Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinance Ready for City Council

We here at the LADOT Bike Blog just heard from our sources in City Hall that the precedent-setting Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinance will go before the full City Council sometime in the next two weeks.  Many bicyclists can relate harrowing stories of an out-of-control driver assaulting them simply for being on the road, and the ordinance scheduled to come before City Council aims to give bicyclists a tool to fight back against the daily harassment to which many have been subjected.  With the coming vote at the California State Legislature for the “Give Me 3” legislation, July is shaping up as a huge month for LA bicyclists.

Bicyclists from all over Los Angeles, all over Southern California, and all over the country should keep their eyes on this groundbreaking ordinance and support the City’s decision to provide bicyclists with tools to protect themselves on the road.

Turn out support this month to help LA join the vanguard of bicyclists' rights

This landmark piece of legislation wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for CD 11 Council Member Bill Rosendahl.  It was CM Rosendahl who introduced the council motion directing the City Attorney to craft the anti-harassment legislation, and it was CM Rosendahl who helped shepherd the legislation through the Transportation Committee on its way to full City Council.

Back when the City Attorney released their first draft of the Anti-Harassment Ordinance on February 17th, the topic spread through the bicycle communities of cities all over the country like wildfire.  Los Angeles has the opportunity to blaze the trail in protecting bicyclists’ rights, assuring bicyclists’ rightful place on the road, and giving bicyclists’ the tools they need to protect themselves on the streets of Los Angeles.  But we can’t do it without the support of the LA bicycle community, which is why we want to get the word out.

Not for long?

Ordinance Rundown

While there are other bicyclist anti-harassment ordinances on the books around the country, most of them are extremely difficult to prosecute because of the high burden of proof for criminal cases.  Los Angeles is breaking new ground for bicyclists’ right by making bicyclist harassment a civil offense, which requires a much lower burden of proof to get a favorable ruling because it does not entail any jail time.

For those who don’t feel like getting the particulars from our previous post, the ordinance allows a bicyclist to bring a civil suit against a driver who engages in any of the following:

  1. Assaulting, or attempting to assault, a bicyclist;
  2. Threatening to physically injure a bicyclist;
  3. Injuring, or attempting to injure, a bicyclist (this can include verbal and non-verbal threats); and
  4. Intentionally distracting a bicyclist with the intent of causing injury

Additionally, the ordinance awards a number of damages in order to make it more likely that an attorney will be willing to take your case.  The possible damages are:

  1. Triple the dollar amount of any resulting damages or $1,000, whichever is larger;
  2. The attorney’s fees of the bicyclist assaulted/harassed; and
  3. Any additional punitive damages awarded by a judge or jury

Our favorite part of the ordinance is that it not only re-confirms bicyclists’ right to the road, but also acknowledges that bicyclists get harassed on the streets of Los Angeles simply for being bicyclists.  That kind of stark honesty about the conditions bicyclists regularly face is rarely seen or acknowledged.

Language Cleared Up

From our notes on the hearing the Anti-Harassment Ordinance got before the Transportation Committee, it was clear that language in the ordinance still had too much ambiguity to be truly effective.  Over the last few months, the City Attorney’s Office has been in close contact with attorney (and bicyclist) Ross Hirsch and BAC member Jeff Jacobberger, crafting and refining the language in the ordinance to remove the possibility that a judge might interpret the ordinance differently than as written.  Our thanks goes out to Ross, Jeff, and the good people in the City Attorney’s Office for crafting a precedent-setting ordinance which could serve as a model for cities all across the country.

In particular, the language surrounding the minimum damages awarded was cleared up and additional language was added to hedge against a motorist claiming ignorance of current rules for sharing the road.  In this way, the bicyclist anti-harassment ordinance represents not only a precedent-setting step for bicyclists’ rights, but also a breakthrough, amongst a series of breakthroughs, in communication and cooperation between the City and the LA bicycle community.

Get Ready for City Council

LADOT Bike Blog will have more to say in the coming weeks on the bicyclist anti-harassment ordinance before the item gets to council.  When the ordinance becomes an official agenda item, we’ll let you know.  In the meantime: mark  your calendars, tell your friends, and let your council member know you support improving rights and conditions for bicyclists.

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