HOUSTON - New findings from Rice University are shedding light on where and how often near-misses between cars, cyclists, pedestrians, and other transportation modes happen across Houston.
Those behind the study say that information is key to knowing which streets to make safer and what changes to make.
Whether behind the wheel, on foot or on a bike, the streets and sidewalks of Houston can sometimes test even the strongest nerves.
“I can spot cars that I can say, ‘I don’t think they’re gonna yield and give me the right of way,’” said John Long, Executive Director of Bike Houston.
And Long’s intuition is especially critical when he’s on his bike, where you’ll find him most days making his five-mile, one-way commute from home to his Midtown office.
“You still get surprised at times, but it happens whether you’re walking, biking, or driving,” said Long.
Thankfully, Long says he did not experience any close calls during the first week of March, when he and 186 other people were tracking their trips across all transportation modes for the Kinder Institute for Urban Research’s study on near-miss experiences on Houston’s roads.
“This definitely, even for a small sample size, confirmed that these events happen all the time,” said Kyle Shelton, Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Kinder Institute.
The study found 133 near misses reported over that one week, with 49 percent of them deemed “serious incidents where collisions were narrowly avoided or have significant potential for collision”, and most of them involving cars and either pedestrians or cyclists, many of whom say they went out of their way to make themselves visible and avoid collisions.
“Everything from as low as like ‘Woah, that was close’… to ‘I slammed on my brakes and stopped one inch in front of the pedestrian, or the car stopped one inch in front of me.” said Shelton.
The study showed many of the worst cases happened around downtown, the Medical Center, and Montrose.
However, Shelton says that wasn’t the only eye-opening finding.
“People are uncomfortable using the road for a number of reasons, not just ‘Oh, I almost got hit’, but ‘Hey, I keep getting yelled at by the same person for something that I’m legally allowed to do.’”
One 60-year-old pedestrian taking part in the study says while crossing the street with a green light and walk signal, “cars turning at (the) light blew horns” and a “car turned into me deliberately and yelled, I should get a job.”
A 27-year-old cyclist told researchers one driver “refused to pass in spite of sufficient space and honked, yelled and argued that I should get on the sidewalk and stay off the road. Even though I told her it was illegal to be on the sidewalk, she was too angry to reason with.”
Another 27-year-old cyclist says a driver who she’s encountered several times over a year and a half period “laid on his horn the entire time to approach/pass”, passed much closer than the three-feet safe passing distance, and “swerved in front of me so sharply he hits the curb to block me from passing him again in the traffic.”
That cyclist says the driver called her an obscenity and told her “I am not a vehicle, and that I should be run over.”
Nearly 24 percent of the trips logged in the survey were by car, and drivers had plenty of complaints, too. Some reported pedestrians walking in the roadway, while others mentioned cyclists “ignoring traffic signals and right of way.”
Shelton says researchers hope to do another study involving more people in a more focused area, like a neighborhood.
He hopes it’ll give them better information to help police with enforcement and engineers design safer streets.