Last month, cyclists stormed the bike-only Transportation Committee meeting. And left feeling we like were finally getting somewhere.
That was then.
Today, the Public Safety Committee took up the proposed anti-harassment ordinance, and it couldn’t have been more different.
It started out in front, where the line of bikes that had been chained to the City Hall railings last month were noticeably missing. And continued into the lobby, where the guard at the front desk noted that I was only the 4th visitor to arrive for the meeting.
Aside from LADOT Bicycle Coordinator Michelle Mowery, there were only three people there to speak in support of the measure — Aurisha Smolarski and Allison Mannos from the LACBC, and myself.
As it turned out, we were vastly outnumbered by the four council members. Jan Perry and Tony Cardenas seemed open-minded, although Cardenas commented that it’s so dangerous to bike in L.A. that he won’t let his children ride on the streets.
What does it say about this city when even members of our own government say it’s too dangerous to conduct such a benign and legal activity as riding a bicycle?
However, Cardenas offered to work with us and use his contacts in the state legislature to address some matters on the state level, such as increasing the amount of bike-related content in the state driver’s handbook.
After talking with Aurisha and Allison afterwards, we have every intention of taking him up on his offer. Although, as usual, I intend to push my luck and try to get more bike-related questions on the drivers test, as well.
Dennis Zine, a former police officer, and committee chair Greig Smith were a different matter. Despite their assertions to the contrary, if either of them support cycling, they did a damn good job of hiding it.
When Perry brought up the increasing popularity of late night group rides, Zine shot back “And they break every law in the book.” Which, of course, had nothing to do with the topic of conversation.
Smith also questioned whether there was anything the city could do about banning harassment, since many of these things are already against the law and most traffic laws are regulated by the state. And Zine stressed that no enforcement of such an ordinance would be possible unless a police officer actually saw the infraction.
Sort of like the situation right now, in other words.
As Zach Behrens noted on LAist, Zine made the point that L.A. is now, and probably always will be, a city dominated by car traffic at the expense of other modes of transportation.
To which Aurisha boldy shot back, despite Smith’s repeated attempts to cut her off, that we can’t continue to follow the same old car-centric model. And that this is an opportunity for much needed change.
The end result, though, was that the matter was referred to the City Attorney’s office for a report on what was possible — rather than simply coming back with a recommendation for an ordinance. Or as Damien Newton put it on Streetsblog, adding an unnecessary third step to a simple two-step process.
And blowing an easy chance to support the riding community.
Below is the text of my statement to the committee, taken from my notes:
Good morning. I’m Ted Rogers, and I write the blog Biking In LA.
In 30 years as an adult cyclist in cities across the U.S., Los Angeles is by far the most dangerous city I’ve ever ridden in, due to a lack of adequate infrastructure and a minority of dangerous drivers.
In the short time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve heard from hundreds of cyclists who’ve been harassed and intimidated by drivers. This includes passing too close; lurching towards cyclists; honking to startle or intimidate; throwing objects; touching, pushing or hitting cyclists; and yelling things such as “get off the road.”
These are most likely to happen to less experienced — and therefore, more vulnerable — riders who lack the skills and confidence to assertively take the lane, as well women who may not feel safe on riding less populated side streets alone, and so prefer to ride on busier main streets.
However, it can happen to anyone. Ask any cyclist, and they will have a story to tell about being harassed on the roads; I myself have been a victim of a road rage assault.
At a minimum, this ordinance should ban all forms of harassment; establish a minimum three-foot passing distance; give cyclists unquestioned right-of-way in bike lanes, just as pedestrians enjoy in crosswalks; ban short-stopping, lurching towards or deliberately cutting in front of a cyclist; and require LADOT to educate drivers about the rights of cyclists.
Finally, in conclusion, I would like to read an email that was received by a friend of mine following the Thompson sentencing on Friday.
“I live in L.A. and it really irritates me to see you people riding all over the right hand lane in traffic. I often imagine running you over and speeding away. I think if I ever have the chance to hit one of you on Sepulevda Blvd; you know, that long stretch of road near Skirball Center where it sometimes gets lonely? If I ever have the chance to hit one of you and get away with it — I’m gonna do it.”