Bike advocates are pushing the city to make Houston’s streets safer after two cyclists died the week of the Super Bowl.
They want them to approve and adopt the Houston Bike Plan, a roughly $500 million long-range master plan finalized in June 2016 after months of community input.
Advocates say the plan got rolling after cyclist Chelsea Norman was killed in a hit-and-run in December 2013.
While supporters say safety is a huge focus, they also say the plan will help ease congestion, improve health, and attract top talent to Houston versus losing them to other bike-friendly cities.
However, even with several revisions to the plan since the summer, there’s still some concern.
In the Houston heat -- and even in heels -- Rose Nolen can be found nearly every day on her bicycle.
“They’re a part of me, a part of my life,” says Nolen, who lives in the Montrose area of Houston. “I have a BMW. It sits in my driveway. (People say), ‘You never drive.' I’m like, ‘Why should I?’”
She's a passionate, fearless cyclist, still not immune to close calls.
“It happens almost every day,” Nolen said. “I look like a Christmas tree at night, but at least you see me coming.”
Nolen and other cyclists took their concerns all the way to City Hall on Monday, speaking at a meeting for the Transportation, Technology & Infrastructure Committee.
“Every time I get on my bike, I ride in fear,” cyclist Mitch Dickerson told council members. “I’m tired of losing friends from cycling in the street,” said cyclist Rose McCulsky.
Dickerson and McCulsky were among several advocates and super-neighborhood leaders to speak in favor of the Houston Bike Plan, which had undergone several revisions from its June 2016 version after input from many of those same speakers.
The long-range plan calls for more than tripling the number of bike lanes in Houston from around 500 currently to nearly 1,800 miles over the next few decades. That figure also includes nearly three times as many off-street lanes, separating cyclists from vehicles and helping beginners feel comfortable enough to hop on a bike.
Following his presentation to the TTI committee on the updated bike plan, Patrick Walsh, Director of the city’s Planning and Development Department, received plenty of questions about whether there were enough cyclists to justify the cost, which one speaker suggested could be double the estimate because he says the estimate doesn’t price 620 miles of on-street bike lanes.
“How many people ride it daily, weekly, monthly, yearly?” asked Greg Travis, Council Member District G.
Some council members also raised concern that money from Rebuild Houston that’s supposed to fix drainage issues would be footing the bill.
“We should never attach a drainage fee to surfaces where kids bike, walk, or jog,” said Dave Martin, Council Member for District E.
Walsh also emphasized at several points that the Houston Bike Plan is only a guide and does not commit the city to funding any of the projects, even if City Council approves it.
Walsh says council members would decide whether to fund each project as it comes up and says all funding options are “on the table," including grants, tax increment reinvestment zones, management districts, Rebuild Houston, and outside agencies like the Houston Parks Board.