At a "Bike Summit" Monday, city officials discussed ways to make Los Angeles streets safer for bicyclists, including adding more bike lanes, requiring drivers to stay three feet away from cyclists when overtaking them and making bike helmets mandatory -- even for adults.
"Even though (Los Angeles) is the car capital of the United States of America, we've got to share the road with cyclists, with pedestrians, and we're going to have to change some of the laws," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The mayor broke his elbow last month when a taxi stopped abruptly in front of his bicycle in a bike lane, forcing him to brake suddenly and sending him tumbling over the handlebars onto the pavement.
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"I went on the record today, saying I want to support legislation at the state level that will provide a three-foot passing lane for cyclists," Villaraigosa said. "I also said -- to a chorus of boos -- that we need to have a bicycle helmet law for people over 18."
Many of the bicyclists at the summit jeered when he made the latter announcement, but Villaraigosa explained that his helmet protected him from more serious injuries during his accident.
"I don't need to be popular here," he told them. "I'm here today because I was wearing a helmet."
City officials have been working for months to come up with a so-called "Bicycle Plan" by November to build more than 1,600 miles of bikeways over the next 30 years -- including 200 miles in the next five years.
Bicycle Plan components include the development of public service announcements and educational campaigns to teach drivers how to share the road with bicyclists; improving the Los Angeles Police Department's enforcement of laws governing safe driving and cycling; and enhancing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's efforts to integrate cycling in the region's rail and bus network.
During the summit, Glenn Bailey, chairman of the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee, ran down a list of recommendations for improving bicycling in the city, including:
- the prompt repair of potholes and cleaning debris and other hazardous materials on the road
- vigorous enforcement against the blocking of bike lanes by delivery vehicles and unhitched trailers or anything else
- providing convenient, secure parking in every city building and park
- holding the line or rolling back recent increases in speed limits
- "vehicular hit-and-runs will be fully investigated and prosecuted for the crimes that they are"
- installing at least 50 miles of bicycle lanes ever year for the next three years, rather than the five-mile average of the last 14 years under the current 1996 Bicycle Plan
Over the last several months, several incidents and the outcome of a high-profile trial have highlighted the difficulties encountered by bicyclists in the city.
In January, an emergency room doctor was sentenced to five years in prison for assaulting two bicyclists on a narrow road in Brentwood. And in May, an activist bicycling group accused police officers of trying to hurt members while they were riding on Hollywood Boulevard to protest the BP oil spill. One of the riders posted a YouTube video of some of the altercations.
The City Council instructed its attorneys earlier this year to consider the possibility of drafting an ordinance that would protect bicyclists from being harassed on the streets of Los Angeles.
It also voted to set aside a portion of its share of Measure R funding to projects that would specifically benefit pedestrians and bicyclists, including fixing sidewalks and creating bike paths.
During Monday's summit, Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who chairs the council's Transportation Committee, said: "There's been so much talk about bicycling over the years, but very little real action on the street."
"I'm embarrassed when I see Long Beach, Portland, Oregon, and other places. You go to Europe -- my God they live on the bicycle," he said." We need to, obviously, move in that direction. Here we are in the basin with the filthiest air on the planet, and one way to clean the air is for us to bicycle around."