There’s been a lot of chatter recently on the Bicycle Friendly Springfield Facebook group about proposing an anti-harassment law similar to those in Columbia and St. Louis. Basically, such a law would make it illegal to purposely harass a bicyclist. I’ve been ambivalent about it for two reasons: 1) Isn’t it already illegal to harass people using the streets? and 2) I’ve been using a bicycle for basic transportation in Springfield daily (except snow) for 8 years, and I have never been harassed.
Until this morning…
I remain ambivalent about a specific law, but I think I could be persuaded to be an ardent supporter depending upon what happens regarding what I experienced this morning.
(UPDATE: Count me persuaded. I heard from Chief of Police Paul Williams a few minutes ago. The most that can happen is issue tickets for inappropriate use of horn and following too close. Anything more is up to the prosecutor. We need to give the police the necessary tools.)
I had a guy tailgate me for a mile this morning through downtown honking and yelling despite traffic so light he could have easily passed at any given point along the route. (Note: On Facebook this morning I claimed 2 miles. That was the adrenaline typing. I just checked the route on Google Maps.)
I am happy to report that I did not confront this person except to tell him that I have a legal right to the road. I did not flip him off. I did not call him names. And I did not back down. I remained in the street riding lawfully until he finally passed me (on Boonville when I pulled into the the bicycle lane — then he close-passed me!).
When I stopped at the light at Walnut and Kimbrough — with the guy 3 feet from my back tire — I called the police. The dispatcher could easily hear the honking and yelling. I gave this description: Older, beat-up, white Chevrolet Lumina with Missouri tags HH1-T6C. The driver was a white male in his mid 20s, at least 6-feet tall between 175 and 195 pounds wearing a black tank-top.
The dispatcher sent a police officer to meet me at my destination — The Hub — to take my report. As I would expect, the officer was very helpful. But when I asked what could actually be done about this situation, the officer was not sure. He said they might be able to ticket the guy for inappropriate use of a horn if I’m willing to testify.
If that is indeed the case, that someone can use their vehicle to intimidate me on the streets and get away with nothing but a ticket for horn honking, then, yes, I think it is time to talk about a harassment law.
I’ve been honked at and yelled at before. As Carbon Trace readers know, these encounters are very rare for me. I attribute that to two things: 1) The general politiness of people in Springfield, and 2) My following traffic laws to the letter. I do not consider these types of incidents harassment.
I’ve heard stories of people being pelted with objects thrown by motorists and passengers. This has never happened to me. I also do not consider this behavior harassment. I call it criminal assault for which we already have adaquate laws.
Today I was harassed — threatened with a motor vehicle. And I am going to be watching closely what happens in regard to my police report.