Opinion: New Bike Paths Are Great for the Heights, but Not for Arguing Neighbors

Even Mayor Turners can get down with a bike ride.
Photo by Doogie Roux
Even Mayor Turners can get down with a bike ride.
"This is Houston, not Amsterdam." Those were the words of a commenter in a thread on Next Door about the concrete abutments on 11th Street near Yale that were causing a bit of a stir among residents who choose to argue online. Admittedly, a cursory check of that particular intersection is rather perplexing, but it was simply a platform to stir up debate about the very principle of bike lanes in the Heights, which are exploding unabated.

It was one thing, it seems, to convert old rail lines to hike and bike trails. It's quite another to introduce lanes just for cyclists along 11th Street and Shepherd and Durham.

Fewer seem to care about the Shepherd corridor lanes given the fact that there are already so many lanes on those streets to begin with, but dropping a safe space for bicycling enthusiasts on 11th appears tantamount to sacrilege among some residents. And they aren't alone. Numerous businesses along the popular Heights thoroughfare gathered to protest the changes before the city undertook them. Now, that they are done, it seems feelings are still hurt.

Here's the problem, not just with the battle against these alternate lanes but with the sentiment that accompanies them: this is good for the Heights and Houston.

The argument always seems to be "no one rides these things." That is, of course, until they are complete and they are then often populated with riders. Check the hundreds of miles of bike paths across Houston. They are frequented by cyclists and, yes, commuters even if no one is cycling from Pasadena to Katy for work.

But that isn't really the point. The point is that for those who do ride, and there are a lot of Houstonians who do, this is simply safer. Critics point to how drivers don't understand how these lanes work and often end up running into them causing damage to their cars to which we say, "Well, whose fault is that?" The fact that people cannot race up and down 11th Street quite as easily (and believe us as people who lived just off 11th for nearly 15 years) is not a bad thing for anyone, people on bicycles or otherwise.

Similar complaints have been leveled against all sorts of non-traditional forms of transportation progress from light rail to rapid bus transit to widened sidewalks. "This is a car town," they say with the vigor of someone driving an F250 with a giant smokestack in the back rolling coal on anyone who dare cross their path (and, yes, that actually happened).

We might answer, "But, why exactly?" And, more importantly, what do you care? As many would point out, some cycle enthusiasts do not obey traffic laws as they should. They often point to large groups like Critical Mass, who block traffic and generally anger anyone trying to cross a street they are riding on.

The vast majority of people on bicycles, however, are simply trying to protect their own lives against some of the most aggressive driving anywhere on streets that are not normally hospitable to them. Adding any kind of buffer that can remind distracted drivers about defenseless riders nearby is worth a little aggravation and forcibly reducing speeds.

In the Heights, in particular, it makes a lot of sense. There are already frequently used bike lanes on Heights Boulevard and the entire area is criss-crossed by converted rails to trails paths that are well worn by pedestrians and cyclists alike. Adding more as the area becomes even more attractive to residents and commercial businesses isn't a drawback, it's a feature.

Instead of thinking of it as some kind of inconvenience (it hardly is), think of it as a way to avoid a liability suit and maybe a recognition that you might need to slow down on 11th Street in the future. You were probably going too fast already.