Last month, the Houston Chronicle posted some shocking numbers: At least 23 bike riders have been killed on city streets in the past five years.
Those deaths directly conflict with a pro-biking culture that the city is trying to promote. Initiatives such as Houston Bike Share and various trail expansions have encouraged residents to explore and commute on their two wheelers. And the city is only going to get more bike-friendly in the future — the Bayou Greenways 2020 projects aims to creating a continuous city system of 150 miles of parks and trails along Houston’s bayous, the Complete Streets approach will incorporate all types of transportation onto city streets, and Sunday Streets HTx already shuts off certain streets to vehicles for safe pedestrian and biker enjoyment.
Mayor Annise D. Parker hopes to keep those current and future bikers safe by eliminating cycling fatalities. Her effort —the “Goal Zero” program for bike safety — was announced on March 25, following the example of New York City and San Francisco.
According to a press release from the Mayor’s office, education and laws are key to the plan. “Mayor Annise Parker today announced the City and BikeHouston are joining forces to launch a major bike safety campaign to enforce and educate motorists and cyclists about the existing Safe Passing Ordinance, as well as create a Bicycle Master Plan for the City,” the statement read.
The first step will be tighter traffic law enforcement. As most drivers know, cyclists are expected to follow the same stop sign and traffic light laws as cars. Parker stated in the press release that the Houston Police Department will keep both sides in check by ticketing drivers who violate the new Safe Passing Ordinance (which requires a space of three feet between bike and car) and cyclists that disregard traffic laws.
“Whether on a bike or behind the wheel, we have to abide by the rules of the road and learn how to share the road safely,” Parker said. “Unfortunately, a spate of recent bicycle fatalities on Houston streets indicates there is much work to be done in this area. As a first step, I am dedicating $50,000 toward the cost of a Bicycle Master Plan that will guide our future decisions regarding placement of dedicated on-street bike lanes and infrastructure.”
In February, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a Vision Zero plan geared toward eliminating all traffic deaths, while San Francisco’s WalkFirst plan, introduced earlier this month, aims to safeguard the city’s most dangerous intersections for pedestrians. Though their effects still have yet to be seen, greater awareness and care among drivers, bikers, and walkers, can only promote safety. With biking becoming an increasingly popular mode of transportation in cities around the country, these measures will likely continue to see copycats like Houston.