Ride at Your Own Risk

Highlights from Hair Balls


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 of 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 by my parents to ride my bike there even though it was less than a mile from my house. The streets around the commercialized area felt like a war zone on some days. It was the equivalent of the Dark Forest in Harry Potter novels. You heard the rumors, but didn't investigate.

Reading last week 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 cyclists 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, Houston 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 bike 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 is better for you on a bike than in a car.

But I also understand the trepidation, the same thing 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.

Political Animals

Pulling the Plug
CVS says it will stop carrying tobacco products.

Jeff Balke

CVS, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the United States, announced it will pull all tobacco products from its shelves by October 1 of this year. Citing its commitment to doctors and healthcare, CVS said the removal of cigarettes and other tobacco products will cost it some $2 billion annually at its 7,600 stores.

According to statistics, about 18 percent of Americans light up on a regular basis. This is significantly down over the past 50 years, but that number still produces a large number of deaths each year. With every gas station, convenience store and pretty much everywhere in between still selling cigarettes, they clearly aren't going away anytime soon, however.

CVS's stand makes a lot of logical sense, if not much financial. Losing $2 billion is a lot, and after all, this is a personal choice. But kudos to CVS for sticking to its guns, at least on this issue. I'm guessing the chain isn't bailing on candy, soda or chemical-based beauty products, but it's something.

Smoking has been banned in public places in many U.S. cities. Houston, like virtually all major cities now, has a ban on smoking in government buildings and large public structures like malls and office buildings. Houston also prohibits smoking in bars and restaurants within the city limits.

I've known many people who smoked and have been told the habit can be brutal to break. It is doubtful that having one less drugstore chain carry cigarettes will cause a lot of people to suddenly stop, as CVS and healthcare officials hope, however, even if the chain continues to carry smoking-­cessation aids.

No word yet on whether other pharmacy retailers will follow suit, though Walgreens is reportedly "evaluating" the situation. CVS did not mention if its ban included e-cigarettes that don't use tobacco.

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