Should Houston City Council Pass A Bicycle “Safe-Passing” Ordinance?

The Houston city council is considering whether to pass a “safe-passing” law which is raising some eyebrows as to whether or not Houston has gone too far in their catering to bicyclists.  The new law would require motorists to take a number of precautions around what the law refers to as “vulnerable road users.”  While many major cities have safe-passing laws of their own, the one under the microscope in Houston is much broader.

“Vulnerable road users” as defined in the proposed ordinance, are not just bicyclists, but also: pedestrians, runners, road workers, stranded motorists, construction workers tow truck operators, horse back riders, horse drawn carriages, human-powered wheeled vehicles and utility workers.  The new ordinance would require motorists to allow a 3 foot berth when passing any such road user.  It further would require motorists to vacate the lane if there is another lane the driver can shift into when around such a road user.

The above would seem enough to represent a shift from the old adage of “share to road” to a new policy of give all slower-moving traffic right-of-way.  But the above is not all.  Unlike any other prior ordinance in any other major city, the proposed Houston bicycle ordinance would require motorists to allow a 6 foot following distance behind any of the so-called “vulnerable road users.”  No other major city has taken things to this extent.

In addition to the above, the ordinance would spell out and make punishable as a $500.00 fine the following:

  • overtaking and turning in front of a vulnerable road when not safe to do so.
  • maneuvering a vehicle to intimidate or harass someone.
  • throwing any object or substance at or against a vulnerable road user.

Oddly, none of the above are things that were legal in the first place.  Throwing any object at any motorist is already grounds for assault charges. So how this part of the ordinance is anything more than a publicity stunt is beyond me.

Houston already has the Houston Bikeway Program that provides over 300 miles of safe bicycling area over a 500 square foot area for bicyclists where they do not congest the already over-congested Houston streets. In addition, there are over 80 miles of hike and bike trails in Houston for bicycle use.  These facts give some people pause as to why special laws need to be enacted to give bicycles and other “vulnerable road users” a higher level of protection on the roadways as well.

Bicycle advocates would argue that these laws are needed to provide additional safe guards for bicyclists seeking to share the road.  Indeed, bicyclists are entitled to share the roads and expect other drivers to given them the same courtesies they must extend to larger vehicles. Yet due to their size, they often get overlooked–a fact which can be deadly.

Needless to say, the Houston city council is in the midst of a controversial decision that is sure to upset one side or the other in this matter.   Lets hope and pray for wisdom for the council members as they decide this issue.

If you have been involved in an accident that you believe was caused by a negligent driver or bicyclist, call Simmons and Fletcher for a free consultation with a bicycle accident lawyer today.




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