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City Council Public Safety Committee Blows Easy Chance to Support Cyclists

1_11_10_alphabet.jpgGo ahead, harass away. Photo: Slippy Jenkins/Flickr

 Earlier today City Council Transportation Committee Chair Bill Rosendahl's legislation requiring the City Attorney to draft "anti-harassment" ordinance protecting cyclists and pedestrians was heard by the City Council Public Safety Committee. The passage of Rosendahl's motion, which doesn't tie the Council to the final ordinance in any way, would have been an easy way to show the most basic support for a community that has been attacked, neglected and feels unsafe in public streets.

It would have been easy, but they blew it. Instead of slam dunking the motion through, the committee showed how far cyclists have to go to earn the respect of city leadership despite the occasional pep rallies at City Council Transportation Committee Hearings. Instead of moving Rosendahl's motion, already cleared by the Transportation Committee, they changed it to one asking the City Attorney to write a report on what changes they could make in an ordinance if they so choose. Basically, they added a third step to a two step process, so that now instead of going directly to the ordinance writing stage, the City Attorney will have to come back to the Council and Council Committees before writing an ordinance that will have to go through the Council and Committees itself.

But even more discouraging than the committee's enthusiasm for adding a layer of bureaucracy, was that some of the members seemed downright hostile and out of touch with the issues cyclists actually face.

After LADOT Senior Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery gave a detailed, if somewhat passionless, explanation that in addition to the physical dangers cyclists face they are often spit upon, threatened, buzzed, etc. intentionally by drivers, the hearing took a turn downhill.

First, Committee Chair Greig Smith questioned whether the city could actually do anything to make the city safer for cyclists through an anti-harassment ordinance. First he noted that the state controls most of the laws on city streets, second he noted that it's already illegal to do many of the things mentioned in the ordinance and third he brought up, repeatedly, that the police can't enforce a law without witnessing the crime unless there is evidence. While I'm sure all in the room were thankful that the Chair has such a firm grasp of law enforcement, I'm not sure why this was such a large point. Maybe he brings this up everytime someone wants to change a public safety law?

Smith's other points were spot on, the state does control most of the streets when it comes to writing laws and it is already illegal to spit on people in Los Angeles without provocation. However Mowery pointed out that there's other things the city can do, such as write a law regarding minimum passing distance.

When Council Woman Jan Perry tried to bring up the policing of late night bicycle rides, and perhaps an educational campaign to drivers, cyclists, and the LAPD to make the rides more safe for everyone; she was interrupted, twice, by Councilman and former LAPD officer Dennis Zine who sneered that the rides break every law in the book. Mowery quickly interrupted that this law is designed for "law-abiding cyclists" and commuters, recreational cyclists et al. This somewhat off topic exchange seemed to be the opposite of what Perry's point was supposed to be.

It should be noted that Perry, although not dealing with the issue as often as some of the more familiar names from City Hall, was one of the most aggressive Council Members when it came to questioning the LAPD's bungled reporting of the "Bike v Hummer" incident last April.

Zine picked up where he left off when it was actually his turn to speak noting that the roads are unsafe for cyclists, cyclists should stick to the trails, and again brought up that the police have to witness a crime to report it. I quickly checked my map to see if I was mistaken. Maybe Mandeville Canyon had been gerrymandered into Zine's Downtown district without me noticing. No, it's right there in Rosendahl's district.

Making a similar point to Zine's, that the roads are unsafe, but making it in a way that was a lot more conciliatory and proactive, Councilman Tony Cardenas noted that the city, HIS city, is so unsafe on the roads that he won't let his children ride their bikes on them. LAist, in their write-up of the meeting, quotes the Councilman as saying, "Unfortunately when you ride a bicycle in the City of Los Angeles, you're taking your life in your hands." Cardenas also spoke several times about the need to include more bicycle specific information in the driver's manual, driver's test, and police training.

There were a handful of cyclists in attendance, although nothing near the crush that was at the "bike only" meeting of the Transportation Committee back in December. Perhaps it's time for the cycling community to move past just lobbying the friendly "T-Committee" and move on to less friendly turf.

The Los Angeles County Bike Coalition's Aurisha Smolarski commented that the ordinance was a chance to "show the city's commitment to keep cyclists safe" and specifically that a "three foot passing law" could be a game changer for cyclists. City of Lights coordinator Allison Mannos suggested that the city require cyclist sensitivity training for any driver threatening, endangering or violating a cyclist. Biking In L.A. writer Ted Rogers, after recounting how both he and friends are threatened over email for their bike-friendly stands, argued that because of harassment less cyclists are on the streets. Because less experienced cyclists are more likely to get yelled at or intimidated by hot-headed drivers, it dampens the enthusiasm of new riders before they get used to life on L.A.'s streets.

But in the end, the Committee bowed to Smith's wishes to have the City Attorney report back before drafting an ordinance. There was no timeline set on when the City Attorney is expected to report back.

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