Proposed Safe Passing Ordinance to protect ‘vulnerable road users’

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News Reporter

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David Thacker, biology senior, rides his bicycle Jan. 21 on Comanche Street. A proposed Safe Passing Ordinance would require all vehicles to give at least three feet of clearance when passing “vulnerable” road users including cyclists.

Cyclists and pedestrians will have more room on the roads if a proposed Safe Passing Ordinance is approved by the San Marcos City Council in the coming weeks.

City councilmembers discussed the proposed ordinance during their meeting Tuesday, deciding to allow the proposal to head into the drafting stage with help from city staff members. The ordinance, if passed, will stipulate all vehicles must give at least three feet of clearance when passing “vulnerable road users.”

Commercial vehicles such as semi-trucks would have to give at least six feet of clearance. The ordinance, which applies to pedestrians and cyclists, already exists in 22 Texas cities. Neighboring communities such as Austin, New Braunfels and San Antonio have already passed the ordinance.

The ordinance is expected to include language protecting the safe passing of all “vulnerable road users” on roadways. This includes pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, skateboarders, equestrians, physically disabled people, construction and maintenance workers, tow truck operators, stranded motorists and farm equipment operators.

Law enforcement would have the ability to write tickets for those who disobey safe passing rules. Robin Stallings, executive director for Bike Texas, a non-profit bicycle education and advocacy organization, said tickets in some cities can reach up to $500 and classify as a Class C misdemeanor.

A length of time would be allotted before officers could begin ticketing offenders, similar to the system put in place for the alcohol ordinance enacted last year, said Mayor Daniel Guerrero. The ordinance, if passed, would include an educational period to allow the public to learn the rules, Guerrero said.

The proposed regulations are designed to give the public easier access to locations around the city. It would also relieve traffic and encourage people to find alternative modes of transportation, according to the ordinance proposal.

“At this point what we’ll be doing is giving the staff the go-ahead to start drafting something to bring those options forward,” Guerrero said.

Benefits of the proposed ordinance were discussed during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Tamara Piper, owner of Pedal Power Bicycles, said the ordinance, if passed, would help educate the community on safe transportation.

“The Safe Passing Ordinance will help cyclists feel safer using our roadways and educate motorists about how to pass the cyclists or other vulnerable road users safely,” Piper said.

Stallings said he is an advocate of the ordinance. Since other nearby cities have already passed the ordinance, it makes sense for San Marcos to be the next one in line, Stallings said.

“The rest of the state will notice what you’re doing here and other cities will follow your lead,” Stallings said. “I mean, 22 cities have already passed this.”

San Marcos has a growing cyclist community, and the ordinance would cement the city as a cyclist cornerstone in Texas, Stallings said.

“This safe passing bill is symbolic of the wealth that San Marcos has for cyclists,” Stallings said. “It’s a step in the road to making this a great city for cycling.”

Benny Rice, San Marcos High School senior, is hopeful the ordinance will pass. Rice, who lives on Post Road, said he has to bike nine miles back and forth to school everyday. Rice said he believes the ordinance will benefit San Marcos.

“I think it’ll help the community grow by creating better access to things,” Rice said.

Readings of the ordinance will continue in the upcoming weeks after the draft is written. City councilmembers will vote on whether to pass the ordinance once the draft is finalized.