BikeHouston: Making The City Safer and More Accessible

We The People is a Black Sheep blog series dedicated to getting people the information they need about issues that affect us all and how to get involved in local government to create positive change.

This Bike Month, we want you to look beyond all the folks zipping past you on the Heights trail to the people making an impact on how Houston explores the city on two wheels: BikeHouston.

Michael Payne is determined. A lifelong cyclist and veteran of sustainable development, he saw an opportunity for Houston to become a place where people stay for the long haul.

“There is a desire among everyone who loves Houston to make the city a better place,” Payne said. “To retain the best and the brightest residents, we need to create an environment that makes people what to stay on the weekends and enjoy the quality of life.”

Today, Payne is seeing this wish for a better Houston become a reality—thanks in large part to BikeHouston. The formerly volunteer-run group has grown to a professionally staffed, self-sustaining bike advocacy organization, with Payne serving as its Executive Director. Together with members, volunteers and supporters, BikeHouston was able to successfully lobby and fundraise for the city’s first cycling plan in over 20 years.

The road to a more bike-friendly Houston started with a series of suggestions for the local government about how cyclists, motorists and the city could reduce collisions. These simple, yet effective solutions—like educating cyclists on how to properly plan a route that avoids major thoroughfares and encouraging the police to enforce the safe passing rule for motorists—made quite an impression on Mayor Parker. She called upon BikeHouston to partner with the City to make the Bayou City safer and more accessible for all Houstonians, without creating problems for motorists.

“We want Houston to be more bike-friendly without compromising the rights of drivers—in fact, it may benefit them by getting bikes on quieter, more accessible streets and out of major thoroughfares.”

Payne has seen the positive effects of cycling plans in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Each of these cities enjoys an urban core that makes it easier for those who ride for pleasure or for transportation to get around. Aside from the health and recreation benefits of cycling, one major driver of the bike-friendly initiative was for connection between neighborhoods. In Houston, 24% of people are at or below the poverty level, many of which use bikes to get to work, shop for groceries or access healthcare. According to BikeHouston’s research, this group of Houstonians suffer disproportionately when it comes to collisions and could benefit greatly from a plan that addresses their needs, too.

So, how can you get involved? It’s simple: Join BikeHouston and take a small action to show the city you care about cycling. Write a letter, volunteer or show up to City Council and have your voice heard. Together, Houston can become safer, healthier and more accessible.

“We’re not telling people to get out of our cars, but we know that half of society wants to ride their bikes and it’s not easy for them to do so. We want to make it easy.”

Do you have thoughts on the future of biking in Houston? Tell us in the comments. We’ll make sure those in charge hear what you have to say!

UPDATE 5.25.15: We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of Houston’s own creative community members—David Rosenfeld of Unleaded Communications, who was struck by a car this weekend while en route to a memorial ride for a cyclist lost last year. This is a terrible, terrible tragedy and it has to stop. We urge you to get involved with the city’s bike plan and help put an end to collisions between bikes and cars, which have taken far too many. Our hearts go out to David’s family, friends and colleagues—may he rest in peace.