First, let's clear up once and for all the notion that cyclists in Dallas are renegade scofflaws whose disregard for traffic safety endangers the lives of the unfailingly law-abiding drivers everywhere: In the 89 car-on-bike accidents reported in the city so far this year, 58 percent were the fault of the driver of the car, not the bike.
That fact was delivered today by DPD Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence to a joint meeting of the City Council's Public Safety and Quality of Life committees, which met to discuss the proposed ordinance requiring drivers to behave nicely around bicycles and refrain from hurling things at them from their vehicles.
The idea behind the ordinance -- that drivers shouldn't be allowed to run cyclists off the road -- was well received when it first went before the full council two weeks ago, but the discussion today quickly fell into a legalistic back-and-forth about what the details of the ordinance should be: Should it define a safe passing distance; should the maximum fine be $300 like for running a school bus stop-arm, as Councilwoman Ann Margolin suggested, instead of the $500 currently proposed; perhaps there can be a reminder that cyclists have to obey traffic laws, Sandy Greyson proposed; and Dwaine Caraway wondered why on earth there was no language addressing pumping, which he went on to define as "somebody riding on the handlebars, two people riding on one bicycle."
Councilwoman Carolyn Davis, then Angela Hunt, pulled the discussion out of the weeds a bit. Davis observed that the shared bike lanes the city has put down downtown and on MLK do little to protect cyclists and wondered, for the millionth time in the past year, why the city isn't making more of an effort to establish lanes designated exclusively for bikes. (Transportation planner Keith Manoy said the city is already doing that, when circumstances permit).
Hunt, when her turn came, went on something of a rant. The shared bike lanes and wrist-slap ordinance are only going to make drivers angry at they perceive as smug, entitled cyclists while doing little to protect their safety. The prevailing view at City Hall, Hunt said, is that Dallas is a car-centric city that lacks the culture needed for cycling to become a common mode of transportation. So, while officials are making a lot of noise about bike friendliness, they will soon declare their current, half-hearted efforts a failure, paint over the shared bike lanes like a bad memory, and hold on to their conviction that Dallas is constitutionally incapable of embracing bicycles.
Hunt disagrees, of course, but said for more people in Dallas to take up cycling as a means of transportation, getting around on a bike must be safe enough for her 80-year-old mother and her young daughters. And that will take a more concerted effort.
"Let's not take baby steps," Hunt said. "Let's take big people steps and get it done."
But baby steps seem to be the order of the day, so cyclists will have to take heart in the fact that it will soon be illegal to intentionally thrown things at cyclists, which "seems to happen a lot," Lawrence said. Water bottles, mostly.
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