Politician as Ally

You may have heard a few months ago that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa broke his elbow while out for a bike ride. It was a curious piece of news. On one hand, there was something to celebrate: the LA mayor got on a bike; we can probably name on one hand the number of mayors of the world’s great cities who have ridden a bicycle in the last year. Unfortunately for Villaraigosa, he was cut off by a taxi driver who pulled into the bike lane. Some drew the conclusion that if the mayor can’t ride a bike in Los Angeles without being hit, it can’t be done.

What happened next is what they call a teachable moment.

Villaraigosa vowed to do more to help cyclists and to make Los Angeles a safer place to ride a bike. Most city cyclists took a “yeah, yeah, sure, sure” wait-and-see stance.

However, back in April a “Bike Awareness and Safety slogan contest” was announced and it could easily have died in silence, even after the Danny Gamboa’s winning slogan of “Give Me 3” was chosen and the Geoff McFetridge poster was designed. Instead, Villaraigosa held a ceremony on the steps of Los Angeles’ City Hall announcing the winners and unveiling the poster design. The ceremony was held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and even the Midnight Ridazz. For those of you unfamiliar with the Midnight Ridazz, they are primarily known as a club composed fixie-riders more associated with the Critical Mass end of advocacy than the show-up-at-City Hall-and-lobby-politicians end.

The posters can already be seen on bus shelters around the city; there will be more than 1000 erected by the city. Perhaps the most surprising development was Villaraigosa’s announcement that he would like “the three-foot passing rule a three-foot passing law in California.”

The LADOT’s Rita Robinson, though well-meaning, demonstrated her lack of understanding of the cycling experience by insisting that the three-foot rule means three feet beside, behind and beyond. It’s unlikely that most cyclists feel more threatened than when a car is fewer than six feet behind.

Villaraigosa will be heading to Sacramento to introduce his bill and staff aides say the mayor plans to enlist the help of cycling advocates from other cities to make sure the bill becomes law.

Whether the mayor succeeds or not remains to be seen. Gridlock in California’s political process is legendary; Sacramento is the burial place for many great hopes and ideas. Villaraigosa has announced he wants to force a culture shift in Los Angeles, bringing acceptance to cycling as a means of transportation and a greater respect for those who pedal around the city.

That cycling is even on the radar of the mayor of the United States’ second-largest city is a marvel and worth reporting, though advocacy was never meant to be part of Red Kite Prayer’s mission. Our primary concern is in enriching the cycling experience of our readers. That said, roadies are finding it more difficult to conduct group rides in many cities. Race permits are becoming harder to gain in many places and some communities are even writing ordinances to restrict cycling altogether, and for those reasons, this is worth reporting.

It is said all politics are local. This is no call-to-arms, but there’s a good chance that there’s a local advocacy coalition that could benefit by something as simple as your signature, your donation, your membership.

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  1. Robot

    Interestingly, our Mayor, Mayor Menino of Boston, is also a cyclist, and he has made lots of noise about making Boston better for cyclists. He appointed a Bike Czar, and they have put in some miles of bike lanes (there were a total of two city blocks worth of lanes just a few years ago).

    Still, Boston is a hard city to ride. I find that resources and laws are nice, but in the end, enforcement is the real arbiter of change. If anything, it feels as though the bike lanes have intensified motorists’ disdain for the two-wheeled.

    The root of our problem, IMHO, is a completely anarchic traffic philosophy. There are laws here, but they are not enforced. For the raft of drivers failing to signal, running lights, parking in bike lanes, I almost NEVER see anyone being ticketed. And so, despite all the attention, nothing has changed here.

    I hope you have better luck on your coast.

    1. Author

      The actual enforcement of laws is a huge issue and selective enforcement has created tension between cyclists and police almost everywhere I’ve been. Just getting cops tun understand causation in accidents is huge. I’m told there has been an effort to teach the rank and file LAPD about proximate cause—that is, accidents that would never have occurred without the actions of a motorist not directly involved in the accident—which is a factor in a huge number of cyclist injuries here.

      There seems to be a willingness to enforce some laws, such as cars driving in bike lanes; Paris Hilton was cited for it here. Others have yet to appear on the radar. If the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department can get their heads around proximate cause, I think their understanding of other issues would grow substantially.

  2. Jonny

    I hope things get better in Los Angeles but things like sharrows and public awareness are only half measures. LA needs a artery system of safe, interconnected non-car pathways that minimize the time on the streets. As a start this be done by connecting the scattered river trails around the area.

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