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Houston considers a “Safe Passing” ordinance

Glad to hear it.

Though it boasts a growing biking culture, Houston is the only major city in Texas without a safe-passing law requiring motorists to share the road with cyclists and others. City leaders now want to change that.

City attorneys proposed an ordinance to the City Council’s public safety committee Wednesday that officials said should come up for a vote soon. Bike advocates cheered the proposal, but said they hope it will be amended to more closely mirror a model ordinance, drafted by Austin-based nonprofit BikeTexas, that is working its way through the Legislature.

Fourteen other Texas cities, most using BikeTexas’ proposal, have approved safe-passing laws since Gov. Rick Perry’s 2009 veto of a bill that would have required drivers to keep a minimum distance from cyclists. Nationwide, 39 states have adopted safe passing laws.

Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas, said making safe-passing laws as uniform as possible will improve efforts to educate drivers about the need to share the road. The model ordinance, he added, has been picked over by scores of lawmakers and has solid compromises built in.

“This is important so that they pass the state law,” Stallings said of Houston’s efforts. “It’s an educational tool and very valuable, as an ordinance, to begin that process of education, but it’s going to be more effective once it’s more universal.”

Houston’s proposal would require drivers to give bicyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing and 6 feet when trailing, and would require them to change lanes to give cyclists more room, where possible. Violators could be fined up to $500.

The ordinance also would protect pedestrians, runners, stranded motorists, construction workers, tow truck operators, riders on horseback and other “vulnerable” road users.

This subject came up in February, and at that time there was no apparent interest in a Houston ordinance. I supported this in 2009 when a bill that Rick Perry ultimately vetoed was passed by the Legislature, and I support it now. There are some issues that need to be worked out before the Houston ordinance comes up for a vote in Council, so if you have any feedback I recommend you contact the office of CM Ed Gonzalez, who is the Chair of the Public Safety committee, which is working on this. A lot of bicyclist are killed or injured every year in preventable accidents. Laws like this can help reduce that number.

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