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New Code Gives Cyclists a Chance to Fight Harassment

A new chapter in Berkeley's Municipal Code due to be adopted in the Jan. 17 city council meeting prohibits the harassment of cyclists. Violators could face a civil lawsuit, fines and fees.

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.

Paul D January 08, 2012 at 10:57 PM
As a bicyclist/motorcyclist for 40 years, I'd rather see mandatory drivers training than some half-baked collection of 'rules'. Asserting the right of way against a heavier more powerful vehicle is not the best game plan to make it back home alive. Think first, move second. Modifying the code in this manner has the potential for vindictive, malicious action against motorists simply traveling within the limits of the traffic code... stopping at stop signs, red lights, signaling a lane change etc but manage to tick off a bicyclist. Vague allegations are easy to assert and response is difficult (and expensive) for innocent parties. Feedback from L.A. on how this is being implemented in the real world is probably skimpy since the code was amended only six months or so ago. Better to wait a year or two and see how is shakes out.
bob muzzy January 09, 2012 at 07:04 PM
The Dutch are probably a better example than L.A. They have mandatory bicycle training for all second graders and a portion of their car license test involves driving nicely around cyclists. I agree this might not be the best rule but it's better than the current situation. A motorist once purposefully tried to run me off the road on Gayley Rd. above UCB. Twice! He admitted he did so purposefully because it annoyed him that I was able to ride up the right side of the road past the line of cars stuck in traffic! I called 911 and was blown off. No I wasn't injured so what was I complaining about? I asked them to send a cop to tell the motorist that it's not OK to try to run cyclists off the road. They wouldn't do so. I'd have loved the opportunity to press charges against this guy.
Emily S Howard January 09, 2012 at 10:18 PM
I'd rather see a comprehensive training for bicyclists on how to treat pedestrians.
Anne January 10, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Unfortunately, too many cyclists ride, here in California, day and night, wearing dark clothing WITHOUT ANY LIGHTING OR ADEQUATE LIGHTING CREATING UNNECESSARY HAZARDS for themselves and others ! Here in California, many, many-too-many bicyclists do not understand that BY LAW a rider on a bicycle is a vehicle, NOT A PEDESTRIAN WITH THE RIGHT-OF-WAY. Here in California, many, many-too-many bicyclists do not understand that BY LAW a rider on a bicycle is a vehicle, NOT A PEDESTRIAN THAT CAN RIDE ON THE SIDEWALK. Only young children can BY LAW ride on a sidewalk, and, even then, a child can ride lawfully on a sidewalk only when there are few if any pedestrians on that sidewalk. If there are pedestrians on a sidewalk, BY LAW, even a child must walk their bicycle on a sidewalk. It is my understanding that, if a bicyclist rides on a sidewalk and hits a pedestrian, most insurance companies (1) will not provide that vehicle driver (the bicyclist) with legal council and (2) will not provide insurance coverage BECAUSE THE BICYCLIST WAS BREAKING THE LAW. If it becomes necessary for an injured pedestrian to sue that vehicle driver (the bicyclist), as best I understand it, it is the bicyclist's homeowners' insurance or renters' insurance that will have to pay, not the bicyclist's auto insurance. So, please, tell me: just how will these new "protections" for cyclists address general safety for all pedestrians on sidewalks and all operators of vehicles on public roadways ?
billdsd January 13, 2012 at 08:23 AM
Paul D: "Modifying the code in this manner has the potential for vindictive, malicious action against motorists simply traveling within the limits of the traffic code..." Er no, it doesn't. It gives very specific definitions of what constitutes harassment and all of it includes things that are already illegal but difficult to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" (in the legal sense) which makes it difficult to bring criminal charges. The difference is that this allows civil action, which uses the "preponderance of evidence" standard of proof, which is not as strong as "beyond reasonable doubt" and allows the bicyclist to bring the suit rather than requiring the police to bring charges. If you're actually obeying the law then you won't be doing any of the things that this law defines as harassment.
billdsd January 13, 2012 at 08:35 AM
Under California state law, CVC 231, a bicycle is a device, NOT a vehicle. CVC 21200(a) says that bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as the operators of vehicles except where otherwise stated or where the law can have no application to bicycles by their very nature. California has no law prohibiting bicyclists from riding on the sidewalk. CVC 21100(h) permits local governments to prohibit or restrict bicycling on the sidewalk. Sidewalk cycling laws vary quite a bit around California. Some cities ban it altogether. Some don't regulate it at all. Some ban it in business districts. The city I grew up in requires bicyclists to ride in the same direction as an adjacent road but only if it's a major road. Before you try to make claims about what the law says, you might want to look the law up and make sure that you know what you are talking about.
Paul D January 13, 2012 at 04:33 PM
billsd... re your reply to my comment about vindictive malicious legal action against motorists... you feel that the constraints of the new code will ensure only the guilty will be subjected to legal action..."The difference is that this allows civil action, which uses the "preponderance of evidence" standard of proof, which is not as strong as "beyond reasonable doubt" and allows the bicyclist to bring the suit rather than requiring the police to bring charges." But this is exactly what I'm concerned about. A malicious legal action directed against an innocent motorist who is now obligated to respond to the court action (money, time, stress etc). I'm far less worried that the police will follow up on some questionable assertion by a bicyclist than I am of some ambulance-chasing attorney working with a bicyclist to legally harass and strong-arm an innocent motorist. I'd much rather be subject to reasonable doubt than preponderance of evidence. Or do you really think only righteous bicyclists will use this tool and the bicycling scalawags will just ignore the legal opportunity to ride roughshod over a motorist they feel wronged them in some way?
Goodgulf January 13, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Your post is almost entirely inaccurate. If you read the CVC, you will find that bicycles are specifically NOT defined as vehicles, although they are, in large part, given the rights and responsibilities of vehicles (There are many exceptions though). Also, when using pedestrian facilities (Which cyclists are allowed to under the CVC unless forbidden by local ordinance.), cyclists are *generally* (But not always) treated as pedestrians by the law. Whereas, when using vehicular facilities, bicyclists are generally (But again, not always) legally treated as vehicles. Again, cyclist, of any age are legally allowed to use pedestrian facilities in CA unless regulated by local ordinances. In fact, the ability of city ordinances to limit cyclist's access to pedestrian facilities, is the only authority the CVC grants local governments in regulating cycling traffic. This means that a local government can't pass a law that cyclists are not allowed to use a certain street or what have you, only that they are not allowed to use a certain sidewalk(s) in a specific area of the town. There is also no law about walking your bike on the sidewalk. Perhaps you are thinking of a different state?..
Goodgulf January 13, 2012 at 05:26 PM
There are already about a million different ways for ambulance chasers to do this. I'm not sure why you think this will make a difference. However, what this will definitely do, is allow cyclists who ride with a video camera, as many do now, to more easily sue aggressive motorists. Sounds good to me.
David Huntsman January 13, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Or to get people to turn in library books on time. But what do either of these have to do with an ordinance providing recourse against motorists who harass cyclists?
Goodgulf January 13, 2012 at 05:47 PM
One would think that since we have 4,400-ish pedestrians killed each year in the USA by auto drivers that you would rather see the auto drivers get more comprehensive training on how to treat pedestrians. I'm surprised. Just out of curiosity though, what in the world does this have to do with the article?
billdsd January 13, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Currently, unless a police officer witnesses the incident, there is no recourse for bicyclists when it comes to being harassed by motorists. Motorists commit criminal levels of harassment against bicyclists all the time but the police won't do anything because they can't get proof beyond reasonable doubt. It's a waste of time for them. Any half way decent defense lawyer will get a case thrown out if it has no evidence whatsoever other than the cyclist's word. There will have to be physical evidence that can be presented in court or at least independent corroborating witnesses for a case to have half a chance.
billdsd January 13, 2012 at 07:12 PM
@Goodgulf: As near as I can tell, most if not all states handle sidewalk cycling laws the same way that California does: they leave it up to local authorities. I haven't gone through all 50 yet so there could be some but most seem to be fairly similar on most bicycle related laws. This should not be surprising since most base their road laws on the UVC. You also made a mistake about places that the CVC allows local authorities to restrict bicycles. CVC 21960 also allows local authorities to restrict bicycles from controlled access highways (freeways).
Tim Q. Cannon March 02, 2012 at 10:26 PM
hmm...I called out to an almost invisible bicyclist: Hey, get a light!...I guess that makes me guilty of distracting him...
David Huntsman March 02, 2012 at 11:20 PM
It depends. Were you driving past him, and shouting out the window? Or were you standing on the sidewalk while he slowly pedaled by?

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