Alex Baum dies at 92; activist elevated bicycling culture in car-centric L.A.
Alex Baum, a Los Angeles bicycling advocate who over decades successfully pushed for bike paths, bike lanes and a greater consciousness of bikes as legitimate transportation in a sprawling city built around cars, has died. He was 92.
Baum’s death Sunday in a Los Angeles hospital was caused by a bowel obstruction, his daughter Danielle Gardner said.
FOR THE RECORD
Alex Baum: In the March 4 California section, the obituary of Los Angeles bicycling advocate Alex Baum said that his brother Marcel survived him. Marcel Baum died in 2014. Also, Alex Baum’s son Michel was omitted from the list of survivors. Baum’s survivors include his daughter Danielle Gardner, son Michel Baum, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Aligned with the French resistance, Baum was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps and immigrated to the U.S. after the war. By trade he was a caterer, but he was more well-known for his involvement in sports organizations, including the committee that organized the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
For more than 30 years, Baum was head of the city’s Bicycling Advisory Committee – an influential group that works with city transportation officials on cycling issues.
“He was a voice for cyclists at a time when cyclists had no voice in L.A.,” said Michelle Mowery, the city’s senior bicycle coordinator. “He used to call us the poor stepchild of transportation.”
Without Baum’s relentless lobbying, the city’s 56 miles of bike paths and 369 miles of bike lanes would probably not exist, Mowery said, adding that Baum helped lay the groundwork for plans that call for 1,680 miles of bike paths, bike lanes and bike-friendly streets.
One of the projects Baum championed most ardently was the Los Angeles River bike path, a trail envisioned as ultimately stretching 51 miles from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach. In 2002, the city built the Alex Baum Bicycle Bridge to get river trail riders over busy Los Feliz Boulevard.
“The bridge could only be named after one person, and that’s Alex Baum –L.A.'s No. 1 citizen cyclist,” city council member Tom LaBonge said at the time.
The bridge was rededicated to Baum in 2012.
Born Dec. 30, 1922, to a Jewish family in Laufersweiler, Germany, Baum moved as a boy to the French town of Vic-sur-Seille, where his family had relocated to escape anti-Semitism.
He cheered as racers in the Tour de France whipped through his region, but his own athletic ambitions were derailed by the war.
With his brother Marcel, he was arrested by German soldiers in 1943 after illegally crossing into Spain with refugees. After initially being sent to Buchenwald, they wound up in Peenemunde and Mittelbau-Dora, where they were among the prisoners in a vast underground factory assembling—and sometimes sabotaging—German V-2 rockets.
Every morning, Baum once told an interviewer, guards would parade workers past a new group of five hanged fellow prisoners.
“They wanted to make sure that everyone knew that if they were caught in sabotage, they would be next,” he said.
After the war, Baum competed on the French national soccer team.
He came to the U.S. in 1947, joining one of his uncles in his Chicago meatpacking business. Baum started a cheese shop in Sheboygan, Wis., before moving to Los Angeles with his wife Rachel in the early 1960s.
In the San Fernando Valley, Baum ran a Panorama City butcher shop and became a high-end caterer.
Meanwhile, he was active in biking circles. A former racer, he became a friend and mentor to racers throughout Los Angeles.
“He’d feed them,” his daughter said. “ ‘Come on in, I’ll make you a sandwich’: It’s like they were part of the family. He was a real mensch. “
As part of the local organizing committee for the 1984 Olympics, Baum helped establish the Games’ first women’s bike racing events. They have since become a regular feature at the Summer Olympics.
He also became a board member of the U.S. Cycling Federation – now known as USA Cycling, and was the first American appointed to the board of the Union Cycliste Internationale, a governing body for bicycling based in Aigle, Switzerland.
He persuaded former L.A. mayor Tom Bradley to form the Bicycle Advisory Committee and continued to chair the group under successive mayors.
With Baum spurring them on, cyclists started demanding a bigger voice in transportation decisions.
“Until now, cyclists have not been involved in politics,” he told The Times in 1993. “They liked to be off on their own. But now they are beginning to realize that they had better get involved.”
In addition to his daughter Danielle and his son Michel, Baum’s survivors include three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Rachel, his wife of 62 years, died in 2011.
FOR THE RECORD
March 4, 12:41 p.m.: An earlier version of this obituary stated that Alex Baum’s brother Marcel survived him. Marcel Baum died in 2014. The obituary also omitted Alex Baum’s son, Michel, from the list of his survivors.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get all the day's most vital news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.