Olympic Dings

A Web site uses the Games for a bicycle revolt

The Houston 2012 Committee has enlisted the Internet in its high-powered push to bring the Olympic Games to the city. But type "Houston 2012" into most Internet search engines, and you'll come up with a site that would make the Bayou City boosters cringe (if they bothered to look at it):

Across the top banner is a picture of a typical I-45 rush hour, with cars jam-packed at a bumper-to-bumper standstill; looming over the traffic is a sinister-looking World War I gas mask beside downtown Houston's skyline -- where a black man screams toward the smoggy sky.

The site's caption: The Houston 2012 Olympic Bid Is (A) Loser.

Alexander's site  had about 10,000 hits last  year-- and delivered about  that many hits on Houston's Olympics bid.
Alexander's site had about 10,000 hits last year-- and delivered about that many hits on Houston's Olympics bid.

With red X's through Olympic torches, it features a Top 10 list with 36 entries -- at last count -- detailing why the Olympics won't come to Houston.

Robert Alexander, the editor and Webmaster of the zany hobil.com site, doesn't complain about the heat and the humidity or how flat and boring many people consider the terrain. "I'm trying to play fair," he says. "It's not the heat."

Mainly he talks about dangerous ozone levels, the evil department of transportation, and the fact that Tiger Woods never comes to Houston golf tournaments. He especially gripes about the bad bicycling conditions (e.g., not enough bike racks around Enron Field). The site says it isn't trying to "kick anybody out of their Eddie Bauer SUV"; the people at hobil.com just want bikers' lives to be a little easier.

"It's really going to offend me if we somehow land the Olympics and still have these atrocious conditions for bicycling," Alexander says. "If this is truly an Olympic-class city or a city worthy of the Olympics, then they need to do a little bit of the footwork, and that would include some basic bicycling amenities."

Alexander insists that he wants the Olympics to come to Houston. "I do," he says. "Really, I do." The criminal defense attorney volunteered when Houston hosted the 1986 Pan American games. For 14 years he's been on the Houston Marathon committee, where he met his wife, German native Barbara Stoll. On the days Alexander doesn't bike to work, he rides the bus. His 11-year-old GMC truck is pressed into duty only to transport bikes to tournaments or to pick up his wife if she rides her bike to the store, his wife says.

"What's on his site -- that's his heart," his wife says. "That's what he's for. It's really where his heart is. He wants improvements for bicyclists, not pseudo-improvements."

As a bike advocate, the idea of more cars crashing into the city, increasing pollution and worsening bikers' already bad lives frustrated Alexander so much that he taught himself computer language and launched the site April 26, 2000.

"I'm not a negative person," he swears. "I've made a complaint, and I've expressed what would alleviate the situation. I'm guiding people. I'm not just whining about a bad situation and walking away."

For instance, his wish list asks the city to require at least one employee to commute to work by bicycle 80 percent of the time, and that facilities for bikers should be designed by a pedaling commuter. He wants a city ordinance mandating that future buildings have racks and that the courthouse include bike lockers.

"I rode my bike this morning to two parole hearings I had -- the bike lane on Washington Avenue, it's an ox-cart path, it's a hellhole," he says.

In November he tried to become the city's bicycle/pedestrian liaison, but didn't get the job. In the meantime, he combs through the Houston Chronicle looking for new things to add to his Web site. He gets some positive e-mails from people who he says understand his effort, and twice as many negative e-mails -- mostly from high- school kids telling him to stop trashing their city and move to Dallas. "I don't know how much damage I'm doing," he says.

None whatsoever, claims McCoy McLemore. Despite the high-visibility hobil.com site -- and about 10,000 hits in the last year -- the media director of the 2012 Committee says he hasn't had a single call about Alexander's creation.

"To even comment on it gives it credit," he says. "It's not worth anything…It's a joke… It's not anything we would even take a look at."

"When you have a legitimate ques- tion," McLemore says, "please call us back."

Alexander is running a Houston Pollution Contest where people guess how bad Houston's air will be in the upcoming month. "Now you can win your very own gas mask autographed by Houston's very own Mayor Lee Brown!!" the site proclaims. "Good luck (and breathe shallow)!!!!"

The site promises to sponsor the Mini Asthmatics Olympics and the Olympic Tow Truck Trials. Hobil.com's biggest fans seem to be fellow bikers.

"I thought it was hilarious," says attorney Dan Lundeen, president of Bike Houston. "It's frustrating for us to see billion-dollar sports stadiums going in over night and they can't put a stripe and a sign on the street" for a bike lane.

Regina Garcia, chair of the Houston bicycle advisory committee, says she wishes Alexander would get out into the community and get people "rallied up" instead of just "working from a Web site." "He's an earnest person who has strong convictions and he doesn't mind throwing them out there for the public to look at and criticize," Garcia says. "He's onto something."

If the city would just do one -- one -- thing from his wish list, he'd instantly rip down the site, he says. "I'm not asking for much," he says. "If somebody would just throw me a bone." Or a bike locker.

 
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