BikeHouston calls me an Ambassador, meaning that I (a) help promote the interests of the organization in my area of town and (b) help shape its approach to policy initiatives in city government. Last night, a couple dozen of us ambassadors got together at the BH office and did some (b) work.
Several BH initiatives and programs came under discussion, including:
- Bike Friendly Driver classes, the next of which occurs Tuesday evening 23 July, designed to educate motorists on mixing safely in traffic with cyclists. Members are encouraged to take the class so they can then teach the class.
- The Austin Street Team ride, Saturday 27 July at 4 pm, at which a group of BH members and other cycling advocates will ride the length of the soon-to-be-constructed protected bike lane on Austin and La Branch Streets between downtown and Hermann Park. The rides starts at Baldwin Park in Midtown.
- Another series of Bike to Vote rides, assembling cyclists at neighborhood bike shops and riding en masse to early voting locations. These will happen during the early voting period, 21 October through 1 November, for the upcoming Houston City Council election.
After helping out with the Bike Plan that the City adopted last year, BH ambassadors turned their attention to determining where BH would recommend placement of the 50 miles of new bike lanes. The new lanes are the main feature of the Build 50 Challenge, resulting from a $10 million grant awarded by Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. Construction of those new lanes is underway now and will continue through next spring.
BH Advocacy Director Jessica Wiggins made an interesting point during the meeting last night: that Houston is the largest city in the US that does not have a dedicated transportation department. Public Works builds and maintains streets and other infrastructure, and City Planning recommends various programs to implement, but no single agency is in charge of broader policy and planning considerations for getting people between their various Points A and B.
The closest thing we have to a transportation agency in Houston is Metro, which is one of those agencies whose mission transcends city limits and even county lines. Its board does not answer to any city government, although cities are represented in stakeholder meetings for programs such as Park & Ride (which as of this week serves Conroe, 36 miles north of Downtown Houston!—but I digress).
The City's Complete Streets initiative (which BH is on record as supporting) had to come about through an executive order from then-Mayor Annise Parker—i.e., that all new and rebuilt streets should be safe for use by motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians.
With that in mind, a question concerning whether Houston should establish its own Department of Transportation will appear as one of five on a questionnaire that BH will send to the campaigns of all this year's candidates for Mayor and City Council (no mention of whether Controller candidates will get to weigh in). Wiggins showed us those questions in draft form, and we ambassadors had a chance to make suggestions about the wording and substance thereof. I was grateful that nobody present tried to introduce more or entirely different questions, the discussion of which could have kept us there all night.
As of now, for the 18 positions to be contested, there are about 80 announced candidates. After the filing deadline, all the candidates will receive a link to a Google Form, which they can fill out or appoint a campaign lackey to do so.
Some Other Questions
Candidates for the 11 districted seats will be asked how much of their annual $750,000 discretionary budget will go toward transportation safety improvements. The at-large candidates will receive a similar question about what percentage of the City's budget for streets should be dedicated toward improving safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
One of the questions is multiple choice, regarding candidates' positions on the proposed North Houston Highway Improvement Project, or what I call the I-45 expansion and rerouting boondoggle. Not all voters who read this question will know precisely what the project entails, but the City Council candidates bloody well should. The choices are:
- Support as designed
- Support with minor changes
- Support with major changes
BH, as a 501(c)(3) organization, cannot legally even hint at which choice it considers the "correct" answer in any document for public consumption. Since I'm merely an Ambassador, and not on the staff or board, I can make my opposition known.
The question on which I homed in asks candidates directly about their individual use of bicycles and other non-motorized transportation. I suggested expanding that a little to include members of the candidates' families. Even if the candidates themselves never get on a bike, perhaps their spouses, signifs, or children do (or would like to). Kayleen is physically unable to pedal a bicycle, but she is even more passionate than I about safety for cyclists because her husband rides on the streets of this notoriously bike-unfriendly city.
When the answers come in, BH will post PDFs for each district and at-large seat on its website. It will also create cards for voters to compare the candidates' positions. Those of us leading the Bike to Vote rides will need to have copies of all the cards to distribute to our riders to take to early voting.
It should be understood, of course, that not all cyclists will cast their votes strictly on the basis of bicycle-related issues. From my perspective, holding positions similar to mine would indicate that a candidate is forward-thinking when it comes to improving transportation in the traffic-bedeviled city. Such positions keep not only with safety in mind, but also the environmental benefits of having fewer carbon-spewing vehicles on our streets and highways—and, in the aggregate, driving fewer carbon-spewing miles each day and year—as well as the health and well-being that a bike-friendly city engenders.