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L.A. plans crackdown on harassment of bicyclists. Are new laws necessary? [Updated]

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/07/10/2ndtraffic.jpg

The L.A. City Council is moving to get tough on harassment of bicyclists.

TalkbackThe council this week asked its attorneys to draw up an ordinance that would make it a civil violation to harass or assault bicyclists. The proposed law, which the council could consider in two months, would make it easier for  cyclists to sue those who allegedly harass them and recover a cash settlement. [Updated: In response to readers who asked for more information on the proposal, here are city documents on the issue.]

The bike rights campaign has been galvanized by the case of an L.A. doctor convicted a few weeks ago of purposely hitting bikers in Brentwood.

More people are turning to two wheels for commuting and recreation. Cyclists are asserting their rights as never before. In Los Angeles, advocates are pushing for more bike lanes and other road improvements, a cyclists' bill of rights and more protection from police.

Updated at 12:30: By noon this post had received more than 100 comments. Here is a sample, along with some social media reaction:

 

Is the proposed law a good idea? Share your views below.

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (146)

As others have noted, most of the comments here demonstrate the need for an anti-harassment ordinance.

Several months ago, I was bicycling down La Brea (in the parking/peak hour lane during non-peak hours) when a young woman leaned out the passenger window of an SUV and tried to push me over. LAPD's response: "it's a he said/she said matter, so we won't bother to investigate."

I ride on San Vicente (the Mid-City one) quite often on Sunday mornings, when there is no traffic. I cannot begin to count the number of times some car has lingered behind me, honking incessantly, rather than moving into the two completely vacant lanes to pass me. LAPD's response: unless I can actually prove they intended to hurt me, they won't even investigate.

I bike almost every day for most of my trips, and I don't own any Spandex bike clothing.


@ effelarr -
"Yet it's a rare day that some driver doesn't honk at me or yell at me for taking the lane, which is perfectly within my right to do if it's safer for me."

They are yelling @ you not because you're taking a lane...They're probably yelling @ you for
- impeding traffic (city/traffic planners designed the streets for cars and trucks)
- they probably couldn't see you until the last minute
- since you don't have signals, etc. they don't know what you're doing

Personally I'd honk / yell @ you just for being such an idiot - and giving other bicyclists like me a bad rap

I rode from Arcadia to Downtown LA 2-3x wk - during rush hour - never had drivers yell/cuss/throw stuff @ me - why?? because I rode on the right - as close to the parked cars or the curb as possible -
followed laws - always gave cars right of way....

you bicyclists that can ride in the middle of the lane because it is your right are just morons - it's like saying - because the Constitution allows for Freedom of Speech, I can say whatever I feel like - wherever and whenver -

think about it

What we (cyclists) need are law enforcement that enforces the law. I've been pulled over and told to ride in the "bike lane" on PCH by L.A. Sheriff...when there ARE no bikes lanes on PCH, only a shoulder (which cyclists, by law, are not required to ride in. We do it out of courtesy to drivers.) I've heard many stories of cyclists being run off the road by aggressive/road-rage/idiot drivers and then law enforcement refusing to even TAKE a police report. (Would they also ignore attempted murder!?!?!)
I do not defend the idiot cyclists/messenger types, mostly in the downtown area, who ride bikes without breaks, blow through lights, and have little regard for traffic laws. I am part of the commuter and competitive cycling crowd that by and large DOES observe traffic laws, yet are still often harassed by drivers for no reason at all.

The author of this blog post didn't do a very good job explaining the history behind this proposed ordinance. As it stands now, it's extremely difficult for a cyclist to obtain justice under current law. As I understand it, a police officer must witness the harassment for it to be considered in a court of law. This would bring the bar down to real world application so that a cyclist could seek justice if they were harassed without a police officer witnessing the harassment.

the traffic grid in Los Angeles is not designed to accommodate cyclists. Period. As such, you will see cyclists fudge the grid and travel in large protest rides.

Create a traffic grid with traffic control devices that accommodate cyclist needs in other words normalize cycling and you will see the mutual animosity, the large group rides and the harassment melt away.

Not to mention, if you make it safe for everyone to use alternate forms of transportation instead of their cars, you will see the traffic problem itself melt awayas it has in the Netherlands where mode share is something like 40% cyclists.

I don't really have to point out the other benefits but I will anyway. They include less smog, healthier kids and adults, and discovery of one's neighborhood and city businesses.

Los Angeles is one of the best cities in the world traverse via bicycle there is no reason that we can't work to facilitate a healthier alternative than spending hours of ones life sitting in traffic every day.

This article is intended to incite rage. It doesn't explain the process for filing a criminal complaint for harassment under existing law and under the proposed law. That's the key ingredient for evaluating the value of this ordinance.

As an auto driver who does not ride bikes or motorcycles, I have full sympathy with the bikers. I give them a wide berth and will give them the right of way whenever possible. Driving a car, you have to understand the inherent inequality of that situation. HOWEVER, I expect that bicyclists will respect the same rules of the road, and do not think they can stand, wait or ride just about anywhere, and expect the same courtesy. Just yesterday, I came upon an intersection at which I had to turn right. The light was red, and there were two bicyclists waiting. One was facing perpendicular in relation to me, ie, he had to cross front of me. I gave him a wide berth. Another one was waiting parallel to me, facing the same direction as me. I wrongly assumed that he was traveling straight through and was waiting at the red. WRONG. He was going in the same direction as the other cyclists, but decided to face in the other direction while he waited. If I hadn't been creeping very slowly to try to make my right on the red, I would have hit this guy. He gave me a look like what are you doing? My response was, what are YOU doing?

Most cycylists who think they can do whatever are very indignant at auto drivers, and I resent that.

Finally! As a cyclist (and driver, and public transport user, and pedestrian, and...), it's obvious that pretty much all road users break the law constantly (for what it's worth, I follow them much more strictly than most). But none of the behavior of other road users matches the staggering ignorance, aggression, and lawlessness of certain drivers.

Anyone who has cycled around this city for long has plenty of experience with treats, harassment, abuse, and reckless disregard for life coming from certain drivers. These drivers are a minority, but a very visible and deadly minority to anyone on two wheels. These drivers simply have no idea what the rules of the road are and take out their misinformed rage against perfectly law abiding cyclists (I've been on the receiving end of this extremely dangerous road rage many times while obeying the law). Thank god cyclists are finally getting a tool to stand up for themselves.

@Overland Alum

Not true!!! I follow the laws carefully and am constantly harassed by drivers who have no idea what the laws are, but are enraged that I would have the audacity to even be in the road. Some drivers are completely ignorant of the law and use that ignorance to bully cyclists (bullying that can be ridiculously dangerous when done in a two-ton vehicle).

We're not talking about most drivers here--if a cyclists follows the law, the large majority of drivers will be courteous and safe. But there are a handful that, no matter how safely and lawfully you ride, will essentially try to kill you just for being in the street. Unless an officer is there to witness it, until now, there has been no consequence for those drivers. Now, with this ordinance, cyclists will finally have a tool to stand up for themselves.

If you really think that law abiding cyclists have nothing to fear from drivers, I invite you to join me on my commute for a week--if you don't wind up rattled and convinced of a need for this law, I'll be surprised.

@Maldiction

The proposal would apply to all vulnerable road users (those not surrounded in two tons of steel)--it would also protect pedestrians and, yes, skateboarders from harassment and assault. Is that a bad thing?

Haters gonna hate, but life goes on. Cyclists, somewhat like Muslims, are expected to answer for the behavior of the very worst people who throw a leg over a bike. Think about how silly that is.

Windfall, there is no minimum speed on city streets. It's only dangerous with the entitled mentality of motorists like yourself. I drive these streets too and have no problem with people on bikes. When I'm slowed down on the streets it's almost always because there are too many cars, not bikes.

The streets are public spaces to be used by everyone, including slower traffic. The courts have recognized this as long as there's been paved roads. Right of passage. If there's a cyclist taking the lane to be visible and predictable just pass him.

Law or not, it doesn't matter. More and more people are riding bikes and realizing that it's a fun and sensible way to get around a city with year-round good weather. There's nothing wrong with adding some more explicit legal protections to something that should be encouraged.

I have had things thrown at me several times while riding my bike.
I have been threatened. I've seen a friend nearly pulled off his bike by somebody riding by.
I have been intentionally "buzzed" countless times by people.
This is nothing compared to the many first hand accounts I have heard of people being harassed and intimidated.

The CVC indicates that bikes are vehicles that are part of traffic. But local governments have failed to communicate that to most drivers.

Our planning and infrastructure has built bikes out of the picture, leading to unnecessary conflicts on the road.

We need this legislation and the awareness that will accompany it.

The cell phone law has not stopped people from using a phone while driving a car, but people are much more conscious of it.

People need to understand that using a car (#1 killer of children in the US) as a weapon to intimidate others is not acceptable.


ban all bicycles from main roads and their riders won't get hurt or killed. they can't keep up with traffic and provide no passenger protection. automobile drivers have enough to worry about when on the road, traffic rules, stop lights, pedestrians and now we have to watch over these cry babies who think they are special, really. as bicycle riders they don't help in paying of taxes to fix roads or the building all of these special paths for them...are they all mentally handicapped that they need to be treated special, because if they are they need to stay indoors then. oh if anyone says that i am cold, heartless and insensitive...guess what people that is the reality of life, if you can't take it then you shouldn't have been born in th first place.

"The typical Marxist Democrat answer to everything problem: more government."

Psssh. Cars are Socialized Transportation. Have you thought about that? Think of all the massive subsidies laid out to keep the cost of gas low, not to mention all the space used for parking and roads.

Cars and freeways dominating L.A. was not a market outcome, either. The car lobbies and the government put private rail ways out of business to make that happen.

"How about you guys ride cars and buses like adults instead of getting around like elementary school children. "

Sir or Madame,

You sound so angry and just sad. I get it, you have a car, you have a job, you feel like people are beneath you because they don't share your views or may not (as you may think) have as much money as yourself. But know this, people don't want to be trapped in money pits any more, deal with it. Ever bike to work? It's great, you should try it, you'll have so much more energy for the day. And I dare say, you man even crack a smile across that Grinch like frown I'm imagining. Humans are animals, we need regular exercise, it's in our genetics. Starting a cycling lifestyle is a great way to get out of the house and get some much needed exercise to get out that aggression. Also, you wear spandex so your butt won't chafe on long rides-- that doesn't mean you want to be freaking Lance Armstrong. Would you wear jeans skiing if you did it every weekend? Before you go off on rants be sure you know what you're talking about. Before you look down on an entire group of people take note that the cycling community is made of every demo the world has to offer. I could look down on you because I'm 90% sure I'm in better shape and better looking than you'll ever be, but I'm not, I send love.

Cycling is a global form of transportation, that's good for you, the environment and those around you. I have a car and a bike, I looove my bike, my car is ok-- traffic SUCKS. I too dislike jerks who don't know how to ride bikes or obey the rules of the road. I also dislike people who don't pull to the curb before making a right hand turn instead of slamming on their brakes in the middle of traffic... and then taking the turn. Or people who have no clue what the words "merge" or "yield" mean, they just hit the gas and hope for the best. If only everyone were better educated on the rules of the road, cars and bikes alike we'd be better off. But then again, the world is full of ignorant jerks and there's no stopping that.

Do we need laws protecting cyclist from angry people who feel entitled to their cars and roads they don't fully own? Yes, for now. This will encourage others to get out and bike. If we want to give LA a fighting chance against global warming, which is real and happening, we need people on bikes. Get out of the house immediately the world awaits.

Love,

A Smug Cyclist.

hapa, you don't know what you're talking about. There's no minimum speed on the streets, you're just supposed to pass slower traffic. It's really easy, just PASS safely. Taking a lane is absolutely the safest thing a cyclist can do. You avoid car doors and don't tempt motorists to pass too closely. A cyclist who commands a lane is doing his best to be visible and predictable. I appreciate that as a motorist.

Driving is PRIVILEGE.
Cycling is a RIGHT.

So what to conclude from these comments?

1. There are dangerous, aggressive, inattentive drivers out there.

2. There are dangerous, aggressive, inattentive bike riders out there.

3. If drivers and riders obeyed traffic laws, used common sense, and showed respect and courtesy, there would be far fewer accidents, injuries, and deaths.

Thank you and good night.

@Windfall

The number of traffic collisions between multiple motor vehicles, and the number of collisions between motor vehicles and stationary objects far, far, far and away outpaces the number of incidents involving bicycles. This is to the extent that it has become required by law that drivers purchase liability insurance. Judging by these conditions, you would conclude - and be correct - that driving is dangerous and expensive and fool hearty[sic]. Saving money, getting exercise, leading a sustainable lifestyle, reducing congestion on the roads; you consider these to be foolish ideas? Enjoy your coffin ride, enjoy your bills, enjoy your squandered resources, have a good time; you will reap what you sew.

Is it really too much to ask that drivers look where they're going? Really? Is it? Just answer that question. It's kind of a rhetorical question. It has been legislated that drivers do not need to look where they are going. Instead, they must only purchase liability insurance, crash into whatever they please, and go about their business.

That is why this legislation is important; not just for cyclists, but as a blow to the arrogant I-can-do-anything-I-want-from-inside-this-metal-box, devil-may-care mindset that American drivers take for granted.

@jlee

You define your adult life by ownership of a motor vehicle? Do I even need to finish this thought? Seeing as you equate worldly possessions with successful adulthood, I might remind you that for every penny you have blown on motor vehicle purchases, gas, maintenance, repairs, and insurance, I have one penny in the bank. Count it up, do the math. Imagine all the worldly possessions I can buy with all those stacks of cash. Enjoy your drive, your traffic, your pollution, your bills, etc.

Agreed, some cyclists and bike riders (important distinction according to many who have posted here) fly through stop signs and generally ignore many laws and sometimes common sense. But in each and every case a 3000 lb car barreling down PCH with nail polish out; latte percolating and cell phone jammed in the ear are going to do significant damage to me and my 20 lb bike. I'll stay in my lane (if I have one) if you agree to stay in yours. Is it possible to pass laws that pertain to Range Rover drivers only? They are the worst, hands down.

" . . . guess what people that is the reality of life, if you can't take it then you shouldn't have been born in th first place."

You'll be at someone else's mercy some day.

Exactly what right do you have to push your Nietzchean agenda on the rest of us? You think because I don't want to be like you, that gives you a right to kill me?

What is it about a bicycles that brings out the rage-infected know-nothings?

I am a middle-aged woman who rides my bike to work because it makes sense for me to do so: I live five miles from work, I cannot afford a new car (my current one is 20 years old), I like the exercise, and last but not least, I like the independence from oil. I follow all traffic laws, and try my hardest to stay out of the way of cars. Yet, I am honked at on a regular basis for no good reason. If there is no shoulder or bike lane, for example, I have to take up the right lane - I have no choice. And at a stop, I cannot move up into the intersection any farther than the pedestrian lane to get out of the way of an impatient driver.

Yet by law, I have as much right to be there as the driver. If I wished to press charges against a driver who puts me in danger, the system works against me to make it nearly impossible to take any action.

As more folks take to the streets on their bicycles for whatever reason, it is imperative that they be given the same rights - not more - as a vehicle driver. Until folks on both sides learn to play well together, it's the way it must be.

jlee, you're ingnorance, closed-mindedness, and hatred are appaling. Are you really saying that when you turn 18 you should never ride a bicycle again? The exception being if you are a professional racer? In many countries everyone rides bicycles and it's no big deal. You might want to look up "cyclist" in the dictionary, because you are the one with the wrong definition. Only in the US have people like you have been brainwashed by car commercials into believing that somehow someone isn't a whole person without a car.

Your one-sided view of law breaking is also hilarious. There is not a day that goes by that there aren't auto drivers running red lights (why do you think red light cameras are all over the place?), rolling stop signs, talking on cell phones, speeding, and crossing the carpool double-yellow line. Bicyclists entitlement to the road is no more hallucinatory than yours and you are breaking the law by not treating them as equal users.

And every person I know hates people like you in cars. Are you really stupid enough to think that someone who is riding a bicycle doesn't own a car? Or two? And pay for gas and registration? Just because they are on a bike for a few hours, or even 5 minutes makes them less of a person to you? YOU and your CAR are the reason there are clogged streets and gridlock, not bicycle riders. You're the one who needs to grow up: try not to be so petty and learn to share the road.

Windfall writes: "Based on results, public roads are neither an appropriate nor intelligent place to ride a bicycle. If sharks were taking out ocean swimmers off the coast of Newport at the rate that cars take out cyclists in Los Angeles and Orange County, you would conclude that it is fool hearty to swim in this location… and you would be right."

Nonsense. Based on results, public roads are neither appropriate or intelligent place to drive a car either. According to the CHP there were 241,873 persons injured in traffic accidents in 2008, and 3,401 fatalities that year. Of the 3,401 fatalites only 127 were bicyclists. (*)

Automobile drivers are taking out themselves, their passengers, other drivers, other passengers, pedestrians, and bicycles at an average rate of 663 injuries and 9 fatalities PER DAY. And all you have to say is "it's foolhardy to ride a bicycle"????

We have to do something about automobile safety, period. No excuses.


(*) See http://www.chp.ca.gov/switrs/ for the highway patrol statistics

Bicyclists are a pain in the behind. It's hard enough to drive these streets while watching out for the other bozo drivers without having someone on 2 skinny wheels pull along side you or cut you off without warning. It's funny how bicyclists assume they deserve special treatment and respect. Good luck with this.

 
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