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L.A. Lawmakers Listen to the Bicycling Minority

Give Angelinos one weekend of potential Carmageddon, and suddenly everyone’s all bike-happy.

Seriously. A new law passed Wednesday by Los Angeles City Council — described as “groundbreaking” by League of American Bicyclists president Andy Clarke — makes it a crime for motorists to verbally or physically harass bicyclists, and the penalties are stiff.

In a 2 million-car city — with a culture built around them — it would seem that 13,000 or so bike commuters and random cycling enthusiasts would practically go unnoticed. And they did — until recently.

It’s not unusual to hear stories of motorists — enraged, spiteful or bored — lashing lame insults at cyclists, or running bike-riders off the road.

But as the number of cyclists in the city continued to increase — along with the number of preventable vehicle-bicycle accidents — so did calls for protection from L.A.’s pro-bike activists. This week in particular, and just a few days after local cycling group Wolfpack Hustle beat a Jet Blue flight in a race from Burbank to Long Beach, lawmakers were listening.

The “Prohibition Against Harassment of Bicyclists,” which passed by an unanimous 12-0 vote, actually goes much further than “harassment.” [See complete ordinance here.]

While other communities have imposed bicyclist anti-harassment ordinances, several things things make this one incredibly striking, said the League of American Bicyclists’ Clarke. Not the least of which is “the fact that it’s happening in the nation’s self-proclaimed car capital.”

L.A. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, ordinance sponsor and chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, said he personally became aware of the dangers facing L.A. cyclists when he started riding again recently after a 30-year break.

“I have stayed off main streets because I was afraid I would get hit by a car,” he said. With the new law in effect, though, Rosendahl said riders can feel safer — and not just physically. Echoing a point made by other supporters, cyclists can feel legally protected, as well, as attorneys will likely not be so hesitant to take on bike-harassment cases since they will now be able to more easily recover their fees.

Allison Mannos, urban strategy director at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, called the cyclist anti-harassment law “really symbolic. … it shows the city’s committed to protect cyclists and encouraging cycling as a mode of transportation.”

It’s not just cyclists and their lawyers who’ll benefit from this newly passed ordinance, Council members contend. Cracking down on bicyclist harassment will encourage more people to ride bicycles, and that will — among other pluses — lessen traffic congestion and improve air quality for everyone in Los Angeles. Council member Eric Garcetti went so far as to envision the day when instead of Carmaggedon, L.A. would have a “Cycletopia.”

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