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Cyclists Ask for Progress, Not Promises

By Jenni Simcoe
Published: Thursday, August 19, 2010, at 08:39AM
Downtown Los Angeles ~ Financial District A~ [Flickr]

Cyclists at 5th and Hill. Photo by R. E. ~ via the blogdowntown flickr pool.

More than 250 cyclists packed the Metro Board Room on Monday for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Bike Summit. The Mayor was joined by civic leaders Rita Robinson, the General Manager of LA Department of Transportation (LADOT); Art Leahy, Metro CEO; Michael LoGrande, Director of City Planning; and LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese sitting in for Chief Charlie Beck.

Cycling activist Joe Linton went into the Bike Summit interested to hear Mayor Villaraigosa discuss cycling. “Overall I thought the Bike Summit was a positive step,” said Linton. “The Mayor has barely uttered the word ‘bicycle’ in five years in office. So just to hear that he is now acknowledging the need for progress to make LA more bike-friendly is certainly encouraging.”

According to Stephen Box, a cyclist who depends on his bike as his sole means of transportation, the summit started late because of long security lines. “The tremendous irony is that the cyclists made it through security slowly because they rode their bikes to the meeting and had bike tools and accessories that had to be searched. It seemed heavy on security and light on common sense,” Box said.

Once the meeting did start, the mayor opened with comments and then took over an hour to answer questions from more than 100 cyclists. “At times he stumbled over answers because he’s not completely up to speed on the issues and bicycle language,” said Linton. “He misused several terms that are widely used in the bicycle plan.”

But Linton does give Mayor Villaraigosa credit for taking on the majority of the questions. “I’d say that he answered 80 percent of the cyclists’ questions first-hand.” Linton says that Rita Robinson, who is usually very well-versed in budgetary issues, also answered a lot of questions. “She was supportive of cyclists, but when asked what facilities the LADOT is working on, she said the Reseda bike lanes were done, and they’re not,” said Linton. “It just illustrates that none of the leaders are as well versed on bicycle issues as they are on other infrastructure and transportation issues.”

The most controversial issue was the mayor’s stance on helmet laws. “Rather than focus on providing a more bikeable L.A. that makes it safer to ride and store a bike, the mayor chose to mandate helmet laws,” said Box. During the summit, the mayor repeatedly brought up his recent bicycle accident. “The mayor’s helmet mandate was challenged by several cyclists who pointed out that people in Copenhagen and other European cities don’t wear helmets because the streets are safer,” said Linton.

Box added that the Mayor repeatedly said the helmet saved his life. While Box isn’t against wearing a helmet, saying he never rides without one, he and Linton point out that mandating helmet use takes the responsibility for safety away from motorists and imposes it solely on cyclists. Box would like to see the Mayor endorse a Cyclists’ Bill of Rights, provide connectivity to the city as a whole and supervise professional drivers such as the taxi-driver who hit the mayor causing him to be thrown from his bike and break his elbow.

Both Box and Linton, along with many cyclists who lit up Twitter with the tag #mayoralBS, think that helmet laws should take a backseat to driver education. One of the most vocal cyclists on Twitter, ActOut, tweeted “Mayor completely ignored the ask to endorse Cyclists’ Bill of Right[s]. Completely went over his head to promote our rights on LA Streets!” Other comments on Twitter criticized the mayor for not addressing bicycle theft or motorist education and for holding the bicycle summit during the day when most people are working.

After the summit ended, most of the cyclists collected their bikes from the Bike Summit’s bike valet set up for the event. However, some cyclists who regularly take the Metro were surprised when they went to collect their bikes in the parking garage to find the bikes stripped of accessories.

Alice Strong was one who had the lights stolen from her bike. “I didn’t report it to police or security, but I did mention it to Lynne Goldsmith, (Metro’s Bike Planning Manager) who assured me that they were aware of security issues in the lot and in fact are in the process of installing cameras,” said Strong.

What Linton took away from the summit was the mayor’s overall commitment to improving bicycle safety and implementing the bike plan. “The Mayor and Rita Robinson both committed to an annual work program of staffing, funding and implementing a guaranteed 40 miles per year of bikeways,” said Linton. “So that’s promising.”

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