Houston needs to get more serious about reducing collisions that injure or kill people who ride bicycles.In the last three weeks, three people on bicycles have been killed after being hit by people driving cars. A fourth person on a bicycle died after hitting debris in the road and crashing.In each case, the circumstances are somewhat different and many details are still unknown. But one theme holds true: we can do much more as a society to learn from these tragic deaths and minimize the probability of reoccurrence.
Looking more broadly we see that 227 people died in road fatalities of all types - more than 4 per week - inside Houston city limits in 2014. Tragically, Houston road fatality rates are 50 percent higher than those of Austin or Dallas. If we build safer roads for motorists as well as pedestrians, then this will also make the roads safer for cyclists. Fundamentally, safety improvements help all road users.
If we are serious about reducing fatalities, that message needs to be articulated clearly by our leadership. Elected leaders at the city and county levels, city managers and leaders of law enforcement, public works and planning agencies across the region all must demonstrate leadership. We are asking that the leaders of key agencies each have a single person accountable for learning from crashes and implementing policies that deliver change.
BikeHouston, the region's leading bicycle advocacy organization, has made several suggestions to further the city's Goal Zero safety initiative, which aims to completely eliminate cycling fatalities.
First, we need to design and build our road infrastructure for all types of users. This does not mean we need bicycle lanes on all roads. It does mean that we need a well-designed network of safe bicycle routes, both on- and off-street, which allow people to circulate safely all across the Houston region. The City of Houston is taking an important first step by updating its Bike Plan for the first time in over 20 years. Public input is needed now to insure a quality design. Please see BikeHouston's goals for the plan here and complete the brief survey here to register your concern about these issues.
Next, we need to do a better job educating both people who drive cars and people who ride bikes about how we can safely co-exist. Both groups must comply with the laws of the road and remain alert and attentive at all times. The consequences couldn't be higher for both groups as car crashes are the leading cause of accidental death among children in Harris County. Driver's education courses and exams should include greater training on bicyclists and pedestrian rights and how they co-exist with cars.
Finally, we need to do a much better job creating and enforcing the laws that affect the lives of cyclists and all other road users. Critical enforcement areas are speeding, distracted driving and driving under the influence. BikeHouston supports legislation which would make it illegal to use a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. Texting while driving is now prohibited in 42 states because it prevents costly crashes, death and injuries. The Texas Legislature and Governors Perry and Abbott have failed to make this a priority for three sessions in a row. The City of Houston should follow the lead of others and pass this legislation immediately.
Likewise, we should increase penalties associated with speeding, running red lights and DWI as a cost-effective and immediate way to reduce fatalities. BikeHouston supports reinstating red-light cameras as well as random sobriety checkpoints. These tactics are used successfully in other cities to keep families together.
We can no longer allow our elected leaders to hide behind the shield of "protecting individual rights" while our friends and family die. By making cities safe places for people we will ensure the health and sustainability of our communities. Simply put, we can and must do better.
Michael Payne is the executive director of BikeHouston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.