This post is another in a series that examines bicycling and walking in Houston. Read Raj Mankad’s analysis of the Houston Bike Plan here.
I participate in a dangerous activity. I cycle as a form of transportation inside Houston’s Loop 610.
I regularly find myself in harrowing situations due to the lack of supportive bike and pedestrian infrastructure. “Share the Road” has no bearing in our city, as a seemingly amiable lane-sharing opportunity turns into a hostile dance between the car and the bike. Where I live, any bike lanes are cracked, fading, and treacherous — the sidewalks are in a state of perpetual disintegration. I’ve been yelled at countless times, run off the road, and even hit by a vehicle’s side mirror. I have jumped out of an airplane and still find riding through Houston’s streets more of an adrenaline rush. That is not right. Houston’s laws prescribe behaviors that should make cycling hospitable, yet this does not remedy the situations I face every day.
According to the recent draft of the Houston Bike Plan, 66 percent of Houstonians support improved safety for all road users, and 72 percent support a high-comfort bike network. The largest portion of infrastructure development goes towards the creation of car-dominated super highways, not supporting safer streets. There is a miscommunication between current infrastructure development and the community voice. I echo Mayor Sylvester Turner when I say this can and should be reconciled.
A recent tragedy has jolted me into action. A young pedestrian was killed crossing Taft and Westheimer on January 8. A speeding vehicle ran a red light.
I live a block from this intersection. I cycle across the same street many times every week — at similar times. I felt exposed as a cyclist. I felt responsible, somehow. The event has stuck with me. These thoughts compelled me to attend the Transportation Town Hall meeting in Midtown on Friday, January 29.
The Transportation Town Hall is one of many emerging forums in Houston that strive to increase the awareness of dangers that exist for the alternative transportation community by providing a venue for open discussion between drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. A panel discussion held January 29 was moderated by Lisa Gray, a columnist of the Houston Chronicle, and it allowed diverse individuals to speak on their hopes for the future of Houston’s streets. Over two hours, many projections and emotional words were voiced by the panelists and attendees.
There were so many people talking, yet no one was listening. The lack of reconciliation left me anxious and tense. A fact stated at the Town Hall seemed to follow me as I cycled home that evening: “The streets of Houston are three times more deadly than New York City’s and have a 40 percent higher pedestrian mortality rate than those of Los Angeles.”
Houston exemplifies automobile-centric development in the United States. Infrastructure development patterns have created a self-fulfilling disparity in Houston’s commuter world. Drivers in Houston are largely annoyed by cyclists and pedestrians, because Houston was built, and subsequently conditioned its inhabitants to act, this way.
There is hope, however. Houston is re-establishing itself, committing to large-scale green infrastructure projects in order to ensure the recruitment of talent and continued prosperity into the next decades. Harmony between all transportation types is at the crux of many of these improvements, but can it change Houston’s culture? I personally believe culture change can be accelerated through the sharing of values. And just in time — the draft of the Houston Bike Plan gives the public the perfect opportunity to provide commentary and support a vision for an integrated, safer Houston.
Therefore I encourage all those with feelings of fear while cycling, invisibility as a pedestrian, or frustration as a driver to provide the context for these improvements by vocalizing. Speak up for your children, your fellow citizens, and yourself. Drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists must organize in unison with these projects to avoid further mismatch between the public and our infrastructure. Make a case for the cohabitation of all transportation types, the re-structuring of Houston’s streets, and transformation of Houston’s commuter culture.
Everyone wants to be heard, yet it appeared that in the moment of a singular Town Hall forum, emotion led to a breakdown in communication. A more permanent and continuous dialogue should be established between all concerned parties. Start by utilizing houstonbikeplan.org and mobilityhouston.com as your platforms. The longevity of your voice matters; staying silent has no historical precedent for progress.
I have felt unsettling dread on the road many times before and am fortunate to not share the same fate as the young pedestrian. I do not want this same fear to discourage others. So I will continue cycling — respectfully — and I will continue writing to support the re-structuring of Houston’s commuter culture.
What will you do?