Houston Unveils a Bold New Citywide Plan for Bicycling

Houston's new bike plan proposes to take the city's "low-stress" network from what you see on the right in the long term, to what you see on the left. Source: Houston Bike Plan
Houston’s new bike plan envisions a real network instead of disconnected segments. Source: Houston Bike Plan

The same team that helped overhaul Houston’s bus network is turning its attention to the city’s bike network.

This week, recently-elected Mayor Sylvester Turner unveiled the city’s first bike plan since 1993. The plan envisions a network of low-stress bikeways — a welcome improvement over Houston’s previous bike plan, from 1993, which mostly consisted of “share the road” signs and sharrows on wide, high-speed roads, according to Raj Mankad of OffCite, a blog of Rice University’s Design Alliance.

In 2012, Houston voters backed the creation of the Bayou Greenways network, 150 miles of linear trails along the city’s low-lying bayous. But without on-street connections, the greenways would be fragmented and people would have to bike on dangerous streets, writes Mankad.

The new plan calls for about 800 miles of on-street bike lanes — up from just 8 miles today — and about 400 additional miles of off-street paths. Though the plan doesn’t give a concrete timeline for completing the network, the goal is to achieve “gold-level” status from the League of American Bicyclists by 2026.

The estimated cost would be between $300 and $500 million. To put that in perspective, the pricetag is at most one-tenth of what the region is pouring into the “Grand Parkway,” a third ring road for the region.

The plan was designed by a lot of the same people who worked on the bus network redesign: the engineering firm TEI, Morris Architects, and Asakura Robinson.

Now that the city has a better bike plan, things will get interesting, Mankad writes:

Seeing plans like these gives rise to a mix emotions. Elation for the ambition and the potential of the plan. Relief that our experiences are named, that the terrifying stretches of road that ruin an otherwise beautiful, cost-effective, energy-efficient, environmentally sound experience are recognized. Sadness and grief for those who have died or been maimed at many of the spots where interventions are planned. We also struggle with cynicism that, even if this plan is adopted, it will not be implemented. And we worry that Houstonians will react with a mindset of scarcity, believing that a better bicycle network means less space for those in cars, or believing that paying for these infrastructural improvements and investments in mobility means less money for other ones.

For the city to become a safe place for bicyclists, for the city to become one where the “interested and concerned” of the population not only begin to imagine themselves on a bicycle but feel free to use the city with the power of their own legs, for the city to continue to attract those who are less and less interested in owning cars, both the forms of our streets and the norms of our behaviors need to change. And that will take messiness and dialogue. This is the beginning.

  • AuggieEast

    With Houston’s heat and humidity, at least half the year anybody biking to work would need a shower and fresh clothes upon arrival.

  • Peter C. Bryn

    Fantastic news – thanks Mayor Turner!

  • Erich

    Stupidest idea ever. Houston is only bike-able maybe 2 weeks or of the year. The rest of the time it’s either way too hot and way too humid, or raining buckets. Spend the money on improving the roads!!!!!!

  • Wayne

    This is sarcasm, right?

  • Wayne

    Not unusual for bike commuting in any city. Many places provide such facilities or will provide them when there’s demand.

  • Wayne

    Truly fantastic to see this plan. Building bigger and more roads has never alleviated traffic or improved life in the city. Alternate forms of transportation does that.

  • I love how terrified we are of sweat in our culture. Houston’s on pace to have one in four residents with diabetes but the idea that people might sweat while moving about of their own volition horrifies us.

  • Ben

    He doesn’t bike.

  • G1991

    Tampa is the same way, yet myself and many others bike to work daily. Throw a change of clothes in the pannier, have a stick of deodorant on hand, and you’ll be fine. The mornings are fine, it’s typically relatively cool then. The afternoons I don’t really care about because I’m typically going home or to the gym.

    Also, how about the months of October through April/May that are perfect for cycling in the south?

  • greywulf1064

    $100 million dollar budget shortfall, talking about layoffs of firefighters and they want to build bike lanes that hardly anyone uses, brilliant.

  • Gezellig

    they want to build bike lanes that hardly anyone uses

    http://media.flysfo.com/museum/collection/images/40924.jpg

    “The stock market just crashed, President Hoover’s doing nothing about the economy in the tank and they want to spend a whopping $50 million to build a couple bridges across a bay that hardly anyone takes their automobile across, brilliant.”

  • Gezellig

    That’s funny, because Austin also has generally comparable weather and has recently seen trips by bike shoot up wherever it invests in high-quality, protected bike infrastructure (which still costs way less than car infrastructure, btw):

    http://b.3cdn.net/bikes/c74e50a99bf1e2b139_16m6bhbds.jpg

    http://b.3cdn.net/bikes/08b29aedac7f5e133f_wfm6bxwfe.JPG

    Btw Davis, California has the highest number of trips by bike–over 25%–in the US. That’s Copenhagen levels of biking.

    This is despite the fact that inland Davis has hot hot summers and fairly cold, rainy, foggy winters. For months on end Davis’s *average* high temperature is in the 90s. If often hits or exceeds 100. Then a few months later comes the foggy/rainy/frosty winter. Oh yeah, it’s that nasty, thick ground (tule) fog, too:

    http://kmph.images.worldnow.com/images/6423594_G.jpg

    Still doesn’t seem to deter people:

    http://www.davisenterprise.com/files/2012/09/bike-commutersW.jpg

    Why do Davisites do it? Their bike-infrastructure network is comprehensive, low-stress and no brainer:

    http://www.davisenterprise.com/files/2014/03/0306Holmes1w-1024×682.jpg

    http://www.davisenterprise.com/files/2013/05/0607-VG-bikes2W-1024×768.jpg

    http://b.3cdn.net/bikes/81b9cca479c0d0e46e_z0m6bx38v.JPG

  • greywulf1064

    You compare a bridge to a bike lane…you’re a special kinda of stupid. Stick to things you know about, like lattes, birkenstocks and fanny packs.

  • Barbara Mitchell

    Whoo, that’s bitter. Houston is decades behind other cities in making bicycle lanes; hence the big cost all at once. My experience of bicycle friendly cities is that they grow and excel in human warmth and activity. In my view, this is a great step forward in humanizing this city. I’m grieved about the firefighters, but that’s another issue. I hope they find employment.

  • Barbara Mitchell

    In another city the office I worked in had a shower. Many people biked to work with their work clothes in their backpack. They showered at work, changed, and presented themselves squeaky clean, alert, and refreshed for work. These bike lanes could change Houston culture!

  • True. But all of the effort isn’t really necessary. If you ride a proper upright bike (no leaning forward at all) at a moderate pace you’ll be fine below about 85 or so depending on humidity.

  • greywulf1064

    So in your so-called view, this city isn’t “humanized” because it lacks bike paths? This city opened it’s doors to the victims of Katrina and rallied behind it’s fallen police and firefighters like no other. You need to see a proctologist so your head can be removed from your anus. Go pontificate in Baltimore, they’re much more in need of “humanizing”.

  • JimthePE

    Having lived in Houston and upstate NY, I have to say the two regions both have about 8 months of good biking weather. The only difference is whether the bad weather is in January or July.

  • Erich

    Austin is full of idiots

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