Anti-Harassment Ordinances Empower People On Bikes

Andy Singer blogged in 2014 about Vulnerable Road User Protection Laws, laws aimed at enhancing the penalties for careless driving. In 2015, Minnesota finally passed its version, campaigned for by the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota and authored by Sen. Ron Latz (D) and Representative Tony Cornish (R).

The new law increased the penalty for causing fatality or great bodily harm to another person while committing a reckless driving offense. The law made it a gross misdemeanor with up to 1 year in jail and a $3,000 fine. I’m glad we increased the penalty, though it angers me that it took multiple years to get it passed. But to me, a non-lawyer, this still feels like we are under-protecting vulnerable road users even with this. I’m not a lawyer, but proving intent in a criminal court of law is a big step when drivers have driven through crowds on camera with not much more than a shrug. I’m told I’m a pessimist.

Behavior That Is Already Illegal

Plus, there is a very wide spectrum of illegal behavior lower than causing fatalities or great bodily harm that people on bikes deal with every day. Physical assaults or attempted physical assaults are already crimes, a driver swerving into a people on bikes and knocking them down is already a crime.

To list more things already crimes: threatening imminent injury to a people on bikes, throwing objects at people using bikes, distracting or attempting to distract people using bikes, forcing or attempting to force a person on a bike off a street for purposes unrelated to safety. All illegal.

Because they are crimes it means calling the police, giving statements, gathering evidence, finding witnesses, etc. For many reasons going through these motions have meant driver-crimes never get reported, and when it does get reported promptly withers away for lack of evidence or witnesses. It might get tallied up and counted for some future street safety redesign if certain council members mental math weighing human safety vs. driver convenience comes down on the human safety side. So there’s that.

Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinances

In 2011, the city of Los Angeles tried something new. The city unanimously passed an ordinance that took those existing crimes, and also made them civil offenses. Called a Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinance [pdf], it grants people on bikes who are victim to the kinds of harassments already illegal ways to seek civil remedies.

Vulnerable Road User Laws are commonly adopted at a state level. But in California, a few cities have followed Los Angeles’ lead and adopted ordinances giving people on bikes who are targets of behaviors like intentional threats, assaults, or such behavior that endangers a civil remedy.

After Los Angeles, in 2012, Berkeley and Sunnyvale and Sebastopol, passed Anti-Harassment Ordinances. In 2013, Santa Rosa did followed by Sonoma County.

Christopher Kidd, formerly an author at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation Bike Blog, moved to the East Bay and helped get the Berkeley ordinance passed said this about the ordinances.

“As with the other two Bicyclist Anti-Harassment laws, this one does not create any new crimes. It simply takes actions that are already illegal under the criminal code and makes them explicitly eligible under the civil code as well.”

“There are no rights being downtrodden, there is no nanny-stating going on. Quite the opposite, this empowers people to face assault and harassment on their own rather than having to wait for the government (law enforcement) to do it for them.”

Also.

“It’s so gratifying to see the ordinance I worked on in LA making inroads in the bay area. Providing bicyclists with the tools to defend themselves against actions that are already illegal, while letting them bypass a criminal court system that is often overburdened and historically unsympathetic to bicyclists’ travails, is really a win-win for everyone”

I don’t know if Minnesota cities or counties can pass ordinances like this, giving people who are on bikes and victims of illegal behaviors a civil course of remedy without shutting down possible criminal cases as well. But Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Laws are another tool in the toolbox to make streets safer for people. It is one that empowers people who bike to take things into their own hands and not have to wait for a criminal system seemingly historically indifferent to people on bikes.

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7 Responses to Anti-Harassment Ordinances Empower People On Bikes

  1. Anon September 22, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

    The harassments listed in the LA ordinance were already actionable by private citizens. They are intentional torts. The innovation is creating a minimum $1000 fine if you can’t prove damages.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller September 22, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

      Nearly every crime could also be a tort.

      • Scott September 27, 2017 at 9:13 am #

        The difference is automatic damages.

        A successful tort suit makes you whole for the damages you suffer:
        1. Defendant has a duty (not to run you over or try to run you off the road)
        2. Defendant breaches that duty (runs you off the road)
        3. The defendant was the cause in fact of damages to you (they in fact ran you off the road
        4. The defendant was the proximate cause of damages to you (it was reasonably foreseeable that swerving at you would probably cause you to run off the road), and
        5. You were damaged (bike ruined, broken arm, busted helmet, etc.).

        The problem is number 5. If you are a good bicyclist, and you avoid wrecking your bike or yourself, there are no damages, and thus no recovery at tort. You could probably try to argue emotional damages, PTSD, etc., but that’s pretty complicated/expensive and carries a significant risk of no damages being awarded.

        By creating statutory damages, the problem of number 5 is eliminated. Prove 1-4, and you automatically have damages of $1,000 plus attorneys fees. Watch the helmet-cams proliferate to be able to capture the assault and the license plate/identity, and away we go!

    • Anon September 22, 2017 at 2:38 pm #

      Per the ordinance, Attorney’s fees are awarded to the successful plaintiff, providing stronger motivation to sue. Also, there is a lower burden of proof in a civil court vs. criminal. Queue the day-time-tv lawyer ads: “Have you been harassed while on your bicycle? Call Meshbesher and Spence today and get $1000”

      • Eric Anondson
        Eric Anondson September 22, 2017 at 3:05 pm #

        That hasn’t happened in LA though. Maybe the city most likely to bring out that stuff.

        • GlowBoy September 25, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

          I would think it even more likely in Portland, which has the highest proportion of its population cycling of any large city, AND has a substantial bikelash going on (worse than here IME). There are already several successful bike-oriented lawyers who advertise in local cycling publications. I’m not aware of whether they’ve pursued this angle in their advertising, but haven’t looked lately.

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke September 22, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

    Thanks for writing this up!

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