A Los Angeles City Ordinance If Approved, will make it Easier for Bicyclists to Seek Redress for Harassment

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Bicyclists in the City of Los Angeles…Wednesday (tomorrow) could be the day…

…the day that the Los Angeles City Council will approve preparation of a City Ordinance to the Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) that would make any threat, harassment or assault on a bicyclist a civil violation, including a fine of up to $1000.

As a weekend, recreational cyclist, I often found that no matter if I rode on urban, suburban or semi-rural roads, I would invariably confront motorists who sometimes treated my presence as an obstacle as if I were a mere tree branch that they could just brush by. Courtesy, let alone simple safety seemed to be out the window – just as I was. And as a frequent visitor to the marble-clad hallways of City Hall, I have had my share of lobby conversations with council members and city departmental executives on numerous important City issues and this was one I wanted to follow more closely.

On December 1, 2009, City of Los Angeles 11th District Councilman, Bill Rosendahl, citing the City’s commitment to improve the greater utilization of bicycles by citizens for local transportation, initiated a motion that the City Attorney and Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) develop a City ordinance to prohibit the harassment of bicyclists in the City of Los Angeles. This motion was spurred on by the reported increase of clashes between cyclists and automobiles, as well as the automobile drivers/passengers inflicting both verbal and physical abuse at bicyclists in and around City roadways. Sometimes resulting in major injuries.

The motion made its way to the City’s Public Safety Committee on January 11, 2010, where that Committee approved the request for the City Attorney, in conjunction with the Department of Transportation, to develop a report with recommendations for actions by the City. During the public comment period, members of the bicycling community expressed support for a City ordinance to improve safety for cyclists on city roads. Speakers spoke of experiences of cyclists threatened and harassed while riding. One speaker noted that precedent exists for local action; a city in Missouri adopted an ordinance to enhance cycling safety.

With the Los Angeles City Council adopting the Public Safety and Transportation Committee recommendations on January 29, 2010, the City Attorney’s office began the development of a report on the prevention of harassment of bicyclists in the City of Los Angeles referencing many California Penal Code and Vehicle Code violations that routinely occur as reported by City bicyclists. The City Attorney recognized that the problem for bicyclists was not the lack of legislation that prohibited harassing acts against them but the difficulty in obtaining enforcement of those laws. Based on the July 8, 2010 report, the City Attorney’s recommendation was that the City could enact an ordinance making it a civil violation of Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) for anyone to discriminate against a bicyclist by unlawfully assaulting, threatening, or harassing a bicyclist, and create a private cause of action with attorneys’ fees for a violation. This would allow bicyclists to seek redress for harassment in situations where the police or other enforcement personnel do not witness the harassment, or where there is insufficient evidence to warrant a criminal filing.

On October 27, 2010, the Transportation Committee considered the report from the City Attorney relative to the prevention of harassment of bicyclists in the city of Los Angeles. The Committee recommended that Council request that the City Attorney prepare an ordinance making it a civil violation, including a fine of up to $1,000, for anyone to harass, threaten, or assault a bicyclist. This recommendation was sent to Public Safety Committee for consideration. And on November 1st, the Public Safety submitted a joint report with the Transportation Committee to the City Clerk.

The City Clerk has scheduled this to be reviewed by the City Council on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 10:00am. Expectations are that this request will be approved by the Council.

Stay tuned for further updates.

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