Houston City Council Approves Safe Passing Ordinance

For several decades now, Houston, Texas has been seen as a city whose streets are ruled exclusively by the automobile. One visit to the city lets you know that most cars drive the streets as fast as possible with little regard to anyone else that may be using the street. Because of this, Houston streets are very dangerous for cyclists, pedestrians, disabled citizens or anyone else who need to use them.

But today, the Houston City Council took a critical step to change our auto-only mentality. By a unanimous vote, Council approved Houston’s Safe Passing Ordinance. Effective immediately, non-commercial drivers in Houston must maintain at least 3 feet of space between them and all “vulnerable users”… cyclists, pedestrians, disabled citizens, equestrians, and anyone else using the road outside of an automobile. For larger trucks and commercial vehicles, they have to maintain 6 feet of separation.

From the City’s Official Press Release

“As a city, we need to protect everyone and anyone who uses our roads,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “This ordinance will make our city even more attractive to those who want to enjoy traveling in forms other than by car.”

In addition to requiring safe passing and trailing distances from vulnerable road users, this ordinance prohibits any motor vehicle occupant from throwing or projecting any object or substance at or against them.

“BikeHouston is pleased to see this ordinance pass and proud of the Mayor’s continued efforts on helping Houston become a more bicycle-friendly city,” says Kathryn Baumeister, Chair of BikeHouston. “Houston is a city of cars, but also has a big population of people who rely on cycling for transportation and recreation. We feel it is important for cyclists and drivers of automobiles to respect one another on the road. This ordinance will help provide a measure of safety for the vulnerable road users.”

Jenifer Rene Pool, a candidate for Houston City Council and major advocate for the improvement Houston’s infrastructure, also had this comment via Twitter…

“I’m pleased to see that City Council has taken initiative to protect cyclists and joggers on the streets of Houston. Good work.”

Good work indeed, and some would say it was long overdue. Houston was the “last hold-out”, but now all of the major cities in Texas have Safe Passage laws in effect. As more motorists are educated about the new law, it will definitely stand to make our streets safer, but there is still much work to be done on the streets themselves. With so many of the city’s roads in poor condition, it’s still difficult to make them truly safe for all. Hopefully the next steps will be to repair the roads and work on Complete Streets initiatives, but in itself, Safe Passage is welcomed news for Houston.

Off the Kuff has some background on this issue.

Share the road Houston… It’s the law now.

SHOCKING Footage of an Afghanistan IED…

As our nation yet again contemplates the possibility of another war, or at least some level of deeper involvement in the Syrian conflict, let’s not forget what horrors our soldiers are still having to endure in Afghanistan.

Captured by one of those brave soldiers, this is real-time footage of an IED. Watch the big slow-moving truck as it moves toward the center of the screen…

Wow even this video was enough to scare me. I can’t even imagine having to have been there, or see them on a daily basis.

Marriage Equality is Rhode Island Bound!!

In honor of the 10th state in the US to pass marriage equality, I want to say a hardy thank you to the Rhode Island legislature. A signing “Pre-Statement” has already been issued by Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee, so marriage equality is a done deal there. With the Ocean State joining in, that now makes full marriage equality legal for a large percentage of the United States…

Washington- 6,897,012

Iowa- 3,074,186

Maryland- 5,884,563

Maine- 1,329,192

Connecticut- 3,590,347

Vermont- 626,011

Massachusetts- 6,646,144

New Hampshire- 1,320,718

New York- 19,570,261

Washington, D.C.- 632,323

Total: 49,570,757

As HRC points out, that’s 50 million people, or just under 1/6th of the entire United States who are living under a different set of laws than the “rest” of us. I’m confident that the day will come for the great state of Texas, and others. But like Brian and Stewie from Family Guy, Marriage Equality is Rhode Islan bound. Congrats to all that helped make it happen!

Hacking Our Way to Better Government: Houston Hackathon

Now here’s a very cool idea coming from the Mayor’s office

Houston Mayor Annise Parker today announced the City of Houston will host a 24-hour “Open Innovation Hackathon” on May 17-18 at the Houston Technology Center and at Start Houston. A hackathon is a day-long event in which software developers, designers, and data analysts collaborate intensively on data and software projects. Over 24 hours, Houston’s “civic hackers” will pitch ideas, form teams and develop innovative new websites, mobile apps, and insightful data visualizations to address community and city problems.

“Houston leads the nation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) job growth, and we want to leverage local talent to produce outcomes,” Mayor Parker said. “Everyone involved has worked very hard to define high-impact projects that solve our problems and that can be completed in 24 hours. We want to use the applications and insights that are created at the Hackathon as soon as possible.”

Mayor Parker also announced the launch of the City’s Open Data Initiative, a program that puts public city data in the hands of citizens. The open data originating from dozens of city systems will be critical for the civic hackers in using technology to build tech solutions that solve city problems.

“We’re really excited that Houston is taking this historic step toward liberating data,” said City Council Member and Hackathon Co-Chair Ed Gonzalez. “Hackathons are a great way to engage citizens and start a dialogue between City officials and our talented analytical and software developer communities.”

Preparation for this initiative and the Hackathon involves publishing data on a publicly accessible website. Over the last three months, the City has identified more than 25 “weekend projects” that a team of software developers, designers, analysts and others could reasonably complete, ranging from a Houston bike app that displays all bike lanes, trails, B-Cycle kiosks, and bike shops to dashboards that show citizens how the city is performing and where it can do better.

While Houston’s Open Data Initiative is modeled after programs in New York, San Francisco, Austin, and Palo Alto, Houston will also include a STEM outreach component designed to teach children across the city about career options. “Sometimes, just talking to a successful software developer can inspire a child to pursue a career in technology,” Council Member Gonzalez said.

The city is expecting strong turnout from citizens, corporate participants, and members of Houston’s startup communities.

Glad to see that Houston is deepening the commitment to bring city government into the 21st century. But a Hackathon is more than just a fun event to engage good citizenry. It’s a way to reach out to the Tech industry as a whole, and let them know that Houston is ready for more Tech jobs. Given that the city of Houston is one of the world’s leading cities for both energy and medical research, it seems pretty natural that we should have a growing Tech industry… one that can forge its own path independent of Silicon Valley or Austin. According to CyberCoders, Houston was the Top City for Tech in 2012 with rapid increases in hiring for the sector. So Hackathons and other Tech-friendly events are definitely the way to go for us to continue that growth. And if we solve some city issues along the way, hey everyone wins. Kudos to District H Council Member Ed Gonzalez and Mayor Parker on this.