Cycling Not a Two-Way Street in Houston

I learned how to ride a bike in the parking lot of the not-quite-completed Greenspoint Mall in the '70s. My first fall was when I couldn't figure out how to steer around a piece of debris and went sailing over my handlebars. Within a couple years I had graduated to a BMX-style bike and was happily riding the trails carved out by other trail riders along Greens Bayou before it was straightened and defoliated. For a kid, having a bike meant having a level of freedom he had never known before. In your mind, you could go anywhere just like an adult in a car.

But, even then I understood all too well the dangers of driving outside my neighborhood. Though I walked frequently to the mall to hit the arcade (yes, I'm old, shut up), I was forbidden from riding my bike there by my parents even though it was less than a mile from my house. The streets around the commercialized area felt like a war zone some days. It was the equivalent of the Dark Forest in Harry Potter novels. You heard the rumors, but didn't investigate.

Reading this morning about charges filed in the hit-and-run death of a woman riding her bike at night along Waugh Drive, I found myself legally ambivalent but morally appalled.

The lack of legal protection of cyclists is alarming, particularly considering the poor conditions of bike lanes on many city streets. It's one thing to have a bump or two. Most cyclist with any real experience riding on the streets have had them. But, the lack of prosecution when a rider is killed by a car is downright shocking.

Despite the addition of forward-thinking modes of transportation like B-Cycle and enough converted hike and bike trails to satisfy most amateur riders, our city is still a car city. Always will be. That is virtually guaranteed by, if nothing else, the sheer physical size of the area. Unlike more compact cities, Houston is massive. Even the most ardent cyclist wouldn't consider abandoning his car when it comes to daily commutes. As someone who continues to ride and has traded in my vehicle for a car on many trips to the store or commutes to meetings, but uses a car far more often than a bike, I understand the danger. I've watched messengers downtown weave in and out of sidewalk pedestrians because the street was simply too scary. I've seen more than my share of narrow misses on various streets around town. Fortunately, I've never suffered a serious accident on my bike or with a cyclist while in my car, but I'm lucky.

On one hand, I see the value in riding. I love it and I wish more people would embrace it. Houston is flat and the weather is great for riding most of the year. If more people did it, maybe we wouldn't be the fattest city in America. Even a trip to Whataburger on a bike is better for you than in a car.

But, I also understand the trepidation, the same that my parents felt when they banned my bike trips to the mall. I of course disobeyed them on occasion. I never felt safe. And even though I have bike lanes to ride in now, I rarely feel safe on a busy road. No smart cyclist should. And that's a shame.

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