Mayor Villaraigosa’s Bike Summit Receives Favorable, Wait and See Reception from L.A. Bike Community

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Bike Summit at Metro.

L.A. City Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa just wrapped up his “Bike Summit” at Metro, and while not officially describing himself as a cyclist, promised to champion cyclist issues, including raising safety awareness for cyclists on streets and improving bicycle infrastructure.  This pledge was made following his own accident where the mayor broke his elbow falling head-first over his bike last month.

The mayor said his bicycle accident “brought a few issues to the forefront,” including the need to build more bicycle lanes, and said that he perhaps owed his life, or at the very least, much greater injury to wearing a bicycle helmet. Villaraigosa said he wanted to develop state legislation that requires people 18 and over to wear bicycle helmets.  A bicycle helmet law already exists for those under 18.  The mayor conceded that such an effort was not particularly popular with the bicycle community. “I don’t need to be popular here,” the mayor said.  “I’m here today because I was wearing a helmet.”

The mayor also said much work needs to be done to address safety and mobility of cyclists, bringing together officials from Metro, LADOT and LAPD, among others, to participate in the meeting.

“We’re building a transit network and a bike network,” the mayor said.  “We know we’re going to have to improve the infrastructure that goes with it.” That included enforcing the vehicle code for motorists who do not respect cyclists, and changing the overall car culture in Los Angeles where drivers “don’t pay enough attention to or respect rights of ways of cyclists” he said.

The mayor then talked about the City of L.A.’s Bike Plan which currently calls for 1,600 miles of bikeways, saying he wanted to “accelerate as much as possible that effort.”

He said that between 1977 and 2010, 372 miles of bikeways were constructed, equaling about 8-12 miles per year.  “We obviously can do better.  We’re building about 40 miles per year…We’ll build 200 miles every five years.”

The mayor said he planned to personally produce Public Service Announcements for media outlets and Youtube that would raise visibility for cycling safety in Los Angeles, saying “We want to change the culture.  Cars dominate the road and don’t look out for the cyclists.”

Following the mayor’s comments, much of the bike community comment for the remainder of the summit focused on sundry bicycle community interests, but comments on the city’s Bike Plan dominated.  Members of the public expressed concern over the timeline for bike-related improvements, requesting that efforts to increase bicycle amenities in Los Angeles be expedited faster than the 25-year timeline identified in the city’s plan — a point the mayor said he agreed with.  Both the mayor and Rita Robinson, General Manager of LADOT and Metro board member, pledged to implement an annual work program to closely monitor target dates and key implementations within the plan.  Robinson did acknowledge that securing funding for the plan was a political challenge she hoped to resolve with the mayor and other agencies’ help.

Metro provides bicycle valet for bike summit.

Metro Bike Efforts

With many comments focused on recommending improvements to the City’s Bike Plan Draft, surprisingly little was said about Metro’s bike-related efforts.  Metro CEO Art Leahy, in his opening remarks, said bikes will become more important and must be integrated with the transit system.  One of the themes that came out of the Metro Bicycle Roundtable Series was the bicycle community’s request to install triple bicycle racks on its buses and to remove the peak-hour restrictions for bikes on its rail lines.  Art said the agency was working on these issues.

As a Metro board member and next board chair, Villaraigosa said he was interested in pursuing additional funding for bikeway projects in L.A. County through the Metro Call for Projects.  He said the City of L.A. has already dedicated a portion of Measure R funds to building more bike facilities.

A prominent, long-time bicycle advocate asked the mayor to work with the transit agency’s board to grow the pot of money that is available for bicycle infrastructure.   The mayor said “I’ll be asking Mr. Leahy and the MTA board to review our federal legislative efforts to include bicycle advocacy and funding.  I want to get a set aside amount for bicycle lanes, much as we’re doing in the city.  I think having a dedicated funding source is going to help us address the region’s needs, not just the needs of the city of Los Angeles.  And that’s in addition to also using the Call for Projects as an opportunity to fill in the blanks.”

Mayor Villaraigosa briefs the press on Bike Summit

In a press briefing following the summit meeting, the mayor acknowledged the bike community’s “wait and see” attitude regarding his newfound interest in bike issues.  “When you realize we had a bike plan for 20-some-odd years – the latest one in 1996 – the city over the years just hasn’t met the goals of that plan.  They’re [the bike community] absolutely right to be wary, to be skeptical.  That’s why I said, we’re going to have a bike plan that has specific targets that are measured where we’ll be able to assess on a regular basis just how well” the plan was being implemented.

On a humorous note early in the meeting, Former L.A. City Mayor Richard Riordan, wearing a cycling jersey, offered the Mayor training wheels for his bicycle to keep him from falling in the future.

The mayor, joining in the laughs, said he was sent a text message by cycling great Lance Armstrong after the Mayor’s accident, who offered him the following advice: “Remember, stay on the bike.”

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