Bicyclist harassment ordinance introduced in Columbia

As anyone who bicycles knows, harassment of bicyclists is a real problem. Even when it happens only rarely, it discourages many people from bicycling more.

Experience in other parts of the country has shown that public education combined with serious law enforcement action against harassers makes a real difference in cutting down this type of dangerous behavior.

Experience says that the vast majority of drivers are courteous and law abiding. When education and law enforcement concentrate on that very small percentage of drivers who are dangerous or harassing, it can make a real difference.

Members of PedNet in Columbia and the areas' bicycling community have been working with the Columbia City Council to introduce a model bicyclist harassment ordinance.

Without a specific law on the books, it can be difficult for law enforcement officials to target bicyclist harassment. Even though offenders can be charged under a variety of existing laws, it is difficult to get convictions and in many cases the penalties--and, correspondingly, burden of proof--are so high that law enforcement officials are reluctant to pursue convictions.

The Columbia ordinance, which is one result of the relationship PedNet has developed with area law enforcement officers, is designed to address exactly that hole in current law. It could become a model for other Missouri communities to adopt--or perhaps even for a statewide law, similar to those recently adopted in South Carolina and Colorado.

The ordinance will have a hearing in the Columbia City Council June 15th, 2009 (7PM, Columbia City Hall Council Chambers, 701 E. Broadway, Columbia, MO). At that time it will be very helpful to have supporters attend the meeting. Anyone who wishes will have the opportunity to testify briefly about the proposed ordinance.

The MoBikeFed legislative committee had an opportunity to review the proposed language and give input to Robert Johnson of PedNet, who has led the effort to move the legislation forward with the city council. The current version of the proposed ordinance reads:
Sec. 16-145. Harassment of a bicyclist.

(a) A person commits the offense of harassment of a bicyclist if the person: . . .

(1) Knowingly throws an object at or in the direction of any person riding a bicycle; or

(2) Threatens any person riding a bicycle for the purpose of frightening or disturbing the person riding the bicycle; or

(3) Sounds a horn, shouts or otherwise directs sound toward any person riding a bicycle for the purpose of frightening or disturbing the person riding the bicycle; or

(4) Knowingly engages in conduct that creates a risk of death or serious physical injury to the person riding a bicycle.

(b) Harassment of a bicyclist is a Class A misdemeanor.

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