Bicycle harassment ordinance passes unanimously

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:39 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 7, 2009

COLUMBIA — A bicyclist harassment ordinance passed unanimously at the City Council meeting Monday after nearly an hour and a half of debate.

The ordinance makes harassment of bicyclists — including throwing objects, verbal assault and other offenses — a misdemeanor offense punishable by a $1,000 fine or one year of jail time, the council said.  

After the lengthy testimony from citizens and discussion by the council, the ordinance passed with plans to amend it at the July 20 City Council meeting. At that time, the ordinance will be expanded to include other types of pedestrian traffic.

The delay in a decision was due to debate over who should be covered under the harassment ordinance. Some council members felt the ordinance should be more broad and encompass other types of pedestrian traffic, while others thought protecting bicyclists was important now and the rest could be added later.

Many in the bicycling community showed up to voice their feelings about the ordinance. Twenty individuals, some with children in tow, lined up to wait for their turn at the microphone. All 20 supported the ordinance.

Residents cited a number of reasons for their support and shared horror stories from bike riding. The tales ranged from waking up facedown in ditches to having ashtrays dumped on their heads. The consensus among supporters was that the ordinance would help protect them on the streets.

“Unfortunately, there are people in our community who believe that roads are for automobiles and bicyclists who dare ride on the road should be honked at, yelled at or even have something thrown at them,” PedNet Education Coordinator Robert Johnson said.  

The ordinance, which is modeled after similar ordinances in South Carolina and Colorado, makes it a misdemeanor to do the following: throw an object at or in the direction of a cyclist, threatening a cyclist to frighten or disturb the cyclist, sounding a horn with the intention to frighten or disturb a cyclist, knowingly placing a cyclist in the path of physical injury, or knowingly engaging in conduct that creates a risk of death or serious physical injury for a cyclist.

Residents who spoke at the meeting said they have experienced all of the above, and those who remained after the deliberation stood and cheered when the ordinance was passed.  

“If you’ve ever been in a subcompact car and had a semi get on your back bumper and blow the horn, that’s what it was like,” ordinance supporter Steve Epstein said of being tailed by frustrated motorists.


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Ray Shapiro June 16, 2009 | 12:23 a.m.

(..."Steve Epstein said of being tailed by frustrated motorists.")
And God Forbid a slow moving cyclist would move over to the right side of the road to allow a "tailgater" to pass so that he could get to his doctor appointment on time...
(It's amazing that this town is now issuing ordinances on manners and creating a new "protected class" of citizens. Have you hugged your bicycle today?)
Perhaps we also need to have license plates on bicycles so that car drivers can report 2-wheelers that jump out of no where, drive at night with no lights, run stop signs and red lights and pass on the right...Heck, there are bicycles being used by 16-19 year olds to case homes in parts of Columbia and an ordinance for license plates would help identify these criminals who are riding around between homes and in backyards and then ride away on sidewalks.
I've also witnessed bicycle riders litter and yell at automobiles. Are we not allowed to yell back?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 16, 2009 | 4:54 a.m.

Now who is going to police the cyclists who continue to break the law? Are they immune from any prosecution of breaking the laws of the road?

Is this ordinance going to encompass powered wheel chairs and scooters for the disabled community too?

Lots of questions on this one isn't there.

(Report Comment)
Ryan L June 16, 2009 | 2:17 p.m.

The ordinance says nothing about the laws regarding bicycling, only the harassment of the people riding them. The police will continue enforcing the law. It is not possible for them to catch everyone every time, just like in cars. Many people speed, run red lights, and drive drunk without being caught. That doesn't mean the police are letting them off or not enforcing the law.
I know every article about bicycling in Columbia gives you guys an opportunity to voice your opinion, but these comments really have nothing to do with the story.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 16, 2009 | 3:44 p.m.

>>> but these comments really have nothing to do with the story <<<

They have everything to due with the bigger picture around this story.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Mees June 18, 2009 | 12:24 p.m.

How about this.

The next time a biker runs into your car and causes you grievous bodily injury, feel free to complain all you want about their behavior.

Until then, realize that the law requires YOU, as a MOTORIST to be in control of your vehicle at ALL times. If a bike rider, or other pedestrian, is in the roadway, sorry, it's still your obligation to not hit them.

So quit your whining. If everyone biked it'd be a much better world.

(Report Comment)
andrea ratkovic June 18, 2009 | 6:24 p.m.

You folks who are griping about cyclists are missing the point. You know darned well what this ordinance is about. It's not about protecting cyclists who don't use headlights at night (which is subject to a fine). It's not about cyclists who pop out suddenly in front of you. It's not about the other crap that you're being stupid about. Nobody is saying that there aren't dumb people on bikes b/c we all know that there are. Cyclists can get ticketed for the same things cars can get ticketed for. End of story.
What we're talking about here is HARASSMENT. There isn't a need to throw stuff at cyclists, to drive dangerously close to them, to yell obscenities. People should be able to walk, drive, and ride bikes without being harassed. Period.
I'm laying here in my living room on a futon b/c I was hit by a man who simply didn't see me riding my bike. I sustained 16 fractures throughout my torso and have a permanent titanium rod down my leg. I was an elite cyclist, multisport athlete, and runner. I say "was" b/c I can't even walk now. Had the driver maintained 3 feet of distance as required by law in Norman, OK. then I'd be out riding my bike right now. 3 feet---that's all I needed...

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro June 19, 2009 | 1:07 a.m.

@andrea ratkovic:
Accidents are a bummer, indeed.
I see this is the first posted comment on the Missourian with your name.
Laying on a futon, because you can't walk, must give you a lot of "free time."
Do you not enjoy communicating on-line?
Is it just this ordinance story that you care to address?
Do you think this ordinance would have prevented your accident?
Will this ordinance make cycling any safer?
Will "blind spots" suddenly vanish, thanks to this one-sided, preferential treatment of an ordinance?
Have you ever thought that this ordinance could do more harm, then good?
Did you ever think that motorists might see it as a slap in the face?
Did you ever think that the ordinance could set a bad precedent and be abused and misused?
What exactly is this ordinance trying to achieve anyway?
Is it mandated. legislated sensitivity training for motorists or an attempt to create more business for lawyers defending honkers in a court of law?
Do you have cable?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 19, 2009 | 4:32 a.m.

Ray, don't berate people for having a lot of free time. I think you post more than Chuck does these days.

This ordinance may make cycling more pleasant. Any form of transportation has it's inherent dangers.

However, I see the impact of this as minimal. It's pretty obvious to me when someone is honking to alert me to their presence, and when someone is honking to frighten or annoy me.

If you don't want to share the road, then don't. Stay home. One fewer car will make it that little bit more pleasant for all of us, motorists and cyclists both. Ever think that the fact I'm not driving frees up a little more space for motorists?


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 19, 2009 | 5:25 a.m.

Mark Foecking did ya ever think about going on your own personal campaign to help educate your fellow cyclists instead of sitting here berating ray over his posting about the obvious.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 19, 2009 | 6:30 a.m.

Most of the fellow cyclists I know are quite educated, safe, predictable, courteous riders.

Ones that aren't deserve a ticket or two. I never said I disagree with that.


(Report Comment)
Ethan Froese June 19, 2009 | 8:05 a.m.

Crap Rat. What happenend? I had not heard you were hit by a car. Shot by an idiot and then hit by a car. You're unbreakable.

You all listen up to what Rat has to say. She's ridden more miles and seen more things on a bike than most of you will see in life time.

Send me an email with an update.


(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 19, 2009 | 9:22 a.m.

Amen Mark, a lot of unfounded hysteria about this issue both here and over at the Tribune.

(Report Comment)
andrea ratkovic June 19, 2009 | 11:32 a.m.

Hey Ethan! I don't know your email, but google my name, and you can read all about the accident. Plus, hit me up at, so I have your email. I spoke with Jimmy; he seems to be doing well.
I feel sorry for you, RAY, because you can pick apart each and every ordinance and law. None are guaranteed to be perfect. Certainly, it makes for good conversation, but even though I have lots of time I don't spend it on the computer. I spend it trying to rehab. Oh, and no, no ordinance would have protected me as far as what happened. HOWEVER, I can't say what educating that fella would have done. I don't know if there would have been a little voice saying, "Hey, cyclist up ahead---caution." We'll never know that.
I'm sure there will be motorists who will take it as a slap in the face. I'm sure in some cases maybe the ordinance could do more harm than good. Want a cookie now? I still think it's a good ordinance. I think any ordinance that strives to protect life is a good ordinance.
HOWEVER, I think it's an important step in sharing the road. More often than not, motorists think they own the ENTIRE road which they do not.
Let me just say that in Norman, OK. the drivers, in general, are absolutely fantastic with cyclists. Occasionally you'll have the dumbass who wants to scare you or shoot you (as in my case a few years ago) or throw bottles/fireworks at you, or who wants to swing a 2"x4" at you. I've had all of these happen. I was also stalked by a man in a car.
All of the above is harrassment and then some. If I were driving in a car and the above happened to me it would still be harassment. Harrassment is harrassment, and it shouldn't be tolerated in any shape or form. That's it. THAT'S what this ordinance is trying to stop. Yes, it will be hard to enforce, but at least it's there. There are lots of ordinances and laws that are hard to enforce, but does that mean we shouldn't have them?
Actually, it IS too bad we have to have them. You'd think that people could just be civil with one another and get along. ROTFLMAO!

(Report Comment)
andrea ratkovic June 19, 2009 | 11:46 a.m.

Ok, I have to apologize. I'm not trying to make enemies here, nor do I wish to add to the disdain that some motorists may have of cyclists. I simply wanted to comment on this article because, in my opinion, this is a fantastic ordinance, and I commend the city of Columbia for taking such a proactive stance on the motorists vs. cyclists issue. It's a shame that there is such an issue, but unfortunately there is, and we must all deal with it. This country has always been a "motorist first" type of country, and it will take a long time before anyone else is accepted to be on the roadways. It's sad but true. Unfortunately, there are people who don't like to share, and they act out when they are forced to.
I won't continue to argue anyone's points or even those of my own. I can't prove or disprove anything, and I don't have all of the answers.
Kudos to Columbia is all I'm saying.

Oh, and Ethan get on Myspace or Facebook!

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro June 19, 2009 | 11:56 a.m.

@andrea ratkovic:
Rehab is a major challenge way on to itself.
Hang in there.
("Want a cookie now?")
Got milk?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr June 19, 2009 | 12:21 p.m.

Ethan Froese do you want a cookie now or later?

(Report Comment)
Tim Donahoe July 2, 2009 | 12:54 a.m.

I think the thing a lot of motorist forget is that, living in mid-missouri, most cyclists are also motorists. I ride my bikes to do everything except what is absolutely necessary to use my car for. I obey traffic laws, ride with lights, and signal at turns. I have nearly been hit several times by cars, and have only avoided disaster due to quick reaction timing. I have also nearly been in physical altercations over being in the road instead of "on the sidewalk where I belong".

These motorists shouldn't have their licenses, not just a slap on the wrist. I never act the way that some Columbia locals do when I drive or ride.

(Report Comment)
Ed Austin July 5, 2009 | 4:11 p.m.

It's a shame that laws have to be passed to get humans to behave better than the other animals.
Regarding harassment of cyclists - It's the usual "pick on the most vunerable" syndrome perpetuated by weak minded bullies and cowards unable to refrain from using and abusing a fleeting moment of anger and power.
I'm of the opinion that all users of vehicles, including cyclists, should be tutored and IQ, aptitude and attitude tested. We must all learn to be good and careful drivers, and to share the roads with others who have every right to be there.

(Report Comment)

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