More than a year after it was first unveiled, Houston City Council has finally given the Houston Bike Plan a green light.
The sweeping biking blueprint is the largest — and the only — bike plan on the books in Houston since the early 1990s, and is poised to provide cyclists hundreds of miles of safer bike lanes and trails throughout the city and surrounding areas. It is expected to cost between $300 million and $550 million to implement over the next ten to 20 years — which was a primary concern among the four city council members who voted against the plan: Michael Kubosh, Steve Le, Mike Knox and Greg Travis.
Still, for now, the plan is only that: a plan. It was not passed with any funding attached, and it is unclear for now how exactly it will proceed.
Of the 1,700 miles of new trails and on-street bike lanes, BikeHouston has estimated that possibly around 700 will be covered under already-existing ReBuild Houston projects in the next seven to ten years (it is unclear if a court case involving whether ReBuild Houston funding was properly approved by voters could affect that). And that leaves the majority of the funding up in the air. Other possible avenues may include large private donations, like those that went toward the Bayou Greenways project — or voter-approved bonds. Which, as we've reported in the past, could put the future of the Houston Bike Plan in the hands of drivers.
But BikeHouston Executive Director John Long said drivers have plenty of reasons to support the plan, whether or not they enjoy riding on sunny Saturday afternoons. For one, if they're the kind of drivers who get impatient with cyclists who get in their way on the road, the Bike Plan can fix that: Cyclists would have their own lanes well separated from traffic. Second, they will be much easier to spot, reducing the possibility of drivers hitting cyclists they did not see, or cyclists seeming to come out of nowhere.
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"It is a benefit for everyone," Long said. "It creates predictability both for cyclists and drivers, who know to look for cyclists because there are designated areas for bikes on the streets. The other thing that's a little less obvious is by creating more and better bikeways, that will encourage more and more riders to be out there on the streets, both for transportation and recreation. The data is really clear about this. When there are more cyclists, it's safer for cyclists. It creates enough presence on the streets that drivers are more conscious of them."
The dangers of cycling in Houston and the total lack of updates and improvements to the dilapidated '90s-era biking infrastructure were the main impetuses behind the plan. As the Houston Press reported in our September cover story, "Will the Houston Bike Plan End the Battle Between Bicyclists and Drivers?" since 2013, nearly 1,700 cyclists have been hit by cars on Houston streets, and nearly a quarter of the accidents were hit-and-runs. Twenty-five riders have died, at least seven of whom were killed by hit-and-run drivers.
The Bike Plan seeks to massively increase the safety of cyclists by placing emphasis on "high-comfort" lanes — lanes that either include physical barriers from the traffic or are wide enough so that jerks who buzz past cyclists don't startle them or clip them. Currently, of the 500 existing miles of bike lanes in Houston, about half are high-comfort — but only 39 are on the actual streets and are often riddled with potholes and trash. The Bike Plan will add at least 600 more miles of high-comfort bikeways.
Long said that Mayor Sylvester Turner's strong support for the plan was evident and encouraging. In a statement, the mayor said, “Houstonians need more choices to connect safely to jobs, parks and services other than by car. The Houston Bike Plan provides a guide toward creating a safer and more accessible city that can be enjoyed by anyone who wants to ride a bicycle.”