The Houston Police Department on Friday unveiled a new high-tech tool to enforce a city ordinance aimed to keep cyclists safe on the roads.
The safe-passing ordinance, requiring drivers to give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing, has been on the books since 2013. But the cycling community has long complained of ineffective enforcement and drivers' indifference or lack of education about the law.
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Now, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said undercover officers on bicycles will have a device attached to their bikes that can detect whether the driver gave three feet of passing; commercial vehicles and large trucks are required to give six.
"For those of you who think it's funny to go by and crop dust that cyclist, that person you may be dusting may be a plainclothes officer who will precisely measure whether you provided safe passing, and you'll end up getting a citation," Acevedo said.
Despite the fact that hundreds of cyclists have been clipped or smashed by cars since the ordinance passed in 2013, only 32 drivers have been ticketed as of September 2016, when the Houston Press examined cyclist hit-and-runs and fatalities in the city. Acevedo said that his department only has one device for now, but that all 900 bike-certified officers will be trained on how to use it.
The safe-passing campaign comes as City Council is considering the Houston Bike Plan, which would provide more than 1,700 miles of safely designed bike lanes and trails at a cost of $300 to $500 million, to implement over the next two decades. Houston's biking infrastructure has not been comprehensively updated since the early 1990s, as cyclists are left to combat not only Houston road rage but Houston crumbling bike lanes.