Days before the Los Angeles Marathon, organizers canceled a popular nighttime bicycle race along the 26.2-mile route because they did not obtain the proper permits.
Every year since 2009, hundreds of cyclists have gathered in the dark along Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, waiting for road closures to begin along the marathon route, which stretches from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica. Just after 4 a.m., cyclists swarm the streets to enjoy three hours of car-free fun on some of Los Angeles's normally most congested boulevards.
Organizer Don Ward canceled this year's Marathon Crash Race, scheduled for Sunday morning, after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the city of Los Angeles' Bureau of Street Services. The letter threatened fines and up to a year in county jail if the event was held without proper permits. Ward said he requested an expedited permit and was denied.
He announced the cancellation Tuesday night on Facebook.
"I’m not sure why everything fell apart the way it did," said Ward, who runs the local bicycle group Wolfpack Hustle, in an interview. "I guess the city just decided this year to bring the hammer down."
The Marathon Crash Race isn't strictly legal. But in past years, Wolfpack Hustle has worked to build support inside City Hall and with the Los Angeles Police Department. For the past three years, squad cars have cruised alongside cyclists, lights flashing, to separate bicycle and car traffic. Ward had also arranged for event insurance to cover up to $10,000 of medical expenses for uninsured cyclists. They have never been required to obtain a permit, Ward said.
The Bureau of Street Services emphasized that the event was not canceled by the city. Several agencies -- including the city attorney, Los Angeles Police Department, Department of Transportation and Chief Legislative Analyst -- felt a permit was necessary due to public safety concerns, according to the statement.
The Marathon Crash Race is widely considered the largest unsanctioned bike race in the country, and draws cyclists from as far away as China and the United Arab Emirates. Last year, an estimated 2,000 people participated.
The race is one of the L.A. events most anticipated by cyclists, along with CicLAvia, the car-free events that close down major Los Angeles boulevards for pedestrians and cyclists. Each of those events costs more than $300,000, including salaries for officers who staff the road closures.
Ward said permits for the Marathon Crash Race would cost more than $100,000 and obtaining them would be a logistical nightmare, because the route crosses through three cities and a section of federal property. He said he has tried to keep entry fees for the race low so teenagers can participate. Supporters say one of the ride's biggest draws is that it encourages teenagers to exercise in the company of older and more experienced cyclists.
"It’s just not meant for weekend warrior roadies," Ward said. "It’s meant for youngsters who are not necessarily the most privileged people.”
Cyclists took to social media Wednesday to grouse about the cancellation. A few took issue with the no-refund policy. Many vowed to ride on Sunday, cancellation or no.
"That's the most dangerous situation of all of this," Ward said. He added that without an LAPD presence, the likelihood of collisions with cars will be much higher. Some intersections, including Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, will not be closed off at the time of the crash race.
On the Wolfpack Hustle Facebook page, one cyclist wrote: “Dude....I'm in shock. I look forward to this event more than Christmas and my birthday put together.”
Others, including cyclists visiting from out of town, hinted in their posts they would ride anyway. “There's gonna be so many bikes on the course, the city couldn't possibly arrest everyone...” one cyclist said.