Houston, Texas is the largest city in a state known for big things — the city ranks fourth largest in the US after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — and as with many cities its growth occurred without much consideration for bicycles, as a result Houston has a sub-par reputation in regards to bicycle friendliness.
The major complaint among riders is the lack of trails, and where there are trails they are mostly an afterthought, often narrow, or even littered with debris.
“Houston is a city dominated by freeways, real estate, and private cars,” Dave Wallace of the Houston Bicycle Club told BikeRadar. “Only a fringe element, such as the members of the Houston Bicycle Club, care about bicycle paths.”
Wallace says that the irony is that, Bill White, the prior mayor of Houston was a cyclist himself. “He did precious little to support cycling since there is no public constituency behind it,” he said. “Bike paths are one of those ‘build it and they will come’ kinds of things. Whenever an existing road with bike path is resurfaced, the bike path is removed.”
The city counters saying that there are already 500 miles of bikeways within the city limits with plans and proposals are always being considered that would transform Houston into a friendlier bike community. The City’s Public Works Department noted that older trails are being resurfaced and even widened, and says they will address the issue of lost bike paths.
Wallace thinks this will still fall short of making Houston a bike utopia. “The city has made a couple of rail to trail conversions and built a few bike paths along the bayous, but none of these trails or paths link up with each other,” he said.
The bike and pedestrian master plan is still a work in progress and linkage is just one part of the overall picture. The other step is getting people on bikes, and the city is starting with its own. The City of Houston employees are now participating in a project to demonstrate the benefits of a bicycle fleet. This includes a partnership with REI that provides recycled/refurbished surplus bicycles so employees can ride to work instead of relying on a pool vehicle
According to city this project measures participating employees’ wellness benefits as part of a Blue Cross Blue Shield Online Personal Health Manager, while employees maintain an online travel log. This measures both the cost benefits of riding to work, as well as air quality in the city.
This shows that Houston is thinking forward with cycling, but Wallace thinks there is still much that can be done. “Until the price of gas reaches $10 a gallon, there will be no progress on bicycle paths,” he said. And at that price, Houston residents won’t be the only US citizens considering the benefits of bikes.