The purpose of government is not to enforce the will of the majority, but to protect the rights of minorities and the most vulnerable members of society.
And on the streets of Los Angeles, the vulnerable minority are the people who ride bicycles.
As was noted in a recent meeting of the Public Safety Committee, Los Angeles is a city dominated by motor vehicle traffic, to the detriment of other legal road users. In fact, Council Member Dennis Zine was quoted on KABC-TV as saying,
I think we are a car culture here in Southern California. I don’t know if we’re ever going to change that.
Yet the continued livability of this city requires that we do.
Many of this city’s streets are already at or above capacity. Repeated attempts have been made to increase capacity and maximize vehicular throughput, often to the detriment of the surrounding community. Yet these street “improvements” typically result in only short term relief before returning to a state of congestion.
The only viable option is to reduce demand on the streets. We must get people out of their cars by encouraging alternative methods of transportation, such as effective mass transit and bicycling.
Studies have shown that nearly 40% of all trips made in the U.S. are less than 2 miles in length and could easily be done by bike, and that more people would ride bikes if they felt safer on the streets. Yet Council Member Tony Cárdenas recently summed up the attitude of many Angelenos when he said that the city’s streets are so dangerous that he won’t allow his own children to ride on them.
One reason for that fear, in addition to a lack of adequate bicycle infrastructure, is the harassment cyclists face too frequently on city streets.
Most drivers attempt to share the road and operate their vehicles safely. However, virtually any cyclist can tell a tale being harassed by angry drivers, who often lack a knowledge traffic law and the rights of bicyclists, and incorrectly believe that bikes don’t belong on the road or in the traffic lane.
Too often, these driveway vigilantes attempt to take the law into their own hands, and illegally enforce their interpretation of the law by honking or shouting at cyclists, throwing objects at riders, and hitting or pushing riders. In addition, some drivers attempt to use their cars as weapons to threaten, intimidate or injure riders by passing dangerously close to cyclists, intentionally opening car doors into riders, encroaching from behind, deliberately turning across the path of riders or intentionally braking in front of them — as happened in the Mandeville Canyon incident — or purposely striking a cyclist.
Fortunately, you have an opportunity to do something about it.
This Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council will consider a resolution requesting that the City Attorney draft an ordinance banning harassment of cyclists in Los Angeles, Council File 09-2895.
I urge the Council Members to approve this measure, without the unnecessary step of requesting that the City Attorney first report back on what can be done by the city without conflicting with state law; any conflicts can be addressed by the City Attorney in drafting an ordinance. I also urge cyclists to contact their council member or appear at the meeting to support this vital resolution.
Other cities have taken similar approaches. Even though traffic law is generally the responsibility of the states, Boise, Idaho and Columbia, Missouri have both passed ordinances banning harassment of cyclists and mandating a minimum three-foot passing distance; San Antonio, Texas is currently considering a similar law.
I would, however, suggest one minor change to the resolution. I request that the City Attorney and LADOT also coordinate with a local bicycling organization, such as the L.A. County Bicycling Coalition, to ensure that the voices of cyclists are heard, and that the final ordinance will truly protect vulnerable road users in Los Angeles.
The resolution will be considered by the Los Angeles City Council this Wednesday, January 27; item #22 on the agenda. The meeting will take place starting at 10 am in room 340 of the Downtown City Hall, 200 North Spring Street; a resolution concerning the proposed bike sharing program is also on the agenda (#20, 08-2053).
A Riverside traffic safety engineer and cycling advocate was injured last month in a deliberate incident reminiscent of the Thompson case. And in a truly heartbreaking story, a grieving mother took her own life late last year — three years after her cyclist son was run down by a car driven by a homeless meth addict.
Dr. Alex observes that when the other Dr. Thompson returns to L.A. after five years in prison, he may not recognize the city — if cyclists stay involved. Flying Pigeon rides to, and samples the offerings of, the Eagle Rock Brewery this Saturday. Famed framebuilder Dave Moulton takes a look at the recent meeting between bike activists and the LAPD. Witch on a Bicycle returns after a long, computer-failure-imposed absence, with a story of trying to save a driver in a horrific accident. A cyclist wearies of fighting for her place on the road; Yehuda Moon knows the feeling. Photographic evidence: Boulder’s contraflow bike lane, and asking a cop why the bike lane is blocked. Thousands of riders turn out to honor the cyclist killed by an intoxicated musician in Miami last week. Lance finishes 25th in the Tour Down Under, and considers competing in this year’s world championships. Yet another English woman is killed in a collision with a large truck. The head of the historic Wilier Triestina bike racing brand was killed in a head-on collision while cycling on Saturday. Lancashire authorities say watch out for wobbly cyclists. China says it’s time to go back to cycling, while Jakarta’s government calls on citizens to support cycling. LADOT take note: Danish State Railways finds an effective and affordable way to reach Copenhagen cyclists — you know, in case you ever have some good news to tell us. Finally, a seven-year old London cyclist organizes a bike-a-thon in his local park, and raises over $100,000 for earthquake victims in Haiti.