By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
In 2001, four years after all the hoopla that greeted the bikeway plan, Bicycling magazine ranked Houston (in a tie with Atlanta) as the worst cycling city in America. While a great many area cyclists disagreed, few took issue with the magazine's critique of the bike lanes aspect of the bikeway network.
Wurth claims that nobody is going back to monitor the bikeway's progress. "Nobody's asked, 'Are these bikeways good? Are people using them? Are they meeting expectations? Are they encouraging cycling?' I would give it a big fat F, the whole thing."
Raine disputes the contention that the bikeway is not being evaluated. He says that it is, "with great consideration of safety, the need for connectivity and overcoming barriers to mobility."
Lundeen is less harsh than Wurth, but he too hates the bike lanes. "I can't in good conscience recommend that people use the on-street bike lanes," he says. And he concurs with Wurth's grade. "At least the way it was implanted," he says. "Repairs are not done. If the goal for the bikeway is to get more people on the road, I don't think it does that."
Lundeen says that Dan Raine has an unenviable job. First, his office is something of an afterthought in a city that sees big highways and increasingly rail as the glamour mobility projects. Indeed, Raine's office was left unfilled for more than a year after his predecessor stepped down. And then there is Raine's constituency. Cyclists as a whole have competing agendas, Lundeen explains. Some are commuters, some ride recreationally, some want more mountain bike trails in parks, while others want more signposted routes to help them get around town. Any measure Raine gets behind is bound to disappoint some of them, not to mention the vast majority of the motoring community, some of whom see any expansion of cycling facilities as a threat to the Houstonian Way of Life.
For his part, Raine insists that things have improved since Bill White, a cyclist himself, became mayor. Raine points to the 15 miles of new trails opened this year. The Columbia Tap Rails to Trails path, a long-delayed Third Ward-Downtown link, was finally completed this year after an almost-comical series of delays. (A 1997 Chronicle article stated that Columbia Tap "may not be complete until 2000," while a 2001 article predicted its completion in 2004. In actual fact, it was officially opened in March of 2009.) While the October 2 ribbon-cutting for the MKT Trail, a Heights-Downtown Rails to Trails link that spans White Oak Bayou, was recently pushed back to December 19, at least that is a delay of months and not years. Last month marked the completion of the Little White Oak Bayou trail, which connects central and eastern sections of the northern Inner Loop. Earlier in the summer, suburban trails were opened on Halls Bayou in northeast Houston and one more in far west Houston, and Raine says six more trails and four new bridges over Brays Bayou are slated for 2010.
Raine says his office is looking at connecting the often scattered bikeways and completing paths along all the bayous in the region. He also touts the city's bike safety Web site and updated bike map, and says Houston is on the right track, but that the changes cyclists would like to see will take time. With the arguable exception of Bob Lanier, White has done more for cycling in the city than any other mayor in Houston history, and Raine hopes that the next mayor will show as much interest. (Lundeen sees Houston's term-limited mayoralty as problematic for long-range projects like the bikeways plan. He believes the realities of relatively short stays in office favor the development of cheap, flashy improvements [like the bike lanes] over cohesive, enduring regional plans.)
As far as Wurth is concerned, White's work was welcome, but it was too little and too late to have saved his friend Cisco Rios. He believes that had one of the planned, long-delayed branches of the Heights-area White Oak Bayou trails been finished in 2007, Rios would have been on it and not the shoulder of Old Katy Road.
Rios's death galvanized Wurth. The process of Wurth becoming active is right there for all to see on the message boards of BikeHouston, where Wurth posted a eulogy of Cisco and a lament over the state of Houston's cycling environment. Other posters urged him to get involved, and he did. He ran for the board of BikeHouston and won a seat. He spoke before City Council and asked why its Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator position sat vacant for over a year, and put forth his friend Dan Raine as a qualified candidate. Raine got the job.
On a more personal level, he hosted Houston's first "ride of silence" in honor of Rios and other fallen cyclists. For the slow-paced 12-mile ride from Memorial Park to downtown and back, Wurth hired a bagpiper to play "Amazing Grace" and got Mario Pena, the brother of Leigh Boone (Houston's other ghost bike recipient; see "Ghost Riders: Way of Life"), to say a few words.
It's a good thing Rios was remembered so well by the cycling community. The world at large hasn't treated him as well. The driver of the van was questioned by police and released with no charges filed, though he and his employer — Silver Eagle Distributors — were later sued by Rios's family. The trial was ugly. Picking up on his couch-surfing temporary lifestyle, the defendant's lawyers portrayed Rios as a vagrant with no fixed abode and a reckless cyclist who was to blame for his own demise. They contended with some backing from the police that he had no light on his bicycle. Rios's friends all say he bought a light several weeks before the accident, as the Night Rider All Stars had been stopped and warned by a cop in Memorial for not having lights at the time. And everyone who knew him said he was very cautious.