Riding along the north side of the Texas Medical Center, I felt pretty safe. A pair of helicopters buzzed above the buildings generating a level of noise only rivaled by the line of work trucks in front of me. It was noisy and busy, but not awful. Then, I turned a corner.
In recent weeks, the Texas Medical Center created a survey designed to ask pedestrians and cyclists what they could do to improve conditions in and around the sprawling complex to add to a new master plan they are creating around mobility. So, it seemed only responsible that I hop on my bike and find out what riding around TMC is like for myself.
Let me just say right up front this is NOT safe. Do not go down there for a ride. Period.
What I anticipated was something akin to downtown. Sure, there would be dangers to watch for, but sidewalks would be there in a pinch for safety and new bike paths would help shoulder the load for riders like me. Boy, was I wrong.
Riding on Main, Fannin or Holcombe felt like a death sentence, but those are the only major through streets. You could maybe avoid Holcombe by using some of the cut throughs designed as valet for hospitals, but that meant sidewalks the rest of the time. That's dangerous enough most places, but when they are populated by doctors and sick people...my goodness.
So, with that in mind, I came up with some suggestions for the TMC. Obviously, they can start almost ANYWHERE and there will be improvement given that they have essentially zero current infrastructure for safely moving pedestrians and cyclists around, but let's get specific.
Close Fannin to cars.
It's been suggested in the past and it has a successful example in the stretch of Main Street downtown that has been closed since the pandemic. Fannin in the TMC currently has two lanes plus the two METRORail lanes. There have been plenty of accidents with trains and cars. There is a constant stream of pedestrian traffic and vehicle traffic trying to cross the street. And, of course, people driving the area are confused and distracted.
One of the real drawbacks is that many hospitals have already placed their valet parking areas along Fannin. The ones that straddle the section between Main and Fannin could probably adapt fairly easily. Not so sure how the others would. St. Luke's and Methodist would be stuck with Bertner, which isn't much more than an alley way — also a very unsafe place to ride because it is dominated by work and delivery trucks who take up more space than cars.
This is an absolute no brainer. Both have six lanes of traffic going both directions. Adding a dedicated and protected lane for cyclists only would be a very easy fix and make getting around demonstrably easier. It would also give provide safer access beyond the TMC to West University, NRG Park and surrounding areas. Hard to understand with all the new dedicated lanes being proposed and installed why this isn't top of the list.
I was honestly shocked at how few exits from garages that spilled onto the main through streets had no mirrors to check for pedestrians on the sidewalks. The same went for those that were in the middle of large complexes between Fannin and Main. On at least two occasions, cars came barreling out without looking. This is something that should be mandatory for every entrance and exit of any lot in the entire area with as many sick people and doctors there are wandering around.
And those mirrors should be both inside AND outside so that both cars and people on bikes or foot can see who is coming.
Want to know the best way to be uninviting to bikes? Have no place to park them. The only two racks I saw were one small one on Main near a string of restaurants all of which had put tables out onto the sidewalk blocking two-thirds of the space for walking. The other was in front of a Rice University-affiliated building on University and Main, which makes sense given it caters to students.
The lack of bike racks was pretty surprising, but also indicative of the little amount of thought given to it by those facilities in the TMC.
Currently, the only way to get from Fannin to Main (or vice versa) is via Dryden or University unless you want to trek through one of the few cut throughs built for valet parking or deliveries under the facilities. West of Fannin are a tangle of small, cluttered roads like Bertner and Bates that felt less safe to me than riding on Main Street or Fannin.
What is more confounding is there is literally no safe connection to Hermann Park or Rice University. No quiet neighborhood streets or dedicated lanes. Just nothing. It's maddening and, frankly, dangerous.
Create dedicated connectivity to Hermann Park and the Museum District.
Not to expand beyond the borders of the TMC, but does anyone else find it weird that the only paths in and around Hermann Park are gravel? It's fine for mountain bikes like mine and, I would imagine, even cruisers, but it couldn't be comfortable for a road bike. Having safe access to Rice, Hermann Park, the Museum District and even Montrose would make so much sense given the vast amount of park space.
If you go to the west side of the park and TMH, you can access the hike/bike paths along Braes Bayou, which are terrific, but it doesn't address how you get across the expanse of either. It's bad enough to not have any real safe biking options in the area, but when they do start doing something about that (assuming they do), there will need to be real thought given to not just what they do IN the medical center, but nearby as well.