Traffic

Driver Excuses for Cycling Deaths in Houston Need to End

A recent "die-in" at City Hall focused on better bike safety laws and lord knows we need them.
A recent "die-in" at City Hall focused on better bike safety laws and lord knows we need them. Photo by Doogie Roux
Houston has never been a bike friendly city. It is unlikely, given the sheer size, it will ever be a place where bikes will be an everyday means of transportation for the vast majority of Houstonians. But the spate of recent deaths, nearly all caused by hit-and-run accidents with vehicles, is simply inexcusable.

We should know. We are on the road with horrible Houston drivers all the time. And we have a shell of metal around us with protective air bags and seat belts. Imagine what it must be like to be surrounded by distracted drivers on a bike.

Still, that doesn't stop Houston drivers from reacting defensively when they hear the complaints. All you have to do is take to social media and even those who think that biking should be safe in Houston are quick to point out some of the same tired reasoning behind biking deaths, almost never acknowledging that cars are frequently to blame.

Bikes shouldn't be on busy roads.


Fact is, bikes are allowed the same access to roads as cars. In fact, there are laws that specifically protect them. And when they are, they get the right of way. Period. This is particularly true when they have a bike lane on the road. Cars are required to provide three feet of space to bicycles at all times. If you don't, you can be given a ticket, though that sadly rarely happens.

Cyclists weave in and out of traffic and don't obey laws.

There is no questions that there are reckless cyclists out there. We've all seen them. But they are still humans who are extremely vulnerable, much more so than drivers who speed or roll through stop signs or run yellow lights as they are turning red because you've never done that in your life, right? Cyclists, without question, have a tendency to be aggressive in traffic, but that often comes from a sense of self preservation rather than entitlement. Regardless, you're in the car. You have to be the one paying attention because you are the far greater danger.

Riders only slow down the flow of traffic.


What doesn't slow the flow of traffic in Houston? On the list of things that create traffic problems in our lovely city, bicycles are about 152nd on the list just ahead of suicidal squirrels and the homeless guys who walk across Fannin in Midtown really slowly while staring at you. Bikes get to be on the same roads with you. That's the law. Find some other reason to be annoyed with traffic. We've got plenty.

Who rides a bike in Houston anyway?

Surprisingly, a LOT of people. More and more people who live near work use them to commute and still others who can't afford cars choose it because it is cheaper and easier than public transportation (another issue we all need to discuss at a later date). And the cycling community is growing, not shrinking. It not only includes adults, it includes your kids and your friends' kids. They do ride on roads too...with cars.

Organizations like Critical Mass only make it worse.

Look, we all get cranky when a long line of bikes comes rolling through an area we need to get through ourselves. And Critical Mass hasn't made it easier on themselves or other cyclists. But how are drivers any better? How many times have you seen a brand new Mercedes parked in a handicapped spot with no tag or a giant truck taking up two lanes on the road because he can't stay in his own lane or someone weaving in and out of traffic, distracted by a text message? Drivers aren't cornering the market on courteous roadway behavior anytime soon, so don't bother complaining about a bunch of late-night riders.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke