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By Stuart Soffer

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About this blog: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in high-density housing and experienced transit-oriented services first hand. During high school and college summers I worked in Manhattan drafting tenant floor plans for high-rise office buildi...  (More)

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On the Nascent Bicyclist Harassment Ordinance

Uploaded: Oct 20, 2013
I was reminiscing about Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks when I encountered the Almanac story – and responses – regarding the possibility of formulating a Bicyclist Harassment Ordinance.

Biking recreationally to downtown Palo Alto I see the challenges bicyclists face. Biking is risky due to behaviors of drivers – and cyclists – and geometry of the roads. I suspect that at some level there are legitimate issues for which proponents want such an ordinance.

'Harassment' is commonly defined as a repeated undesired behavior. However in these ordinances only a low threshold of single instance of a purported 'event' triggers a violation. The ordinances presume guilt, and adjudication is not necessarily easy. The facts can be murky, the required 'intent' is difficult to identify and prove. And there's no mechanism to compensate the legal expenses of defending improper allegations.

I reviewed the Bicycle Commission agenda including the representative ordinances from other cities. I'll note that Los Angeles' ordinance was signed by Kent Steffens, our former Assistant City Manager and Acting City Manager. Kent had the good sense to recommend to the Los Angeles council that the ordinance should not be adopted. (The Almanac could follow-up with him.)

Consider the following scenario. A driver yells at a bicyclist to wear a helmet. The Bicyclist turns to the driver, trips on a pothole, rolls, hitting his/her unprotected head on the sidewalk. Awful. Is the driver wrong for yelling, or, what responsibility does the cyclist bear for not wearing a helmet in the first place?

What happens when one or more parties, or both, are outside of Menlo Park or San Mateo County? What happens if only part of a sequence if steps occur in Menlo Park?

The financial risks are not analyzed. What is the effect cost on homeowners or car insurance to provide for harassment coverage? Why isn't there a cap on liability?

Harassment ordinances should originate at a higher jurisdiction at county or state level. Limited acceptance of similar ordinances outside of Menlo Park diminishes its authority here. Frankly, the proposals (such as treble damages) described in the bicycle commission packet have an air of revenge. Does the council want to be the enabler of that?

Comments

Posted by parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 8:30 am

Yes, drivers are wrong for yelling and blasting their horns at bicyclists except in emergency situations to avoid an imminent crash. If this harassment directly causes injuries, then the driver should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.


Posted by Martin Lamarque, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Oct 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I am way more afraid of drivers texting while driving, than I am of the few who harrass.

Drivers on the phone are the real danger, not only to cyclists, but to other drivers, as well as to pedestrians.


Posted by Wondering, a resident of Oak Knoll School,
on Oct 24, 2013 at 9:58 pm

How does a bicyclist "trip on a pothole" and then hit "his/her head on the sidewalk"? Pedestrians trip, bicyclists don't. In order to hit your head on the sidewalk you would have to be riding in the gutter, but there can't be potholes in the gutter, only in the asphalt. What a phony scenario.


Posted by J-Dub, a resident of another community,
on Oct 25, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I've never before worried about "tripping on a pothole" while riding my bike. I'll be sure to stay alert for that ever-present danger.


Posted by Pat, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Oct 25, 2013 at 4:27 pm

This proposed law is full of faults, as the writer points out. One issue which concerns me is how do we handle the harassment by cyclists on drivers? As drivers, when we are harassed by cyclists, we don't even have a license plate number to write down. Nor can we see a rider's face due to a helmet. Are people so blinkered that they can't recognize that there are aggressive and dangerous cyclists on our roads?

When we are able to readily identify scofflaw cyclists, then we might begin to consider some harassment laws. But let's have an even playing field first.

BTW. Can anyone recommend a good brand of car camera? I'm increasingly feeling the need of one for self-defense.


Posted by Tarp, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Oct 26, 2013 at 8:05 am

More phoniness. Bike helmets don't cover people's faces. The number of dangerous cyclists is miniscule compared to the number of dangerous drivers. In 35 years of driving in this area I have never been harassed by a cyclist, but in 35 years of biking I have had drivers intentionally put me in danger many, many times. The playing field will never be level as long as drivers are wrapped in a metal cage. Comments like those from Pat are clearly from people who have not experienced both sides of the issue, and they should be ignored.


Posted by Donald, a resident of another community,
on Oct 26, 2013 at 8:54 am

The last thing that drivers want is "a level playing field". They would be very unhappy if they had to give up all the advantages they have over bicyclists and operate on a "level field".


Posted by Pat, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Oct 26, 2013 at 2:23 pm

@Tarp. Phoniness? Helmets do prevent a clear look at a cyclist\'s face and head. Nevertheless, that does not seem to be the main point of your comment. You blame the drivers, claiming that, "The number of dangerous cyclists is miniscule compared to the number of dangerous drivers." One dangerous cyclist is one too many.

Why did you not address the lack of accountability for dangerous cyclists due to the lack of identification on bikes and cyclists? If cyclists knew they could be readily reported for running stop signs, swerving across several lanes of traffic with no hand signals, for riding several abreast when there is no room to do so safely, then perhaps cyclists would behave more responsibility.

Have you ever been mowed down by a reckless cyclist? As a pedestrian, I was run down in a crosswalk by a reckless cyclist, who didn\'t stop and, of course, couldn\'t be identified. My collar bone was badly broken and required a metal plate and pins and took months to heal. Who paid for my extensive treatment? My insurance and myself through co-payments and deductibles. I still have pain 15 years later. Several years ago, a colleague was knocked down by a cyclist illegally using the sidewalk. Like me, her collarbone was broken. Like me, the cyclist was never identified or held responsible.

You refer to \'miniscule\' numbers of dangerous cyclists. Perhaps the numbers appear miniscule since those accidents don\'t appear in any statistics.


Posted by Rose K, a resident of another community,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Having had a cup of cold latte thrown squarely into my back as I biked on a quiet neighborhood street, I can tell you that harassment of bicyclists is real and it\'s frightening. I\'ve been honked at and told to get on the sidewalk and I\'ve been buzzed more times than I care to remember.

My crime? Daring to ride a bicycle on a city streets and occasionally slowing a driver up a few precious seconds. And with the latte, I wasn\'t even slowing them up. I guess they just thought it was fun to assault me.

The net effect is that most people are too concerned about safety to ride even on 25 mph streets. So they get in their cars instead and create more traffic, more pollution and make it even less safe for the few who refuse to be intimidated.

As for drivers fearing of unjust prosecution, harassment is very hard to prove and will likely only be called into play in cases where there are other factors. Unless you regularly throw things at cyclists or tailgate them while honking, there\'s no need to rush out and boost your homeowners insurance.


Posted by Common Sense, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm

We are ignoring a key point in the article that this should really be a county or even state issue. It\'s hard to enforce anything that stops at the border of the city. Around here, that can mean crossing the street.


Posted by Eric W, a resident of another community,
on Nov 4, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Cyclist - 20 pound vehicle.
Car Driver - 4000 pound vehicle.
Which one is going to get hurt if they collide?

That's why Menlo Park (and everywhere) need this law.
Cyclist are incredible vulnerable to misadventure by inconsiderate car drivers.


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