A proposed ordinance would make street harassment — ranging from physical aggression to threats and catcalls — illegal in Kansas City, Missouri.
The legislation is motivated by a desire to get residents walking and biking more frequently, instead of driving everywhere. Laws against general harassment are already in place, but the proposed ordinance is intended to specifically protect pedestrians and bicyclists from abuse.
“We build bike lanes, sidewalks,” Sarah Shipley, founder of BikeWalkKC, told The Huffington Post. “But if people feel threatened on the streets, what is the point?”
City Councilman John Sharp told the Kansas City Star, “We’re encouraging people to walk and bike more, and they certainly ought to be allowed to do that without harassment.”
BikeWalkKC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting healthy outdoor activity, spearheaded the legislation.
Many women, the organization says, feel they can’t jog, bike or even walk their children to school without being harassed.
Resident Amber Langston told KCTV5 she’s been shouted at from a car and has even been flashed by a man on a balcony. “I looked away quickly and just walked on and uh, chalked it up to another one of those instances that happens to women on the street,” she said.
The bill also targets violent acts of intimidation against pedestrians and cyclists, including throwing objects at them or trying to run them off the road with a vehicle.
In the past five years, similar ordinances have been passed in the Missouri cities of Columbia, St. Louis, Independence and Greenwood, according to the Kansas City Star.
Shipley believes that outlawing catcalling and unwanted sexual comments does not trample on First Amendment rights. “You’re not allowed to yell 'fire' in a movie theater,” she told HuffPost. Catcalls, she said, fall into the same category.
The city council's public safety committee is scheduled to discuss the legislation on September 25.
The full text of the ordinance, provided by KCTV 5, reads:
Sec. 50-205. Harassment of a Bicyclist, Pedestrian or Wheelchair Operator
(a) The following words, terms and phrases, when used in this section, shall have the meanings ascribed to them below, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning:
Bicycle means any device upon which a person may ride, which is propelled by human power through a system of belts, chains, or gears, and may include an electric assist motor, and has wheels at least 16 inches in diameter and a frame size of at least 13 inches.
Wheelchair means any manual or motorized device designed specifically for use by a physically disabled person for means of conveyance.
(b) No person shall, for the purpose of frightening or injuring any person riding a bicycle, walking, running, or operating a wheelchair:
(1) Throw an object, direct a projectile, or operate a vehicle at or in such person's direction; or
(2) Threaten such person; or
(3) Sound a horn, shout or otherwise direct loud or unusual sounds toward such person; or
(4) Place such person in apprehension of immediate physical danger; or
(5) Engage in conduct that creates a risk of death or serious physical injury to such person.
(c) Any person convicted of a violation of this chapter shall be punished for that violation by a fine of not less than $50, but not more than $500 or by imprisonment of not more than 180 days or by both such fine and imprisonment.