That was the reported reaction of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last week after his attempt at a bike ride in Venice ended rudely when a taxi driver suddenly pulled out in front, forcing him to swerve with unhappy results. The helmet saved the mayor’s head when he tumbled to the pavement, but his right elbow was not so lucky: he broke it, and it took him two hours to shave the next morning. Cyclists who have had run-ins with automobiles would probably reply that a slow shave would be the least of their worries.
Naturally bicycling advocates had a field day as the details trickled out. The mayor, of course, was followed by his security detail, riding in a car. Despite the evidence that the taxi driver was clearly at fault, Villaraigosa declined to press charges, and the mayor came across as putting the burden on bicyclists to be responsible for their own safety. His admonitions to wear a helmet excluded a reminder to drivers that the laws in Los Angeles explicitly state that cyclists have all rights and responsibilities as motorists (including the right to not be cut off).
The spill gives Villaraigosa another opportunity to burnish his green credentials which have been difficult to sell to the populous. The mayor’s other initiatives have flopped: Villaraigosa’s plan to have one million trees planted resulted in many trees dying in city lots while only a small portion actually were planted—and not accounted for; his city planner retired when her suggestions became politically difficult; and the proposed CleanTech Corridor near downtown LA has lagged – no one is moving in despite the hype. Villaraigosa is pushing for the city’s mass transit expansion to conclude in 10 years instead of 30—but whether or not that succeeds, the stubborn truth remains that commuting within the city is tilted in favor of the motorist.
Villaraigosa promised that once he recovers, he will bike the streets of LA again, hoping that Angelinos will join him. For now, the odds are that most will decline. Despite great weather year round, Los Angeles is just not a bicycle-friendly city. The mayor pledged to dedicate more spending to meet the city’s goal of providing a network of over 1600 miles of bike paths, but many who have examined the plan claim that total is off by a few hundred miles. Weaning Angelinos out of their cars is an uphill battle: since the Red Car trolley system ceased operations in the 1950s, LA has morphed into a city that favors the auto. The Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition is politicking hard to improve the bicycling environment in this city of 4 million and does what it can to hold politicians accountable to their promises. Just as in other cities, if safe biking paths are built and laws are actually enforced, the bikers will come—and enjoy the sun, which is best enjoyed on two wheels or two feet–not through a car’s sunroof.