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Proposal to protect bicyclists from motorists

KABC TV Los Angeles: Proposal to protect bicyclists from motorists

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Gene Gleeson

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- With the recession and sky-high transportation costs, more and more bicyclists are trying to share the road with motorists in Los Angeles, but often with bad results.

L.A.-area bicyclists say they’ve had to put up with a lot from motorists over the years - catcalls, middle fingers and worse.

Virgil Orellano is a bicycle messenger who says he’s been hit by cars four times in 10 years. Afterward, he says motorists usually just drive away. Because of experiences like that, many say Los Angeles is the most dangerous city in the country for bicyclists.

The L.A. City Council’s public safety committee considered a proposal on Monday to make it illegal for motorists to harass bicyclists. Part of the proposal would require motorists driving past cyclists to get no closer than 3 feet.

"They do have equal rights to the road as does a motorist, but they’re not being treated as if they do have equal rights," said Aurisha Smolarski of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

City Councilman Dennis Zine said he sympathizes, but he wonders how police would enforce such an ordinance. Zine said L.A. isn’t designed to be bicycle-friendly.

"I think we are a car culture here in Southern California. I don’t know if we’re ever going to change that in our lifetime," he said.

L.A. does have some dedicated bike trails, but Zine and others say there aren’t enough of them.

The road-rage accident in Mandeville Canyon a year and a half ago is the most dramatic example of the conflict. Two cyclists were seriously injured after a prominent doctor, angered they were riding side by side, slammed on his brakes in front of them. Dr. Christopher Thompson was sentenced to 5 years in prison for attempted murder.

Bicycle blogger Ted Rogers says after the verdict, he received an anonymous e-mail from a motorist, threatening to run down bicyclists on Sepulveda Boulevard. Rogers says threats are common.

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