Houston should embrace bikers
With gas prices hovering steady over $3 for some time now – and no relief in sight – alternatives to constantly filling up one’s tank ought to be on the rise. However, this is not the case. While traversing any of the freeways, single occupants are evident in many vehicles. Take a look around you the next time you are in traffic and make note of soloists in the cars around you.
The high-occupancy vehicle lanes are being utilized, though most cars have the minimum number of two drivers in each car. We here in the Bayou City love our cars. Our vehicles are our havens; they are mobile sanctuaries where the radio always plays our favorite music and the seat conforms to our body contours.
It is difficult to convince a driver to give up such a pleasant way to spend an hour or two in traffic. Public transportation here is lacking and inefficient; the buses hardly cover the breadth of our sprawling metropolis and the light-rail system running through the Texas Medical Center and one-tenth of a mile north of downtown helps shuttle around a small portion of the city’s commuters. While the city’s mass transit enables those without vehicles to get around Houston, buses and light rail are not a viable alternative for commuters.
Neither is biking to work. In many metropolitan areas, one can safely bike to work to keep from having to take out a second mortgage to fill up the gas tank weekly. However, bicyclists in Houston are seen as a nuisance to drivers; many taking to the streets via bicycles do not do so for long because of the horns blared, profanities hollered and even projectiles tossed by passing motorists.
Also, the lack of safe routes from the plethora of suburbs to the city doesn’t make biking into town worth the effort. The few major arteries flowing between Houston and its surrounding areas are already clogged with cars trying to go to and fro; adding bicyclists on these roads would hardly improve the situation.
One major artery into the city is terribly underutilized: Buffalo Bayou. This waterway stretches some 52 miles across the width of Houston and, though it cannot support ferries or even large commuter vessels, some of its banks are lined with hike and bike trails.
Such a wonder these are, the hike and bike trails. Not only do they offer residents a way to maintain an active lifestyle, they could potentially link more of the city together. A great hike and bike trail on the city’s west side along Buffalo Bayou links Terry Hershey Park and George Bush Park together to form a route between Beltway 8 west and Fry Road. This is a good chunk of the city to connect, but hardly a pathway for commuters.
Pathways along the bayou connect downtown to Memorial Park. With some deft maneuvering, one can make it from downtown along the bike paths, ride through city streets and link up with the bike path along Brays Bayou. Even this is only a truncated route to the suburbs. One long stretch of Buffalo Bayou – roughly from Beltway 8 west to the west 610 Loop – bears no length of hike and bike paths whatsoever.
Laying down pavement and carving out a human-powered path into the city could be the start of a grand movement. Those on the west side might take to their bicycles and pedal to work, leaving their cars in the driveway.
Sure, it is hot for most of the year in Houston, and when it rains, most city streets flood, but with some finagling and dedication bike commuting could be a viable alternative to having so many single-occupant cars on city freeways, in addition to the added health benefits to those who choose to get to work or school under their own power.
Should an interest be spurred by opening this route into the city, then more hike and bike paths could be laid down to connect other parts of suburban Houston to the city’s center Riding a bike around may not be the ultimate solution, but it is a step in the right direction.
Lopez, a post-baccalaureate English student, can be reached via [email protected]