Bicyclist’s Anti-Harassment Ordinance Clears T-Committee – Next Stop: City Council

Yesterday at 2:15 PM, the City Council’s Transportation  Committee met to discuss, among other things, a possible Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinance.  The draft of the ordinance, released last month to great fanfare, was the result of a motion introduced by Council Member Bill Rosendahl.  The hearing yesterday at the Transportation Committee was the first hurdle on the draft ordinance’s path to becoming law.  It was fitting, then, that the selfsame Council Member Bill Rosendahl sat today as Chair of the Transportation Committee to hear the ordinance which he had introduced.

One step remains for the ordinance to become law

With a few adjustments, the draft ordinance cleared Transportation Committee and is now on it’s way to being agendized for the full City Council.  You can check out the play-by-play at the twitter hashtag #TComm. If adopted by City Council, the ordinance becomes law.

A Quick Rundown of the Ordinance

To start the agenda item, Council Member Rosendahl read aloud the provisions of the ordinance.  For those who don’t feel like getting the particulars on the ordinance from our previous post, the ordinance allows you to bring 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 reconfirms bicyclists’ right to the road, but also acknowledges that bicyclists are 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.  In fact, the ordinance will be the first of its kind in the nation.

T-Committee 3/9/11

Council Members Bill Rosendahl & Paul Koretz at Transportation Committee

Hearing & Public Comments

First, staff from the City Attorney’s office emphasized the importance of precise language in the ordinance, especially around defining the type of harassment that takes place and clarification of the damages that can be awarded.

Next, the sitting committee members, CMs Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz, gave their comments before public comment began.  CM Rosendahl touted the advantages of the ordinance, noting that a police report wouldn’t be necessary (nor precluded) for a bicyclist to take a harassing driver to civil court.  He also praised the fact that awarded damages will include attorney’s fees, which will make it easier for bicyclists to retain representation even when little property damage or injury has occurred (simple harassment will finally be enough).  CM Koretz asked staff to clarify language surrounding the ordinance and expressed his excitement to see it become law.

Next came public comment from three members of the bike community that have been keeping very close tabs to the anti-harassment ordinance.

  • Ross Hirsch spoke first.  As the attorney who has represented Ed Magos and other bicyclists in hit-and-run cases, Ross has a lot of expertise when it comes to bicycling law.  He urged the committee to strengthen the language surrounding the possible damages, making them mandatory in order to have no ambiguity in how the law is interpreted.  He also wanted an explicit reference that the ordinance would not preclude criminal charges in cases where applicable.
  • Jeff Jacobberger, a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, urged the committee to include stronger language in the ordinance.  Jeff envisioned a situation where a driver could claim that they were not harassing a bicyclist, but instead “alerting” or “warning” the bicyclist that they should be on the sidewalk.
  • Jay Slater, the newly elected BAC Chair, urged clearer guidelines for interpreting the law and worried about enforcement problems once the ordinance is adopted.  He also urged that the ordinance become a mandatory part of LAPD training.

Not allowed for much longer

Adjustments and Passage

After public comment ended, committee members said that they wanted the language surrounding damages cleared up and that they also wanted language specifically defining “forcing a bicyclist off the road for any reason other than public safety” as a form of harassment under the ordinance.  City staff said that they would be able to satisfy both requests before the ordinance came to City Council, which meant that the ordinance would not need to come back to Transportation Committee for approval.  With that said, the committee took a vote on the anti-harassment ordinance and unanimously passed it.

When the anti-harassment ordinance gets put on the City Council agenda, LADOT Bike Blog will let you know.  It’s important for bicyclists to come out to show their support for this visionary protection for bicyclists.  As Council Member Rosendahl said during the committee hearing: “We’re going to be breaking new ground in the nation. We’ll be providing guidance to the rest of the country.”

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