After dozens of public meetings and more than 4,000 survey responses, the city has finalized its ambitious Houston Bike Plan.
Initially released in February, the plan calls for adding more than 1,700 miles of bike lanes and trails throughout the city over the next couple of decades, costing up to $500 million. Bike Houston played a large role in gathering feedback on that initial plan at monthly meetings in City Council districts and dozens of neighborhoods, at Capital Improvement Plan meetings with the city and at huge events like Free Press Music Fest. Interim Executive Director Mary Blitzer said that as a result, they added 133 more miles to neighborhoods that lacked bike lanes or needed connections, such as Gemini Avenue in Clear Lake, trails near Willow Waterhole Park, and DeMoss Street in Gulfton-Sharpstown.
“How do we get more neighborhoods connected, more places connected to bayous? Those extra miles were really added in to make sure we are building safe places for people to ride all across the city in the short term as well as in the long term,” Blitzer said.
Planners expect roughly 800 miles of bike lanes — including the additional 133 miles — will be completed in the next seven to ten years. The plan's biggest goals are to increase “high-comfort” lanes, which are well separated from traffic, so more riders will feel safe on the streets, and also to add more connections so riders can more easily navigate across town. Now, all that's left is City Council approval, and Blitzer said that all the feedback she's gotten from members has been positive.
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A significant problem, however, is that the plan is largely unfunded. Blitzer said she's optimistic the city and biking advocates like Bike Houston can get creative with funding — perhaps private donors will want to contribute, which was the case for trails along the Bayou Greenways project. Plus, Blitzer said they still will have access to $2.5 to $5 million per year in city funds already dedicated to this type of construction. But as we reported last February, the plan's best chance at success will likely depend on drivers: a referendum at the polls in which voters approve millions in funding. And in a place called Car City, that may be easier said than done.
It's why Blitzer and Bike Houston have been so avidly trying to increase public awareness about this Bike Plan — Houston's first in more than 20 years and its most ambitious to date — and about why cycling matters in Houston. She called the group's recent campaign the “most robust public engagement” it has ever done.
Bike Houston is hoping a referendum may be on the ballot as early as next year, Blitzer said, which is why messaging is key not only for the 0.5 percent of people who commute on their bikes, but also for the kind of drivers who get impatient with cyclists on the road.
“We're trying to unite everyone who's riding now, who wants to ride a bike in the future — or maybe never wants to ride a bike but wishes there wasn't a bicyclist in front of them on a busy street, and that that person had a safer place to ride,” Blitzer said. “Most of the time, people who are riding in unsafe conditions are doing so because they have no other way to get to where they need to go.”