Bike On with Your Lights On

From the files of Obscure Safety Ordinances With Expensive Fines comes a new one unanimously passed by City Council on April 8. (If by 'new,' we mean 'something that has been a part of the Texas Transportation Code since 1995,' but that's our edgy city council for you). The ordinance in question amends the city code to "require the proper use of bicycle lighting equipment when operating a bicycle at nighttime by incorporating language contained in the Texas State Transportation Code into the City Code." What the Texas Transportation Code considers proper is a white light on the front visible from 500 feet, or the length of 1.5 football fields, plus a red lamp/reflector on the back visible from 50-300 feet. Nighttime means 30 minutes after sundown or before sunrise. Failure to outfit your bike with the appropriate light/reflector combo could result in a fine of up to $200 under the penal code's punishment for Class C Misdemeanors. That's on top of the shame of being pulled over for bad bike behavior AND the threat of unpunished death/serious injury when Bubba in his doolie truck rams into your cruiser at night and gets away scot-free because your dumb ass didn't already have a light.

Lighting up your bike is a pleasantly cheap and easy process. Bike World has smart little LED lights with 2,000 feet visibility for about $13 which affixes to handlebars via an elastic strap. Bicycle Heaven in Stone Oak says they have moved more of their slightly fancier lights (with colored straps!) for $15 since news of the City Ordinance. The hipsters over at The Blue Star Bike Shop recommend the very cool Knog Frog bike lights at $20 a pop for front or back. Or you could spring for a $500 600 LED version by Niterider. Whatever spins your wheels.

If the price of a matinee movie and popcorn is too much to spend on your bodily safety, perhaps Texas Bicycle Coalition can help. As major proponents of bike safety, the non-profit lobbying group has applied for a TXDOT grant to provide 5,000 lights for free to "non-discretionary" riders around Texas says TBC's Robin Stallings. They won't know until June whether they'll be awarded the grant. Assuming it goes through, people who must commute by bike because they have no other public or personal transportation options will be eligible to receive safety lights for free. Stallings said this could particularly help bikers in the service industry since they most frequently commute after dark. District 9 Council Chief of Policy Thomas Marks, who helped council member Elisa Chan usher in the ordinance, said his office hoped SAPD would dole out the free bike lights instead of tickets to first-time offenders.

You may as well spring for the lights ASAP since enforcement of the ordinance is already in full effect under the state's transportation code says Julia Diana, in charge of San Antonio Bikes for the City's Office of Environmental Policy. "The `police department` can write you a traffic ticket...if they can see you," she says, though Marks said enforcement prior to the city ordinance was limited. San Antonio Bikes and District 9 introduced as a way to garner media attention (success!) and educate bikers about safety gear, much like the Safe Passage ordinance passed in February educated drivers about safe ways to pass those who chose to move without the help of a motor and four wheels. Both ordinances fit into San Antonio Bikes' Bicycle Master Plan, which you can learn more about next month during the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization's Walk and Roll Fest at Hemisfair Park on May 15.

Now that we have you savvy cyclists' attention, note that The Current is accepting submissions for a new monthly column about life on two (feet-powered) wheels. Per our Arts associate editor Sarah Fisch, we're looking for essays about all aspects of bicycle life: urban cycling, group rides, bicycle maintenance, funny/scary/interesting personal experiences, the City's changing bike landscape, etc. Send submissions to [email protected]