City Council Unanimously Passes Anti-Harassment Ordinance

When Streetsblog first began publishing in Los Angeles, there would be Transportation Committee hearings where I was literally the only-person in the room that wasn’t either city staff or a lobbyist.  The scene at City Hall couldn’t be more different these days as advocates for cyclists rights and infrastructure are a common site in the halls (and steps) of City Hall.  Yesterday’s victory for cyclists, the final passage of Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s “Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinance” would have been similarly unthinkable.

With his anti-harassment ordinance passed, Bill Rosendahl rides into the sunset. Photo: Tony Arranage

The City of Los Angeles actually taking the lead by passing laws before any other government body, protecting cyclists rights?  Unthinkable in 2008.  Unanimously passed in 2011.  ”If L.A can do it, every city in the country can do it,” Council President Eric Garcetti commented.

Fresh off completing a League of American Cyclists bike safety class, Rosendahl kicked off debate by explaining the need for the ordinance.  ”It creates a private course of action for cyclists who are harassed to pursue a civil course of action,” he explained, “This ordinance certainly is not a cure, but it is a crucial step in returning our streets to all users, and not just automobiles.”

The path to create the ordinance was a long one.  While the bill was introduced late in 2009, Rosendahl remembered that one of his first actions as Transportation Committee Chair was to hold a town hall meeting between cyclists and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck where cyclists complained about their near-universal bad treatment from the LAPD.  While the LAPD has made its own efforts in recent years, Rosendahl’s office worked on creating a 3-Foot Passing Law (now being considered at the state level) and now an anti-harassment ordinance.

Speaking in favor of the motion were representatives of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the City’s Bike Advisory Committee and just regular cyclists who told their sometimes harrowing stories.

“Over twenty years cycling in this city, I can think of countless times I’ve been harassed,” began the LACBC’s JJ Hoffman, “I once had a superior at work who would everyday see me ride my bike.  She thought it was real funny to come up behind me in her Mercedes and honk on her horn really loudly and scare me.  She just thought it was funny.”

“I don’t have a steel metal box around me to protect me if something is thrown my way,” continued Ross Hirsch, the cycling attorney who worked with Rosendahl’s staff on this ordinance, “A pothole is all it takes.  A little bit of gravel is all it takes.  When I have a water bottle thrown at me to go down.  God forbid, if I fall in traffic, there it goes.  I need to get home safely for these guys.”  Hirsch gestured at his two sons, who flanked him at the podium.

It seemed every cyclist had a different story.  Ingrid Peterson talked about getting slapped by someone leaning out a car window.  Allison Mannos, also with LACBC, talked about not being able to get the LAPD’s attention after being harassed on the street.  Ted Rogers talked about a time a driver used her car as a weapon to attack him, and the LAPD wrote it up as “an accident” and was thus unable to get payment for his medical bills.  Even Councilman Paul Koretz talked about getting buzzed by fast passing traffic during his first bike ride in fifteen years last weekend.

Councilman Ed Reyes didn’t share any horror stories, but the anxiety he has when his children, mostly teenagers, take a trip on their bikes.Councilman Tony Cardenas echoed Reyes sentiment when he admitted he’s scared to let his children ride their bikes outside of the cul-de-sac on which he lives.

The rhetoric over the ordinance sometimes got confusing.  Rosendahl liked to say that “It’s about time cyclists have rights.”  While it’s a catchy sound bite, of course cyclists have always “had rights.”  The purpose of the ordinance was to give cyclists more protections and avenues to defend those rights in court.   Opponents of the ordinance, who were nowhere to be seen yesterday, complained that the ordinance created “special rights” for cyclists, even though it clearly didn’t.

“This is a historic moment for us,” Rosendahl ended, noting that this is the first law of its kind in the country.

The ordinance moves to the Mayor’s office for his signature.  Villaraigosa has previously stated support for the concept of an anti-harassment ordinance.