Because it’s hard to enforce safe passing on a day-to-day basis, Austin police set up special operations like this one to watch for violations. Today’s is the sixth such operation, and more are planned.
“It’s part of our initiative to make Austin streets a safer place to ride a bicycle,” says Austin Police Sgt. James Dixon, who is heading the day’s effort. “It’s really important that we educate people that we are out here and going to enforce this whenever we can for safety.”
Typically, two undercover officers head out on bikes. They ride single file up and down a short stretch of road, waiting for motorists to pass. Officers in patrol cars pull over those who get too close, issuing warnings or citations based on the severity of the violation.
Before they hit the streets, the undercover cyclists practice judging the 3-foot distance by setting up a pole and riding past it. They measure the distance from the end of the handlebar to the farthest part of vehicle — usually the mirror. GoPro video cameras mounted on the bike record everything.
“If I were riding along and could reach out and touch the mirror, those get a citation,” says Cunningham, who was a cyclist before she became a police officer. “If it’s one we feel is right on the cusp, we give a warning.”