- Cycling here is dangerous, with far more collisions and deaths per capita than other cities in Texas and the US.
- Motorists too frequently strike and kill cyclists with impunity, either by fleeing the scene unidentified or offering an excuse such as "I didn't see the bicycle."
- Houston may soon enact its comprehensive Bike Plan, with the goal of achieving zero fatalities.
- The cycling community here is large and active, if rather diffuse, and can be credited with taking action to get the city's attention on issues pertaining to cycling.
As a longtime cyclist, bicycle commuter, and facilitator for World Naked Bike Ride, you betcha this article caught my eye.
Within the city of Houston, in recent years, we have averaged just over seven cycling fatalities per year, plus dozens of injuries. This figure may seem minuscule compared to fatalities involving motor-on-motor crashes, but it still points to a glaring problem that notoriously car-dependent Houston could have and should have fixed decades ago. An appallingly high percentage of the collisions, including fatal collisions, are of the hit-and-run variety. (This one that happened Monday night, thankfully, wasn't; the driver stopped and called 911. Despite that, the cyclist is still dead.)
So why does any sane or rational person ride a bicycle on the streets of Houston? This is one of many questions that I would ask if I were, say, someone who commutes into town from Cy-Fair and often gets stuck behind a two-wheeler (or a pack of two-wheelers) pedaling along at 15 miles per hour.
In a comment for the online edition of the article, I pointed out that Meagan Flynn's feature could benefit from a sidebar with frequently asked questions about cycling in Greater Houston. Perhaps Ms. Flynn will take my advice and post a follow-up FAQ online in the coming days.
Meanwhile, I have a blog, and I can post my own. Here is Part I of my own FAQ, which here stands for "Floridly Answered Questions." I apologize in advance if I have omitted any questions you might have asked or heard, or if the answers reflect my own biases. Wait, no, I actually don't.
That's a question with multiple answers.
We ride on the streets because that's where the law says we not only are required to ride, but have a right to ride.
In Houston in particular, we ride on the streets because the sidewalks, where they exist, are in horrible shape. This is often because the live oaks planted on the nearby easements have developed root systems as big as the nearby houses and made the sidewalks look like LA after a particularly nasty earthquake. Nevertheless, many underinformed cyclists ride on the sidewalks anyway, especially B-Cycle customers, who also ride without helmets.
As for why Houstonians might get around the city on bicycles, they do so for a variety of reasons, including one or more of the following:
- Can't afford a motor vehicle, required liability insurance, and gasoline.
- Work ends after the buses and light rail stop running, and we can't afford to take a cab home every night.
- Undocumented and can't get a driver's license, or documented and just never had access to a motor vehicle back in country of origin.
- Want to reduce carbon footprint, cuz, like, global warming & stuff.
- Inside the Loop, where there is usually more than one way to get to one's destination, it may take less time on a bicycle than in a motor vehicle.
- We like bikes. We like riding bikes. Got a problem with that?
Why do cyclists flout traffic laws in such a cavalier manner?
Ooh, impressive vocabulary! I'll flout your cavalier, buddy!
A common complaint in the comments section of any online article about urban cyclists, even from people claiming to be cyclists, is that these folks run red lights, weave between cars, veer outside the bike lanes, and perform other death-defying acts that endanger not only themselves but pedestrians and drivers. Of course, all it takes is a few such cyclists riding in full douche mode for motorists to conclude that it's an epidemic, that the douches represent us all.
I don't have any statistics, about this, but from my observations, the overwhelming majority of cyclists do not operate in an unsafe fashion. Yes, some of us run red lights, which carries a certain risk, but if done correctly, it is less dangerous than just riding lawfully. If we run red lights, it is because accelerating from a dead stop requires far more force than continuing our forward momentum, and far more human energy than switching one's foot onto a car's accelerator pedal. We make absolutely certain, at least 99.9% of the time, that there are no motor vehicles coming through the green light that might strike us, and no pedestrians we might strike in the crosswalks.
Why does Houston need the new Bike Plan?
You can read all about the planned 1,700 additional miles of high-comfort bicycle infrastructure on houstonbikeplan.org. But mostly, to encourage cycling in this heavy-traffic, heavy-pollution city, the new bike plan is required to replace the old bike plan.
The last time Houston implemented a bike plan of any sort was in the early 1990s. In a nutshell, it sucked then, and it sucks worse now.
The '90s plan mostly consisted of adding narrow bike lanes on the right-hand side of some major thoroughfares, such as Waugh Drive and Briar Forest Drive.
- These lanes are not in any way separated from auto traffic.
- Like the right edge of any major street, they collect all kinds of detritus that might puncture tires or spill cyclists.
- The auto lanes also had to be narrowed slightly to accommodate the bike lanes.
- Some have criss-cross points where cars must cross over the bike lane in order to enter the special right-turn lane.
- The lines of white paint marking the bike lanes tends to disappear over time and might not get repainted for years.
- These lanes don't necessarily connect to other bike lanes. For example, Waugh Drive continues north across Buffalo Bayou and turns into Heights Boulevard, which also has bike lanes, but the bike lanes disappear for the two miles between West Gray and Washington Avenues.
There are also trails skirting the bayous and rails-to-trails projects of varying levels of quality:
- The trails in the Heights are very good indeed. It helps that the civic associations there made a priority of making their superneighborhood bike-friendly.
- The Columbia Tap through Third Ward is insufficiently lit, unpatrolled, and the scene of several bike-jackings.
- The MKT Trail between Heights and Downtown is dark and might have random piles of dirt across it that cyclists can't see at night, even with their lights on.
To be continued.