DALLAS – The city's Public Safety and Quality of Life committees discussed a variety of issues Monday morning regarding an ordinance to protect ‘vulnerable road users’, including whether to set a minimum distance drivers must possess to safely –– and legally –– pass a cyclist.
Monday’s meeting was scheduled after the Dallas City Council couldn't reach agreement about the specifics of Mayor Mike Rawlings' bike ordinance earlier this month. Newly drawn shared bike lanes are now painted on about four miles of downtown streets. But who should the onus of responsibility be placed on, and who is more at risk –– the cyclist or the motorist?
The issue is a hot topic for Dallas's cycling community. Some even painted bogus bike lanes on the Houston Street and Jefferson Boulevard viaducts that link downtown with Oak Cliff.
Cyclists using the city-painted lanes downtown must share the space with drivers. Would Dallas, a city that has twice been ranked as the worst in the country for cyclists by Bicycling Magazine, be better served by establishing designated bike lanes separate from vehicular traffic?
Of the approximately 14,000 accidents recorded this year in Dallas, 89 involved bicycles, which equates to a 1 percent share. City officials said drivers were at fault in 52 of those cases. The ordinance would require motorists to leave the shared lane and pass the cyclist at a "safe" distance before re-entering the lane.
Drivers won't be able to turn right in front of cyclists if they don't have a safe distance between them. It would also be illegal, obviously, for drivers to throw items at cyclists.
City Councilwoman Sandy Greyson echoed concern that shared bike lanes aren’t the best way to protect cyclists. She said the council’s heart is in the right place, but the would-be ordinance may provoke frustration among drivers who would be trapped behind bicycle users on city roads.
“We’re trying to do a good thing here, but I can just see situations that we’re creating that are a motorist aggravation,” she said. “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”
The presentation showed to the committee notes that Gov. Rick Perry vetoed legislation in 2009 that would’ve established a statewide ‘Vulnerable Road User’ law, which was passed by the Legislature. Perry cited that the responsibility would’ve been placed on the motorist, not the cyclist.
However, Marc Mumby, president of nonprofit Bike DFW, said he is encouraged by the mere fact that city leaders are considering an ordinance. He hopes it will fall in line with other laws passed in neighboring cities such as Denton and Plano.
"It provides a positive sign that cities are very interested in increasing cycling and making cycling safer in their city,” Mumby said.
If Dallas chooses to enact an ordinance, it would become the largest North Texas municipality to have one.
City leaders say the ordinance will require more work before going to the full council for a full vote.