L.A. cyclists seek divine protection

Cycling on the streets of Los Angeles has never been for the faint of heart. The roads are crowded. Drivers are distracted. Potholes can be perilous. So can car doors, suddenly swung open.

Even the mayor is not immune. Two years ago, when a taxi pulled out in front of him on Venice Boulevard, he flew off his bike and broke his elbow.

It’s no wonder some cyclists seek out whatever help they can get — be it designated bike lanes, bike paths or even bike blessings.

On Tuesday, as part of Bike Week L.A., dozens of cyclists rode to Good Samaritan Hospital for the ninth annual Blessing of the Bicycles. A rabbi talked about living green. A nun spoke of guardian angels. And the Rev. Jerry Anderson, an Episcopal priest and hospital chaplain, sprinkled holy water on bikers and their bikes.

Jody Nathan, a Sun Valley high school biology teacher, came from Pasadena, with a paisley-patterned yellow backpack on her back. In it was Zooma, her Chihuahua, who wore Doggles-brand silver goggles decorated with skull and crossbone stickers.

Nathan, 48, who frequently commutes by bike to work and back, 25 miles each way, has been in three accidents, including one that landed her at Good Samaritan. She had been hit by a car, she said, and ended up with a broken wrist and some stitches.

She took off from work Tuesday to come downtown, she said. “This is my third year to get blessed, and I was feeling really superstitious about it.”

Andy Leeka, Good Samaritan’s president and chief executive, started the annual event, which is close to his heart. He owns 15 bikes, and frequently cycles to work from La Cañada Flintridge, even though heading home means a 1,500-foot climb in elevation.

Leeka’s a big believer in cycling for health, cycling for the environment, and increasing awareness — in drivers and cyclists alike — about ways to boost safety on the road.

Good Samaritan frequently treats banged-up bike messengers, he said. One got hit by a bus and suffered brain damage. Each year at the ceremony, Leeka talks about cyclists who have been killed or injured on city streets.

In 2011, there were 2,131 reported collisions involving cyclists in which people complained of injury, said Los Angeles police Sgt. David Krumer, a liaison to the cycling community. Of those, 514 were hit-and-runs, including four in which people died.

But cycling is getting attention now. The city is opening miles of bike lanes — with 34.9 added so far this fiscal year. More bike racks are popping up on sidewalks. Public transportation now is bike-friendly.

And several times a year Los Angeles cyclists get to enjoy CicLAvia, when stretches of city streets turn car-free for most of a day.

Bike Week L.A. aims to showcase opportunities for cyclists, said Marc Littman, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“We’re trying to get more people to use bikes on their own or with public transportation. The idea is to get people out of their cars,” he said.

To encourage that, for Bike to Work Day on Thursday, Metro is offering free bus and rail rides to anyone with a bike or a bike helmet. Rides will also be free on numerous local city transit systems. And more than 80 businesses and organizations will be hosting pit stops, offering cyclists giveaways and refreshments.

The activities start early, as did the Blessing of the Bicycles, to let people show up before work.

Celeste Douglas, 39, of East Hollywood, almost didn’t make it to Good Samaritan in time.

Douglas frequently cycles on the Pacific Coast Highway. She goes fast and admits that she doesn’t wear a helmet.

“This bike needs blessing, the way I ride,” she said as she asked Anderson, the priest, “Do you have one more blessing?”