Meeting Sparks Positive Developments for Bike Safety

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Public service announcements, draft state legislation and even sting operations were discussed at a meeting Monday centered on enforcement and awareness of the Vulnerable Roadway User Ordinance [PDF] and road to traffic equality. Also known as the “Safe Passing” ordinance, it requires motorists to stay three to six feet away from bicyclists.

The San Antonio Police Department (SAPD), San Antonio Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the non-profit advocacy group BikeTexas, Tri-sition Area bike shop, city officials and other stakeholders attended the small “brainstorming meeting” that was brought about, in large part, because of the recent increase in bicycle-motorist fatalities and accidents in and around San Antonio.

Though the department is still working out specific procedures needed for safely executing Safe Passing sting operations, SAPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Javier Salazar said they will be done. Undercover police officers will soon be out on city streets – with the assistance of radios and  nearby car units – testing drivers on lawful moving and passing behavior. Violators of the ordinance can receive a ticket for up to $200 and charged with a class C misdemeanor.

“We hope that (the sting operations) will help motorists think twice before passing too close to a bicyclist,” Salazar said during a phone interview after the closed meeting.

BikeTexas is currently working on drafting legislation for the state of Texas that closely resembles the City’s ordinance, but may have a harsher punishment for motorists.

“The SAPD supports it,” Salazar said, “Until then, we urge (SAPD officers) to make arrests under the (current) ordinance.”

In September a bicyclist was killed by a teenage driver, in October local triathlete Monica Caban was struck by a motorist and suffered a severe spinal cord injury and just last week a man was killed while returning home on his bicycle with groceries.

Such incidents have sparked concern in the local bicycling community that the ordinance, passed in 2010, isn’t being properly enforced or that the punishment isn’t strong enough to deter drivers.

Mack Williams’ petition at Change.org.

A petition, “Julian Castro, Mayor of San Antonio: Enforce Strict Laws Against Drivers That Hit and Injure Cyclists,” has also been registered at Change.org by San Antonio Triathlete Mack Williams in response to these incidents. A Fox San Antonio television report publicized the petition last week and caught the attention of City Officials. The petition was started last Sunday, Nov. 27. As of late Monday evening, the petition’s page showed 1,092 signatures.

“A change must be made so that cyclists feel safer on their own roads. Drivers that hit cyclists are not even cited; even in cases where the cyclists are injured or hospitalized,” Williams’ petition says. “Non-cyclists need to understand that they are our streets, roads, and highways also!”

Williams was invited to the meeting by city officials and was confident that the unofficial agreements that were made on Monday will produce tangible action soon and has been considering closing the petition. He still feels, he said, that there should be harsher punishments, but has found that spreading awareness and encouraging enforcement are good ways to start.

“We all walked away from (the meeting) feeling that there were some great first steps taken,” he said. “Everyone there was very willing to listen … we approached (the conversation) in a sophisticated manner.”

Williams said that he was pleasantly surprised when San Antonio Police Chief William McManus suggested having sting operations.

“The weekend before (the meeting on Monday) I was thinking of bringing up something like that,” Williams said, “Turns out it’s not a crazy idea at all.”

In addition to sting operations and proposed legislation, a video PSA will be completed within the next couple of weeks that city officials hope will reach motorists and cyclists alike. Salazar said the PSA would reflect a collaborative effort among individuals and local and state organizations, “to share ownership of it  – so everyone has a stake.”

Iris Dimmick is managing editor of the Rivard Report. Follow her on Twitter @viviris or contact her at iris@rivardreport.com.

15 thoughts on “Meeting Sparks Positive Developments for Bike Safety

  1. How about giving bicyclist citations for unsafe riding? I’m all for SHARING the road but not have it taken over.

    I’m talking about clumps of riders using more than the bicycle lane or spreading out over most of the lane so they can talk. There’s no way to go around them six feet without passing into the other lane of traffic.

    They need to ride single file at all times. They need to stop at stop signs and lights, just like cars, and/or ride someplace with NO traffic controls when they’re doing it for exercise (like a park). They need to ride into oncoming traffic where there is no bicycle lane so they can see cars coming and the cars can see them. They need to have reflectors and lights at night and ride against the traffic.

    Bottom line, they can’t just assume that car drivers are looking out for them and zoom around without even looking. These things happen again and again and again and again in the areas where I drive. There are bike lanes. There are multiple lights and stops signs. But, people ride outside the bike lane and cross intersections against the light without even slowing down.

    Again, I’m all for SHARING the road but it seems bikes don’t want to share, they want the roads to themselves and just assume that drivers will be looking out for them. And in a bike vs car (or SUV or truck) the motorized vehicle will always win.

    • Michelle, your suggestions are incorrect on several aspects. Check your basic bike riding safety knowledge before posting what you THINK is correct but in fact is against safety guidelines and laws. Ride against traffic? Uh, no.

    • Michelle

      We appreciate your frustration, but your comment illustrates something cyclists often discuss: Most motorists have no inkling of state laws that require people in vehicles to share the road with cyclists. Actual bike lanes are few and far between. A stripe on the side of a lane dividing it from a curb or sidewalk is seldom an actual bike lane. It’s often just a marginal space that collects gravel, litter and other debris and cannot be navigated on a bike. More importantly, state law gives cyclists the legal right to ride in a lane abreast of one another.

      Motorists are not alone in their misassumptions. Few police officers demonstrate much knowledge about cyclists’ road rights, either, something that cyclists hope begins to change with more training and attention on the matter.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.

      Share the road!

      –RR

    • Michelle, while cyclists “can’t just assume that car drivers are looking out for them”, your point highlights the greatest danger to all road users—drivers assuming that the road ahead is clear thereby being unprepared for unexpected situations/encounters whether another car, animal, pedestrian, or cyclist. It is the responsibility of every road user to constantly presume something may be in the path ahead.

      The purpose of these awareness campaigns will be to alert/remind drivers that they should be on the lookout for cyclists because there is obviously a population of drivers who don’t, and many who are unwilling to tolerate a slower road user whom they just view as ‘being in their way’. This campaign is very similar to the motorcycle awareness “Share the Road” campaign promoted over the last decade which seemed to garner universal support. If you will, cyclists are just slower/smaller motorcyclists.

      As for appearing to want the roads for themselves, that can be said of vehicle drivers too. There will always be road users that violate traffic laws, but whether a car or cyclist running a red light/stop sign—we still have to watch out for them. Regardless, the issue being addressed is the negligent (sometimes intentional) killing/maiming of cyclists.

  2. I am happy to hear that progress is being made but the cyclist has to do the same to keep themselves safe when ridding at night by having visible clothing and lights. Driving against traffic is never a solution at any time and riding and packs of three is not acceptable at all. We need to make awareness both cyclist and motorists and make notice that their are consequences for injuring a cyclists if it could have been avoided.

  3. A few responses to Michelle above: First, it is ILLEGAL for bicycles to operate against the flow of traffic, just as it would be for you to drive your car the wrong way against the flow of traffic. Second, bike lanes and shoulders are so frequently filled with broken glass, gravel, and other hazzards that they are not safe to use; we are left with no alternateive than to ride in the lane, which brings me to: Third, often when riding in the lane, it is necessary to take the entire lane and make a motor vehicle wait to pass, where a MV cannot safely pass a cyclist hugging the right side of the lane.

  4. Michelle’s comments above are great insight into one of the main bike/car issues, lack of education on the laws. Obviously many drivers don’t know the laws that they must follow to ensure both cyclists and drivers remain safe (cyclists too), education about the laws and then enforcement of them are key, sounds like this meeting is a step in the right direction.

    In my experience there are both reckless drivers and cyclist out there. Both need to operate their vehicles safely withon the law. The biggest difference is one operator is protected by steel and airbags, one is not. The 15-20 seconds you loose during your commute by slowing down and passing safely is not worth someones life. Please pass safely and don’t drive distracted.

  5. Its great to see some serious conversations taking place again. Just like people had to be made aware to change lanes when approaching a traffic cop on the side of the road, people need to be conscious of a cyclist ahead and move over. there is still space in your lane. people just need more education

  6. as a cyclist, I have to say that I nearly hit a gentleman on a bicycle this morning. He blew through a stop sign without even a glance at the other roads of a 4 way stop. Education needs to be for all; cyclists included.

    One small thing I would like to see enforced is parking in what few bike lanes we have.

    I applaud the effort being made and hope I can help spread the word.

  7. Thank you so much Iris for publishing this story! Cycling, or athlete as a whole, is so important in this awesome city that we call home. We will continue to work hard so that all our local athletes feel safe on the road! Please feel free to report any cycling or athlete issues or concerns on http://www.satriathlete.net, or follow San Antonio Triathlete on Facebook, or on Twitter @satriathlete, any tweets please use #3feetSA

  8. From what I’ve read about, parking in a bike lane is not an infraction in most places, and that should change. I also agree that cyclists coming to a stop sign/light/intersection should not ride along the right side of the traffic just because they can, except if there is a bike lane which allows them to do so. If there is none, cyclists need to stay behind vehicles in line.
    Let’s keep up the talks!

  9. I wish the city would emphasize the first part of the safe passing ordinance. “Vacate the vulnerable user’s lane”. A driver may cross a solid yellow line “to avoid an obstacle, fixed or moving, as long as it can be done safely.
    So, change lanes to pass.
    Many motor vehicle drivers have no idea what 3 feet from their side view mirror even is. A standard width lane of 11-12 ft is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to share.
    Bicyclists are recognized as drivers by the Texas Transportation Code and have the right to claim the lane if it is under 14ft wide. Be visible and be safe.

  10. Good article.

    I read about the latest cyclist fatality in the EN online. The comments I read were chilling, some stopping just short of saying that the cyclist deserved it! Most comments displayed total ignorance regarding traffic laws as they pertain to cyclists. “He should have been riding against traffic”…ILLEGAL!. “He should have been on the sidewalk”…ILLEGAL!

    I’m going to throw out an idea that I’ve been mulling over for some time. Register bikes. Upon purchase of a bike tack on a onetime fee, yes a tax. Put a sticker on the down tube and bingo the bike is registered. Cyclists ride on the streets so cyclists should pay for the streets as cyclists not motorist. This will give cyclist a seat at the table by having real equity in the game. The money collected will go directly towards the things cyclists are clamoring for…more bike lanes, bicycle awareness programs and changes/clarification to current laws as they apply to cyclist.

    As an avid cyclist I’m willing to put some money in the game if it gives us real credibility and leverage. I feel ideas and change will never have a chance unless cyclists have skin in the game.

    Unfortunately the only skin in the game cyclists have is what they leave behind on the road.

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