Is Laser Technology About to Make Houston Better for Bikers?

Cyclists gathered on the steps of City Hall a few months ago.
Cyclists gathered on the steps of City Hall a few months ago.
Photo by Michael Barajas

For more than two years, Richard Tomlinson and the Houston Ghost Bike group pushed for a sit-down meeting with the city to discuss a way to make Houston's streets safer for cyclists. They finally got a seat at the table Wednesday, and all it took was the promise of free stuff.

Tomlinson and about a dozen other concerned cyclists met with city council members David Robinson and Michael Kubosh for about two hours, presenting a plan that includes Houston Ghost Bike providing the Houston Police Department with a free prototype device used to monitor the distance between cyclists and passing cars.

The device would sit on the handlebars of a plain-clothed cop's bike and use lasers to help police determine whether cars are following the city's 3-foot passing ordinance— a law HPD has historically been lax in enforcing. In June, we reported that the city cited only eight drivers for violating the ordinance in nearly two years since it was passed. During that same time frame, there were at least 950 cyclist-involved crashes, including 290 hit-and-runs. 

"Officers are reluctant to change their focus from writing tickets only for motorists to writing tickets for motorists when bikes are involved," Tomlinson said in a phone interview. "There is no difference— cars and bikes are both road users."

Tomlinson said the monitor costs about $1,400, and he was able to get a discount from the device's developer, a Houston native. He plans to raise money with a GoFundMe account, and Tomlinson said he has already received financial and promotional commitments from a number of area bike shops. He said all proceeds exceeding the cost of the device will go toward making new signs and stickers to promote awareness of the 3-foot passing ordinance. 

Tomlinson said Robinson and Kubosh were very receptive. But the next day, when Tomlinson's group presented its proposal to the Houston-Galveston Area Council, he said the two attending representatives from HPD  "weren't as hyped as everyone else." 

"They told me that this probably wouldn't lead to a bunch of new tickets being handed out, and that I should not to get too excited," Tomlinson said. "We may have to rub a little harder with HPD, but that'll come. So far there's been a very cooperative spirit."

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