Proposal Would Give More Rights to Cyclists Involved in Crashes

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Photo by work the angles via LAist Featured Photos on Flickr

Last December Councilmember Bill Rosendahl proposed that the city create a law that would prohibit the harassment of cyclists in Los Angeles. It was cheered by the cycling community, but others were cautious, citing that many existing laws already cover any such harassment.

"Many of the harassing actions about which bicyclists complain already constitute
California Penal Code and Vehicle Code violations," explained a July report (.pdf) from the City Attorney's Office about the motion, which will be taken up next week in a public meeting.

The report said spitting on a cyclist is assault and battery and that hrowing something at a cyclist would be considered the same, but also a violation of Vehicle Code Section 2311 O(a), which is "Throwing substance at a vehicle."

Additionally, threatening to injure a cyclist could fall under "criminal threats," and physically touching -- a complaint usually heard from female riders -- is battery and may even constitute as sexual battery. And driving too close to a cyclist could be "following too closely" and could also be considered reckless driving and assault with a deadly weapon. Finally, cutting off a cyclists, something L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa experienced this summer when he shattered his elbow, could violate a number of laws, including "unsafe lane change," "passing bicycle with insufficient clearance and "driving a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane."

The way the City Attorney's Office sees it, it's not a lack of legislation of prohibiting harassing acts, it's "the difficulty in obtaining enforcement of the laws." To that, they suggest the City Council "enact an ordinance making it a civil violation of the Los Angeles Municipal Code 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."

That is to say, according to the report, cyclists could "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."

Damien Newton at Streetsblog explains it a littler further:

Generally, people who sue for a tort in civil court cannot recover attorneys fees, and so unless there are very serious injuries or unless the person suing is wealthy, it is almost impossible to get an attorney to represent you. By allowing for a recovery of attorneys fees, people might be able to get a lawyer to represent them even if they were only slightly injured, or did not suffer physical injuries.

Newton adds: "Granted, this isn’t the kind of change that’s going to make streets safer for cyclists overnight, instead its aim is to help cyclists recoup some of their losses after the crash," he said. "And what about just trying to make streets safer for cyclists? Wasn’t that the original point of pushing an 'anti-harassment ordinance?'”

Rosendahl, however, is still on board for making the streets safer and says this is just one step ensure they are not just for automobiles.

The report will be heard next week at the city council's Transportation meeting.