Houston's cycling community, such as it is, is up to something. Specifically, it is pulling every lever of municipal government within reach to make cycling safer in Space City.
In Houston, Harris County, and Texas, the number of cyclists killed each year in collisions with motor vehicles is dinky compared to the number of drivers and passengers killed in wrecks. But it is still too many.
People who ride bicycles for transportation, and not just recreation, are providing a public service. Collectively they represent fewer cars crowding our streets, less toxic effluent from automobile exhaust pipes, and better physical health. Too many drivers don't see it that way and perceive us cyclists as a major inconvenience keeping them from reaching their destinations as quickly as possible. Every regular rider has a tale to tell motorists honking angrily, yelling at them to get on the sidewalk, or passing them within inches.
Houston last implemented a city-wide bike plan in the mid-1990s. The city has changed quite a bit since then, but the bike plan has not changed with it. With increasing population density inside the Loop, there are now more automobiles on streets like Montrose, Bissonnet, and 11th. Our bike lanes may as well be called "bike tire hazard lanes." Our rails-to-trails and bayou-trail network is not a network, because several of them do not interconnect.
Our City Council and municipal bureaucrats know better than to revise the bike plan without input from stakeholders, so they are working with organizations like Bike Houston to work out how best to spend city money on improve bicycle access and safety. This work includes conducting hearings and forums, as well as an interactive Bike Plan website.
Beyond the Bike Plan, the City has been addressing concerns about creating a safer environment in which to ride. For instance, Mayor Parker's Complete Streets executive order includes protected or semi-protected bike lanes when designated streets require reconstruction. The two-way lane on Lamar Street downtown is a nice try: It does not yet connect to any bike lanes, routes, or trails. It's actually dangerous for cyclists to proceed into Discovery Green on one end, Buffalo Bayou Park on the other.
A few years ago, Council passed an ordinance requiring minors to wear helmets while riding, and established a fund to purchase helmets for families who might not be able to afford them.
In 2013, Council also added a Safe Passing Ordinance to the municipal code. It's one of those laws worthy of applause for its intent, but devilishly difficulty to enforce. Citations for violating the ordinance are rare at best, and that's not because everyone is following it.
Below the fold I have copied and pasted the Safe Passing Ordinance in its entirety. The Municode site is searchable, but it makes it difficult to link to individual text. In a later post, I will do the same for the helmet ordinance and the law against riding on sidewalks in business districts.
Sec. 45-44. Vulnerable road users.
The following words, terms and phrases, when used in this section will have the meanings set forth in this subsection, except when the context clearly indicates a different meaning:
Safe distance means:
(1) While passing, a separation between a motor vehicle and a vulnerable road user that, when all road, traffic and weather conditions are considered, provides the motorist sufficient space and time to avoid a collision with a vulnerable road user but, in any event, not less than 3 feet if the operator's vehicle is a passenger car or light truck and not less than 6 feet if the operator's vehicle is a truck (other than a light truck) or a commercial vehicle as defined by Texas Transportation Code Section 522.003; or
(2) While trailing, a separation between a motor vehicle and a vulnerable road user that, when all road, traffic and weather conditions are considered, provides the motorist sufficient space and time to avoid a collision with a vulnerable road user.
Vulnerable road user means:
(1) A pedestrian (including a runner), physically disabled person (including a person in a wheelchair), stranded motorist or passenger, highway construction or maintenance worker, tow truck operator, or utility worker in the roadway;
(2) A person on horseback or operating a horse-driven conveyance, in the roadway;
(3) A person operating a bicycle (including an electric bicycle), hand cycle, or other human-powered wheeled vehicle in the roadway; or
(4) A person operating a moped, motor-driven cycle, or motor-assisted scooter, as those terms are defined in sections 541.201 and 551.351 of the Texas Transportation Code, as applicable.
(b) Action required.
An operator of a motor vehicle or motorcycle shall:
(1) When passing a vulnerable road user on a highway or street;
a. Vacate the lane in which the vulnerable road user is located if the highway or street has two or more marked lanes running in the same direction if such action can be taken safely; or
b. Pass the vulnerable road user at a safe distance; or
(2) When making a turn at an intersection (including an intersection with an alley or private road or driveway), yield the right-of-way to a vulnerable road user who is approaching from the opposite direction and is in the intersection, or is in such proximity to the intersection as to be an immediate hazard.
(c) Prohibited action.
An occupant of a motor vehicle may not:
(1) Knowingly throw or project any object or substance at or against a vulnerable road user, or the user's animal, equipment, vehicle or conveyance;
(2) Overtake a vulnerable road user traveling in the same direction and subsequently make a turn in front of the vulnerable road user unless the operator is safely clear of the vulnerable road user, taking into account the speed at which the vulnerable road user is traveling and the braking requirements of the motor vehicle making the right-hand turn; or
(3) Maneuver the vehicle in a manner that is intended to cause intimidation or harassment to a vulnerable road user or threatens a vulnerable road user.
(d) Affirmative defense.
It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that, at the time of the offense, the vulnerable road user was acting in violation of any applicable traffic law.
The penalty for any violation of this section shall be a fine not to exceed $500.00.
(Ord. No. 2013-429, § 2, 5-8-2013)
Blogging Sporadically since 2014
Here you will find political campaign-related entries, as well as some about my literature, Houston underground arts, peace & justice, urban cycling, soccer, alt-religion, and other topics.