Menlo Park considers law targeting harassment of cyclists

ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImagesA man rides a bicycle in Menlo Park

Amid a spate of collisions in the city between motorists and bicyclists — often serious and life-threatening — Menlo Park is eyeing an ordinance that aims to curb harassment of those considered vulnerable users of the road.

If signed into law, the legislation would create recourse for victims of road rage, and other forms of motorist harassment, who sometimes have difficulty in criminal cases. The proposed ordinance seeks to protect all “vulnerable” people on the road — including children, elderly people and those with disabilities, as well as cyclists, according to Gregory Klingsporn, chairman of the Menlo Park Bicycle Commission.

Bicycle advocates note it’s easier to succeed in civil cases because the burden of proof is substantially lower, meaning it’s unnecessary to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But those seeking criminal charges in cases such as road rage can often face a variety of challenges.

“A lot of people get caught in legal limbo, even if the driver is 100 percent at fault,” said Corinne Winter of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. “It’s hard to get anywhere legally.”

The Menlo Park Police Department doesn’t track statistics specifically related to harassment of cyclists and reports of complaints due to administrative complexities, according to a department spokeswoman. As a result, not much data are available.

But in recent weeks, several cyclists were sent to the hospital with “serious injuries” after collisions with motorists on Menlo Park streets, according to media reports. No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the incidents.

The ongoing conflicts occurring between motorists and cyclists in areas like Silicon Valley mostly involve packs of cyclists, rather than solo riders commuting or riding recreationally, said Menlo Velo Bicycles owner Rainer Zaechelein.

“It’s really the whole area [that’s popular among cyclists], and there are a lot of weekly rides to go on,” Zaechelein said. “Those are usually 20 to 60 riders, these are big groups of cyclists.” Cyclists in groups often tend not to ride single file, which may frustrate some motorists, Zaechelein said. “[Motorists get] excited by that, particularly if totally blocking roads or doing things they shouldn’t be,” Zaechelein said.

But Winter doesn’t see the situation as that clear-cut. From her experience, what drives motorists to frustration is the growing number of cyclists on the road.

“Instead of seeing it as one less car, it is seen as ‘someone in my way,’” she said.

The proposed legislation is in its early stages and the city’s Bicycle Commission is aiming to present a draft at its December meeting. Klingsporn is charged with drafting the initial legislation, which is said to be based on similar statutes in Sunnyvale and Sebastopol.

If supported by the commission, the legislation could be recommended to the City Council sometime in January, according to Klingsporn.

Menlo Park would be the first city in San Mateo County to pass such legislation — on the Peninsula, only Sunnyvale has approved a similar ordinance.

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