Daily News fans the flames of anti-bike bias with misinformed — or maybe dishonest — editorial

In an exceptionally misguided editorial, the L.A. Daily News attacks L.A.’s newly passed bicyclist ant-harassment ordinance as a missed opportunity to create more harmony on the roads.

It would be nice, however, if they had bothered to read the bill — instead of the knee-jerk auto-centric online comments against it — before going off half-cocked in opposing something they clearly don’t understand.

Or worse, trying to stir up controversy by blatantly misrepresenting the new ordinance.

Under the new law, sponsored by Councilman Bill Rosendahl, any car driver who “harasses” or deliberately distracts a bike rider is committing a crime for which the bike rider can sue for and receive monetary damages. What counts as distracting a bike rider – A honk? A wink? A barking dog? We can be sure the lawyers will explore that one in ludicrous detail.

As they should already know — or would, if they had bothered to get the facts first —  no one would be subject to this law simply because a driver winked at a cyclist or honked a horn — unless that honk could be clearly interpreted as a threat to the life and safety of the cyclist.

To quote LAPD bike liaison Sgt. David Krumer,

It appears that some folks are not exactly sure what harassment means within the context of the ordinance.  You can still yell at a cyclist who engages in bad behavior.  You can not however threaten a cyclist with physical harm or make comments like “I am going to run you over.”  You also can not engage in conduct that is likely to put a cyclist in harms way such as:

1) Revving your engine multiple times as it is an implied threat that they may get run over if they don’t move out of the way.

2) Tailgating a cyclist

3) Passing a cyclist at too high a speed or to close a distance so as to scare or intimidate them off the road.

4) Riding up at a high rate of speed and honking at a cyclist (this has caused cyclists to get scared and fall of their bikes).

Hope this sheds light on what “harassment” means.  In short it is an ordinance that prohibits threats (explicit and implied) as well as behavior likely to cause injury.

Maybe the Daily News was on a deadline and didn’t have time to pick up the phone and talk to Sgt. Krumer. Or anyone else who might know what they hell they’re talking about.

Though you’d think they might have corrected it before the same editorial was picked up by partner paper the Daily Breeze, spreading their ludicrously inaccurate interpretation of the ordinance even further.

Then there was this from the editorial:

Now, this is not to condone hostility, verbal abuse or threats by anyone against anyone else. But there are plenty of laws currently on the books protecting a person from inflicting harm on another person, whether it be by car, by hate speech, by meat cleaver or by Chihuahua.

Of course, if they had bothered to send a reporter to the council session to listen the debate leading up to the passage of this ordinance, they might have understood that the things addressed by it are in fact already illegal, since it was discussed repeatedly during the debate.

The problem is, harassment and threats against cyclists are almost impossible to enforce because the violations usually have to be observed by the police before they can take action against a threatening motorist. And not many people are stupid enough to threaten a cyclist when a police officer is watching.

Simply put, this law is necessary because, despite their best efforts, the police aren’t capable of protecting cyclists from motorists 24/7 throughout the vast expanse of this city. So the City Council wisely saw fit to empower cyclists to protect ourselves.

The editorial writers for the Daily News should have known that. But they either didn’t do the most basic due diligence required of their profession, or weren’t willing to let the truth get in the way of stirring up controversy.

Instead, they chose to fan the flames of the conflict on our streets, while simultaneously, and hypocritically, decrying it.

And quite frankly, I find it morally repugnant that anyone could equate a cyclist “blowing a stop sign” with a motorist deliberately threatening the life and safety of another human being.

But hey, that’s just me.

Meanwhile, Carter Rubin does a great job of responding to — and eviscerating — the Daily News stance for Streetsblog.

……..

The L.A. Times asks if a new grassroots awareness campaign that thanks drivers for seeing cyclists will help adjust attitudes. If so, I’d suggest sending a few cases to the Daily News.

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Ride With!, an online photo project presents “awesome” cyclists from around the world, and asks “Who do you ride with?”

……..

Yesterday’s story about the Oroville driver’s failed attempt at humor by confessing to an assault with a deadly weapon — her car — against a group of cyclists in a local newspaper column has lead to some passionate and on-target responses, some from names you may recognize.

Now the question is, will it lead to an investigation from local authorities — let alone from the editor who erred in allowing something like this to be published?

I wouldn’t hold your breath.

……..

Forget the article, this is one of the coolest bike photos I’ve ever seen. Bikerowave volunteers lend a hand at A Place Called Home. Great advice on riding skills and bike etiquette for beginning cyclists. High salaries for Beverly Hills officials don’t result in improvements for cyclists; Rick Risemberg says more bike parking for South Beverly Drive could solve their parking problems. Summer racing at the Encino Velodrome. Arnold celebrates his birthday by riding bikes with the guys in Santa Monica; thanks to George Wolfberg for the heads-up. Long Beach’s biking expats look back on their first month of touring the Northwest by Brompton. The preliminary hearing has been postponed until September for John Hines, the Long Beach fire captain accused of seriously injuring a cyclist in a drunken hit-and-run.

A former Alhambra city councilman goes car light. A cyclist suffers serious injuries after being rear-ended by a car in Montbello Friday evening, while an 18-year old cyclist was critically injured in Norco on Saturday. Bike Newport Beach says they need sharrows now; you really have to wonder just what the city’s official Bike Safety Committee is so afraid of. San Diego cyclists reflect following the hit-and-run death of a local cyclist last week. San Francisco repaints a green bike lane accused of causing collisions.

Bob Mionske offers advice on how to fight bike licensing proposals. A car writer says fight distracted driving collisions by making accident avoidance systems mandatory. How bike shops can encourage cycling in low income areas. Oregon Live says Portland has moved past the sort of driver vs cyclist conflicts that lead to L.A.’s new anti-harassment ordinance; I’m sure many cyclists would disagree. A Boulder CO dump truck driver who killed a 73-year old cyclist in June was ticketed for a previous road rage incident with a cyclist in 2009, as well as brawling with cyclists after running them off the road in 2003. Boulder riders can now enjoy a state-of-the-art bike park, where they can presumably be safe from road raging truck drivers. The Witch on a Bicycle is back, and rightfully complaining that drivers who kill a human being should face a greater penalty than for littering. No shit. Springfield Cyclist rides into an episode of COPS. A writer for the Boston Globe asks can’t cyclists and motorists just get along? A Richmond VA writer offers the 10 things that frustrate him in the conflict between cars and bikes.

Philippe Gilbert continues his amazing year with yet another classics victory. Why is UCI, bike racing’s governing body, reviled instead of respected? Town Mouse wisely says what unites us as cyclists is bigger than what divides us.

Finally, the maker of Brooks saddles causes a panic when they announce they’ll be shutting down after 140 years.

For the next two weeks, that is.

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I hope you’ll join me in offering best wishes to Joe Linton, one of L.A.’s leading bike and eco advocates, on the loss of his mother. And L.A. endurance cyclist and vegan registered dietician Matthew Ruscigno on the death of his great uncle.

Best wishes to my Muslim readers for a blessed Ramadan.

9 comments

  1. Joe B says:

    “Thank you for seeing me”. I applaud the effort, but I think it’s the wrong approach. We don’t say, “Thank you for not knifing me in the kidneys”, because refraining from knifing people in the kidneys is legally required behavior. Thanking motorists for seeing us reinforces the false belief that their seeing us is merely a kindness that we ask from them; not legally required behavior.

    Because they believe that seeing us (and sharing the road) is a kindness, they feel justified in withholding that kindness whenever we do something that pisses them off. This would be bad enough if they only got enraged at dangerous or illegal behavior, but we all know that some of the worst vitriol is directed at cyclists who are strictly obeying the law.

    We need a little less of, “Please drive safely”, and a little more of “Drive safely, or you’ll go to jail.”

  2. TQ says:

    Regarding the recent Oroville Mercury-Register column by Kyra Gottesman, in which she admits that her pathological behavior imperiled the safety of a group of cyclists:

    I just got off the phone with editor David Little, who explained that, as the editor, he doesn’t always agree with what ends up in the paper.

    He does agree, however, that admitting criminal behavior in print is “not the wisest” thing to do, and stated,”I hope she gets a good talking-to from the CHP.”

    I asked whether the column would have been printed at all if Ms. Gotteson had confessed that she’d deliberately endangered the cyclists’ lives with a piece of metal much smaller than a vehicle (such as a bullet or a knife blade) and he said, “Most likely not.”

    Interestingly, Mr. Little also said he bikes “around town,” and I got the impression that he miiiight have let the column run in order to promote awareness of the issue of road safety.

    • I wonder if any of those cyclists were injured. I wonder if Ms. Gotteson’s employer would be held liable for her actions, since she then wrote a column about them, which she got paid for, which could suggest that during the time of the events, she was working. It’s not a far stretch. There are more implications here than just “he doesn’t agree with what ends up in the paper”. She performed a criminal act while under the auspices of her employer. I know if I did that, I would be fired.

    • bikinginla says:

      Thanks for making that call. It adds a lot of depth to the story. And I would love to think that he ran the column to promote awareness, rather than just looking the other way.

  3. Mike says:

    Let’s just hope that her five year old friend Gabby never learns to ride a bike. Cause Ms. Gottenson has just given permission for anybody who thinks that Gabby is riding too slowly to just run Gabby off the road.

    • bikinginla says:

      Ouch! Now that’s scary.

      I’d been bothered by what she was teaching Gabby. But it never occurred to me what she was teaching other driver to do to her.

      • Louie says:

        Um, I think Gabby is her horse.

        Don’t feel bad for missing that. Clearly, if she had done a better job of WRITING, there would be no confusion…

        • bikinginla says:

          After going back and reading it again, you’re right. I had been confused by that reference to Gabby’s big eyes and soft hair; now it makes more sense.

          On the other hand, it’s one thing to talk to her horse. But when the horse talks to her, it explains a lot.

  4. Mike says:

    Yeah. I read it several times to try to figure that out, too. But the horse would be in the trailer not in the car with her. So that makes it even more bizarre.

    But if Gabby’s the horse, she’s apparently giving permission for cars to run horses off the road.

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