In years past, the predawn bike race on the L.A. Marathon route just hours before the start of the foot race allowed cyclists an exhilarating dash across town, from Silver Lake to Santa Monica, on 26 miles of dark and empty streets. The Marathon Crash Race, as it was called, was a rare opportunity for bicyclists to commandeer the usually traffic-snarled streets of the city. It was also potentially perilous; city officials were not terribly happy to have cyclists — some of whom would finish the course in about 50 minutes — speeding down streets that had not yet been completely closed off to traffic. Some didn't stop for red lights. Police officers scrambled to monitor and sometimes to close streets ahead of thousands of westward-bound cyclists.
So it's not entirely surprising that the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services slapped race organizer Don Ward with a warning dated Tuesday to call off this year's race on Sunday because he has no city permit for it, and to face penalties for violating municipal codes if he goes ahead with it.
It's reasonable that such a big race — which has been growing, even attracting bicyclists from outside the United States — would require a permit that holds the organizers to a specific time limit and location and gives Los Angeles officials time to plan and deploy.
But why was Ward notified less than a week before that he would be violating city codes? A spokesman for the Department of Public Works — which includes the Bureau of Street Services — said his agency was only informed Monday about the safety issues. The agencies raising them, he said, included the Los Angeles Police Department and the Department of Transportation. And it takes about 45 days to get a permit for a special event like this.
It's a shame that city officials didn't sit down and talk with Ward about this, oh, at least 45 days ago. Everyone has known for months that the race was coming up, and no doubt an arrangement could have been reached that would have allowed it to go forward under safe conditions and under reasonable city supervision.
It is true that Ward has been encouraged in the past to seek a permit for the race, but he has never before been ordered to do so. He had no way of knowing the rules would be changed this year, and he deserved an earlier warning.
City officials said they would meet with Ward again on Friday, but for the moment, the race is off, and Ward as well as the police are rightly urging cyclists not to ride the route. If cyclists do take to the streets — which some are threatening to do — they should obey the same rules of the road that every car must follow no matter the time of day.
This has always been an edgy race; it's no CicLAvia. But the city is right to insist on keeping it safe.