Monday, August 31, 2009

Bike Lanes? No, Thank You . . .

Shortly after I moved to Houston 15 years ago, a large bike lane program was unveiled. It consisted of bike-only lanes on some major thoroughfares, some less-traveled through streets designated as bike routes, some off-road multi-use paths, and the occasional sharrow.

Ultimately, the Houston Bikeway System (as I recall) was supposed to have over a thousand miles of designated bikeways that would eventually link much of the Houston metro area and Galveston. About 370 miles of those proposed bike lanes/paths/routes are in place now. If you're into keeping track of "bike-friendliness," Houston seems to be making good progress.

Bike lanes/routes/paths have one substantial weakness: They don't always go where some of us bicyclists want, or need, to go. If they do, they don't always provide the most direct route. Case in point: My commute from home to school and back. I have a couple of options for getting between the two.

Option one takes me north to Briar Forest (bike lane), across Highway 6 to Addicks Reservoir and George Bush Park (multi-use path . . . largely bicycles), and then leaves me the option of cycling on Fry Road in Katy or using the constantly curving sidepath beside the road. Round-trip is about 30 miles.

Option two takes me south to Westheimer, across Highway 6 to Westheimer Parkway (which goes over the earthen dam separating Addicks Reservoir and George Bush Park from the city), to Fry Road. Since my bike and I don't trigger the left-turn signal at Fry Road, I ride about a block on the sidepath to the crosswalk, push the signal, cross Fry and Westheimer Parkway as a pedestrian, and hop back on the bike to ride Fry Road to my destination. Round-trip is about 20 miles.

When I ride the bike lane on Briar Forest, cars commonly pass me at about 35 mph (the speed limit) close enough for me to reach out and touch them (if I'm brave). At stop lights, many cars sit straddling the bike lane waiting to make right turns.

When I ride in the center of my lane on Fry Road, Westheimer Parkway, and Westheimer Road, the majority of cars pull into the other lane to pass me. There's between four and five feet between cars and me when they pass.

Does it surprise you that I'm much less of a fan of bike lanes/routes/paths than I used to be?

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