Berkeley bicyclists get anti-harassment ordinance

Allows civil suit without criminal conviction

If only there was a law against such things. It’s statement many a cyclist has uttered after facing an inconsiderate driver. There ought to be a law against honking a horn, yelling obscenities at riders or worst of all driving close as in “buzzing” a cyclist, and now in Berkeley, California an anti-harassment ordinance is on the books.

This news follows 2011’s efforts in Los Angeles, where L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl introduced groundbreaking anti-harassment ordinance for bicyclists, which was the first of its kind in the United States. The ordinance makes it a crime for drivers to threaten cyclists verbally or physically, and allows victims of harassment to sue in civil court without waiting for the city to press criminal charges.

Inspired by Rosendahl’s success, Berkley City Councilman Kriss Worthington, who is described as an avid cyclist, introduced a similar measure in the Bay Area community. He told BikeRadar that local riders came to him with stories of harassment while riding, and they wanted to see what could be done. “The district attorney and the police are really busy with serious issues, and this could give people another way of handling these situations,” said Worthington, who added that he had previously heard about the Los Angeles ordinance.

“One of the people who helped bring this to the city council had lived in Los Angeles and understands why L.A. introduced the ordinance,” added Worthington. “He was able to speak to the council and persuaded them that it was something important to consider.”

What grew out of a complaint from cyclists has become something that local riders see as a move in the right direction. Even if the law isn’t itself easily enforceable, awareness is the key, say riders. “I do know there is a growing regulatory trend intended to curb motorist harassment of bicyclists,” said Ian Moore, transportation planner with the Berkeley Bicycle Club. He told BikeRadar that he believes this “is an interesting idea, but I personally believe that the required public education to raise awareness of such laws is more important element than the law itself.”

Many believe the new ordinance will bring about better education in regards to cyclists' rights to the road:

Many believe the new ordinance will bring about better education in regards to cyclists' rights to the road

This opinion is also voiced by Jim Brown, communications director of the California Bicycle Coalition who noted that Berkeley essentially adopted language that is identical to that adopted by Los Angeles. “It gives bicyclists a tool that they haven’t had before,” said Brown. “It is hardly the magic bullet to keep drivers who threaten people to stop them from doing so, but it still gives bicyclists a tool for when those events do occur.”

Brown adds that this is just one way to put incidents that simply shouldn’t happen on people’s radar.

And that is the goal of course Worthington; to bring these situations out in the open so that perhaps they don’t continue and when they do to give power back to those who have been harassed. “It seems like it could give riders the tools to address this themselves,” he said

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