Houston’s biking community is growing, especially as downtown continues to develop. Biking and walking trails are growing all over the city. More people are using bicycles to get around, and the availability of rentable BCycles has given people who don’t own bikes an opportunity to ride around town.
Downtown has a dedicated bike lane, as well as what it calls bike paths, which are often small, painted-off areas along certain roads. But, those are mitigated by the fact that cars are allowed to park there, forcing bikes back into the street.
The city has made strides, but not enough. And one of the practical problems is that cars, bikes, and pedestrians have to find a way to safely coexist. Bikes and cars in particular are often at odds, when some simple courtesy both ways could help make the roads safer for everyone.
The biking populace is not going anywhere. And deaths, unfortunately, are becoming a problem in Houston, including this recent fatality that spurred major protest from the biking community. The sad fact is unless motorists and cyclists both change their habits, deaths and injuries are not going away. As both a motorist and a cyclist, I have seen the worst of both. Obviously, the majority of motorists and cyclists are good, thoughtful people. But there are a growing number of both that are making the experience downright dangerous.
Here are five tips for each to make the roads and paths safer for everyone:
Tips for motorists
Share the road: It should not be just a slogan. If someone is riding a bike responsibly in their lane and following the rules of the road, don’t try to crowd them, cut them off or intimidate them. Just be courteous. It might seem cool to try to intimidate a cyclist, but trying living with it if you hit somebody and seriously injure them because you did not like seeing them on the road.
Pay attention: If you are on a road with bike lanes, pay extra attention. Give them a little room when you pass them. You should do this anyway, but stop texting and posting to social media, especially in heavy traffic situations. Downtown, especially near the bike lanes, you should always take a second look for both cyclists and pedestrians. Accidents happen every day from running red lights or blasting through turns on a red without stopping. They are much worse when they involve a cyclist or pedestrian.
Parking problems: If there is a dedicated bike path, avoid parking there unless there is no other option. In reality, the city should not allow this, but since they are going to do nothing, take it upon yourself. Parking is at a premium in most areas of downtown, so this is not always an option. But when it is, please consider it. Also, don’t park in dedicated bike lanes where parking is not allowed and put on your hazards on like that makes it OK. It doesn’t.
Stop with the “I pay for inspection and licenses and bikes don’t" arguments: You pay for inspections because you have a motorized vehicle that emits pollution. Bicycles do not. As for licenses, I would have no problem with cyclists having to get a license. But as we all know, that is no guarantee you follow the rules of the road or obey traffic laws.
Keep an eye out for pedestrians, too: Especially downtown, where people are walking from work to lunch or to wherever they are going from parking lots. Remember that pedestrians obeying the walk signs have the right away. Just be patient, let them cross the street and don’t creep up on them to rush them. (Memo to pedestrians: get off your damned phone and don’t dawdle. Just cross the street).
Tips for cyclists
Obey the rules of the road: So many cyclists pay no attention to traffic laws. They run red lights. They cut off cars. They go the wrong way down one-way streets. The idea is to share the road, not try to take it over. You can’t expect drivers to be courteous if you are not. Intentionally taunting drivers and acting like you own the road is rude, dangerous and gives a lot of cyclists bad names. This goes for your big bike rides on the street, too. Obey the traffic stops and don't take up all the lanes; allow cars an opportunity to go past safely.
Share the bike/walk paths: We recently did a ride that was designed to show off the new connections of the city’s bike paths. We bailed on it halfway through, because there were too many people -- well over 100 -- and the cyclists were ruining a nice Sunday experience for a lot of people who were just out for a family stroll, jog or bike ride of their own. Here is a simple rule: If you want to ride side by side and chat on a path, that’s fine, but when you see someone coming from the opposite direction, switch to single file until you pass each other, whether it is another bike or just someone walking their dog. Again, just be courteous.
Be aware on the paths and road: As a follow up, on that same ride, two men with wide handlebars rode side by side the entire trip. They almost hit several pedestrians, then forced a bike going the opposite direction off the path. They never even noticed, because they were completely clueless. Paying attention and not being oblivious makes for a good time for everyone. It seems like a simple thing, but awareness of others is a must. It’s also important on the road. You need to think for the drivers out there as well as yourself and don't cause an incident because you are not paying attention.
Avoid the sidewalks: There are times you can’t do this, and if there are no pedestrians it’s fine. Cyclists get angry (rightfully so) when pedestrians start wandering into the downtown bike lane. They already have a little thing called the sidewalk. Cyclists need to leave that to them. The same courtesy you ask of cars, as of yourself for pedestrians.
Do the little things: If you are in the right hand lane at a red light and are going to continue on without turning and there is a car behind you that wants to turn right, just move your bikes to the sidewalk and let them turn, then return to the road. It’s a simple thing that can foster good will and does not impact you at all. If you find yourself in heavy traffic, just pull off the road and let it clear up. It's safer and does not clog up traffic. If you are on a busy road without a bike lane, go find someplace else to get where you are going. Slowing things down creates enmity everywhere. There are enough roads with dedicated lanes to get you where you are going.
It all comes down to simple courtesy on all ends. That really does mean “sharing the road,” not breaking laws, being jerks or ignoring others. If everyone can just be a little more decent to each other, the roads will be safer for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike.