Ride at Your Own Risk

Cycling remains dangerous in car-centric Houston.

Highlights from Hair Balls

THE LACK OF PROSECUTION WHEN A RIDER IS KILLED BY A CAR IS DOWNRIGHT SHOCKING.

Traffic

I learned how to ride a bike in the parking lot of the not-quite-completed Greenspoint Mall in the '70s. My first fall was when I couldn't figure out how to steer around a piece of debris and went sailing over my handlebars. Within a couple of years I had graduated to a BMX-style bike and was happily riding the trails carved out by other trail riders along Greens Bayou before it was straightened and defoliated. For a kid, having a bike meant having a level of freedom he had never known before. In your mind, you could go anywhere, just like an adult in a car.

But even then I understood all too well the dangers of driving outside my neighborhood. Though I walked frequently to the mall to hit the arcade (yes, I'm old, shut up), I was forbidden by my parents to ride my bike there even though it was less than a mile from my house. The streets around the commercialized area felt like a war zone on some days. It was the equivalent of the Dark Forest in Harry Potter novels. You heard the rumors, but didn't investigate.

Reading last week about charges filed in the hit-and-run death of a woman riding her bike at night along Waugh Drive, I found myself legally ambivalent but morally appalled.

The lack of legal protection of cyclists is alarming, particularly considering the poor conditions of bike lanes on many city streets. It's one thing to have a bump or two. Most cyclists with any real experience riding on the streets have had them. But the lack of prosecution when a rider is killed by a car is downright shocking.

Despite the addition of forward-thinking modes of transportation like B-Cycle and enough converted hike and bike trails to satisfy most amateur riders, Houston is still a car city. Always will be. That is virtually guaranteed by, if nothing else, the sheer physical size of the area. Unlike more compact cities, Houston is massive. Even the most ardent cyclist wouldn't consider abandoning his car when it comes to daily commutes.

As someone who continues to ride and has traded in my vehicle for a bike on many trips to the store or commutes to meetings but uses a car far more often than a bike, I understand the danger. I've watched messengers downtown weave in and out of sidewalk pedestrians because the street was simply too scary. I've seen more than my share of narrow misses on various streets around town. Fortunately, I've never suffered a serious accident on my bike or with a cyclist while in my car, but I'm lucky.

On one hand, I see the value in riding. I love it and I wish more people would embrace it. Houston is flat and the weather is great for riding most of the year. If more people did it, maybe we wouldn't be the fattest city in America. Even a trip to Whataburger is better for you on a bike than in a car.

But I also understand the trepidation, the same thing my parents felt when they banned my bike trips to the mall. I of course disobeyed them on occasion. I never felt safe. And even though I have bike lanes to ride in now, I rarely feel safe on a busy road. No smart cyclist should. And that's a shame.
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Political Animals

Pulling the Plug
CVS says it will stop carrying tobacco products.

Jeff Balke

CVS, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the United States, announced it will pull all tobacco products from its shelves by October 1 of this year. Citing its commitment to doctors and healthcare, CVS said the removal of cigarettes and other tobacco products will cost it some $2 billion annually at its 7,600 stores.

According to statistics, about 18 percent of Americans light up on a regular basis. This is significantly down over the past 50 years, but that number still produces a large number of deaths each year. With every gas station, convenience store and pretty much everywhere in between still selling cigarettes, they clearly aren't going away anytime soon, however.

CVS's stand makes a lot of logical sense, if not much financial. Losing $2 billion is a lot, and after all, this is a personal choice. But kudos to CVS for sticking to its guns, at least on this issue. I'm guessing the chain isn't bailing on candy, soda or chemical-based beauty products, but it's something.

Smoking has been banned in public places in many U.S. cities. Houston, like virtually all major cities now, has a ban on smoking in government buildings and large public structures like malls and office buildings. Houston also prohibits smoking in bars and restaurants within the city limits.

I've known many people who smoked and have been told the habit can be brutal to break. It is doubtful that having one less drugstore chain carry cigarettes will cause a lot of people to suddenly stop, as CVS and healthcare officials hope, however, even if the chain continues to carry smoking-­cessation aids.

No word yet on whether other pharmacy retailers will follow suit, though Walgreens is reportedly "evaluating" the situation. CVS did not mention if its ban included e-cigarettes that don't use tobacco.

 
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5 comments
rudyjay
rudyjay

I grew up in Houston and the thought of commuting by bicycle seemed insane.  The city’s too much of a sprawl.  It’s too hot.  People don’t know how to drive.  However a 5 year stint living in Seattle changed all that. I biked there almost the very year I moved.  It was easier, cheaper, there was actual infrastructure that encouraged it and public transit made it convenient to lug your bike around should the weather or the distance prove to be too much for any level of rider. It is possible to live in a major city of garbage drivers (when you drive there, you’ll know) with ease and at a comfortable level of safety. In fact, the only accident I had there was with a pedestrian crossing the street illegally too focused on dodging traffic and failing to see me.  I've had close calls with cars but none where I thought I might die. Growing up in Houston and I can tell you I've had more near death close calls with cars as a pedestrian than a cyclist. 

Since moving back to Houston last year, I've continued my cycling.  I'm very cautious and follow the traffic laws to my fitting just as to Houston drivers do.  I equate my rolling through red lights or stop signs when there's no oncoming traffic to people speeding in their vehicles or running that last second turned red light.  We are both in a hurry to get to where we need to go and are bending the rules.  But the difference is drivers have a clear advantage over cyclists in damage to self and others.  Drivers are encased in a steel frame with better braking/acceleration along with a better view of their surroundings not to mention the auto insurance to protect from physical and vehicle damage.  Bike riders have none of that.  No matter who’s at fault with these recent accidents, the cyclist suffers far more than the driver.  My years of cycling have led me to be a more cautious and conscientious driver because I drive as if I’m cycling.  One mistake and my life can be changed forever.  I doubt a car hitting a cyclist will even trigger an airbag sensor.  So complain about us and our requests for a safe lane or space all you want.  It’s holds little water when you compare the damage done with reckless cycling against reckless driving.  We choose this mode of transportation like you choose a compact sedan over a pick-up truck or vice versa.  No matter the reason as to why (economic, convenience, lifestyle or hobby) we choose this mode of transportation, it’s ours to make and yours to respect.  How do you feel when there's too many big rigs travelling on our freeways barreling through traffic?  Don't you wish they had their own lane so they can drive freely and safely away from you?  Why can’t bicyclists have the same courtesy? 

I can't believe the utter disregard Houston drivers have for the laws and each other.  Add bicycles to the mix…and I can see why drivers do drive off. They're car isn't damaged too much and this is a blame society. No one takes responsibility for their actions anymore.  They're quick to blame other people, some new psychological disease/disability or whatever. If the cyclist wasn’t there, then this wouldn’t have happened.  The same can be said if the driver wasn’t there either.  Instead of placing blame, how about placing policy and plans for a safer environment for all commuters from two wheeled to the two legged to the four wheeled.

DeathBreath
DeathBreath

I watch the cretins driving automobiles like a hawk.  I routinely break the law because I can, quite simply.  In fact, every single night, I get up on my bicycle & blaze a fat blunt.  I ride in an area that is semi-residential where no Home-Owner-Association fucks reside.  In Texas, there is a law about stopping & rendering aid.  I hate this law.  So, if you try to run over me and fail, I will stop & render aid.  I will sit there & read scriptures to you as you fucking die!   

omatthew12
omatthew12

Bikers are supposed to follow the same laws as cars while on the road. I can't tell you how many bikers run stop signs, do not use hand signals, and generally put themselves in danger. If you get in a car wreck, you're far more likely to be hurt if your car is a bicycle. There are plenty of trails and vacant parking lots you can ride your bike in. Why do it on streets and even take a chance of the driver of a car making a mistake?

armed_and_pedaling
armed_and_pedaling

@omatthew12 The driver of the car was intoxicated and it was a hit and run. Here you are citing cyclist's disregard for safety. Bravo to your extreme prejudice. Maybe you should keep your car in a vacant lot for our safety.

omatthew12
omatthew12

@armed_and_pedaling - I didn't know those details.. as they aren't stated in this story.. I think the driver should have been prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Bravo to you and your big boy internet bullying.

 
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