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Houston Becoming Bicycle Friendly

“Great place to ride a bike” may not be the first thought that comes into your head when you think of Houston, Texas.

But what if I told you that Houston has pioneered an online bicycling education program –- primarily for the benefit of educating city staff –- and that there are monthly in-person Smart Cycling classes and at least 1 League Cycling Instructor certification seminar every year in the Houston area.  

On top of that, Houston has some of the largest group rides in the country, not the least of which is the 14,000-rider BP MS Houston to Austin Ride; a small but growing bikeshare system; 500 miles of trails along an extensive Bayou network;  and the city boasts a velodrome, BMX park, 18 miles of singletrack, a mountain bike park and a cyclocross course.  

It’s true that the on-street network in Houston isn’t nearly as extensive as growing systems in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles – but the commitment to change that is clear: can your community match the $166 million bond issue ($100 million just for the 150-mile Bayou Greenway project), $15 million TIGER grant and $30 million in additional grant funding that’s dedicated to trail and park projects?

That’s why the City is being recognized with a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community award by the League this month.

Of course, Houston is a big ship to turn and for decades it’s been the poster child for unchecked suburban growth and a car-centric transportation system. Well, maybe Houston is starting to make that turn. Houston Mayor Annise Parker earlier this month announced a Complete Streets policy for the city, saying,  “As we work to build a healthier community, it is more important than ever to re-imagine our approach to streets, sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, public transit, bike trails and lanes,” 

 Advocates, reflecting on the BFC award, told me it has been a true team effort to make biking better in Houston, involving local advocates, city staff, bike retailers, elected officials and the business community.

“The Bicycle Friendly Communities Bronze Award reflects the progress that Houston has made in improving conditions for people who ride bikes, under the leadership of Mayor Annise Parker and the city council, State Senator Rodney Ellis, city staff, MPO staff and advocates,” said Robin Stallings, Executive Director of BikeTexas. “From the top-notch adult education efforts that are based on LAB’s Traffic Skills 101 and the BikeTexas SafeCyclist program in the local school system, to the bayou trail system that will be expanded even further with the new $150 million trail bond package, it’s clear that Houston is on the way to a more balanced transportation system.”

Take another look at Houston and check your pre-conceptions at the door.  Ask yourself whether YOUR community is doing what it takes to get Bronze (or to your next level) – better still, ask your Mayor and elected officials if you are doing what it takes, and tell them Houston is doing just that.

To learn more about the latest round of Bicycle Friendly Communities, click here. Interested in making biking better in your community? Make your voice heard, and consider taking our short survey here!

(Photo credits: Dan Raine, City of Houston (top right); Robin Stallings of BikeTexas (center)