Tuesday, August 03, 2010

CityWatchLA - Mayor Hits Ground, Misses Opportunity

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's bike crash has generated press around the country, prompting well wishes from around the globe, but somehow failing to elicit the most basic of the appropriate post-crash behavior from the highest ranking member of LA's cycling community.

The New York Times recounts the details of the Mayor's recent bike ride that ended quickly when a taxi operator pulled out in front of him and caused him to fall, resulting in a broken elbow that required surgery. It also references the Mayor's Copenhagen revelation of last year when he declared "In the area of bicycling I’ve got to do a better job and the city’s got to do a better job" and his new Huffington Post declaration “It’s time to recognize that bicycles also belong on L.A.’s streets.”

Grist refers to the incident as "a prime teachable moment to deflate the myth that collisions between military-sized vehicles and cyclists are no big deal. Instead, he reinforced the notion that public streets are for autos -- and anyone else enters at their own risk."

The Mayor has an opportunity to build on his "Biking in Los Angeles should be a natural" declaration, but it requires action, not just talk and YouTube video thanking the public for their concern. While promises of a Bike Summit play nicely to the cyclists of LA, unless the attendees are the General Managers of the many city departments who have a piece of the streets, it will simply be another opportunity to commiserate over the mean streets of LA as the audience bestows "One of us!" street cred on the Mayor.

I propose that the Mayor's real opportunity is to use the specifics of his bicycle crash on Venice Blvd. as an opportunity to improve the streets of LA for everybody and to do it by engaging in some simple and yet effective solutions.

1) Collect the data. Immediately following an incident on the streets of LA, go to LABikeMap.org and enter the data. (collision, near-miss, road conditions, harassment, etc.) No change will take place without good data and while the City of LA deliberates with Google over cloud computing, Bikeside has simply created a crowd sourcing process that allows the public to collect the data that drives the funding for improving the streets of LA for everybody.

2) Endorse the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. The right to travel safely and free of fear is supported by basic law, municipal code, and departmental policy. All that's missing is for the Mayor of Los Angeles to endorse it, communicating to the cycling community that he supports them in word and in action.

3) Implement the Backbone Bikeway Network. Now is the time for the Mayor to commit to connectivity, bringing the full City Family (LAPD, BOSS, Public Works, Planning, DWP, RAP...) together to support the implementation of the Backbone Network, supporting connectivity with Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Evaluation and Human Infrastructure that goes beyond simple paint on the street. The Mayor has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership by bringing inter-agency leadership (Caltrans, CHP, Metro, LASD, LAUSD, CRA, SCAG...) together to make the Backbone Network an integral element of the Mayor's 30-10 plan.

4) Prioritize Human Infrastructure.
Now is the time for the Mayor to set a good example by taking "Confident City Cycling Course" taught by Sustainable Streets. This is also the time to have the City Family participate in bicycle awareness training on the rights of cyclists on the streets of Los Angeles. At Chief Beck's direction, the LAPD developed an online program that sets a standard for effective communication and education. Let's use it!

5) Supervise the Professionals. LA's Department of Transportation licenses and regulates more than 2300 taxi cab operators and if pulling out in front of a cyclist and causing significant bodily injury doesn't warrant some response or trigger some call for education, what does? The motorist who pulled out into traffic and caused the Mayor to hit the ground must be held accountable for his actions, regardless of intent which is rarely an issue. Careless, inattentive, and distracted driving are the more common causes of injury but, regardless, if a Taxi Cab Operator fails to drive safely, he must be held accountable.

6) Empathize with the Public. As the City Council considers enhanced collection strategies for LAFD Ambulance services, it is imperative that the Mayor acknowledge the fact that the average Angeleno would not get emergency surgery on a weekend for an injury suffered on the streets of Los Angeles. If the Taxi Cab Operator caused the Mayor's injury, did the Taxi Cab Operator's auto insurance cover the bills? Surely the Mayor's health insurance, paid for by the public, is not covering an injury caused by a professional motorist licensed and regulated by the City of Los Angeles! The Mayor must clarify legal and financial responsibility, not simply brush it off.

These simple steps don't require scheduling a Bike Summit or gathering cyclists together to hear how tough it is on the streets of Los Angeles. They simply require the Mayor to take care of a few details and in doing so, he will get to proclaim "Los Angeles, the City with a Backbone!"

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