Herding cyclists, and L.A.’s proposed first-of-its kind anti-harassment ordinance

Evidently, at least one driver took lessons from a Corgi.

I knew I’d seen that technique before.

But it took me awhile to put my finger on just where I’d seen it until it finally dawned on me.

When I lived in Denver a few decades back, I shared a house with a good friend of mine, who showed up one day with a Welsh Corgi he’d just adopted from the pound. And it didn’t take long to realize that it was his herding instincts were fully intact.

The dog, not my friend.

First he tried to herd my roommate’s cats, with limited success.

But we came to appreciate his skills when my friend hosted a party for his co-workers. When we let the dog outside to play with the dozen or so children in the backyard, he stood for a moment watching them scatter throughout the yard. Then he quickly set out to bring order to the chaos.

He started by running rapidly around the yard, drawing ever smaller circles around the kids. We watched in amazement as he guided them into a group; if any child tried to stray from his impromptu herd, he nosed in front and gently guided them back into the pack.

And that, in effect, is exactly what a driver tried to do to me on Saturday as I rode home from Tour de Fat.

I’d taken my place firmly in the center of the lane on a busy Koreatown street, where a line of parked cars made it too narrow to safely share. And I was riding at the same speed as the cars ahead of me, which meant that I could legally ride anywhere I wanted on the road.

But clearly, the law — and common sense — just isn’t good enough for some people.

The woman behind me evidently decided that I didn’t belong there. Or maybe, just didn’t belong in front of her.

So she pulled into the left lane as if she was going to pass, even though the backed-up traffic meant there wasn’t anywhere to go.

Then she slowly started nosing her humongous older Lincoln over into the exact space I was occupying. Just like that Corgi did in forcing the children to go where he wanted, she deliberately angled her car to move me out of the way, until she finally left me with no choice but to surrender my place on the road by braking and dropping behind her, or get hit.

I chose the latter.

She didn’t seem to acting in anger. In fact, she never once looked my way during the entire process. She just seemed to think that she belonged in there, and I didn’t.

I probably should have taken her license number and reported it. Or better yet, pulled out my cell phone and snapped a quick photo of it.

But I was too stunned to think that quickly.

In three decades of riding, I’ve pissed off more than a few drivers by taking the lane. I’ve been yelled and honked at, passed too close and had things thrown at me. But I never once encountered a driver who simply wouldn’t allow me to ride in the lane, and was willing to use her car as a wedge to force me out of it.

Until now.

Of course, even if I had reported her, there’s nothing the police could have done except take a report.

Without any physical evidence — like my blood on her car — an officer would have had to actually see her do it to take any action. Otherwise, it’s my word against hers.

But that may change soon.

This afternoon, the L.A. City Council’s Transportation Committee will take up a proposed bicycle anti-harassment ordinance that goes far beyond any similar law anywhere in the country.

Instead of making harassment of cyclists a crime, it would make it a civil offense. Which means you’d be able to file a case yourself, rather than rely on the actions of the police and the DA or City Attorney. And because it would be heard in civil court, where the burden of proof is much lower, it would only require the agreement of a majority of jurors, rather than the unanimous verdict required in a criminal case.

You also wouldn’t need physical evidence or an officer to witness the infraction to file charges. Video of the incident or statements from people who witnessed it could be enough to win your case.

And it would include a provision for lawyers fees if you win your case, so it would be easier to get an attorney to represent you in a matter that might not otherwise be worth their time and expertise.

More importantly, though, it would finally give cyclist the ability to defend ourselves on the streets. And take action on our own against dangerous, threatening and aggressive drivers, without resorting to a U-lock or risking a violent confrontation.

Even just the existence of the law could be enough to change driver’s behavior on the streets, once they realize that they could finally be held accountable for their actions.

It wouldn’t have helped me in my encounter with the woman who tried to herd me off the road. I was riding alone, with no potential witnesses and no way to document the event as it happened. And  I escaped with no injuries or damage to my bike.

Then again, if she knew she could face a civil case, she might not have tried it to begin with.

The hearing takes place today at 2pm in room 1010 of Downtown’s City Hall. I know it’s short notice, but every voice that can be there to support this measure will help. If you can’t make it, you should be able to listen to the session live on the city’s website, or download it later.

And there will be another — and potentially more important — hearing on Monday in front of the far less bike-friendly Public Safety Committee, at a session that still hasn’t made the city’s calendar even though it’s just five days away.

Maybe they just don’t want to give us any advance notice.

.………

With eight mountain stages and three time trials, next year’s Giro looks near-impossible. Italian cyclist Peitrio Cucchioli will challenge the UCI biological passport that got him banned. Lance says there will be no riding in Aspen today.

.………

Streetsblog looks at this Friday’s Critical Mass. LACBC sponsors its second Ed Magos Ride for Justice to attend the sentencing of the driver who fled the scene after hitting him and left him lying in the street; more cyclists in the courtroom could effect the sentence the judge imposes. C.I.C.L.E. invites cyclists to a Bike Parking Party on Saturday to support the installation of the city’s first bike corral. The Daily News finally discovers the tragic death of Danny Marin, reporting on a nighttime ride in his honor. The Examined Spoke looks at the state of bicycling after 40 years of Vehicular Cycling, while the Daily Trojan says L.A.’s bike co-ops show the city’s cycling scene has finally hit adolescence. San Francisco may be challenging Portland for bike-friendliness.

In light of the recent stolen bike alert on here, 10 things you can do to get your bike back. An $8 million settlement for a cyclist paralyzed when his tire got caught on bridge gates. Motorists and cyclists “will obey traffic rules when they have no other choice and ignore them when they can.” Living in the Bike Lane looks at belt-drive bikes. A look at the debate between vehicular and segregated cyclists. New Colorado road signs instruct cyclists to ride single file on curves so motorists can pass, even though passing on curves isn’t safe or legal, while OKC cyclists get new signs saying they can — and should — use the full lane. Mad City cyclists are told to get off the sidewalk. A Louisiana consultant recommends a Mississippi levee bikeway from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Can bikes and buses co-exist? Specialized will give a kid a free bike for every 1,000 “likes” on their Facebook page; nothing like a little manipulative marketing for a good cause.

A bike-hating Canadian website wants to get rid of bike lanes, but doesn’t want cyclists on the sidewalk, either — and equates cycling with aggressive panhandling. Stay in the right London hotel, and you, too, can ride a Boris Bike. In L.A., biking has it’s challenges, but at least it’s legal; in Iran, it’s not for women. Shanghai’s Forever bike brand attempts to spark a rebirth of the city’s bike culture.

Finally, why pump air into your tires when you can steal it from parked cars? Or maybe get it from the ones who harass you when they’re stopped at red lights if you’re fast. And brave.

3 comments

  1. Zeke says:

    If your bike had only been the 007 model, you could have dropped your rear rocket launchers out of their cleverly disguised panniers and shot out her front tires leaving you the full lane ahead! Darn, where is technology when you can really use it???

    – Zeke

  2. reb1 says:

    I prefer low tech devises for anti herding. When I lived in Florida I carried a three pound sledge on a hammer hook attacked to my handlebars. It was usually enough for them to see the hammer. I once was asked by the police what it was for and I told them I used it at work and motorists tended to see me more often when I had it with me.

  3. danceralamode says:

    I’m surprised that’s the first you encountered that kind of behavior. Because it happens all the time here in K-town. Someone pulls up beside me and doesn’t have time or room to pass, so they basically just maneuver right into me. I can usually predict who is trying this move, and I’ll put my left hand out to indicate they shouldn’t get close to me, and actually that usually prevents that whole maneuver. If you signal left and down (almost like stop–and it doesn’t matter because drivers don’t understand hand signals anyhow), they suddenly wake up that you are there and using the road.

    Strangely enough, I changed my route from 4th Street to 2nd Street to go to and from work as there are fewer stop signs, and it’s really amazing the different attitude I get from drivers. I have had FAR less incidents on 2nd then I have on 4th. The thing is that 4th Street through K-Town is basically an arterial road, and all those stop signs piss people off–I’m sure you noticed that people gun it between each stop sign and barely tap their brakes when they get there. It also makes it hard to pass a cyclist when they are continually approaching a stop sign and you don’t have enough room to get around them. I think that’s why 2nd Street is working so much better for me. There are far fewer stop signs, and drivers have the ability to safely pass me without pulling right hooks. They also have time to judge the space and speed I’m traveling because they are not constantly stopping.

    Don’t get me wrong, on 4th Street the problem is motorists not following the law and being safe, but I think it might be possible for the engineering of that road from basically Western through to Commonwealth that make it inherently congested. Of course, it’s a neighborhood road, and motorists try to use it as a speedway (hmmmm, should we ask Sandy Banks what to do).

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