Monday, June 29, 2015

Biking in Houston; Connecting the Dots with Houston's Bike Plan - June 30th, Last Formal Evening Meeting

It has been over 20 years since the City of Houston has made any changes to the city's bicycle master plan. For many, the question will be asked "this city has a bike plan?!" For many years alternative infrastructure planning has not been on the radar of many leaders. While Houston's roadways continued to receive a great deal of attention, alternative modes of transportation were generally left behind.

Representative of biking infrastructure in Houston

As Houston continues to grow and densify, and as Houston continues to attract a population of residents that prefer alternative modes of transportation and recreation (especially as new residents come from other cities that have more established urban bike facilities), biking cannot be ignored any longer.

The City of Houston's Planning and Development Department is leading the charge in developing the city's updated bicycle plan. Working in tandem with other local organizations, including Bike Houston, and the Houston Galveston Area Council, the city has been promoting the plan's process for the past few weeks. Well, things are in a higher gear now, and your assistance is needed.

Tomorrow is the last formal evening meeting scheduled, but residents can be assured of continued opportunities for feedback on the city's bike plan. For continues updates on opportunities to provide your input, head over to the Houston Bikeways website.

HCC Memorial City Performing Arts Center / Theater II, Room 411
Tuesday, June 30th 6pm – 8pm
1060 W. Sam Houston Pkwy N., Houston, TX 77043 (MAP)
RSVP on the Facebook Event Page

Why A Bike Plan?

In a recent Houston Chronicle editorial we are reminded that biking in Houston is still very dangerous. Personally, I believe there is a culture of automobile-exceptionalism that must continue to be eroded before biking becomes safer. Our streets and infrastructure does not solely exist to facilitate the movement of automobiles. Tragically, there have been too many bicycling causalities in Houston. The editorial makes mention of over 200 hit and run accidents reported by Houston bicyclists since the passage of Houston's Safe Passing Ordinance, as well as the failures of recent projects. Certainly, recent projects such as Houston's Lamar Street cycletrack and the completion of Buffalo Bayou Park help to add to the city's overall biking infrastructure.  It should be noted though, that for the causal cyclist, these projects may seem a bit isolated.

What Houston needs is a continued connection of existing facilities. We're a connect-the-dots city in many respects, a city that is in need of connections between a variety of existing facilities. This fact is a great reason to endeavor to establish a citywide bike plan.

19th Street

Get Out and Ride

For those biking skeptics out there, dust off your ride and get out into your neighborhood. Put yourself on the seat of a cyclist. This may raise some awareness of the difficulty of biking (or walking for that matter) in many of Houston's neighborhoods. On a recent Friday I tried to make all of my chore-based trips by bike. In a neighborhood like the Houston Heights, it's not too difficult. Even in Houston's most-easily-biked neighborhoods there may still be certain frustrations cyclists have, many of which might be able to be addressed in a bike plan.

On my trip, I found myself riding down 19th Street, Heights Boulevard and down the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, all relatively safe and well-trafficked biking routes to many riders. It's once you leave these routes that Houston's biking adventure begins. If you're wanting to ride your bike from the Heights to the Kroger on Studemont, what are your connections? A little wayfinding from the Heights Bike Trail through what I call the "Kroger Connector" would go a long way. These types of small improvements could be repeated all over the city.

I-10 feeder road at the Heights Hike and Bike Trail

It should be noted that not every road in Houston should have biking facilities. Our roads still need to carry all those other cars, trucks, and things that go. But we can do a great deal to improve the ability for those without a car to navigate our city, or for those who simply want to ditch their car for every trip they need to make.

Heights Hike and Bike Trail at Heights Boulevard and Yale; Alexan Heights at left

It's likely that dedicated cyclists, like those who belong to the city's Bike Houston non-profit, are already aware of and engaged in the bicycle planning process. If you haven't heard much about it, hop on your

As a bicyclist, your input is greatly needed. You know this city's roads. You know where connections are needed. You know what streets are best for cycling, even if they are not dedicated bike routes.

As a motorist, your input is needed. You certainly know our roads as well. You know where cyclists tend to ride. There is much that can be done to provide drivers with more awareness of cyclists, and to bring more attention to cyclists. 

As a pedestrian, your input is needed. You know what infrastructure needs to be improved to make an even greater number of places accessible. 

Houston could be a great biking city. The city's relatively flat geography and grid-based roadway system make for great cycling opportunities. (It'd probably be appropriate to insert a snarky pothole comment here too.) The main obstacle to more biking in Houston seems to be our hot and humid summers. But, there is a great deal of opportunity before us. Please take some time to provide your comments on what might make biking more enjoyable, safe and convenient in our city.