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After accident, mayor of LA is bike advocate

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa broke an elbow last month in a fall while riding in LA. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa broke an elbow last month in a fall while riding in LA. (John Mccoy/ Los Angeles Daily News)
By Daisy Nguyen
Associated Press / August 16, 2010

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LOS ANGELES — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the new champion of cyclists’ rights in the nation’s second-largest city, a conversion that came after a bone-breaking fall from his own bicycle.

The mayor, who said little on the topic during five years in office, is campaigning to make streets safer for cyclists after a parked cab abruptly pulled out across a bike lane, causing him to shatter an elbow. The ill-fated ride was his first on city streets since taking office.

Since the July 17 accident, Villaraigosa has utilized the Huffington Post and YouTube to say it is time to recognize that bicycles also belong on LA’s streets, which were largely designed for autos. In the YouTube video, he announced plans to convene a bicycle safety summit.

Cyclists who have tilted at LA’s car-crazy culture for years were shocked that the mayor was even on a bike.

“You could have knocked over any cyclist with a feather when we heard that,’’ joked Ted Rogers, author of the blog BikingInLA.

Others in the activist bicycle camp remained beyond skepticism, dismissing the summit today in advance as a failure because it is scheduled downtown during weekday work hours when they can’t attend.

Compared with cities such as New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington that have added miles of bike lanes, among other measures, to promote bicycle commuting, Los Angeles has been stuck in the slow lane.

Good weather and a significant amount of flat terrain would seemingly make the city ideal for commuter and recreational bicycling. Its hilly areas are prized by competitive cyclists for challenging rides on canyon roads.

There is also a legacy dating back more than 100 years, when a wooden bikeway was built for commuting between Los Angeles and suburban Pasadena. The bikeway fell victim to the automobile and the route eventually became a freeway, but LA and its neighbors never fully gave up on cycling.

In recent decades a bike path along Santa Monica Bay beaches has grown to 22 miles, and one of Villaraigosa’s predecessors, Richard Riordan, spent two terms leading huge community bike rides.

Yet cyclists say that riding in Los Angeles can be terrifying, as they jostle with cars and buses on packed roads.

“I’ve been spat at, cussed at, and knocked down in a road rage incident,’’ said William Cruz, 21, who commutes by bike about 20 miles a day. “It makes you paranoid at times.’’

As neighboring cities such as Santa Monica and Long Beach provide bike valets, bike lanes, and other improvements to encourage cycling, Los Angeles is starting to do the same.

This summer, the transportation department began painting “sharrow’’ markings on several streets after two years of study and delays. The markings are used to remind motorists to share the road where there is not enough room for a separate bike lane.

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