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Mayor’s Mishap Renews Calls for Better Bike Laws

By Ian Lovett, 7/22/2010

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In the wake of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s bike accident last weekend, when he fell and broke his elbow after a taxi cut him off on Venice Boulevard, bicycle advocacy groups are hoping to parlay the attention the incident has drawn into substantive efforts to improve bike safety on city streets.

Cyclists must compete with vehicles on city streets, even when bike lanes are clearly marked. (photo by Ian Lovett)

Cyclists must compete with vehicles on city streets, even when bike lanes are clearly marked. (photo by Ian Lovett)

This Saturday, the Mid-City West Community Council (MCWCC) will host a “Walk & Ride for a Safer 4th Street”. The event will include a bike ride along 4th Street from Pan Pacific Park to Shatto Park, a community walk along the street, and a press conference at Shatto Park.

Jeff Jacobberger, chair of the MCWCC and an avid cyclist, said he hopes 4th Street could be used as a pilot project to test “bicycle boulevards”.

“The goal is really to raise awareness about bike safety, and to buildpublic support for making 4th Street a real bike boulevard,” Jacobberger said. “Bike boulevards have been done in other cities, but not in a serious way in L.A. We want to find a relatively high-profile street for the pilot project. It’s easy to do bike infrastructure in parts of the Valley where there are wider streets and less traffic. But it’s important to do that in more densely populated parts of the city where it isn’t safe to bike right now, as the mayor showed us.”

The pilot project would not only install bike lanes along 4th Street, but also traffic circles at intersections, which would slow down cars without forcing cyclists to stop at stop signs. Jacobberger also mentioned installing lights at major intersections that would allow bikes to go straight across, while forcing cars to turn right, so 4th Street couldn’t be used to circumvent auto traffic.

Up to this point, bicycle advocates have been largely frustrated with the city’s response to their concerns. Last month, the city released a draft of its proposed Bike Network, which mapped out streets that would be made safe for bicycles to travel long distances.

Dorothy Kieu Le, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), said the major difficulty in trying to put together a bike network was the opposition to taking any space away from automobiles.

“The bike network was very disappointing,” Kieu Le said. “It had less mileage than the 1996 plan, in terms of bike lanes. We’re still working with the city to improve the bike plan, but the major obstacle is the resistance towards taking any space away from automobiles, not just for bicycles, but for pedestrians or buses or anything else. People in the city are very opposed to that, but we hope though multiple efforts we can shift that culture, and make people feel that they can take innovative chances to make our city more green and livable.”

The LACBC also supports the idea of a bike boulevard on 4th Street, which she said would serve cyclists who don’t feel comfortable biking on major roads.

“It’s important to try to serve all types of cyclists,” Lieu Ke said. “A number of people are still going to use main roads, because that’s going to be the most direct route to many destinations. But making more residential streets bike-friendly encourages people who aren’t riding already to start riding, people like mothers and families and children. It’s a good way to get more people out there enjoying the city in a way that’s pleasant and not stressful, and we want to make 4th Street a type of green parkway.”

Kieu Le said the mayor’s accident could prove crucial in the effort to bring attention to bike safety. Since the accident, the mayor has spoken about the need to improve bike safety, but has yet to put forth any concrete proposals.

“We almost couldn’t have asked for a better story,” Kieu Le said. “For the mayor, our big leader, to personally be affected by motorist and bicycle interaction means that everyone who’s on a bike can relate. I’m happy that he’s being very communicative with his support, but we want to see more concrete action and results.”

Stephen Box, a bicycle advocate who recently announced he will run for the 4th District city council seat next year, met with Deputy Mayor Larry Frank about bike safety issues after the mayor’s accident.

“Every single cyclist I know cringed when we heard what happened, because that’s happened to all of us,” Box said. “I’ve never heard the mayor even say the word ‘bicycle’ before. But now, with the attention this incident has drawn, we have an opportunity to work together with him and hopefully get some movement on this issue.”

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