November 29, 2013 -- We're not at the end yet, but it looks like 2013 was Houston's year of the bicycle. Cyclists, alternative transit lovers and health advocates have had a lot of celebrate, and even more to anticipate for 2014.
The B-Cycle bicycle rental system expanded from three stations to 27, with a network that stretches out of downtown and into surrounding neighborhoods. The ridership numbers show that stations in parks have become a regular weekend destination, and the stations near mixed-use apartment complexes get high ridership during weekday commutes.
The city should follow this success in the next rollout, with stations at parks, college campuses and those inner-loop apartments that are shooting up everywhere.
While the Parks By You bond passed in 2012, this year Houston underwent the first stages of the bayous' citywide transformation into parks. Construction along Buffalo Bayou turned muddy paths into welcoming green space and bicycle routes, and that brown to green upgrade will tendril through the rest of Houston's bayou system over the next several years. While those bayou trails should provide Houston with important east-west bicycle routes, a bill passed during the 2013 state legislative session will help open some north-south passages.
After years of failed attempts, Rep. Jim Murphy led a bipartisan group of state representatives and senators to work out a deal with CenterPoint to allow hike and bike trails along utility rights of way - those grassy fields that follow power lines. These rights of way provide a clear avenue of open space in Houston's urban setting, and building those fields into trails would help create a complete network of off-street bicycle paths for Houston. We hope that 2014 will mark the first real construction of hike and bike paths along those rights of way.
Until construction crews complete those utility and bayou projects, cyclists still have share the road with cars to get around. But for the first time, Houston now has a safe pass law to protect everyone in the street. Spearheaded by Councilman Ed Gonzalez, the ordinance requires drivers to give at least three feet of space to cyclists, pedestrians, people riding horses and other vulnerable road users. Putting it into law is one thing, but putting into practice is another. 2014 should be a year of growing courtesy and kindness between folks in cars and folks on bikes.
If you're looking for a model of cooperation, you probably wouldn't expect to find it at the monthly Critical Mass bicycle ride. Yet the increasingly popular protest has spent the end of 2013 working with City Hall and the Houston Police Department to ensure that the ride, which sometimes reaches crowds of 2,000 people, stays safe for everyone involved.
If an antiestablishment attempt to take over the streets for cyclists can work with "the man," there's no reason that cyclists and drivers of all stripes can't get along.
- Go to Houston Chronicle Story. Link may expire over time.