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.
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.”