Open Letter to Our State Legislators: We Need a Strong Bike Harassment Law
While I was riding my bike to an Oakland Department of Transportation press event a couple of weeks ago, a driver in a black SUV came up behind and tailgated me. There were two lanes, and ample room to change lanes to pass–there was also a red light ahead of me and I was keeping up with the flow of traffic–I caught up with her at the next light and the next after that.
Despite all this, the driver blew the horn, passed dangerously close, and told me to ride on the sidewalk.
The only thing that makes this noteworthy is that it is barely noteworthy. It has happened to me before, several times, although it’s the first time I’ve recorded such an overt act on video, on my Fly6 bike camera. The lead image is a still from that video.
Anybody who rides regularly has had a similar experience. It’s also something that we see reported on social media with alarming frequency.
Remember Mary Ann Blackwell, who was punched in the face for demanding a motorist not park in the bike lane? She posted on Facebook about a different, recent incident on Adeline Street in Oakland where a driver first followed dangerously close, then passed within three feet (even though there was an open lane next to her) and shouted “I could run your ass over!” Blackwell, who spoke with Streetsblog about the incident, doesn’t have a video camera on her bike, but she caught up with the motorist down the street and took a picture of his van with her cell phone.
And who can forget this driver on Valencia, a bike corridor, who passed recklessly and then stopped and got out of his car to threaten a cyclist.
There are four cities in California with anti bike-harassment laws–Los Angeles, Berkeley, Oakland and Sunnyvale. Unfortunately, these only enable cyclists to sue for money. And we have the hard-fought but flexible three foot-passing law.
These laws may help, but they don’t get at the crux of the problem: someone who goes around blasting cyclists off the road shouldn’t be driving in the first place.
Three weekends ago in Marin, four cyclists were injured–one critically–by a man driving a pickup truck. There’s a through-line from that incident to the day-to-day harassment that cyclists experience. Does anyone imagine the Marin motorist previously passed carefully, didn’t harass cyclists, and always gave at least three feet? Of course not–remember the case of Doctor Thompson, a Los Angeles motorist who was convicted of assaulting cyclists with his car? He had a history of harassing cyclists. A Mother-Teresa-of-a-motorist doesn’t wake up one day and decide to go run down some bikers.
Past attempts at legislation to protect vulnerable road users from aggressive and malevolent motorists haven’t gotten past the governor’s desk. But with the growing prevalence of bike-mounted video cameras that can capture direct evidence of a malevolent person using a car to terrorize cyclists, it’s time to try again.
Last week, a criminal suspect used an SUV to severely injure San Francisco Police Officer Elia Lewin-Tankel. In honor of Lewin-Tankel, and the cyclists injured in Marin, I call on Phil Ting, Marc Levine, Scott Wiener and David Chiu, or other state lawmakers who have shown comity with vulnerable road users, to work on legislation: if someone is caught on video harassing or threatening a cyclist with a motor vehicle, they should lose the privilege of a driver’s license. It should be clear that police don’t have to witness the act directly–video footage is good enough.
It should be part of the California Motor Vehicle Code that anyone who is so deranged and full of bile that they think it is appropriate to use a two- to five-ton vehicle to terrorize and harass people will not be permitted to drive.
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