Ask anyone to name a city outside Britain – we’re pretty sure Birmingham would get the local vote – that holds itself in thrall to the motor car, and the chances are that the answer will be Los Angeles. But if a proposed new law that amongst other things makes it an offence to harass cyclists, is enacted then the bicycle may come to much greater prominence in the city of angels.
From James Dean taking part in illegal night drag racing in Rebel Without A Cause through Michael Douglas’s gridlocked-induced mental disintegration in Falling Down to John Cusack trying to negotiate collapsing freeways as the world ends in a stretch limo in 2012, the car is never far away from Hollywood’s depiction of the city it belongs to.
That makes it all the more suprising that the Chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, Councilman Bill Rosendahl, is proposing a law that will make it an offence to harass cyclists. That is one of the issues that will be discussed tomorrow in a bike-themed session of the Committee.
The agenda is a wide ranging one, covering not only the proposed anti-bike harassment ordinance, but also other initiatives such as increasing cycle parking provision in new developments, proposals regarding a potential bike-sharing scheme in the city, further rollout of shared lane arrows (‘sharrows’) and an update on police reports of conflict between motorists and cyclists.
The latter is a particularly hot topic in Los Angeles following the recent conviction of a motorist for mowing down cyclists, which as we previously reported on road.cc resulted in one victim suffering horrific injuries.
But the LAPD itself is under the spotlight due to ongoing tension between LAPD officers and bike riders taking part in the city’s monthly Critical Mass. The LAPD has also been slammed by the Committee and cycling groups for its report into an incident in which the driver of a Hummer hit one cyclist and drove off with a second bike still entangled in the front of his vehicle. The police report found that the collision was caused by the cyclist “running into the Hummer,” despite evidence pointing to the fact that the bike rider was hit from behind.
While not all cycling advocates are convinced of the progress being made on some of these issues – LA Streetsblog, for example, is doubtful of progress being made regarding the city’s Draft Bike Plan as well as plans for a bike-sharing scheme – it is the proposed Anti-Harassment Ordinance that is rightly grabbing the headlines.
According to the motion introduced by Councilman Rosendahl, “The City is working to improve the quality of bicycling in the City and encourage more people to travel by bicycle. Unfortunately, as more people use bicycles, there has been an increase in the number of clashes between cyclists and automobiles. Bicyclists report that they have been bumped off the road, screamed at by drivers and had objects thrown at them. Occasionally, these situations have resulted in serious verbal altercations and physical assaults.”
These, of course, are familiar issues to cyclists around the world, and Britain is no exception, although in recent months the focus from the press and politicians alike seems to have revolved around depicting cyclists as the problem, concentrating on the actions of a minority who jump red traffic signals, take to the pavements, or ride without lights.
Councilman Rosendahl takes a different tack, however. His motion continues, “as efforts are made to promote bicycling, the City must take steps to stop the harassment of bicyclists.
“Several cities and states are addressing this issue by implementing ordinances that make harassing a bicyclist a criminal offense,” he adds. “It is important for the City of Los Angeles to do the same, “continues Rosendahl, saying, “such a law would discourage this type of behavior toward cyclists, as well as provide another tool to prosecute offending individuals.”
So far, so much political rhetoric, but as Chair of the Transportation Committee, Rosendahl’s word undoubtedly carries extra clout, and he proposes “that the City Attorney, working with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, be requested to prepare and present an ordinance that would prohibit the harassment of bicyclists in the City of Los Angeles.”
Clearly, such an ordinance is in its infancy, and there are no indications yet as to what form it will finally take, assuming it makes its way through the legislative process at all. Nevertheless, it’s a development that will no doubt be monitored closely by all those who are keen to improve conditions for cyclists both in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.