February 18, 2009
More on the safe passing bill

Bike activist and frequent commenter Peter Wang gets some press.

Bicyclist Peter Wang considers Houston traffic a tameable wilderness.

He's dodged his share of open car doors, but over the years, he's learned how to maneuver around unaccommodating drivers.

"You might be expecting me to say that drivers in Houston are awful and bicycling is unsafe," said Wang, a Bike Houston board member. "What I found is, if you're trained properly, you make your own safety to a large extent."

That's where Sen. Rodney Ellis rides in.

The Houston Democrat, also an avid cyclist, has penned a bill to protect his fellow bicyclists, along with pedestrians, motorcyclists, runners, horse riders and farmers. In Ellis' bill they are considered "vulnerable road users."

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics support the descriptor. In 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, 698 cyclists were killed in the United States, 48 of them in Texas. Also that year, 4,833 motorcyclists, 375 of them in Texas, and 4,654 pedestrians were killed.

Under Ellis' bill, co-authored by state Sen. John Carona, D-Dallas, drivers would have to get out of a traffic lane used by a vulnerable road user if another is available. Motorists should pass them at a "safe distance" of more than 3 feet if the motorist is in a car or light truck. Six feet would be considered safe for heavy trucks or commercial vehicles. Seven states, including Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma have similar laws on their books, according to Ellis' office.

The bill also would require drivers making left turns at intersections to yield to bicyclists or other road users approaching in the opposite direction. Motorists also would be barred from intimidating or harassing bicyclists and pedestrians and would be prohibited from opening a vehicle door that interferes with their ride or walk.

"Everyone is affected by this bill," Wang said, "because everyone has been broken down by the side of the road before. ... No one has the right to harass you or throw things at you."

If the bill passes, violators who cause property damage would be cited with a misdemeanor and fined up to $500. If the violation results in injury, a driver could be cited for a Class B misdemeanor.

Ellis' bill is SB488, and its companion in the House is HB827. See MTBLawGirl and TexBiker.net for more info or if you want to get involved.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 18, 2009 to That's our Lege

Good morning Charles.
We can have the best laws available but that does not make the streets any safer.
Drivers have to be aware of the laws and laws have to be enforced. Also cyclist have to be aware of the laws.
Reality is different. Many drivers don't think they have to share the street with a cyclists. Many cyclist think they don't have to follow traffic laws i.e. speeding (just kidding, I mean stopping at red lights). Police fails to enforce existing laws.
Lets add something else to the mix. Many bike lanes and city streets have unsafe pavement surfaces.
Situation: I ride my road bike on Washington Ave. where there is a dedicated bike lane. The riding surface is terrible thus I rather ride on the vehicle lane. It makes me wonder what drivers think when they see a cyclists not riding on the bike lane but getting in their way.
Point is that, until cities like Houston provide proper infrastructure for bicyclist laws will not change people's behaviors.
Sure more laws might help legal cases and solve crimes and convict criminals but when talking about public safety proactive is best than reactive. Enforcement of laws are reactive.

p.s. It was great meeting you at the Shady Acres candidate forum. Wish would had more time to visit.

Posted by: Gonzalo Camacho on February 18, 2009 8:16 AM
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