AN UPDATE: As of Monday, September 5 Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved the bicyclist anti-harassment ordinance is in effect. The ordinance takes a new and innovative approach to the problem of the harassment of cyclists by motorists with whom we are supposed to be able to share the road. The ordinance passed after the City Council made what are called legislative findings; (1) that Los Angeles wants to encourage people to ride bicycles instead of driving motor vehicles to lessen traffic congestion and improve air quality, (2) that harassment of bicyclists only because of their status as cyclists exists, (3) that existing criminal and civil laws do not effectively deal with the harassment, (4) that riding a bike in LA poses hazards to cyclists that are made worse by the harassment, and (5) that people have a right to ride a bicycle and should be able to do so safely on city streets.
Based on these findings the City Council stated that the harassment of cyclists is against public policy and the ordinance it passed prohibited the following:
· the physical assault or attempted physical assault of a bicyclist
· to intentionally injure, attempt or threaten physically injure a bicyclist because of their status as a rider
· intentionally distracting or attempting to distract a bicyclist
· intentionally force or attempt to force a bicyclist off the street for purposes other than public safety
Cyclists can enforce the ordinance by a civil lawsuit, which they could do already. But the ordinance’s adds new “teeth” providing for treble damages or $1000 whichever is greater, the cyclists’ recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs of litigation, and the possible award of punitive damages. These “teeth” are intended to make civil enforcement of the ordinance a more attractive proposition to private attorneys who in the absence of these provisions are generally reluctant to accept cyclist’s cases.
No sooner had the ordinance passed than the conservative commentators on KFI began to deride the ordinance as unnecessary, an infringement on motorist’s rights and pandering by so-called liberals seeking to endear themselves to the cycling community. As we have seen in the ongoing process of trying to pass the 3-Foot Pass Bill (SB 910)[JUST PASSED], cyclists’ safe access to our roads has become a political issue with the votes so far along straight party lines; Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. I don’t get it. Republicans ride bikes too.
The innovative LA ordinance has received a lot of national attention. We cyclists need to help the process too. The opponents of bicycle safety laws always bring up the stereotype that cyclists do not obey the laws, run stop lights, block roads, are rude to motorists and essentially get the harassment that they deserve. We all know riders that fit the stereotype. We need to do some self policing so fewer do. Laws such as the Anti-Harassment Ordinance or the proposed 3-Foot Pass Bill (SB-910) can change motorist conduct toward cyclists, but the change will not happen overnight and these laws alone will not work unless cyclists continue to ride in a manner worthy of such protection.