Anti-Harassment Policy in LA Council

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl proposed an ordinance back in December to request that the City Attorney and the Dept. of Transportation craft language for an ordinance that would prohibit the harassment of cyclists on City of Los Angeles streets. When on the agenda for the Transportation Committee’s December 2009 meeting, nearly every key bike advocate and activist was in the house to support the move.

When the City Council voted in January (13-0) to accept the motion and ask the City Attorney to report back on the feasibility of addressing cyclist harassment, it was like a reprise – cyclists turned out in support. Now the City Attorney has reported back and the issue is again in front of the Transportation Committee on Wednesday, October 27th at 2 pm before going on to Council. Even if you can’t attend, you can provide your input directly to the committee. Call the City Clerk directly (213 978-1043) or email your letter to the legislative assistant in the clerk’s office (john.white@lacity.org).

Putting in place a policy that expressly prohibits motorists harassment would be a first for the region and a model for other municipalities (and the county). This would be a great step for cyclists because the City of Los Angeles is 460+ square miles with many thousands of miles of blacktop. Those of us who ride for utility know too well that nothing sours a commute like motorist harassment.

What is harassment? If you have to ask, you haven’t used your bike for day-to-day travel. Simply, harassment is the intentional intimidation directed at cyclists or pedestrians by motorists. You know you’ve been harassed when a motorist intentionally pinches you between the travel lane and parked cars. Or when a motorist intentionally jumps the gun on a left turn and narrowly misses your front wheel. Or if they wait for you to pass but intentionally cut too close to your back wheel. Or rides too closely on your back wheel if you take the lane. There are many forms of harassment but what they have in common is intent and an asymmetrical threat of physical harm. There need be no harm, mind you, but the intent to harm or intimidate.

This legislation is significant because it is a stake in the ground for the cycling community, which today must rely on an assortment of existing laws that don’t sufficiently recognize the impact of on-road intimidation. (Laws address only actual harm or if they address intent it is very difficult to enforce if an officer doesn’t see the actual act.)

An ordinance is also important because it recognizes that cyclists have a right to ride unimpeded and without the threat of intentional harm from motorists. It’s enough that we’re vulnerable every time we ride because our streets don’t accommodate cycling with safety infrastructure, or because motorists aren’t sufficiently educated about sharing the road as a condition of licensing. (Or as fellow rider Alex Thompson has observed, in practice authorities fail to put life before license when adjudicating instances of actual, grievous harm.)

It is too much to ask that we ride also with the threat of physical violence borne of intent to do harm. Let’s step up and make ourselves heard! Read the report and comment (reference: Council file 09-2895)!