For drivers and bicyclists, sharing the road can be a frustrating experience that tests the patience and safety of both parties. An ordinance passed by Berkeley City Council in January, which went into effect Thursday, aims to promote safer roadways for cyclists but fails to do any more than existing laws already accomplish.
Following a similar move by Los Angeles lawmakers, the ordinance intends to shield cyclists from assault and injury, creating a clear avenue for civil recourse against automobile drivers who harass them. But while well-intentioned, the solutions made to fix cyclist harassment in Los Angeles don’t necessarily translate well to Berkeley’s needs.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the ordinance’s author, contends that it will cause drivers to stop and think before harassing cyclists. Yet the ordinance’s intent falls flat: Drivers should not be expected to suddenly think twice just because another law is on the books. Moreover, it is doubtful that many cyclists will take the time to pursue the identity of drivers who harry them — doing so is impractical and inconvenient for all but the most serious incidents.
The idea behind this ordinance is on point and should be welcomed by drivers and cyclists alike. Creating new rules that seek to grant protections already provided by law does not fix the core issue that cars and bikes must share Berkeley’s cramped roads. Even so, the conversation this ordinance has brought to the table serves to make way for a more bike-friendly city, especially if Worthington is committed to the principles of change through education.
Instead of crafting rules that are largely symbolic but essentially ineffectual, our council members should focus their time and effort on real solutions if they want to prove their genuine interest in the problems faced by Berkeley residents. Few drivers will be educated by a law that few cyclists know exist. However, if the city backs up its pro-bicycle rhetoric with awareness campaigns or legislation that actually does something new, like create more bicycle boulevards or bike lanes, then perhaps the ordinance’s goal will be met.