Four Ways to Curb Cycling Dangers in Houston

Over 2000 cyclists and pedestrians have been killed on area roadways in 15 years. That must change.
Over 2000 cyclists and pedestrians have been killed on area roadways in 15 years. That must change. Photo by Doogie Roux
Another cyclist — this time, 23-year-old David Loya — has been killed on Houston streets. Loya was struck by a school bus while riding in the protected bike lane on Heights Boulevard. This was not a case of a careless cyclist weaving into traffic or driving on a busy street not suitable for a bike. This was a wide street, with a big bike lane (albeit one shared with parked cars). Yet, a young man still lost his life.

Since 2003, more than 2,000 pedestrians and cyclists have died on area roadways. That's an average of nearly 135 people per year.

Many of our problems lie in our mindset as drivers in a massive city like Houston. We are careless and not mindful. It has made our highways the most dangerous of any city in the nation, even more so for those not surrounded by metal and safety glass and air bags.

But, changing hearts and minds takes a long time, time we don't have if we want to save lives. There are things that can be done to address the issue. Some will take longer than others, but it is high time we get moving.

Start Re-Designing the Streets and Sidewalks

Houston is changing. It has been for a while now. People want their neighborhoods, even those in the city, to be walkable and friendly to bikes. This is a huge change from decades ago when no one did anything but drive a car. As interests of the citizenry adjust, so must we all. The first step is to re-imagine how our streets operate. Adding managed bike lanes, widening sidewalks and reducing traffic speed on well-traveled streets in the city's urban core is critical to protecting vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists. It also helps manage the flow of traffic and makes for a more enjoyable neighborhood experience.

Increase the Size of Bike Lanes

Where managed lanes aren't possible, the time has come to consider widening existing on-street bike lanes. Current lanes on many streets aren't much wider than the average cyclist and are largely ignored by passing motorists. And while we are at it, how about maintaining them better. So many streets have a dedicated bike lane but the striping has faded to near invisibility. That is something the city could fix immediately and even adding a foot to the lane itself could have an overnight impact on rider safety.

Build More Dedicated Bike Paths

Kudos to the city for expanding the bikeways plan, never mind actually having a plan, for the entire city. It's both ambitious and needed. But more can be done. The demand continues to grow. All you need to do is go to an area park connected by one of the city's existing hike and bike trails on the weekend, or even on a weekday morning. They are packed with riders and joggers. More of this is needed as that demand and our population continues to grow.

Enforce the Laws Vigorously

It is difficult to overemphasize this point. Too often, drivers are not held accountable when it comes to their interactions with riders and pedestrians. And this doesn't just mean punishing those who deserve it after the fact. The Houston Police Department frequently sets up sting operations for neighborhoods where speeding has become a problem. Why not the same thing for spots deemed dangerous by cyclists. Hand out citations. Give warnings. Pull over drivers who can't obey the three-foot rule. It's amazing what happens when people are threatened with fines and even their ability to drive. Behaviors change quickly.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke