The Cyclist’s Guide to Houston

The Other Three-Foot Rule

In a car-friendly city, cyclist-rights activists are demanding attention—and saving lives.

By Jeff Balke July 9, 2015 Published in the July 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Bike Houston

Image: Bike Houston

There are many miles of concrete dedicated to cyclists in this town, but not all are created equal. The ones along the bayous—or any of the off-road pathways, for that matter—are terrific. Some of the ones that force a cyclist to share a major thoroughfare with cars, not so much. Wheeling down narrow bike lanes as vehicles whiz by at top speed is not for the faint of heart. And drivers don’t do much to help.

 “All they have to do is slow down and scoot over, and they refuse to do it,” says local cyclist Dan Morgan in a YouTube video published in 2013, in which he and a companion are riding down just such a bike lane. The duo’s bikes are outfitted with bright orange flags on poles that extend three feet into the roadway. That same year, following a cyclist safety campaign by advocacy organization Bike Houston, City Council approved the Safe Passing ordinance, which requires drivers to give a three-foot-wide berth to cyclists at all times. But the three-foot rule separating exotic dancers from patrons is probably more widely known.

“Alternate forms of transportation are viewed as viable forms of commuting in other areas, and people are respected,” Morgan explains in an email. “I've cycled everywhere—Bogota, Sapporo, many parts of Europe. Cycling is something everyone does and thus [there is] more awareness when driving.”

After a cyclist friend was hit by a car, as well as the much-talked-about case of Chelsea Norman, who was cycling home from work in Montrose when she was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2013, Morgan’s cycling activism began in earnest. His flagpole videos demonstrate just how little respect cyclists get on the road. 

“When riding with the flag, it gets hit at least once per hour,” he says. “It was hit by back-to-back drivers in one of the videos within seconds.” Morgan believes additional changes in driving laws are necessary, like reduced speed limits. “Lower the speed limit inside the 610 Loop to 25 miles per hour,” he said, which would no doubt be an unpopular restriction among traffic-weary drivers, even if it is safer for cyclists and pedestrians. “Lowering the speed differential between cars and all vulnerable road users is the best way to prevent/reduce fatalities.”

Expanded bike lanes like the one recently installed downtown on Lamar St. would be a definite improvement on the present situation, Morgan acknow-ledges. But even on Lamar, the safety of cyclists depends completely on drivers’ willingness to share the road.  

“The guy or gal on the bike is just like you in a car—they are trying to get from point A to point B,” he says. “Treat each rider like one of your children, because they all are someone's son or daughter.” 

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