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Meanwhile, many of those aspects of the plan that were put in place — specifically, the bike lanes — failed to live up to Wurth's, and most other area cyclists', expectations. (The sign-posted bike routes are more popular.)
Wurth derides the bike lanes as "striped gutters." Far from resembling those in "a college town," Houston's narrow, often debris-strewn versions looked more like a slapdash way to quickly and cheaply enact flashy displays of fairly meaningless "progress" and grab those federal matching funds.
Dan Raine, the City of Houston's Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, acknowledged that the striped gutters were a quick fix. In an e-mail interview with the Houston Press, he cited "the great pressure to expedite the creation of bikeways to meet air quality goals," and wrote that "the shortest path to meet these goals was to re-stripe roadways to create bike lanes."
Wurth believes that the majority of striped bike lanes are actually harmful to cyclists. For one thing, he says, they encourage motorists to believe that cyclists must use them. In fact, cyclists are entitled to the same rights as any other vehicle operators; riding in the bike lane is optional. (Lundeen says that he has even had the same argument with a police officer; anecdotally, quite a few police are ignorant about local cycling laws.) Second, Wurth says the bike lanes are dangerous even if there are no cars on the road. "The pavement's all broken up, there are missing sewer covers and storm grates," he says. As they are also liberally sprinkled with broken glass, bits of metal and nails, Wurth calls riding in them "the fastest way to get a flat tire in this city."
"We send out street sweepers to clean bike lanes when we receive e-mails and photos of debris, but there are not enough street sweepers to clean all the bike lanes on a high-frequency basis," Raine says. He also points out that another advantage of the bike routes, as opposed to the lanes, is that large vehicles travel closer to the curb when there is no bike lane, and that the air they disperse sweeps away debris.
Lundeen further contends that the bike lanes lull motorists into a false sense of security and don't cede enough space to the left of each cyclist. "Drivers don't worry as much about cyclists when cyclists have their own lane," he says. Furthermore, the roads on which the bike lanes were painted are supposed to have been divided up into two ten-foot lanes for cars and two four-foot lanes for bikes, but Lundeen suspects that road crews measured out the ten-foot lanes for cars first and then gave the bikes whatever was left over, whether or not that measured a full four feet. And he says he has seen places where the crews have painted a stripe right through the middle of pre-existing potholes. (Raine, an avid cyclist himself, cites the Heights Boulevard bike lane — which does indeed look like one in a sylvan college town — as a shining example of one that is well developed. Lundeen agrees, but it seems very much the exception to the rule.)
The more exciting aspects of the plan — the dedicated, no-motor-traffic bike trails — have been much slower in coming. Wurth wishes that it was a simple matter of "just going out there and throwing down some fuckin' concrete," but he has learned that building these trails involves cutting through bales and bales of red tape and obtaining sign-offs from any number of governmental agencies and business interests. "There's the Parks Department, Public Works, flood control," he says, adding that sometimes the City and Harris County butt heads and/or cross wires. "If it crosses any railroad tracks, there's the railroad. TX-DOT has to pay for it and it has to meet federal guidelines...You're talking about like a dozen agencies for one little project."
Neighborhood associations, citing the possibility of increased crime or ease of access to their homes, have strongly opposed at least three of the plans. Lundeen attended a meeting for a planned bike route (not even a trail) along Briar Forest on the west side; there, one resident was concerned that the sign-posted route would "cut the neighborhood in half," almost as if a rail yard were planned.
According to Wurth, the White Oak Bayou path was originally slated to run along the waterway past West 11th Street and hook up with the Nicholson Street trail and then head downtown, but a few residents of the Timbergrove Manor subdivision have stymied the plan. "Their property lines extend all the way into the center channel of the bayou — just in that one little section," he says. "Normally there's an easement there. So essentially a few holdouts in that subdivision put the kibosh on that whole plan." And so now cyclists are forced instead to traverse a rugged, dangerous stretch of busy West 11th and to cross one-way, speeder-laden Shepherd and Durham to get to the Nicholson Street trail.
"It's unbelievable all the things that have to happen to get these things going," Wurth acknowledges. "But they can throw up a big-ass stadium for a football team in record time." (See "Ghost Riders: Easy Come, Easy No".)