Houston Will Get Its First Bicycle Master Plan in 20 Years

The City started building a dedicated bike lane downtown along Lamar earlier this month
The City started building a dedicated bike lane downtown along Lamar earlier this month
Michael Barajas

While the death of Chelsea Norman -- hit by a driver in Montrose while biking home from her Whole Foods job and left to die in the street -- helped raise awareness about the pitiful state of bike safety in Houston, bicyclists keep getting hit by cars here. At least eight have been struck and killed since Norman's December 2013 crash, according to local advocates.

When it comes to large cities, Houston's still at the bottom of the pack when it comes to being bike friendly, says Michael Payne, executive director with BikeHouston. "Houston is in bottom quartile compared to our peer group, in terms of investment and in terms of things like collisions between people driving cars and people riding bikes," Payne says.

A development out of City Hall yesterday could finally change that. For the fist time in 20 years, council members have voted to craft a bicycle master plan for the city of Houston.

The plan, Payne says, would incorporate traffic studies with ideas from riders about what type of improvements they want to see, where they live, where they work, and where they want to bike. Ultimately, the hope is that at the end of the planning process the city will have a concrete list of priorities to tackle, like street improvements and well-defined networks designed to help cyclists safely travel the city.

In the past three years, Payne says, local leaders have started to embrace the idea of making Houston a friendlier place for cyclists -- from passing an ordinance forcing drivers to pass cyclists from a safe distance to the Bayou Greenways Program.

Still, while pockets of the city have become bikeable, they're largely isolated little ecosystems, Payne says. "There's a real lack of connectivity sill," he says. Safely biking across town can still be a harrowing feat. Just ask anyone who's braved Waugh trying to get from the Heights down to Montrose.

According to the funding scheme laid out in the ordinance council past yesterday, the city will chip in $125,000 to hire an outside consultant to develop the plan, while BikeHouston has agreed to kick in $100,000 it's raised for the plan. The Houston Parks Board and H-GAC have chipped in $25,000 and $125,000, respectively.

"Cities evolve when cyclists are engaged in the process," Payne says "There's no reason why this can't be a great cycling city."

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