaking up the ride this time around,” said Alex Thompson, a spokesman for the group.

While the riders charge that the increased citations are part of a concerted effort by the City to drive them out of town, police say they are merely enforcing the laws that keep the streets safe.

“It’s no different than what we have been doing in the past, but it’s getting more attention, so when you do anything, it’s magnified,” said Lt. Alex Padilla, the Police Department spokesman.

Padilla -- who noted that the LA Weekly and the local press have shined a light on the issue -- said more police have been assigned to the monthly ride that takes over the streets on the first Friday of every month.

“We do have more officers than we did in the past to make sure the laws are adhered to,” Padilla said. “We continue to encourage them to adhere (to the rules). If they do that, we’re there to make sure everything runs smoothly.”

But Critical Mass riders said the police are doing more than ticketing reckless riders who may pose a safety threat.

Last Friday, one rider was cited for moving out of the bike lane to pass a crawling motorist, while another was ticketed after straddling his bicycle across the sidewalk to skirt a squad car that had stopped, Thompson said.

At least three riders were cited for going through a traffic light just as it turned red, while many others were cited for not having the proper lighting on their bikes, Thompson said.

“Citations were given out for bizarre and incorrect things,” he said. “The officers involved were pulling riders over and then looking for reasons for citation.”

The police, he said, are going out of their way to disrupt Critical Mass and discourage riders from participating in a ride meant to boost awareness of alternative forms of transportation, which is purportedly a key goal of the City.

“The first thing I noticed is they were filming us from a cruiser before we even started,” Thompson said. “They brought several bike cops, some motorcycles, and at least two cruisers.”

Although Thompson and others who help organize the ride using walkie-talkies instructed participants to abide by the law and initially headed north toward San Vicente Boulevard, where the streets are less congested, the ride slowly disintegrated as citations were handed out.

“The ride broke into a million pieces because the riders with walkie-talkies were being ticketed,” Thompson said. By the time the ride ended, there “was only 30 percent of the original group” left, he said.

Police say they are not issuing citations indiscriminately or to harass the riders.

“We don’t look at it as being nitpicky,” Padilla said. “We look at it as adhering to public safety.”

The citations issued to those without the proper lights on their bicycles were warranted, Padilla said. “With daylight savings time kicking in, you have to have lights,” he said.

Police will “continue to monitor the ride,” Padilla said.

Members of Critical Mass said they planned to show up in force at next Tuesday’s City Council meeting armed with extensive video footage of Friday’s ride.

“We’ll show our video to the council and put it on YouTube,” Thompson said.

Readers Fine Jewelers Advertisement


“The Santa Monica P.D. succeeded in breaking up the ride this time around.” Alex Thompson


“We do have more officers than we did in the past to make sure the laws are adhered to.” Alex Padilla


“Citations were given out for bizarre and incorrect things.” Alex Thompson


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