New ordinance aims to protect bicyclists, pedestrians

May 8, 2013 3:50:48 PM PDT
The rules of the road in Houston have changed. A new law is meant to help protect cyclists, pedestrians and others in traffic, but not all drivers agree with it.

Alejandro Medina has been injured several times while riding his bicycle around town.

"I had to get 21 stitches. One of my top teeth cracked so I had to get a root canal on that, then I had a contusion," Medina said.

Cyclists all over town have similar stories. There's even a roadside memorial for a bike rider killed in Montrose.

And that's why Houston City Council unanimously passed a new bike ordinance Tuesday. Drivers are now required to stay at least three feet away from cyclists when passing. Commercial truck drivers need six feet to pass cyclists.

"You always have to be careful when passing that rider because the rider is focusing more ahead of itself," Councilmember Stephen Costello said.

But what happens when the cyclists -- not the cars -- break the rules?

Critical Mass Houston is a large group of cyclists who ride together. A member sent us video of more than 1,000 local bike riders taking over the street. It happens every month.

"What if they pass me and get close to me?" a Houston driver asked us when we showed her the video. "It's my fault. I don't think so."

By law, cyclists are already required to follow the same rules as drivers. That means stopping at stop signs and traffic lights and staying in your own lane.

"That's the other issue," Costello said. "OK, we're doing an ordinance to regulate passing. We need to make sure that we are also ticketing cyclists who don't follow the rules of the road."

And while this ordinance mostly focuses on cyclists, it also applies to anyone else who may be on the road -- walkers or runners; the physically disabled, such as someone in a wheelchair; stranded motorists or passengers; highway construction, utility or maintenance workers; tow truck operators; moped, motor-driven cycle and scooter drivers; or horseback riders.

City council members are still working out ways to enforce this ordinance.

In addition to requiring safe passing and trailing distances from vulnerable road users, this ordinance prohibits any motor vehicle occupant from throwing or projecting any object or substance at or against them.

Similar ordinances have already been enacted by Austin, Fort Worth and San Antonio.

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