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A month of cycling: Avoiding death on Houston roads for August 2014

Texas law (as in 48 other states) defines a bicycle as a vehicle with the same rights and responsibilities as a car or truck
Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Have you noticed that whenever Houston media has a story about cyclists, the comment section will be half hateful comments about people who ride round on two wheels (without engines, anyway)? There's almost always at least one scornful comment about Spandex® and usually an unprintable one saying that a cyclist killed by a hit-and-run driver "deserved it." Most times, there's a claim that everyone on a bicycle "blows through" every stop sign, usually decorated with "statistics." Cyclists respond that people in cars are no better...

Several months ago, this frequent cyclist volunteered to keep his own "statistics." Full disclosure: I ride a road bike through Houston and the western suburbs. Like most medium- and hard-core cyclists, I wear Spandex® on the streets, plus gloves and a helmet. I'm a huge fan of Idaho Stops, which means I treat stop signs as yields (for you Houston natives, yield signs mean to "slow down or stop if necessary so you can yield the right-of-way to vehicles on the other road," according to a DPS online driver manual.) I may run the occasional stop light, but only when pushing the pedestrian crosswalk button still won't change the light to green.

What I've confirmed from riding in Houston is that a cyclist must be a master of defensive riding, because a few motorists apparently can't see anything that small and some feel the need to intimidate cyclists off what they believe to be are their personal roads. So I keep track of how many times I'm forced to stop or dodge people doing something weird, stupid or mean on the roads. Here's August's tally for 19 rides totaling about 620 miles, the majority on public rights-of-way:

"Idaho Stop" tally: all of them - trying to keep count count is like trying to count the bottles shattered on the pavement or count vehicles parked illegally.
Number of red lights run: 1 (that light at French at Queenston just won't respond to the crosswalk button)
Times driver forced to avoid me at stop or red light: 0

Times I was forced to evade a car or truck in the street because:
Driver runs a stop sign: 7
Driver runs red light: 0
Driver passes at unsafe distance: 14
Driver on wrong side of street: 29
Driver backs into roadway: 7
Driver makes left turn across cyclist's path: 1
Driver makes right turn across cyclist's path: 2
Cyclist must dodge open(ing) door: 8
Cyclist must dodge pedestrian in roadway: 3
Cyclist must dodge other cyclist on wrong side of road: 6
Cyclist must dodge loose pet: 6
Cyclist must dodge non street-legal vehicle: 1
Cyclist must dodge large road debris: 1
Driver confused about right-of-way at 4-way stop: 8
Driver confused about cyclist right-of-way elsewhere: 6
Deliberate intimidation by driver: 0 (that's the good news)

That's a total of 104 incidents requiring a cyclist to avoid drivers and others on public roadways, about one every six miles.

This month's special driver is the woman in the red Acura SUV who passed me on Westfield Village Drive, in the process missing my handlebars with her mirror by perhaps eighteen inches. Her reason was apparently that she couldn't leave "her" lane because there was oncoming traffic. She actually stopped to lecture me when I saluted her driving skill with a single digit.

Since you drove away because I "have an attitude" -- in other words, I reminded you (without a single swear word, mind you) that even Texas has a safe-passage law, no thanks to our wannabe libertarian governor; and that waiting for oncoming traffic to clear so you could pass at a safe distance would have cost you perhaps ten seconds of your life. No, you wanted to lecture me about how unsafe it is to ride on busy streets.

My comment to you, madam, is that the streets would be a lot safer to ride on if people like you would get it through your skulls that bicycles are vehicles and deserve the same respect you demand of others for whatever it is you're driving. I don't know about other cyclists, but it steams me every time someone whips past me two feet away and then swerves to give a parked car six feet of room...

Stay tuned for the September numbers early in October.

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