Bicycle Activists Take to the Freeways in L.A. Cyclists in Los Angeles have to deal with traffic, smog and a scarcity of bike lanes. Now one group of activists has created a new kind of protest — riding their bikes on the interstate at rush hour. The Crimanimalz say they're out to prove a point.
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Bicycle Activists Take to the Freeways in L.A.

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Bicycle Activists Take to the Freeways in L.A.

Bicycle Activists Take to the Freeways in L.A.

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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If you've ever tried to drive the L.A. freeway, you know it's slow going. Back in April, a couple of bike activists in Santa Monica saw a traffic jam and figured they'd use it to their own advantage. They call themselves Crimanimalz, like criminal animals, and they stage all sorts of protests to make the point that cyclists deserve a real space on the road. But their usual MO, biking through traffic jams on the surface streets of Los Angeles, never got as much attention as their latest endeavor, peddling up an on ramp and riding down the interstate. Rachel Martin spoke with the Crimanimalz's Morgan Strauss and Alex Cantarero about why they do what they do.

(Soundbite of reverse playback)


You have done things like this before, as we say, these kinds of public demonstrations to illustrate the efficiency of bike riding as opposed to driving, especially in L.A. But what in the world made you think, oh, yes, we should take this to the freeway? I mean, do you have a secret death wish?

Mr. ALEX CANTARERO (Crimanimalz Bicycle Activist; Shadow Mechanic, The Bikerowave): No, I want to live a long life. I think I just wanted to flirt with some transportation taboos and make my way through traffic. It looked safer than Olympic or Wiltshire Boulevards.

MARTIN: Wow, really. So let's start with that was going through your head. Morgan, when you headed up on that first on ramp, what was going through your mind? Did you have any doubts?

Mr. MORGAN STRAUSS (Crimanimalz Bicycle Activist; Mechanic, The Bikerowave): Yeah, I was scared to death. I didn't know what it was going to look like when we go up there. It turned out to be totally fine, but I guess it was kind of like a near-death experience, but without death being nearby. Everything was happening really slow. I started to take an inventory of my life and kind of assess the things that I had achieved in life and all the things I hadn't, and all my regrets and wants. And then I set them aside as soon as I started swerving through traffic.

MARTIN: Alex, what kind of response did you get from the drivers you passed? Because I have to say, if I were on the freeway and I saw you two hauling down the road, I would be a little miffed. I'd be like, what in the bleep are those guys doing?

Mr. CANTARERO: Yeah, you know, what's interesting, that's what we expected. I myself expected a cacophony of horns and beep-beep-beeps and people hooting and hollering, kind of like when we participate in bigger group rides. But much to my surprise, and part disappointment, a lot of drivers, they were just mummified in their car. You know, they would look back, look at us, glance back to their cell phones, to their text messaging. Some people looked up and they flipped back the radio station, looked back like, oh, I'm in traffic. So it was surprising that a lot of people didn't react the way we thought they would, at least we thought like, what are these guys doing?

MARTIN: Yeah. How many of you were on the ride? Was it just the two of you, or were there more?

Mr. CANTARERO: The first ride was 15 total.

MARTIN: Fifteen riders.

Mr. CANTARERO: Fifteen riders total.



MARTIN: I'm really shocked that nobody was more flabbergasted.

Mr. CANTARERO: I saw, maybe, like, two people out of like the thousands, I guess, that I passed by that were, like - maybe not thousands, a few hundred, but you know, two of them maybe looked at me and smiled and that's about that. The second ride we got a much larger response, but that was a freak show ride.

MARTIN: What do you mean it was a freak show ride?

Mr. CANTARERO: Oh, we had a few rollerbladers, people in costumes.

Mr. STRAUSS: A guy on a triple-tall bike.

MARTIN: So this was a second freeway ride that you staged. This was May 9th, I understand. You got more of a reaction because people were in costume?


Mr. STRAUSS: And I think the energy level overall was just different the second ride. I think, you know, we'd kind of broken a barrier with the first ride and people were a little - the riders, I'm talking about - were just a little less, kind of, guarded, and a little bit more excited to get people's attention. They weren't just trying to get from point A to point B. They were trying to have fun along the way.

MARTIN: So let's talk about what the message is. I mean, first of all, did you set a goal? Were you trying to prove something? Like, OK, we're going to get on the on ramp here at the freeway, and we are going to get off at this point, and we can guarantee you we're going to get there before a car does.

Mr. CANTARERO: One of the early ideas for a traffic-jam ride came and - I think me and one of my friends at a bicycle co-op I volunteer at, we were talking about riding a big group of bicycles into traffic jam on a boulevard, not a freeway, and just handing out people flyers that I made, that say, like, if you rode a bike, you'd be home by now. And just hand them out, you know, kind of saying, you know, your commute from point A to point B is, you know, four miles. In a car, you're doing it in about 40 minutes. On a bike, you're there in six. So that was the early idea, like, touting the benefits of cycling, you know, no insurance, no gas, no parking, et cetera, lose weight, you know?

MARTIN: Now, all those sound like great benefits, and it's a really great idea, but aren't you targeting the wrong audience, perhaps? I mean, the fact that you rode on the freeway, we should point out, is illegal. And so you can't just tell everyone, hey, ditch your car, and hop on a bike, and we'll cruise down the freeway and make your commute shorter. I mean, should you be targeting, perhaps, policymakers, who can do something about maybe creating more bike paths?

Mr. STRAUSS: You know, I think that's kind of the blurred - the confusion in activism is that there are activists and there are policymakers. And I'm an activist. I'm not a policymaker. I'm not riding on the freeway to promote riding on the freeway. I'm riding on the freeway just to show people that these are bicycles. They have two wheels. They're not propelled by gas. They're propelled by my legs. And anybody can ride one, you know, provided they are in the shape to do it.

MARTIN: Is your dream utopia that there are no cars? Or do you accept that cars are part of our reality, you'd just like to see more bicycles?

Mr. STRAUSS: Yeah, cars are part of our reality. But I'm not afraid to dream big and see a future of only bikes and monorails and trains and you know...

MARTIN: Well, public transit, as well.

Mr. STRAUSS: And city vehicles. Yeah, we're not only about bicycles. I bike and I bus and, you know, without people showing other people that this is what's going on, nobody's going to have that spark in their head and think, huh, bicycle, faster.

MARTIN: I understand that the fuzz, if you will, did show up the second time. We talked to the California Highway Patrol, and they said that if they caught you doing this, that they'd give you a ticket of about 100 bucks.

Mr. STRAUSS: Oh, that's all?

MARTIN: Does that scare you? I guess not.

Mr. STRAUSS: We thought it was like 250. That's a lot cheaper.

Mr. CANTARERO: You know what? Even if I got one of those a month for riding on a freeway, that's less than gasoline.

MARTIN: Are you planning on doing this again?



Mr. CANTARERO: Soon, coming soon to an onramp near you.

MARTIN: Coming soon. Do you plan on doing this - is there something particularly profound about doing it in L.A., or do you plan to do it in other urban centers?

Mr. STRAUSS: We'd like to do it in France. We'd like to do it - wherever there's a traffic jam, you'll find us.

Mr. CANTARERO: We're a big fan of the iPhone feature that shows us alert congestion on Google maps. We like to look at that from time to time and think of what it'd be like to ride to the red line.

MARTIN: Morgan Strauss and Alex Cantarero are part of the Crimanimalz, a bicycle advocacy group. Morgan and Alex, hey, you two, thanks very much for coming in. We appreciate it.

Mr. STRAUSS: Thanks, Rachel.

Mr. CANTARERO: Thank you.

PESCA: And that was Rachel Martin, who wrangled the Crimanimalz. And there is a video of their first ride on our blog.

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