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L.A. is backing its cyclists

The Los Angeles times: L.A. is backing its cyclists

A recently approved ordinance gives bikers a new way to strike back at aggressive drivers. So motorists, think twice about attacking pedal pushers.

July 22, 2011

L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl says he was inspired to introduce a groundbreaking anti-harassment ordinance for bicyclists after attending a meeting at a local bike shop, where he met a young man whose face had been mangled when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver. "It's about time cyclists had rights; about time they had laws to protect them," Rosendahl says in a YouTube video made to promote his plan.

Cyclists already have traffic laws to protect them, but Rosendahl's ordinance, which was approved Wednesday by the City Council, gives them a new way to strike back at drivers who physically assault or threaten to assault them, force them off the road, throw objects at them or otherwise cause injury simply because of their status as cyclists. In a civil suit, bikers can win treble the actual damages in such cases or $1,000, whichever is more, in addition to punitive damages and attorney fees. It's a smart law that might make aggressive drivers think twice about attacking pedal pushers.

The all-too-common road rage that divides bikers and drivers in L.A. is, of course, a two-way street. Sometimes, shouting matches are sparked by bicyclists who intentionally block traffic and refuse to allow motorists to pass. But in a confrontation between a cyclist and a driver, the driver has a built-in advantage, encased as he or she is inside a metal carapace weighing tons. That's why bikers deserve special protection.

Cycling reduces traffic, cuts pollution and improves the health of those who do it; in fact, it's beneficial in so many ways that cities, especially those such as Los Angeles that are beset by automotive-related problems, should go to great lengths to encourage it. We're pleased to note that city leaders are doing precisely that, with the council approving a bicycle master plan this year that aims to create 1,680 miles of official bikeways, more than quadruple the current mileage. But that still doesn't mean the city is a safe place to ride. Just this week, a 62-year-old bike rider was struck and killed by a motorist downtown.

Rosendahl's ordinance isn't a free pass for obnoxious cyclists; if they're violating traffic laws, which call for them to allow faster-moving vehicles to pass unless it's unsafe, they can still be cited by police. But the proper response for drivers is patience (a delay of a few seconds won't hurt anybody) or perhaps a gentle tap on the horn, not an attempt to run them off the road or hit them with a soda bottle.