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Council OKs safe-passing ordinance

The San Antonio Express: Council OKs safe-passing ordinance

By Tracy Idell Hamilton - Express-News

Bicyclist Ryan Wohlrabe stood in front of the City Council on Thursday, his arm in a sling tucked inside his flannel shirt.

Riding south on Silicon Drive two weeks ago, he was hit by a car as he pedaled through the intersection at De Zavala Road. The northbound driver never saw him.

“Anything we can do to raise awareness, to bring this to the forefront of people’s consciousness, I’m all for it,” said Wohlrabe, one of a dozen riders and runners who’d waited all day to speak in support of the safe-passing ordinance before the council.

Minutes later, the council approved the new road rules, which require motorists to change lanes when passing a cyclist, pedestrian or other “vulnerable road user.” If changing lanes isn’t possible, and if conditions allow, drivers must give three feet of clearance when they pass.

The city will launch an education campaign this spring to emphasize to San Antonio drivers they legally have to share the road with users who’ll always lose in a collision with 2,000 pounds of steel.

The council OK’d the same version of the rules passed by the Legislature last year, a measure that took 10 years to craft and garnered widespread bipartisan support.

The bill ultimately was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, who said it “contradicts much of the current statute.”

Advocates have pressed on, working to get the law passed in cities around Texas — Austin and Helotes already have passed it — and they plan to reintroduce it in the Legislature next session.

Calls for a local ordinance picked up after the deaths of Gregory Bruehler and his wife, Alexandra. The couple were riding a tandem bike when they were killed by a motorist last fall on Texas 16, just outside Helotes. The driver never was cited.

But ticketing motorists — the new law is a class C misdemeanor with a $200 fine — isn’t the priority, said Richard Varn, the city’s chief information officer.

Rather, it is to raise awareness, “to encourage people to do the right thing,” he said.

Toward that end, the city will launch a campaign this spring with $60,000 in federal stimulus dollars, and has applied for an additional grant of $300,000 to broaden the campaign.

That will include reminding cyclists the new law won’t protect them if they’re not following the rules of the road.

“Some have suggested this ordinance gives a pass to cyclists,” Mayor Julián Castro said. “It’s worth repeating that folks not abiding by the law are not protected by this ordinance.”

In another move, the council finally adopted Mission Verde, a sprawling renewable-energy plan first presented more than a year ago in a work session. But in an oversight, it never was formally approved.

A plan by then-Mayor Phil Hardberger to position San Antonio as a national leader in the new energy economy, Mission Verde consists of 11 interlocking initiatives, including a green jobs program; an energy-efficient building code; a distributed energy infrastructure and economic development strategies, including a venture capital fund.

The resolution that passed Thursday also included additional policy goals: water conservation, waste reduction and recycling, alternative transportation fuels, low-impact development, historic preservation and infill development, tree planting and green space and locally produced food.

Elements of Mission Verde already have been enacted, most recently the Mission Verde Center @ Cooper, an education, training and research facility for renewable and energy-efficient technologies.

Many of the initiatives will rely on partnerships, such as the green jobs programs with the San Antonio Independent School District and the Alamo Colleges, and CPS Energy’s Save for Tomorrow Program, or STEP, which seeks to save 771 megawatts of power, or the equivalent of a power plant.

Also approved Thursday was the Inner City Reinvestment/Infill policy, which seeks to spur investment and redevelopment in San Antonio’s core.

Under the new policy, the city will waive certain development fees in the target area, which includes San Antonio’s original 36-square mile center, the Fort Sam Houston area, City South, Port San Antonio and other inner-city areas, and offer tax abatements and other development incentives.

“This is part of a very strong effort that this council is making to ensure we revitalize the urban core of San Antonio,” Castro said. “It’s clear that the destiny of a city is tied to having a stronger core.”