“Stunned” has been the term used to describe the response of the Texas Bicycles Coalition to the veto of SB488, the so-called “Safe Passing” bill, passed by the 81st Texas Legislature. This was the jewel of their legislative lobbying agenda for 2009; the third time was going to be the charm. After two failed attempts, the TBC was confident it had found a way to circumvent motorist prejudice against cyclists on the roadway – sacrifice the standing of cyclists as a legally recognized vehicle and lump us in with pedestrians. In the end, it failed; thankfully. The governor allowed reason and common sense to derail this potentially damaging bill.
Be that as it may, the TBC was not totally unsuccessful during the 2009 session. They did manage to get two pieces of legislation signed into law. SB2041 adds language to sub-section 161 of Chapter 521 (“Drivers Licenses and Certificates”) of the Transportation Code mandating the inclusion of questions testing the “knowledge of motorist’s rights and responsibilities in relation to bicyclists” on the state driving test, while SB161 will amend sub-section 648 of Chapter 504 (“Specialty License Plates”) to, in their words, “provide funds through ‘God Bless Texas’ and ‘God Bless America’ special license plate sales to go to the BikeTexas Safe Routes to School program.”
SB2041 sounds, on initial consideration, to be a worthwhile accomplishment. The current version of the Texas Driver Handbook has an entire chapter devoted to “Bicycle Vehicle Law and Safety” – the whole of three pages. Under current statute, required elements of the license exam include a vision test, the ability to identify and understand highway signs in English, and knowledge of the state traffic laws. As of the first of September, added to this list of requirements will be “knowledge of motorist’s rights and responsibilities in relation to bicyclists.” Curious.
What rights do motorists have toward bicyclists? As a legally recognized vehicle, we are already afforded the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. Item three of the Texas Driver Handbook clearly states: “A bicycle is a vehicle and any person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle, unless it cannot, by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle.” This being the case, what possible benefit will be realized by including specific exam questions related to cyclists? Following this logic there ought to be questions pertaining to motorists’ rights and responsibilities in relation to equestrians and the operators of farm implements.
SB161 is even more illogical. Instead of the more limited and focused beneficiary cited in the quote above, language in this statute actually reads,
the remainder of the fee shall be deposited to the credit of the share the road account in the state treasury and may only be used by the Texas Education Agency to support Program of a designated statewide nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to promote bicyclist safety, education, and access through education and awareness programs and training, workshops, educational materials, and media events.
Hmmm, looks familiar, doesn’t it? It goes on to state,
Up to 25 percent of the amount in Subsection (b) may be used to support the activities of the nonprofit organization in marketing and promoting the Safe Routes to School Program.
The Legislature saw fit, in 2003, to create a specialty license plate modeled on the theme of “share the road” and featuring the likeness of Lance Armstrong in a “maillot jaune”. Proceeds from the sale of this plate were earmarked “to be used only by the Texas Education Agency to support the activities of a designated nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to promote bicyclist safety, education, and access through education and awareness programs and training, workshops, educational materials, and media events.” It would appear TBC is to begin receiving funding for a program they no longer sponsor. How are these resources being allocated now within TxDOT? Why is it necessary to designate more monies be transferred to the TBC?
Is this really the type of organization we, as cyclists, want to have representing our interests to the legislators in Texas. They failed in their bid to get one specious and redundant law enacted which would have partially eviscerated our standing as a legally recognized vehicle, by equating us with various pedestrian classes; they succeeded in getting a specious and redundant law passed which mandates the inclusion of questions on the state licensing exam pertaining to one specific user class; and they are lying about the actual mechanics of the application of a third law they succeeded in getting passed.
If the Texas Bicycle Coalition really wants to be an advocate for vehicular cyclists, here are some legislative proposals which will go much further in promoting the safety and education of cyclists and motorists alike.
- Remove the FTR rule
- §551.103(a) is redundant. Since bicycles are legally recognized as legitimate vehicles, §545.05x covers all aspects of vehicular operation – including that of slow moving traffic.
- Remove the MBL rule
- Elimination of §551.103(a) will take care of this. However, in the event legislators cannot stomach the political fallout from removing this sub-section altogether, at the very least they can revert §551.103(a)(4)(A) to its original language. (The mandatory bike lane language was added as punishment for revising this subsection to define an unsharable lane.)
- Define a “safe distance”
- As explained in the SB844 summary, §545.053(a)(1) already stipulates that one vehicle overtaking another must do so “at a safe distance.” Apply the “Safe Passing” sentiment to the existing law by specifying buffer zones pertaining to all SMV classes.
These steps should define the primary mission of the TBC, if they truly wish to be seen as an advocate for the rights and safety of bicyclists in the State of Texas. Abandon the practice of pandering to novice and timid cyclists. Develop education programs to train inexperienced cyclists on proper vehicular cycling technique. Work with therapists to help treat those suffering from Cyclist Inferiority Complex to overcome their phobias and become competent cyclists. Protect the rights of experienced vehicular cyclists to operate on the roads in safety.
20090720: removed a paragraph regarding the distribution of SB161 funds due to a misread of the language. This subject is addressed in more detail elsewhere.