LA mayor takes heat over helmet law idea at 'Bike Summit'

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Brian Watt/KPCC

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa talks to reporters after bike summit. The mayor is holding and squeezing a ball of putty as part of his therapy for the elbow he broke in a recent bicycle accident.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa talked today about how to make L.A. safer for bicyclists.

At the "Bike Summit," Villaraigosa was booed for mentioning his intention to go to Sacramento to lobby for a law requiring helmets for all who ride bicycles.

"Currently the city's street standards do not take bicyclists into consideration and have extremely minimal considerations for pedestrians as well," said Aurisha Smolarski, of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition,

"I don't need to be popular here," said Villaraigosa. "I am here today because I was wearing a helmet," he added, referring to his crash last month in which he was injured.

Bike advocate Alex Thompson, president of Bikeside L.A., says making helmets mandatory is not allowing adults to make decisions.

"I wear a helmet most of the time, but I want to be able to ride to the store a mile without a helmet," he said. "There are places where you have 95 percent of the people not wearing helmets, and you have one-sixth the rate of fatality. It's more about respect and people watching out for cyclists, and their culture of respect will do a lot more to save lives, and it's a lot easier."

Officials talked about a draft "Bicycle Plan" aimed at building more than 1,600 miles of bikeways – including 200 miles in the next five years. They also talked about the Los Angeles Police Department's enforcement of laws governing safe driving and cycling, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's effort to integrate cycling in the region's rail and bus network; and other infrastructure and related projects.

Over the last several months, several incidents 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.

In May, an activist bicycling group accused police officers of trying to hurt them 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.

Last month, Villaraigosa broke his elbow in eight places after a taxi stopped abruptly in front of his bicycle, sending him tumbling over the handlebars.

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.

KPCC Wire Services contributed to this report.

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