Houston Bike Plan Up for a Vote Again This Morning Amid More California-ization Fears

HOUSTON BIKE PLAN UP FOR A VOTE AGAIN THIS MORNING AMID MORE CALIFORNIA-IZATION FEARS Existing High Comfort Bike Lanes, Houston Bike Plan ca. March 2017This morning’s city council meeting has the Houston Bike Plan back on the docket, following the most recent round of public-input-based tweaking to the plan (as well as a delay of the vote, which was initially scheduled for earlier this month). Over in the Chronicle Dug Begley recaps some of the arguments being made for and against the years-in-development guidance plan, which have a bit of a chicken-vs-egg flavor: do only 0.5% of Houstonians bike to work because safe-feeling bike paths are scarce outside of certain Inner Loop neighborhoods? Or are those areas where the active bikers are already clustered the only ones where bike path improvements are warranted? Councilman Greg Travis, one of the folks who pushed back the vote at the last council meeting, told Begley he does see a need for some kind of bike safety improvement plan, but adds that he’s “not sure this is the plan for Houston. We’re not Amsterdam or San Francisco, and we don’t know what’s needed here, really needed.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of existing ‘high-comfort’ bike paths: Houston Bike Plan Interactive Map

45 Comment

  • As someone who works in Councilman Travis’ district, and would gladly bike but must drive because there is no safe route between Allen Parkway and Voss, I’d really like to know what his particular issue with making this aspect of Houston more like Amsterdam or San Francisco. Other than the oil execs and auto dealers who live in his district thinking those cities are too “librul”.

  • Let’s not overlook this twisted piece of wisdom courtesy of a city-wide elected official: “We are in an economic shortfall, and we don’t want to take lanes from streets away and make it a bike lane,” said At-large Councilman Michael Kubosh.

  • Most people have jobs where it wouldn’t be appreciated if they show up sweaty and stinky which is likely the real reason more people, even those who live relatively close to their jobs, don’t bike to work. I used to work a mere two and half miles from my office and considered biking it, but our climate just isn’t conducive to riding a bike to work.

  • Why do bikers get half a bil in infrastructure before homeowners get flood relief?

  • How much do Houstonians and the county spend annually to prolong people’s deaths from heart disease? It’s a significant sum, no?

  • Frustrated About Flooding, creating greater bike infrastructure will help to promote density. Greater demand for density means less sprawl. Less sprawl means that less of the forest and prairie that absorb flood water will be paved over. This means that there will be less runoff, which means less flooding. Improved biking is one component of an overall plan to improve quality of life in our area.

  • What we don’t need more of is fake bike lanes. On Weslayan @ 59, the signed “bike lanes” on both sides of the street are just 3 feet wide. The City should take those out, they are worse than useless. They would need to be 5 or 6 feet wide to be usable, but then you would lose one car lane in each direction.

    From the interweb:

    The minimum width of a bike lane should be 1.5 meters (5 feet) against a curb or adjacent to a parking lane. … Wider bike lanes are recommended on streets with higher motor vehicle speeds and traffic volumes, or where pedestrian traffic in the bike lane is anticipated.

  • If we really want to get major with this bike transit, what Houston might need is a bike path with probably something like oaks on both sides so that people can ride in shade mostly.

  • agree with above, even if it were slightly safer and better routes were available for me to get to work, probably a 15-20 min ride, I would not do it because unless I shower and change once I get to work its untenable and businesses shouldn’t be required to provide you with locker rooms.

  • There’s some truth to the statement that our climate and are shortage of safe-feeling bike paths and intersections are major reasons why cycling isn’t more prevalent in Houston, but that’s only half the story. The overlooked reason why cycling isn’t more popular is because driving and parking are far, far easier in Houston than in Amsterdam (good luck finding a parking spot, and if you do it’s 5 euro/hour) or San Francisco (remember Monkey Parking?). The minority who cycle regularly tend to cite health and environmental benefits as the reasons for their choices, but the vast majority of people just want to get where there going as quickly and comfortably as possible and with a minimum of fuss.

    I still support the bike plan, but I’d be surprised if its passage led to a step change in cycling behavior in Houston.

  • We should have bike paths that connect to all parts of the area, but designed to be used for recreation mainly by using off-road and low-traffic roads. I think a lot of people would use these.
    But having a bunch of road-robbing bike lanes in high traffic areas for a handful of hard core types who bike to work isn’t good. Having a bunch of inner city bike lanes would just encourage more bike-car interaction and then add the Metrorail kills and you’ve created a dangerous place…but a very hip one.

  • Biking to work is really only feasible for single men in their 20s-40s who live relatively close in , wouldn’t have to work late, and have a lighter dress code. I can’t see too many women doing this given dress codes and climate issues, nor can I see it being an option for working families with kids. I would love to see improved biking paths for recreational purposes, but the Bike Houston promoter who said this bike plan would solve Houston’s obesity, traffic and pollution problems needs to come back to earth.

  • I’m confused, bike lanes aren’t solely for going to and from work are they? These bike lanes could be still used for recreation and by our children, correct?
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    These type of things have been shown to be directly correlated with increased density, higher property valuations and increased salaries due to the higher density of a mobile and educated workforce nearby. City council needs to do a better job of educating their constituents about what investments would provide the most bang for buck among all the agendas in constant discussion & rotation.
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    Also, the most vocal residents tend to be those with higher incomes. No surprise that most high income residents work in buildings with access to gym and shower facilities.

  • Showers at work are critical for this to succeed. Not sure if this is already in the plan, but some kind of business incentive to cover the conversion of a bathroom stall or 2 to showers and a few lockers would help. The last 2 offices I’ve worked at had done this on their own. With a 45 min. ride (same time as a car btw) I couldn’t ride to work without it.

  • The overlooked reason why cycling isn’t more popular is because driving and parking are far, far easier in Houston than in Amsterdam ”
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    Your right. So you know what would help increase the use of bikes? Allowing the market to determine the number of parking spaces. IF they get it wrong and offer too few spots, they’ll suffer. But give them the choice. Right now business are REQUIRE to supply tons of parking, making driving the dominate way people will always get from point A to point B.
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    At least loosen up the regs in areas like midtown and Montrose where we have a population that’s far more willing to walk, bike, skate, rail, etc. (or even Uber, which while it puts cars on the road, it lowers parking demand)

  • My Two Cents was the first to hit the nail on the head: Few employers are going to smile upon their workers who show up stinky-but-healthy for a customer-facing job. Doesn’t matter if you’re manning a fast food counter or if you are meeting clients in a financial role.
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    Another contrast to Amsterdam and San Francisco: Houston is not at their latitude. Those other cities have cooler climates. I’m not hating on my hometown: on the contrary, learning to love its nature is the first step to overall satisfaction. Since this plan is for the 0.05% (5 out of 1,000 people), can we just get them a gym membership instead? They can peddle their (stationary) bikes safely there.

  • anything under 3 miles you won’t break a sweat, and certainly not in the morning ride in to the office. I’ve ridden in the morning in September with business clothes on and I don’t get all nasty.
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    even still, you should carry a backpack and dress in light clothes for cycling. the contents of the backpack should contain your business clothes, deodorant, two large ziplock bags and two towels.
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    when you get to the office, dampen one of the towels in your sink, go into a stall in the bathroom, take off your light cycling clothes, use the damp towel to towel off, use the dry towel to dry off, and put on your work clothes. Super simple stuff.

  • “Few employers are going to smile upon their workers who show up stinky-but-healthy for a customer-facing job. Doesn’t matter if you’re manning a fast food counter or if you are meeting clients in a financial role.”
    .
    Have you not seen that most restaurants have mountain bikes chained up out back? It’s because many food service workers can’t afford a car and would rather bike. The bike plan makes life safer for people who can’t buy into car culture.
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    “Another contrast to Amsterdam and San Francisco: Houston is not at their latitude. Those other cities have cooler climates.”
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    There’s a flipside to cooler climates. Cities like Minneapolis, Denver, Amsterdam and Copenhagen have high cycling rates even though winters there are brutal. But check out winter cylcing in Copenhagen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Q5jdZjmoR0
    .
    Like others have pointed out, being smart about the weather prevents sweatyness. Staying in the shade, biking in the cooler mornings, and wearing lighter clothes and changing into business clothes once at work help. I biked a mile to the express bus every day I commuted from Montrose to Westchase.

  • Let’s get rid of more car lanes and convert them into bike lanes which be used about .01% of the time by about .001% of the population, thus creating more traffic and pollution! BRILLIANT!

  • “The overlooked reason why cycling isn’t more popular is because driving and parking are far, far easier in Houston than in Amsterdam ””

    What people don’t realize is that Amsterdam became bike-friendly due to a conscious decision. It wasn’t always that way. They intentionally made cycling easier compared to driving. See:

    https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/05/amsterdam-bicycle-capital-world-transport-cycling-kindermoord

    Back in the early 70s, Amsterdam was NOT particularly bike friendly. Density is certainly a necessary condition to widespread cycling, but it’s not sufficient. New York is plenty dense, but it still has a long way to go before it is as bike friendly as Amsterdam.

  • I’m with #Cody on this one. Make parking a premium and watch the bike lanes, buses and trains fill up. The reality is that the automobile is the most subsidized mode of transportation in America. Even with your ttl, inspections, gas tax etc., Americans do not and in my opinion cannot, raise the needed capital to maintain the old or build the new road infrastructure. There is a reason why GM invested in Lfyt, Mavin and their new Cadillac rental endeavor, because cars are becoming too expensive for most people to own and/or maintain. I know we love our cars in Houston but we are literally decades behind most of the world. With that being said, grade-seperated transit wether it is biking, paddling, bus, train or automobile is the best method. Dedicated bike paths, expanded metrorail throughout the loop, interurban trains to outside the beltway and intergrated BRT are the solutions.

  • Lots of concern here about BO. Guess I’m lucky- 6 year commuting by bike, 4 mile (one way) ride, in business casual, regular office job… No complaints from clients/co-workers.

    Yes, the Summer heat/humidity can be brutal. But as toasty mentioned: The mornings, not so bad.

    Now, if I could just quit smoking, I might actually be a healthy adult.

  • First, for many Houstonians, biking to work is a necessity because they cannot afford a car and even the Metro fares are a real bite out of their income. These Houstonians are not sitting in offices in wool pants. They are working in the back of restaurants or in warehouses. No one will care if they break a sweat on the way to work. They need bike lanes for safety and to make their commute more efficient.

    Second, while bike commuting is certainly an important goal, so is recreation. Cycling should not be an activity that is limited to people who live in planned communities with hike and bike trails. Everyone should have the ability to go out and ride their bike for fun and exercise. Cycling infrastructure is a major amenity for people living in a major metro area. Families living in apartment complexes should be able to go out and ride bikes with their kids without having to drive to a local park.

    Finally, what is proposed for Houston is a fraction of what is in place in Amsterdam and San Fran. As much as the bike plan will add, it will still be a very modest bike infrastructure compared to what the really bike friendly cities have done. So, no need to worry about Houston turning into some liberal new urbanism Nirvana. We still have plenty of developers in town who will keep that from ever happening.

  • Detroux, sorry man. We haven’t figured out how to politely say you stink. Human Resources is working on it.

  • criticism of biking in Houston reveals only ignorance. Only a tiny fraction of people will ever bike to work. MANY MORE will use Metro with a bike for the last mile,MANY TIMES THAT will use the bike plan as means to exercise while avoiding morning or evening Rush.
    I’ve been riding my whole adult life, in Houston & elsewhere, and it’s reasonable to expect a city that doesn’t try to constantly murder you. Drivers must stop expecting bikes on sidewalks as if they were in 2nd grade.
    Houston’s climate limitation for cycling Rain much more often than heat. Typically 2 months have no portion of the day where it isn’t cool enough to enjoy a ride.
    The bike plan gets a lot wrong, but it’s something

  • I agree with MyTwoCents 100%. Our climate – and most people’s jobs – aren’t suited for a bike commute. It’s either 100 degrees & humid or pouring rain. There’s no way I’d chance taking a bike to work with our schizophrenic climate. And I also care how I look & smell….most days anyway.

  • Why do people always jump from “bike lane” to “bike to work”? Only about 15% of trips by all modes in the region are home to work or work to home. Biking could become a much larger component of our transportation system even if not a single additional person biked to work.
    https://www.google.com/amp/www.chron.com/local/gray-matters/amp/Biking-for-transportation-in-Houston-It-s-not-8315430.php

  • James, when my money is involved with other working families in doing something in this town criticism is needed. Much of this town works in the service industry or can’t go to work knowing they won’t need to respond to something in the field at a moments notice. Most of the support for this thing has a really elitist feel. How many single Moms, yard maintenance crews, building trades, sales people, people that require a real presence with their customers (I could go on) can bike? I’ll go a step further and say that if you can bike to your office your ass shouldn’t be taking up valuable commercial space. Work from home.

  • Six months of the year, give or take, are not hot. Many commenters here seem not to know this. Nor does it rain here every day. And when it does rain, it usually doesn’t last all day. Some commenters here assume otherwise, but are wrong.

    As JamesL pointed out, this isn’t just about commuting to work. In addition to biking to work (2 miles, each way) when it’s not hot weather, I use a bike to make grocery runs. When my kids were very small, I used a bike w/trailer to get them to daycare and then to school.

    Because I live in Montrose, it’s been relatively safe and easy to do all of these things. That’s one of the reasons I chose to live here. But my options should be more widely available within the city because I don’t add to car traffic and I don’t burn polluting gasoline when I’m on the bike. That’s good for everybody.

  • @J: Most of the bike fatalities in recent years have not been office workers or “elites”. They are the working poor, people who would drive a car if they could afford it, but can’t. If you aren’t willing to pay to make biking safer for them, buy them all cars, gas and insurance.

  • Many good points here. MANY moons ago, I did bike to work on days I worked the early shift & it didn’t rain. I did it for fun & alternative to days I couldn’t get proper exercise. I worked in retail where you could look like a college student who just woke up & rolled out of bed. I did have the courtesy to bring a change of clothes & the wash cloth to freshen up not only for the customer but myself as well. That is when I lived 4.5 miles from work. Now that my work takes me down Voss daily, no way I could imagine biking to work. I do try to keep my car in the garage on weekends & use the bike or walk most everywhere as we live in the heart of the Galleria & it is easy to do so. I’d love to see the expansion of bike lanes for whatever reason, but I wouldn’t mind the rail down Richmond either. Or Westheimer, they’re both wide enough to hold it or bike lanes. Maybe it would help flush out some of those ‘lovely’ businesses! But that’s another story to fight, er, I mean champion…

  • @JamesL because this is Houston, and if it involves spending tax dollars and doesn’t involve commerce, many, if not most people simply do not want to hear about it.

  • The revolution has begun! Happy to see Houston moving in a positive direction.

  • im glad someone on here has the courage to stick it to those bike elites.

  • @ Memebag. Based on one of the comments I saw today posted since this was passed, it looks like we COULD buy all those people a car, insurance, etc. for what this is going to cost. I’m all for improving bike paths, although I still don’t think most people will bike to work, but this cost is crazy. Pretty sure if only the people using them had to actually pay for them, they would find a way to be considerably more economical about it.

  • I get that calling someone or something “elitist” is a good way to demonize he/she/it without having to produce evidence, but the idea that people who get around in cars might describe people who pedal a bike as “elitist” is inept and Orwellian—right up there with the earlier comment that predicts more pollution resulting from more bikers.

  • While I don’t bike (often) I do have an electric skateboard that I ride on from my house to my office or from my office to my apt buildings. I get by without staking in the bike lane but it’s pretty damn sketchy :)

  • I admit, didn’t get through all the comments. People act as if you can’t bike from Oct – April w/o issues. I used to live in the Museum District and would bike all over (even to Rice Village). Never really worried about sweat until the summer months.
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    I now live in the burbs and bike to work. It’s about 3 miles away and the bike paths are shaded, so I’m never sweaty going into work. In the summer months (June – Sep), I might be warm when I arrive, but it’s still fine. Other than helmet hair, I just go about my day (and don’t smell). Sure, I get sweatier on the way home from work, but who cares, I can always shower then if I need to.

  • @MyTwoCents cost, really? When most of the cost would be baked into existing street improvement plans? When it will be spread out over 30+ years? When it doesn’t even cost a fraction of a mile of the new I-45 for much greater mileage? I get that you don’t want to do it because you don’t want to do it, but don’t act like cost is a legitimate argument for anyone except people who are impressed/scared by big numbers.

  • I feel that more reasonable ambitions regarding bicycle infrastructure really shouldn’t be made with or compared to northern European cities, San Francisco, or New York City, all of which have been brought up in the article or in the comments. They aren’t comparable, their circumstances cannot be replicated locally, and it’s totally unclear that they are successful in a general sense much less a panacea.
    .
    Want to evaluate whether bike lanes are a good idea? Well to start with, instead of San Francisco you might look at Silicon Valley. It isn’t really a very hip place in an aesthetic sense, although it is certainly vibrant. Even still…the demographics there and the politics of individual municipalities make lessons from there of limited value to Houston. Let’s not get confused about what is comparable. Look closer to home. Where in Austin does the bicycle infrastructure work well, and where is it underutilized and why? Look at demographic differences. If another city has put a bike lane through a lower-middle-income suburb with a majority non-white population (and I’d bet you’d find some good examples in San Antonio), will that induce net additional bicycle use? That’s probably the most important question that ought to be asked about Houston because Houston encompasses a vast number of such neighborhoods, far more than municipalities that aren’t so geographically vast. Are efforts best concentrated on bike infrastructure that serves recreational or commuting objectives? Or can those objectives really be separated from one another?
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    I think that the findings would reflect that there can’t simply be one strategy for Houston. It’s too big, and too diverse a patchwork of neighborhoods.
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    Now, regarding the final plan, do remember that this is just a plan and not a budgetary commitment. I endorse the long-term off-street objectives, which mostly follow bayous and railroad ROWs. This is low-hanging fruit and objectives are mostly reasonable. They go way the hell overboard on dedicated in-street ROWS, though. It’s clear that the mindset was very simply to *BIKE LANE ALL THE THINGS*, and I don’t think that there is enough emphasis given to prioritizing what is important…particularly given that funding is likely to be so difficult to scrape together.
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    However, I challenge whether their opportunity analysis was intellectually honest. At a glance, they seem to appreciate Houston’s situation vis-a-vis its size, layout, and demography, and yet they downplay it when it doesn’t serve them and seem to confuse a lot of correlation/causality in order to make the case for bicycle infrastructure. In particular, the hypothesis that bike lanes will help Houston compete with peer cities seems very weak. Most people move to Houston for primary reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with bike lanes (much less a broader ‘recreation’ reason); and if you stripped all of the bike infrastructure out of Austin that has been built in the past 20 years and built out all of Houston’s bike lane network, people would still to Austin for aesthetic/lifestyle reasons citing outdoor recreation as unquestionably superior to Houston’s; it is utterly delusional to believe otherwise and Houston should strive to compete with peer cities where it has leverage.

  • Since cost was brought up, I went to the official Bike Plan website and found the estimated cost per mile. For the “Full Bike Network” or 1,789 miles, the range is between $335,000,000 and $552,000,000.
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    Taking the low number of $335,000,000, this comes out to $187,255 per mile. (Reference: Figure 6.14 on Page 6-34) Amortized over 30 years that would be $11,166,666 each and every year to pay for the bike network.
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    Tongue firmly in cheek: maybe we should start putting away the $11.16 million in a coffee can?

  • The plan is really just a recommendation of where to put lanes. The decision of actually putting in the bike lanes in a given spot will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, mainly as roads are rebuilt. Most of the money can come from TxDOT, TIGER, TIRZs, etc. It’s much easier to get that funding if you have a plan already in place. An example: maybe your local CIP project involves tearing up a road and replacing it. Instead of repainting the road with the old 12′ wide lanes, maybe make them a reasonable 10′ wide and spray in a line for a bike lane. That’s a cheap addition to a project that doesn’t involve a lot of overhead that would normally come from a separate project to put in a new bike lane somewhere.

  • The level of whining within this thread is no short of hilarious. What ever happened to being Texan tough?

    Look, if you build a city for cars, it fails for everyone, including cars. Houston is the poster-child of this. However, if you build a city for all modes of transit, it benefits everyone, including drivers. (paraphrased from Brent Toderian)

    The time of catering *solely* to automobiles is slowly grinding to a halt ladies and gentlemen, it’s simply not sustainable. You cannot have a vibrant, healthy, and walkable city if everyone has to get behind the wheel of a 2-ton death machine for every.single.trip. It’s impractical, unsustainable, and illogical. Depression, anxiety, obesity, feelings of isolation; these things didn’t just *happen* to us overnight, we legislated, subsidized and planned for it by allowing this city, and so many others, to develop overwhelmingly to the scale of the automobile.

    The bottom line is people on bicycles deserve the same considerations that motorists have been given over the last 70 years, period. I have lived COMFORTABLY car free in Houston since August of 2015, but sadly this is a luxury in Houston that far too many can not even contemplate. We should want more people and bikes and fewer people in cars, right? It’s not only healthier, its better for business (https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/images/uploads/publications/Heart_Foundation__Does_density_matter_FINAL2014.pdf), it’s better for our congested roads and freeways, and above all, it makes sense. Think about it this way, the bike plan will help address the mobility poverty that has stricken far too many Houstonians. We should be proud of that, not vitriolic, hateful and smug.

    As the old saying goes, if you build it, they will come.

    Saludos

  • @ TMR. Don’t be so assumptive about my motives. I don’t have a problem improving bike lanes, and or trails, and am not intimidated with large numbers. I don’t like waste, and I still believe that this project could be funded with a lot less money. What’s more, I’m not a fan of the money being spent on the new 45 project either if that makes you feel any better.

  • My favorite example of the bike lane from hell is on Rio Grande in Austin between MLK and 24th. It’s a two-lane (striped for bikes), takes up more than one full lane of traffic with plastic bollards (and armadillos IIRC). If you want to experience its true glory, check it out the Saturday before the Fall Semester at UT, sitting vacant, while SUVs sit in gridlock filled with clothes, computers, chairs and $$$ worth of stuff picked up at Target or BBB earlier in the day.