Bike Community Calls for Renewed Focus on Safe Passing Ordinance

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Cyclist Kevin Barton rides up to the press conference. Photo by Scott Ball.

Cyclist Kevin Barton rides up to the press conference. Photo by Scott Ball.

How do you measure three feet? A yard stick or tape measure will certainly do the trick, but how do you measure three feet when walking, riding a bicycle, or driving a car?

While standing at the corner of South Alamo and St. Mary’s Streets Tuesday afternoon, Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) suggested that travelers of all modes consider using their imaginations to visualize the distance that the City’s safe passing ordinance requires between roadway users. The City’s Office of Sustainability’s San Antonio Bikes program offered three cowboy hats or about a dozen paletas as an example of its #My3Feet campaign that asks San Antonians, “What’s your three feet?”

More than 300 bicycle-related crashes, about 800 pedestrian-related crashes, and 54 pedestrian deaths were recorded by the Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) department in San Antonio last year.

passing ordinance what's your 3 feet SA Bikes

The ordinance, passed in 2010 in response to an uptick of vehicle initiated crashes with cyclists, is hard to enforce and therefore is hard to measure its effectiveness. Officer Steven Bazany, who serves on the San Antonio Police Department’s Bike Patrol, said that while a few tickets were issued last year during the SAPD’s sting operations, they’re under the general directive to hand out warnings unless the driver appears to be intentionally reckless.

It’s difficult for officers – in a car or on a bike – to assess how closely a vehicle is passing a cyclist while on patrol. And even if a Bike Patrol officer is close enough to see a violation, they can’t catch up to issue a ticket, Bazany said. Sting operations have been effective because they include the use of a vehicle patrol unit.

“We haven’t written very many tickets, it’s very subjective,” Bazany said. “We’ve been writing warnings to get people to understand that there is a (safe passing) ordinance. … People are still surprised by it. They’re not aware that there is a rule – or at least that’s what they tell us.”

Officer Steve Bazany speaks with District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales. Photo by Scott Ball.

Officer Steven Bazany speaks with Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5). Photo by Scott Ball.

The City launched the #My3Feet awareness campaign at the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) just in time for fall, when more people are getting out on two wheels to enjoy the weather – especially during this Sunday’s Síclovía event.

“Today is a good example of that,” Treviño said, noting the breeze and lower-than-100 degree weather. Treviño stood alongside Gonzales, Sustainability Director Douglas Melnick, and TCI Director and City Engineer Mike Frisbie, who each echoed a call for roadway safety.

“We all deserve to make it safely to our destination,” Melnick said.

Through the Vision Zero initiative, the City’s Complete Streets policy, and an increase of funding going to streets, sidewalks, and maintenance in the next fiscal year, Frisbie said, “San Antonio will expand its network of bike infrastructure (because) fatalities are unacceptable.”

The MPO, which recently received a Silver Bike Friendly Business Award from the League of American Cyclists, continues to host its free Street Skills courses, a free 45-minute, off-bike session to help teenage and adult riders of all skill levels understand safety tips, techniques, rules of the road, and gain confidence when riding in mixed traffic. Click here for details about tomorrow night’s class. The popular classes typically fill up fast.

Councilmember Gonzales, who rides her bike regularly with her family, is chair of the MPO’s Bicycle Mobility Advisory Committee and serves on its policy board.

San Antonio is one of five bike-friendly cities in Texas designated by the League of American Cyclists, but local bike infrastructure and culture advocate Christian Sandoval, owner of Earn-A-Bike Co-op, said the community is “not yet united … it feels like someone dropped 5,000 cyclists into San Antonio and now they don’t know what to do.”

Sandoval and other avid cyclists are gathering tomorrow evening at the American Institute of Architects-San Antonio office at 1344 S. Flores St. for the inaugural meeting of the San Antonio Bike Collective, a community group aimed at organizing local bike advocates. From bike theft to roadway infrastructure, he said, “we need a rallying point outside of (governmental organizations) to get real change.”


*Top image: Councilmember Shirley Gonzales’ husband, Kevin Barton, rides up to the press conference.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

Related Stories:

Urban Cyclists Hone Street Skills, Get Free Helmet

San Antonio Calls for Safer Streets With Vision Zero

Share the Road: SAPD Launches New Program to Catch Unsafe Drivers

Meeting Sparks Positive Developments for Bike Safety

25 Mph Speed Limit Would End Pedestrian Fatalities

11 thoughts on “Bike Community Calls for Renewed Focus on Safe Passing Ordinance

  1. San Antonio Safe Passing Ordinance
    (b) An operator of a motor vehicle passing a vulnerable road user operating on a highway or street shall:
    (1) vacate the lane in which the vulnerable road user is located if the highway has two or more marked lanes running in the same direction; or (2) pass the vulnerable road user at a safe distance.
    (c) For the purpose of Subsection (b)(2), when road conditions allow, safe distance is at least:
    (1) three feet if the operator’s vehicle is a passenger car or light truck; or
    (2) six feet if the operator’s vehicle is a commercial motor vehicle.
    (d) An operator of a motor vehicle may not maneuver the vehicle in a manner that:
    (1) is intended to cause intimidation or harassment to a vulnerable road user; or
    (2) threatens a vulnerable road user.
    (g) An operator of a motor vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any vulnerable road user on a roadway or in all intersection of roadways.
    (h) 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 the law.

  2. How about the people on bikes follow the rest of the rules first
    Doing 10 mph in a 45 mph causes people to get pissed at you
    Not stopping at stop signs causes people to get pissed at you
    Riding on the sidewalk and blowing by people walking makes people want to stab you (I am looking at you b cycle douche bags)
    Hitting a cars mirror when you ride causes people to want to stab you
    and on and on and on. Teach the cyclist the rules and make them abide by them.

  3. i ride a motorcycle and i always stop at stop signs and lights because… there is no telling what the other traffic will do and it is the law! at least once a day i am stopped at a light or sign and a cyclist will blow past me. i will usually pull up next to him and give them a piece of my mind. never once have i had a cyclist reply. you demand respect and road space? you better obey the same laws we all do.

  4. On multiple occasions when I resided in Southtown, cars would purposely intimidate me by closing in and drivers would honk, shout, and shake fists. I followed every law, which begs the question… why were they so angry? It’s a combination of entitlement and a lack of education. They were furious that I would dare hinder their speed, completely unaware the the law requires them to share the road. Unable to see me as another person trying to get somewhere, I was often viewed as trying to “cause trouble” on the road. Drivers who do not have regular experience on bicycles fail to understand the danger and complications of combining the two modes of transportation, and the helpless endangerment that bicyclists often feel subjected to. A lack of empathy prevents drivers from realizing their impatience risks someone’s life.

    There are designated paths for cars and pedestrians… meaning the bicyclist is always the guilty one, regardless of whatever path they choose to use. You are harassed, whatever you do.

    It is a cruel fate for two-wheeled citizens who are improving their health, making neighborhoods safer, and reducing airborne pollution and resource abuse.

  5. If cyclists want respect and safety, they have to follow the rules too. You want to ride where the cars are, then you follow the same driving laws and rules. Stop running red lights etc. The life you save may be your own.

  6. I just moved downtown from the suburbs. I now only use a bike to get to work and do shopping. I obey all the traffic rules just as if I were a car. (Because of the short blocks, I can actually get places just as fast as a car.) I use the whole lane, but stay to right side of it. If someone wants to pass me, then can as long as there isn’t oncoming traffic on a narrow street. I assume that I can even use the left-turn lanes just as car. If I act just like a car, is that legal? Even if I’m a little slower sometimes?

  7. Maybe a local IT entrepreneur needs to invent a laser alarm/camera that measures exactly 3 feet to either side and could be attached to a bicycle helmet or a belt and would set off a loud alarm, take a video of the offending vehicle, and automatically send it to the local police department which could issue a ticket related to the violation. That should make drivers pay closer attention to what 3 feet means!

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