Submitted to Outlook, at the Houston Chronicle, 9/13/13, but not published
In response to the article “Helping Mass Transit, Bicycles Work Together” (Houston Chronicle Print Ed.), AKA "Bike-bus syncing an uphill climb, but getting there" online (9/10/13), by Dug Begley, I write from the perspective of a life-long bicycle commuter and user of mass transit who has never driven a car. I moved to Houston, exactly 1 year ago, after living my first 52 years in southern California.
For a person who comes from a region where 6 connected counties each have mass transit, there are 4 long distance commuter rail routes, and Los Angeles has a half dozen somewhat lengthy, urban/suburban, (Some even part subway), local routes, and I could use any combination of this to travel upwards of 50 to 180 miles, in almost any direction (for commuting, or even to take a few mile bike ride somewhere), to say that the transit situation, here, came as a shock, would be putting it mildly. Plus, there are some bus systems that, for years, have had bike racks designed for 3!
Not that I don’t mind riding my bike 14 miles, from the nearest bus stop, to visit the USS Texas and the San Jacinto Monument, or visit any number of other places in Harris County, by bike, after taking a bus as far as the system allows.
Where I come from there are bike trails that run anywhere from 20 to 46 miles and that’s just 3 major river trails, plus the residential Mountains to the Sea Trail, in Orange County, and one, in combo with a few short miles on the street, will get a cyclist from the beach in Huntington Beach to the base of Big Bear mountain, east of San Bernardino, after an 80 mile ride; the existence of extensive mass transit allows anyone who cares to take advantage of it, access to bike trails and the ability to exercise and also commute to and from work.
I call myself the Cycling Dude (and the Mad Houstonian); I am the guy you may have seen pedaling around town wearing a yellow and black “3 feet please” Jersey and, after having rode the length of Westheimer and Memorial, as well as gradually familiarizing myself with Metro Transit, I am not afraid of anything this city, or county, has to offer.
Bicyclists looking just to exercise or a bike commuter looking to exercise and get to and from work, are only limited by their curiosity, imagination, stamina and determination. You can use bike routes and bike trails to commute and you can use the existing trail system alongside the existing transit system, to do both if you truly want to do so. Don’t be intimidated. Find ways, time permitting, to be active in the support of improving the situation, from better sidewalks and streets, to improved and increased transit and bike trail options, including better, more detailed, maps about the bike trails and bike routes.
According to the US Census, several years ago, a half million people throughout the United States commute to work by bicycle. There are studies that show that bicycles offer the strongest potential for reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics bicycles are second only to cars as a preferred form of transportation.
One can learn about a federal financial incentive for commuting by bicycles in the Federal Bicycle Commuter Benefit Act, effective Jan. 1, 2009, from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.
Houston, Harris County and areas beyond can do better by the bicyclist as well as those who must rely on mass transit, but it’s up to us to encourage them to find the will, the ways and the means to do so.