No matter where you stand, ride, or drive on the bicycle debate, traveling on two-wheels is a part of Berkeley culture. It's a status. Love or hate them — cyclists are people too, and soon they'll have more of a chance to fight back against harassment.
Next month, the city plans to add a new chapter to Berkeley's Municipal Code prohibiting the harassment of bicyclists "because of, in whole or in part, the bicyclist’s status as a bicyclist." Violators could face a civil lawsuit, be liable for damages and end up paying court fees.
The purpose of the new code is to encourage more lawyers to take on cases of harassment against cyclists, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington. Worthington introduced the ordinance in September last year and said he was inspired to do so after hearing from bicyclists that it was near impossible to find lawyers willing to help with cyclist harassment cases, since there was little guarantee of a win.
When Los Angeles addressed the same problem by amending the city's municipal code, Berkeley began to follow suit.
The council unanimously passed the first reading in December. If the new chapter is adopted in the second reading during the Jan. 17 city council meeting, the new code will go into effect after 30 days.
Chapter 14.26 of the Berkeley Municipal Code prohibits the following actions, if motivated by the cyclist's "status as a bicyclist":
- Physically assaulting a bicyclist
- Threatening to physically assault or injure a bicyclist
- Intentionally injuring a bicyclist
- Intentionally distracting a bicyclist
- Intentionally forcing a bicyclist off a roadway for a purpose unrelated to public safety
Violating the new code sections does not constitute a criminal offense, but offers cyclists added protection against harassment by being able to take violators to court and seek damages, as well as the cost of court and attorney fees, in an amount not less than $1,000.
What do you think of the new code chapter? Have you experienced harassment because of your "status as a bicyclist?" Do cyclists need added legal protection? Share your thoughts in the comments.