Does “Bike-friendly” Long Beach intentionally stomp on cyclists’ civil rights?

Long Beach has long proclaimed its intention to be America’s most bike friendly city.

And under the guidance of mobility coordinator Charlie Gandy, it’s gone far beyond any other city in Southern California in terms of building bicycle infrastructure and promoting cycling.

So it’s disappointing to find out that their bike-friendly attitude doesn’t extend to all cyclists. Or recognize the most basic rights guaranteed to all Americans.

As you may recall, controversy developed in October when the Long Beach police staged a heavy-handed crackdown on the city’s first official Critical Mass ride.

Police are accused of waving cyclists through a stop sign, then ticketing riders who obeyed their apparent instructions. They also attempted to enforce a bicycle licensing law that violates state law, which limits penalties for failing to license a bike to a maximum of $10 — and prohibits ticketing any riders from outside their jurisdiction for failing to register their bikes with Long Beach.

In addition, the police decided, with no apparent legal authority, that fixed gear bikes without separate brakes violate the state law requiring bikes be able to make one wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement — a standard most fixies can easily meet.

And the police enforced those so-called violations by seizing the bikes of the riders involved — again, without any apparent legal authority.

Now, a new story from the Long Beach Post reveals just how far the city is willing to go to violate the civil rights of American citizens, simply because they travel on two wheels and have chosen to practice their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly under the banner of Critical Mass.

According to the Post, despite official denials from the city, the organizers of the ride attempted to get a permit in advance, which Long Beach officials failed to issue. Yet they were found in violation of a requirement that any group of 75 or more is required to get a Special Events Permit — even though that law was legally unenforceable because parts of it had been declared unconstitutional.

Long Beach City Manager Patrick West — a serious cyclist for 18 years — chillingly explains that the city is in fact targeting Critical Mass, and that any other ride, by any other name, would not face the same heavy-handed enforcement.

“Long Beach has been a leader in [developing] bike infrastructure. When a group goes out there to violate traffic laws, it brings more [negative] attention to the money that we’re spending on infrastructure, and angers the average motorist.

“If it’s a Critical Mass ride,” West continued, “you can expect our police department to be there to to monitor that. A Critical Mass ride is something that is going to attract the attention of our police department to prevent cyclists from, you know, to maintain the vehicle code. And I’m just speaking of Critical Mass. I’m not speaking about any other ride in Long Beach at all, whenever, where-ever, whoever. I’m speaking about a Critical Mass ride.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that called selective enforcement?

His words were born out by another crackdown on a Christmas ride intended to raise funds to help cyclists fight the tickets from the October crackdown. Suspecting it was actually a super-secret Critical Mass ride under another name, the police arrived in force and halted the ride before it could even begin.

According to City Manager Patrick West, “we suspected that the second [ride] was a Critical Mass ride and, in hindsight, it was clear to us that it was not a Critical Mass ride. We communicated that to the group, then I talked to Jerome Podgajski [founder of MashLBC.com-ed] and I apologized.

“The second ride involved many of the same individuals,” said West, “and, at the end of the day, it turned out that no one had any intention of creating a Critical Mass ride, so we would have supported that ride. We’re learning as we go along, and we’re talking to event organizers to just be careful about billing things as a Critical Mass ride because we’re very very conscientious of that group.”

In other words, better to apologize afterwards than get the facts right first. And it’s okay to violate the rights of one group, as long as you support other groups who may do the same things, but under a different name.

The writer, Sander Wolff, got the perspective of a local attorney about the first incident:

I asked attorney Robert Thomas Hayes Link, Esq., who grew up in Long Beach, what he thought of the incident. “As described by (cyclist) Gerry Campos, the supposedly bicycle-friendly City of Long Beach, by way of the conduct of the Long Beach Police Department, would seem to have arranged for a sting operation designed to discourage future cycling awareness activities within its borders. Whether the City managed this in a fashion that shields them from civil rights liability remains to be seen.”

Read the full article.

It clearly drives home the fact that Long Beach may see itself as bike friendly.

But a bike-friendly attitude goes far beyond mere paint on the street.

Unless and until the city begins to observe the requirements of the California Vehicle Code — which supersedes city ordinances — and interprets the law in a fair and legal manner, treating all cyclists equally under the law, it will continue to put to lie their self-proclaimed vision as the country’s leading bike city.

And continue to be a city that cyclists  — Critical or otherwise — might be better off avoiding.

……..

Let me make one thing clear. I’m not a fan of Critical Mass; I tend to believe, like LB City Manager West, that it only serves to anger people who might otherwise support us.

But I am a big fan of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And I cannot support any person, city, jurisdiction or authority that willfully ignores the law to violate the rights of any cyclist.

As Emma Lazarus said, until we are all free, none of us is free.

6 comments

  1. Gtoffmycld says:

    Long Beach is a dump. The streets are gritty. Downtown is overwhelmed with homless. The police are thugs that profile people that can pay these tickets or drop a case on someone out of contempt. I used to participate in the cycling portion of the LB Marathon, but I won’t anymore. Don’t spend any money in Long Beach. Go anyplace else. Take my word for it. AVOID LONG BEACH!!

  2. Hovan says:

    I love riding in Long Beach. Having secured permits for events, I know you have to follow the rules. I can only assume the city wanted to issue a permit, but did not because the group would not comply with the rules. that was evident by the number of bikes without headlights or brakes.

  3. [...] Long Beach Is Losing Its Mind Over Critical Mass (LB Post via Biking In L.A.) [...]

  4. Gtoffmycld says:

    Today I rode through Long Beach. I took a piss and dumped some trash, in a urinal and trash can of course. The best part was that I purposely did not spend any money in Long Beach.

  5. sugarpal says:

    CORRECTED FORM:

    It seems that the counter effect for bicycling ridding in such event still have the same effect on Long Beach residents that were not even involved in such incident. Police officers still targeting all bicycle riders in any form. Bicycle riders are targeted because they does not consume hydrocarbon fueled gases, parts, and generate huge labor force stations. Instead, there are a few bicycle repair shops in the city; their prices are highly elevated by comparison with the prices from other areas, and there are about .001 % cyclists per every 50, 000 Long Beach residents.

    We must remember that business that sell gasoline or diesel fuels, auto and truck parts, and auto or truck repair facilities always become sponsors of many police activities while cyclists does not (how’s that?).

    Police officers should be informed that most car owners deserve a break and they need to use their time wisely to go around on their bicycles. This eventually will generate a better appreciation of a decent city and better business for all from a tourist’s standpoint from all over the place in a city plagued by crime. They should, instead, be looking for criminals and not for bicycle riders.In case, there are many bicycles stolen and most of them are never returned to their original owners.The City is not properly housing homelessness people, feeding them properly, or even provide them with adequate clothing and leisure spots.

    What Long Beach police department and the Long Beach City Hall officers should understand is that they got hire by residents of Long Beach to perform accordingly to our CONSTITUTION.

    As an authority, if they does not have any schooling at all, regarding CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS, they should try to hire professionals from Long Beach University so they can get a grip of what our Constitutional Rights really mean in real time.

    It is sad to experience and see this is happening in the 21st Century. We are not in the Middle ages any more. The Constitutional Rights of the people are constantly violated. It is obvious too that we need changes in this type of behavior from our authorities. But changes will not come along by itself.

    The city should organize and protest energetically for this type of aberrant and blatant behavior from a corroded authority that lack the necessary knowledge and professionalism to implement the law the way it supposed to be implemented without favoritism. These type of discriminatory practices should come to an end right now.

    Long Beach authorities should know and understand that Long Beach bicycle riders also pay taxes and we also vote to promote them to the position where they stand at and now they are using abusive power against us. This tyranny should stop now.

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