An open letter CD5 Council Member Koretz and the Transportation Committee

Council Member Paul Koretz
200 N. Spring Street, Rm 440
Los Angeles, California 90012

Dear Council Member Koretz,

During your race for the Los Angeles City Council, I submitted a series of questions about bicycling issues to your campaign; in your response, you voiced support for bicyclists and for improving bicycle infrastructure in Los Angeles, as well as the need to reform the law in order to better protect cyclists.

In light of this Wednesday’s Transportation Committee meeting focusing on bicycling issues, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of your support, and call your attention to a few of the items on the agenda:

1) Proposed bicycle anti-harassment ordinance

As you may be aware, cyclists throughout the U.S. face daily harassment simply for exercising their right to ride in a safe and legal manner. Virtually any experienced rider can tell you stories of being yelled at or honked at by motorists, passed in an unsafe manner, having things thrown at them or being forced off the roadway — or in extreme cases, intentionally struck by a motor vehicle.

A number of states, including Massachusetts, Louisiana and Colorado, have recently passed laws to address this problem, as have a handful of cities, including Austin, Texas and Columbia, Missouri. While a similar law should be passed on a statewide level, there is much the city can and should do to address this problem.

Article 1 of the Cyclist’s Bill of Rights — which you endorsed — says cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear. Therefore, I strongly urge you to support the proposed anti-harassment ordinance, and encourage you to take an active interest in its drafting to ensure a law that is both effective and enforceable to protect the rights and safety of bicyclists.

2) Report from LAPD on bicycle incidents and conflicts between bicyclists and motorists

Many local cyclists have long felt that we don’t receive adequate support from the LAPD. There have been numerous reports of police officers misinterpreting or misapplying existing laws, as well as reports of apparent bias in investigating incidents between bicyclists and motorists; Chief Beck has recently agreed to create a working group to look into these complaints.

Again, this problem is not limited to the City of Los Angeles. Municipalities throughout California and across the nation have struggled with the same problem, which appears to be a result of inadequate training rather than active discrimination against cyclists. In my experience, most officers want to do the right thing, but may lack the training in bicycle law and bike accident investigation necessary to evaluate the situation, interpret the evidence and make qualified decisions.

Fortunately, this is easily rectified. MassBike, in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has developed a simple two-hour program intended to serve as a national template for training police officers in bike law, available as a free download or on CD for just $15; this program could be easily modified to reflect local and state regulations. The International Police Mountain Bike Association offers detailed articles on how to investigate accidents involving bicycles, also available as a free download.

Article 3 of the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights says that cyclists have the right to the full support of educated law enforcement. I urge you to hold the LAPD to their commitment to report back to the Council, accurately and in detail, and encourage the department to improve training for both new and existing officers.

3) Support changes in state law to curtail hit-and-run drivers

Finally, I would like to bring up one item that isn’t on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, but perhaps should be.

This year alone, three local cyclists have been killed by hit-and-run drivers; in each instance, the driver was also suspected of driving under the influence. Just last week, two cyclists were critically injured in collisions in which the driver fled the scene.

As you pointed out in your responses, the problem is that penalties for hit-and-run under state law are far too low:

I also believe that penalties for hit-and-run drivers need to be substantially increased and enforced. It’s a serious crime and the penalties need to be much stiffer for offenders.  I strongly believe that our current system lets drunk drivers off the hook too easily.

Under existing law, it is actually to the driver’s benefit to flee the scene of an accident if he or she has been drinking, as the penalties for drunk driving far outweigh the penalties for hit-and-run. This has to change.

As a member of the City Council and a former member of the state legislature, I strongly encourage you to introduce a motion putting the Transportation Committee and the full L.A. City Council on record as supporting an increase in the mandatory penalties for hit and run, including automatic loss of license and/or forfeiture of the vehicle involved. In addition, I urge you to use your influence with the legislature to get such legislation passed into law.

This meeting is your opportunity put your words in support of cycling into action. And for you, and the other members of the Transportation Committee, to help make the streets of this city safer and fairer, not just for bicyclists, but for everyone who drives, walks or rides in Los Angeles.

Sincerely,

Ted Rogers
Bikinginla.com

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