Bike map of L.A.The Backbone Bikeway Network proposed by the L.A. Bike Working Group was incorporated into the city’s master plan for 1,680 miles of new bike lanes.Graphic: LA Bike Working GroupThe cab driver who cut off Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when the mayor was riding his bicycle last year may have done the city a huge favor.

After the incident, in which he fell from his bike and broke his elbow, Villaraigosa started talking a lot more about the importance of bicycles to the city’s future.

And on March 2, he signed a kind of astonishing bicycle master plan, which had been unanimously approved by the city council the day before. It calls for the creation of 1,680 miles of interconnected bike lanes in the city where transport has been defined by the automobile for generations. Significantly, this is a network designed not for recreation, but for actual transportation.

The plan, which was created with significant input from the city’s well-organized bicycling community, would mean 100 miles per year of new lanes over each of the next five years, and 40 miles a year thereafter. Funding will come, in part, from a half-cent sales tax dedicated to transportation upgrades, overwhelmingly approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

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Since 1977, the city has built just 377 miles of bike lanes.

As Matthew Fleischer notes on KCET’s SoCal Focus blog, this is just the beginning. NIMBYism and bureaucratic delays could get in the way of the plan’s implementation.

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But let’s put doubts aside for a moment. Think about the implications. Los Angeles — the city that has for so long defined, epitomized, and glamorized American car culture — could become a truly great bicycling city. And that could change the way ordinary people and politicians alike think about bicycles as transportation in the United States.

Makes me want to give that cabbie a nice, fat tip.