Reply to Council Members voting against the Bike Plan

April 27th, Mary Blitzer

The City of Houston passed its first Bike Plan in over 20 years on March 22nd. The plan was passed by City Council with a 11 – 4 vote. For those Council Members that voted no and  remain skeptical about who the Bike Plan is for, what it’s value is, and how it will be implemented – here are the answers. We are publicly providing these answers to help everyone better understand the issue.

Brief Background: What is the Plan and Who is it for?  

  • Houston Bike Plan is a city-wide master plan. Neighborhood engagement will happen on each project as it moves from planning stage into design and construction.
  • Bike plan explicitly seeks to make the City safe for people of all ages and abilities – by creating comfortable, safe routes that both current ‘transportation’ cyclists and ‘leisure’ or ‘interested but concerned’ cyclists will want to ride on (Houston Bike Plan (HBP), ES-8). This is a big group in Houston, 54% of Houstonians say they would like to ride more (Houston Area Survey, 2015). Creating high comfort bike routes to meet this demand is the major focus of the plan (HPB, ES-11).
  • The plan includes a 10 year vision to connect over 80% of households and jobs to a high comfort bikeway.
  • The long term vision seeks to connect over 95% of households and jobs to a high comfort bikeway.

Cost: Less than 1% of Transportation Spending in Houston (Great Value!)

  • Considering all of the transportation dollars spent on projects in Houston, including Tx-DOT highway dollars, the bike plan cost is quite low, while the return on value is high. Ex. NW Houston Freeway project alone is expected to cost from 6 – 7 billion.
  • The 10 year Plan is estimated to cost between $ 100 and 170 million (Houston Bike Plan, ES-19).
  • The long range vision cost is $500 million – $1 billion over 20 years, the 1 billion dollar figure includes the cost of on-street bikeways built as part of roadway construction projects.
  • This is good value. The City of Houston annual budget is about $2.2 billion. Assuming the plan costs $150 million over next 10 years, this is less than 1% of the budget. The long rang vision will take place over the coming decades, 20+ years.  The result of this spending is a safe bikeway connection for all Houston neighborhoods and  jobs. The backbone of the network will be bayou and utility corridor trails – providing a huge return on investment from improved public health, decreased traffic congestion, improved air quality, and a more attractive, livable City.

And – the aim of the Plan is to bring in new money! 

  • It is correct that the plan is not a funding plan. It is a master plan. It does however contain an entire chapter on possible funding sources. 
  • Possible funding sources include: TxDOT, Management Districts, TIRZ, Federal Grant Money, METRO, bond elections.  
  • Including the rebuilding of an in-street bike lane or sidepath or sidewalk during a rebuild project is not ‘hiding’ the cost within Rebuild. Rebuild dollars come from multiple funding streams – including METRO dollars, grants, and other 3rd party funds that can explicitly be used on this portion of the project. See details here: https://www.rebuildhouston.org/images/pdf/rebuild_houston_4_funding_sources_022213.pdf

Usage–People are riding now – and many more are interested.

  • 14 % of Houstonian households use a bicycle at least once a week. American Household Survey, 2013.
  • The number of people who bicycle in Houston is growing, but is low compared to peer cities, meaning we should be able to get more people to ride, if we give them safe places to do ride!
    • Bike boardings on METRO buses doubled from FY2011 to FY2015, and exceeded 250,000 in FY2015.
    • Houston B-cycle checkouts more than doubled in four years, and were over 113,000 in 2016. The bike share program secured a $3.7 million grant and will add 71 bike stations, tripling the current 33 stations.
    • Bicycle commuter mode share in Houston is 0.5%. However, in some parts of Houston, such as TMC, mode share exceeds 4%. The peer city average is 1.8%, indicating a large potential for growth.
    • On segments of Buffalo and White Oak Bayous, H-GAC bicycle counts show volumes of 500-1,000 trips on weekdays and over 2,000 on weekends.  Volumes will increase as implementation  of the Bike Plan makes it easier for people to access these corridors.
    • ‘Leisure trips’ are indeed a significant component of all trips by bicycle.  However, many people also bike to work, to school, to shop and for other purposes either by choice or out of necessity.  Approximately 9% of Houston households do not have a car, and a bicycle is an affordable and necessary travel option for many of them.
    • The plan recommends data collection to document the benefits of the proposed improvements going forward.  Additional bike counters are presently being purchased and installed.

Priorities – Bike Plan is a Guide

Bike Plan Will Help the Environment – Does Not Recommend Tree Removal

  • The Bike Plan aims to get more people bicycling outdoors – replacing car trips and improving air quality, while connecting people with nature and their community.
  • The Bike Plan was supported by all major environmental groups in Houston from the Houston Parks Board to to Memorial Park Conservancy to the Sierra Club. Trees for Houston has stated their support of the plan.
  • The Bike Plan does not recommend the removal of any trees, nor does it recommend the widening of roadways.  
  • Based on the City’s Complete Streets policy, the design of individual bikeways will be determined on a project by project basis with community input.  Existing mature trees and landscaped medians are valued parts of community context. Their value will be taken into account in the design of the street on a project-by-project basis.
  • Existing tree ordinance in Houston requires permit to remove trees and must replace trees.

Creating Safe Transportation Options – Including Bicycling – Makes Sense 

  • Giving more people the option to bicycle improves traffic and health.
    • You don’t need everyone to bike for every trip to improve traffic and health.
    • Houston is a big, multi-centric city. But not every trip is long: 33% of trips in Houston are 3 miles or less. The bike plan aims to get the ‘leisure or interested and concerned group’ to start making some of these short trips on bicycle by giving them safe places to ride.  Reducing traffic and improving health.
  • People ride in hot, humid weather. And in sprawling cities too. 
  • Many Houstonians are car-centric, but not all of us are. We need to provide options for everyone. 9% of Houstonian households don’t have a car– and a bicycle is an affordable and necessary travel option for many of them.

Questions? Email Mary at mblitzer@bikehouston.org

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