Houston cyclists had something to celebrate back in March, when City Council voted to adopt the Houston Bike Plan. It marked the first time in more than two decades that the city planned to comprehensively upgrade its crumbling biking infrastructure, which was last fully revamped in the early 1990s. The lanes had become full of potholes and debris. The stripes were only barely visible on some roads. And cyclists kept getting clipped by cars and sometimes killed.
The Houston Bike Plan was poised to change all of that. But there was just one problem: funding.
That has been the big question mark since the plan was unveiled early last year. The sweeping blueprint, slated to cost between $300 and $500 million to implement over the next ten to 20 years, seeks to add 1,700 miles of bikeways for Houston cyclists. John Long, executive director of BikeHouston, which has worked extensively with the city to develop the master plan, said the group was hoping for substantial funding to come through a bond referendum — maybe $20 million, Long said.
Now the numbers are in: Of the $495 million bond package that City Council plans to vote on next week, just $2.2 million is expressly devoted to the Houston Bike Plan. In other words, the bike plan is getting peanuts.
"We're happy to have whatever is dedicated to implementation of bike plan projects, but $2.2 million isn't going to go very far," Long said. "Even the short-term implementation is ten times that figure, and our focus is initially on those short-term projects that would be high-impact, that would demonstrate immediate progress on the bike plan. It's going to take more than $2.2 million to get that done."
Matthew Seubert, a transportation planner with the city's Planning and Development Department, said not to fret: There are still various other sources of funding that Houston is pursuing to fund the Bike Plan.
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Seubert said the city and BikeHouston have started evaluating the highest-priority short-term projects and those that would be most feasible to do first. He said there are roughly 150 of these projects, estimated to cost between $27 and $51 million. Seubert said some have already begun, and some are on the calendar, funded by other sources, such as TIRZ and private grants.
The city's proposed capital improvement plan for fiscal years 2018-2022 calls for various bike infrastructure projects, with an additional $3.3 million going toward the Houston Bike Plan through funds from the Parks Consolidated Project. More than $40 million is dedicated to other projects. A $30 million grant and $13.7 million in TIRZ money will fund road construction along Shepherd and Durham, with bike lanes included. A new bikeway along Westpark from Kirby to Edloe will use nearly $3 million in TIRZ funds. And in the International District, $2.4 million in private grants and $238,000 in other bond funding will go toward various bike trails.
It’s unclear what the specific $2.2 million in the bond package would be used for within the Houston Bike Plan, but according to estimates in the plan, it’ll cost between $90,000 and $210,000 to complete one mile of bike lanes for short-term projects. Which means the $2.2 million could probably cover ten to 24 miles.
City Council will hold public comment on the bond package next Tuesday and will also next week decide on whether to include it on the November ballot on Wednesday.