While cyclists and motorists appear to forever be at odds with one another across Houston, city officials are hoping the region’s first comprehensive bike plan in more than 20 years will help modernize safe passageways for cyclists for safer, happier commutes.
The Houston Bike Plan, a year-long effort to update the city’s Comprehensive Bikeway Plan adopted in 1993, kicked off this year and officials have been reaching out to everyone from hardcore cyclists, to morning commuters and families for input. Cathy Halka, a planner leader within the Planning & Development Department for the City of Houston, said the program just wrapped up its public meetings throughout June and online surveys will be available until July 20.
While Halka says an inventory of public comments hasn’t been completed, many living around The Leader area have taken to the Bicycle Advisory Committee’s interactive map where users can pin comments and suggestions for officials. Among some of the ideas put forward by cyclists online include connecting the Heights bike trail to the Buffalo Bayou bike trails, adding a dedicated bike lane on Sawyer between Buffalo Bayou and the Heights bike trails and a desire to utilize Montrose Boulevard as a north-south connector for the Heights, Montrose and Rice areas.
“Some of the things we have heard is that people have a clear need for a better connection between Montrose and the Heights as well as a desire to connect the bayou trails,” Halka said. “We’ve also seen comments related to creating better clarity on streets where people on bikes and those driving cars should be specifically.”
Changes like these represent an exhaustive effort to collect as much data as possible to update the aging bikeway system. For most people, Houston is a far different beast from the early 90s – something cyclists, who have had to endure new developments and new traffic patterns, are all too familiar with.
However, not all developments have been without favor to the city’s large cycling population. The Bayou Greenways program plans for an additional 150 miles of trails along the city’s bayous and Mayor Annise Parker also entered in an agreement to use powerline corridors for trails, Halka said.
“[The powerline corridors] present a nice grid across the city with a lot of opportunities to provide connectivity in the bicycle system,” Halka said. “If you align the powerline corridors against the Bayou Greenways, you start to identify some key links where you can fill in the gaps and make a connected system.”
The city currently has about 500 miles of bikeway facilities available to citizens, but when examined by comfort levels, the system has a number of gaps between those designated as “high comfort systems.”
“Design standards for bicycle trails were very different in the 90s,” Halka said. “We’re looking at areas that are completely different and many need access to higher density areas and to new destinations that people would prefer to get on their bike and ride to. It’s not just about recreational riding – some want to gain access to parks near where they live and others want to be able to get on their bike and take a trip instead of [using] a car and be able to do it safely.”
Halka said residents wanting to be heard should visit BAC’s website at www.houstonbikeplan.org and complete the survey and also leave comments on the interactive map. Presentations from public meetings are also available on the website as well. Officials will be drafting an initial plan following the closure of the public comment period and Halka said BAC will be reaching out to the public again closer to the end of 2015 for final touches.