Every May, Good Samaritan Hospital stages a serious event that sounds like it could be the start of a joke: A priest, a rabbi, an imam and other religious leaders all walk over to a hospital driveway. Once there, they… bless bicycles.
The religious leaders showed up at the City West hospital on the morning of Tuesday, May 12, but this time, the tones were more somber than usual: At the 12th annual Blessing of the Bicycles, hospital staff were remembering one of their own: Peri-operative Services Director Lee Craig, who was struck and killed by a distracted driver in November while riding with her husband near Paso Robles.
Dr. Lawrence Chong, Craig’s husband and a retina specialist at two Orange County hospitals, was seriously injured in the crash. He attended the Tuesday event, taking the opportunity to praise the hospital staff and push for cycling safety measures.
“Cycling was her passion, but it also took her life,” Chong said in a Wednesday phone interview. “It was a big personal loss for me but the Good Sam family rallied around me and pulled together. It really touched my heart.”
Craig’s death underscores a danger in cycling that many people overlook. In 2012, 123 bicyclists in California died in collisions with motor vehicles, according to an October report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 726 cyclists died nationwide in traffic-related accidents in 2012, and another 49,000 were injured.
The approximately 150 people at the 90-minute Good Samaritan event honored Craig and other riders killed in traffic collisions with a “Missing Bicyclist” memorial lap around the hospital.
One of the participants was Eric Weinstein of Santa Monica, who spent about 90 minutes biking to the morning event. Weinstein displays an emblem of the Hindu god Ganesh on the front of his bicycle. This was his third time coming to the Downtown event, but only his first getting blessed.
“My bike needed to be blessed. The Ganesh is not enough,” Weinstein said.
Blessing of the Bicycles was launched in 2004 to promote cycling and safety, and to urge bicycling as an alternative transportation method. Andrew Leeka, the president and CEO of Good Samaritan Hospital, and an avid cyclist who pedaled 8,000 miles last year, recruited hospital Chaplain Rev. Jerry Anderson to help helm the event.
They brought in the other religious figures in an effort to unite the community. At the Tuesday happening, local leaders from the Catholic, Episcopalian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faiths imparted their blessings of safety and protection to cyclists.
“The hospital is full of people from all faiths, cultures and backgrounds,” Anderson said. “This event is an extension of our ministry to the whole community, regardless of personal beliefs.”
In addition to the blessing and the memorial lap, volunteers offered free bike safety checks and T-shirts. Cyclists from the LAPD Rampart Division Bicycle Detail Unit were in attendance.
The Golden Spoke award, presented annually to an organization that promotes bike safety and advocacy, was given to Aaron Paley, the co-founder and executive director of CicLAvia. The events have become one of Los Angeles’ most popular attractions, with tens of thousands of people showing up every time the city cuts off miles of transportation corridors to cars, instead turning them over of cyclists and pedestrians.
The Blessing of the Bicycles is timed to coincide with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Bike Week L.A. Held May 10-16, it includes bike repair workshops, Bike to Work Day and other events.
For Ted Rogers, founder of the blog BikinginLA.com, the Good Samaritan happenings are welcome. He survived a near fatal cycling accident eight years ago. Since then, he has been attending the Blessing of the Bicycles.
“Since coming to this event,” Rogers said, “I haven’t had a single injury or collision. A little divine intervention can’t hurt on the streets of L.A.”
Rogers, however, isn’t relying solely on an annual blessing to keep him safe. He also carries an emblem with him when cycling. It’s a charm necklace with the image of Madonna del Ghisallo, the patron saint of bicycling appointed by Pope Pius XII in 1949.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2015