The Austin Chronicle

Bike Spill Leaves Former Mayor Todd in Stable Condition

By Amy Smith, December 2, 2005, News

Doctors and family members credit a bicycle helmet for saving the life of former Mayor Bruce Todd, but one could also attribute his survival, in part, to a steely suit of thick skin that he acquired while serving during Austin's do-or-die era of the Nineties.

Todd is in stable condition at Brackenridge Hospital after a Sunday afternoon bicycle accident near Lockhart left him with a head injury and several broken bones. "He has a broken cheekbone, four broken ribs, and a broken shoulder blade," Elizabeth Christian, Todd's wife, said Tuesday. "But he's alive. He's alive and very fixable." The head injury caused bleeding in the brain but no swelling – a favorable sign that Todd likely escaped long-term brain damage. He also escaped paralysis, which he demonstrated by trying to yank out all the tubes he has in him. "Bruce is not a happy camper right now," Christian said, "but he's definitely not paralyzed."

Todd, now a lobbyist, served as mayor from 1991-1997, which saw some of Austin's most divisive environmental wars and a number of other political firestorms, including one that Todd himself introduced – the Bicycle Helmet Ordinance – which touched off a hail of slings and arrows from the bicycle community, all aimed squarely at Todd.

The helmet law was so unpopular that, shortly after Todd left office, a new City Council relaxed the ordinance, making helmets optional for riders over the age of 17. Todd, 55, never exercised that option. He dutifully strapped on his helmet Sunday afternoon and set off on a ride organized by the Austin Cycling Association. More than an hour later, somewhere along a stretch of road south of Lockhart, passersby found him critically injured along the side of the road. His new bike – an early Christmas present from his wife – was not damaged in the accident, but Christian said she intends to have it checked out for safety purposes. Details of the accident were still being pieced together at press time, but Todd, who was riding alone at the time, is believed to have taken a spill over the handlebars, landing face down on his right side. "They told me in the emergency room that the helmet saved his life," Christian said.

Todd, who averages about 100 miles a week on his bike, was participating in a ride organized by the Austin Cycling Association. This particular afternoon spin gave riders the option of taking a 54-mile route or a shorter route. Todd initially signed up for the longer ride, according to ACA President Scott Korcz. But he apparently opted instead for the shorter route – perhaps because he had planned to put up Christmas decorations in his front yard later that afternoon. When he left home that day, Christian and her daughter were decorating a tree and listening to holiday music. As the afternoon wore on, said Christian, "I kept thinking, where is he?" With the stereo cranked up for a Bing Crosby number, Christian didn't hear her cell phone ringing with news of her husband's accident. Sheriff's deputies then tried other family members and located Todd's sister, Betsy Todd, who drove to her brother's home and took Christian to the hospital.

Needless to say, the Todd family is doing its part to promote helmets for bike riders, particularly kids 17 and under, who are required to wear the headgear under the city ordinance. At Christian's request, the Cycling Association – which also requires helmets for all of its ride participants – has set up a fund to accept donations to buy children's helmets for Central Texas youth organizations. Details are available at

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