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L.A. Council considers law to protect bicyclists from harassment [Updated]

July 20, 2011 |  6:10 am

L.A. Council considers law to protect bicyclists from harassment

A proposed law intended to protect bicyclists from harassment by motorists will be taken up Wednesday by the Los Angeles City Council.

The law would make it a crime for drivers to threaten cyclists -- verbally or physically -- and would allow victims of harassment to seek more than $1,000 in damages in civil court.

The proposed ordinance is one of the toughest anti-harassment measures nationwide, according to its author, Councilman Bill Rosendahl. “It’s about time cyclists have rights,” he said.

On Tuesday Rosendahl posted a YouTube video asking riders to share stories of harassment on the road. The city’s Department of Transportation has made a similar pitch to cyclists, and may use some of the comments at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Rosendahl, who helped pass the city’s ambitious bicycle master plan earlier this year, has only recently learned how to ride a bike.

[Updated 8:38 a.m.: Rosendahl says he knows how to ride, but hadn't been on one for 30 years, until two weeks ago, when he took a bicycle training course.] 

But he became an advocate for the community in 2008 after two cyclists pedaling on a curvy road in his Brentwood district were seriously injured when a driver slammed on his car brakes in front of them. The driver, physician Christopher Thompson, was convicted of numerous charges, including assault with a deadly weapon.

As the number of cyclists on Los Angeles streets has swelled -- local census data shows a 50% increase in commuters bicycling to work over the last eight years -- so too have conflicts between motorists and bicyclists. Some motorists have accused cyclists of flouting traffic laws, while cyclists have complained that they are treated like second-class citizens.

Last year, at the behest of cyclists, the Los Angeles Police Department convened a bicycle task force and launched new training that acquaints officers with laws that protect cyclists, including traffic codes that relate to bicycle lanes and rights of way.

Allison Mannos, urban strategy director at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, said the anti-harassment ordinance was another sign of the city’s commitment to cyclists.

“It’s really symbolic because it shows the city’s committed to protect cyclists and encouraging cycling as a mode of transportation,” she said.

At the state level, legislators are considering a law that would require drivers to give cyclists at least 3 feet of space while passing. Senate Bill 910 is cosponsored by the city of Los Angeles, and it has won vocal support from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who recently launched a “Give Me Three!” safety campaign.

Villaraigosa knows how dangerous riding a bicycle can be. Last summer, he bruised his head and shattered his elbow when he was jolted off his bike by a turning taxicab.

RELATED:

Mayor Villaraigosa pushes plan for L.A. bike lane network

In victory for cyclists, Metro allows bikes on rail lines

Cycling advocates air concerns after crash that injured 11 riders

-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Cyclist Dustin Woodard holds a patch custom made by cyclist Kat Knox-Davies after a crash that left 11 cyclists injured in Culver City early Saturday. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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