Galveston Bicycle Lanes

Bicycle riders roll down the seawall while participating in an evening ride sponsored by the Island Bicycle Company in Galveston on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016.

Critics of a proposed Galveston ordinance about how drivers should behave in proximity to bicyclists, pedestrians and other users of the roads are absolutely correct in arguing the rules would be hard for police to enforce.

The question is whether that’s enough reason for the council to reject the proposed ordinance, which it’s scheduled to consider Thursday.

Many similar rules also are difficult to enforce. You can start the examples with the speed limit, which probably is the most widely ignored and under-enforced law ever enacted.

Similarly, if Galveston police issued a citation every time somebody blew through a Stop or Yield sign, the city would go broke buying ticket books.

Nobody’s arguing that we’d be any safer driving if the speed limit were repealed and all the traffic lights, signs and corollary rules were rescinded.

All laws requiring people to use turn signals, seat belts and child-safety seats and to refrain from texting while passing through a school zone, also are extremely difficult to enforce and for the same reasons that the proposed ordinance would be.

It would be amazing to learn that anywhere near one percent of any such infractions resulted in citations, but those laws still provide a societal benefit.

People ought to oppose the creation of useless laws, but difficulty enforcing a law doesn’t make the law useless, render it without effect.

As much as anything else, laws are clear statements from society about what’s acceptable and expected behavior, and what’s not.

Critics of the proposed ordinance also are correct in arguing that education efforts would achieve more toward making the roads safer for the bicyclists, pedestrians, maintenance workers, people on horseback and on motor-assisted wheelchairs, who proponents hope would benefit from the proposed ordinance.

But clear statements from society about what’s acceptable and expected behavior, and what’s not, can be an important part of those education efforts.

Not too many decades ago, automakers argued laws mandating seat belts would put them out of business because nobody wanted cars with seat belts.

Today, automakers sell safety, virtually everybody wears seat belts and demands vehicles with airbags and all sorts of other features meant to prevent and mitigate the harm in crashes. That’s not true only because of the laws, but the law was part of what caused the shift in popular thinking toward better sense, and public behavior toward improvement.

The argument that the proposed ordinance is flawed because police must either witness an infraction or rely on statements of witnesses won’t hold air, much less water; nor does the argument that enforcement would be stymied by uncertainty about who was driving a car that committed an infraction.

Police don’t witness crimes against most laws they enforce and Galveston cites cars, rather than drivers, for parking violations every day. The council ought to think really hard before it validates the “my car, but not me; case closed” argument.

There might be a good reason to reject the proposed ordinance, but nobody has made it yet and it’s clearly not that it would be hard to enforce.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206;


(6) comments

Steve Fouga

I agree. I'd go as far as to say most laws are hard to enforce.

John Merritt

The law that needs to be changed to protect cyclist is the "no texting" law, which is impossible to enforce. The law did not go far enough, people need to drive their cars with both hands, not with one hand holding a phone to their ear. The guy that nearly ran over the young lady on 3005 was obviously on his phone. I refuse to ride my bike in the same direction as traffic, because I want to see the drivers coming towards me. People are weaving all over the road, because they are using their phones.

George Croix

What is needed, is a law requiring all to obey all existing laws, to cover those who don't do so.

That fixes that..........

Margaret O'Brien-Nelson

Well said and worth everyone’s consideration. I am pushing 70 and my sister, four years younger, is my riding companion. We’ve both established homes here in the Bay area. We started off riding from our homes inside the loop in Houston. Over the past 10 years we’ve ridden to New Orleans, to Austin, through the Bay area and now we regularly pedal our way through Texas City to Moses Lake. We sometimes ride in groups but we always look out for each other. It would be nice to know law enforcement was able to look after us too but frankly, if there is no law, there is nothing to remind people to be civil or even alert them to the fact that it is not okay to compromise a cyclist, or pedestrian’s safety just because you want to squeeze around and over two lanes without slowing down. I’d like to ride in Galveston and believe many more people would during times of heavy traffic because parking in so many areas is limited - at best. The mentality, however, that you can’t control your driving public is not good. It implies that pedestrians, cyclists and those in wheelchairs, are on your own and that the community - as a whole- does not care about anyone who might not be tooling around in a car or a truck. If you want people to come visit and enjoy the many offerings of this city then you need to consider their safety and those of your own citizens. If I had school age children I would like to think they could ride a bike to school on this beautiful island- but if you don’t consider their commute important enough to protect by a three foot law - your priorities are flawed. Teaching bike safety at school and in communities is important. The reason cyclists are supposed to follow the same laws as motorized traffic is is for predictability and safety. If I am driving in a car I am conditioned to anticipating hazards - the laws of the road helped me develop a radar for trouble. As a cyclist I want to be predictable and courteous. I signal, I stop at intersections and I try to move as far out of the way as I can SAFELY - but it’s not always safe to move right. I have found that out the hard way.

Steve Fouga

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] Very nicely stated.

George Croix

Nobody is against bicycle safety.
But the notion that anyone is actually 'protected' from harm by a 3' law is, well, optimistic.....

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