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Houston mayor initiates "Goal Zero" to reduce cycling fatalities

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Houston mayor Annise Parker took to the airwaves on Tuesday to announce the city's "Goal Zero campaign, intended to reduce the number of cycling fatalities in the city. The recent hit-and-run deaths of three cyclists within the city limits, plus a fourth in League City, have the city's cyclists on edge.

In the past five years, more than two dozen people have died while riding on city streets, while just four drivers were cited in those deaths. The city's program takes the form of education programs intended to inform the city's drivers about bicycle rights and to educate local riders of their responsibilities. In addition, the city will put $50,000 toward a Bicycle Master Plan to help guide future infrastructure decisions.

In local newspaper columns and comments, cyclists continue to express their concern that, in disregard of the city's 2013 "Safe Passage" ordinance and Texas traffic code, drivers continue to drive dangerously close to two-wheelers already struggling with broken pavement and debris. Drivers claim that "most riders" ignore stop signs and red lights. Friction between the two communities plays out often in comment sections on Houston Chronicle stories about the topic.

Many cyclists agree with one commenter to a Chronicle story earlier this month, who said that a tiny minority of drivers seem compelled to "intimidate people off 'their' road[s]." Parker said in her announcement that both groups will be targeted by the education campaign, and exhorted cyclists to ride safely - including forgoing earbuds and headphones.

Houston Police Department officials also revealed that HPD officers are conducting an undercover sting, ticketing drivers who violate the safe passage ordinance. Plainclothes officers on bicycles are cruising "roadways popular for cycling" [ed. note: that apparently means only Downtown and the "Washington Corridor" from Montrose to the Heights] and issuing tickets to drivers who pass too closely. According to the Chronicle and local television station KHOU, the operation has been ongoing for three weeks and has resulted in three tickets to drivers as of yesterday.

The undercover operation may be new to Houston, but San Antonio police officers began carrying out a similar program in December, 2012.