February 16, 2011 9:29 PM
EDINBURG — On his latest lengthy trips he’s taken around Hidalgo County, avid cyclist Ramon Hermida has noticed drivers taking a more cautious and courteous approach to him and others on bicycles.
He’s hopeful an ordinance approved by the Edinburg City Council this week enhances that awareness and ultimately saves lives.
Edinburg became the first Rio Grande Valley city to adopt a safe passing ordinance requiring drivers to keep a minimum distance when passing bicyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. Hermida and more than 30 others from various cycling clubs were at Tuesday’s meeting in support of the ordinance, which requires motorists to maintain at least a 3-foot buffer zone when passing them on roadways.
Mark Peña, a coordinator for the Ciclistas Urbanos cycling club who spearheaded the ordinance’s passage, said enacting the law in other Valley cities could prevent injuries or deaths of cyclists. Last week, a cyclist training on Highway 107 in Edinburg was struck and hospitalized — allegedly by a drunken driver. And in October, McAllen architect Roy Carlson was killed while cycling at about 6 a.m. on Trenton Road near Main Street in McAllen.
Carlson’s death led area cycling groups to develop a campaign to raise awareness of bicyclists.
“Motorists typically ignore the cyclists when they’re passing, so (the ordinance) is really a tool to educate motorists about cyclists,” Peña said. “These laws are hard to enforce but for those people who become aware of them, it does save lives.”
The ordinance is modeled on a bill that was approved by state legislators in 2009 but vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. The Texas Transportation Code already requires vehicles to pass “at a safe distance,” but stops short of defining the distance. That’s where Edinburg’s ordinance steps in, establishing the distance as 3 feet for most drivers and 6 feet for commercial vehicles when road conditions allow.
The safe passing ordinance, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500 upon conviction, also prohibits drivers from turning dangerously in front of vulnerable road users and prevents them from failing to yield when making a left turn at an intersection.
In addition to cyclists, the ordinance also applies to pedestrians, runners, children, skaters, construction workers, stranded motorists and people on horseback.
Texas law allows those vulnerable users the same rights to the roadway as drivers, but they require extra protection consistent with safe driving recommendations, Peña said. For example, the Texas Commercial Driver’s handbook recommends commercial drivers allow 6 feet when passing because the wind effect of a tractor-trailer can pull a cyclist 3 feet closer.
Interim police Chief Peter de la Garza said his officers will stringently enforce the ordinance intended to make the road safer for motorists and vulnerable users. He’ll use his department’s community-policing officers and public service announcements on the city’s cable channel to notify drivers about the new requirements.
Casey Swanson, the president of Team McAllen Cycling, said the ordinance only requires what drivers should do, anyway.
“Common sense would allow a driver to give a cyclist, runner or whoever is on the side of the road enough room just for safety,” said Swanson, a friend of the cyclist struck last week on Highway 107. “But I think this will help bring awareness that we do need some space.”
An ordinance approved Tuesday by the Edinburg City Council establishes a safe passing distance of at least 3 feet when road conditions allow for drivers maneuvering around cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. The ordinance also prohibits drivers from dangerously turning right in front of road users or from failing to yield when making a left turn at an intersection.
The three most common motorist mistakes causing car and bicycle collisions are:
>> drivers turning left in front of oncoming bicycle traffic who overlook the cyclist or misjudge his or her speed.
>> motorists turning right across the path of bicycle traffic. Drivers should slow and merge with the bicycle traffic for a safe right-hand turn.
>> drivers pulling away from a stop sign and failing to yield the right-of-way to bicycle cross traffic. Right-of-way rules apply equally to motorists and bicyclists at intersections.